Purim or The Feast of Esther by N. S. Doniach, 1933

01 purim_0001Although this book was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America, it belongs in an Anglo-Judaica collection because of its author, and also because my copy is a piece of Anglo-Jewish ephemera.

Nakdimon Shabbethay Doniach was a scholar of Hebrew and Semitic languages, lexicographer, linguist, and British civil servant. he was born in London on  8th May 1907 and died in Oxford 16 April 1994.  His father, Aaron Selig Doniach, had been arrested and imprisoned a couple of years before his birth by the Russian secret police while on the way to a memorial service for Theodor Herzl.  He emigrated to London and did much to establish a Jewish school system for girls in the East End of London. He was a gifted student of Arabic, taking a degree at Oxford University before taking up a position at the School of Oriental Studies at London University.

After taking a degree in Hebrew and Arabic at Oxford Nakdimon (Naki) Doniach became a private scholar, bibliophile and bookseller. In 1933 he wrote this book on the Feast of Esther.  During the war he served in the RAF at Bletchley Park, using his linguistic skills for wartime intelligence.  After serving in the RAF for 11 years he moved to the Foreign Office where he became Director of the Technical Language Section. After his retirement from the Civil Service he moved to Oxford where edited dictionaries for the Oxford University Press.

01 purim_0002My copy was presented to me as a prize from the Kingsbury Synagogue Cheder (Hebrew Classes).  They misspelled my name, perhaps because the Chairman of the Hebrew Classes was Geoffrey Stalbow and they thought I had the same spelling.  It was donated in memory of Annie Dragovitch, whose daughter Renee and husband Mark Midlash were friends of my parents.  Mark Midlash was the Financial Representative of Kingsbury Synagogue.





01 purim_0003The book was bought from Simon Wilsack, who sold books, tephillin and similar items in Edgware on Sunday mornings, but who was also the Secretary of the Federation of Synagogues.


The book itself is a scholarly work on all aspects of Purim, including the Megillah itself and all the customs surrounding it.

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Doniach mentions some long-gone Purim customs from London:

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One thought on “Purim or The Feast of Esther by N. S. Doniach, 1933

  1. ‘Naki’ Doniach, as he was known, was a rather rotund figure who still lived in Oxford when I was a graduate student there. He was much respected by the academic community. He was the editor of the Oxford English-Arabic Dictionary of Modern Usage, AND the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Hebrew. The latter, published in 1996, seems to have sunk below the horizon – quite why, I am not sure. His wife was a talented artist who held regular exhibitions in the Oxford area.

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