The aim of this project is to explore and capture the glorious culture, great and rich heritage of Sephardic Jewry vis-a-vis prominent leaders and famous personalities from the the Babylonian Exile to our times.
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Hasdei Ibn Shaprut (915 - 975 Spain)
Physician to Abd ar-Rahman and Hakam II, Umayyad rulers in Cordova. Together with Moses ben Hanoch, he founded the Talmudic school in Cordova. This school's influence was felt in Spain for 350 years. He made contact with Joseph, King of the Khazars, and served him as diplomat and interpreter, always using his position to help and protect his fellow Jews, including those in Byzantium.
Shmuel ha-Nagid (990 - 1055 Granada, Spain)
Samuel Ibn Nagrela, known as Shmuel Hanagid, was a great diplomat and poet as well as vizier to King Habus of Granada. Ibn Nagrela is the author of a Biblical Hebrew dictionary. His son, Joseph, succeeded him for eleven years until he was deposed during an attack on the Jews.
Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021 - 1069 Spain)
Messianic poet and philosopher whose "Naale" and other works are included in the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) liturgy. His book of philosophy, Fountain of Life (Arabic), conceived of the universe as the embodiment of divine will.
The famous medieval theological philosophers John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) and Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), not knowing he was Jewish, used his texts. Most Jewish scholars rejected his theories of neo-Platonism and some, including Maimonides, considered them almost Pantheic.
Jonah Ibn Janah (990 - 1050 Cordova, Spain)
Also known as Abu al-Walīd Marwān ibn Janāh, he was trained as a physician and is mentioned elsewhere as the author of a medical text, but seems to have found his true calling in the investigation of the Hebrew language and in rabbinical literature scriptural exegesis. Wrote Kitab al-Tanqihor Sefer ha-Dikduk, the first complete book on Hebrew philology.
Judah Halevi (Spain 1086 - Eretz Israel 1145)
Zionist, poet and physician. The author of the Kuzari, a philosophical dialogue between the King of the Khazars and members of the three great monotheistic religions.
Among his 800 poems are eighty love poems, 350 Diaspora poems and thirty-five songs of Zion. He also practiced medicine in Christian Toledo and used his influence to benefit Jewish refugees.
Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089 - 1164 Cordova, Spain)
Poet, mathematician and prolific Biblical commentator. He signaled the end of the classical period in Jewish secular poetry. His commentary on the Pentateuch is based on grammar and philosophical interpretations which strive to give a simple explanation rather then exegesis or homiletic interpretation and is considered the first scientific interpreter of the Bible.
Abraham ben David Ibn Daud (Rabad I) (1110 - 1180 Spain)
Noted philosopher, physician and historian. He believed in defending Judaism, especially against Karaite thinking, by using reason and rationality and not just faith. Ibn Daud's most well known book is the Sefer HaKabbalah (Book of Tradition), in which he puts forth a historical and philosophical defense of Judaism. He traces the passing of Judaic law and the Torah though the Talmud, beginning with the foundation of Judaism and delving into Spanish Jewish history in great detail.
Much of our knowledge of this period is due to his work. He is the source of the medieval story of the "Four Rabbis" (R. Moses b. Hanokh, R. Shemariah, R. Hushi'el and one whose name isn't known) who were captured by a Moslem captain and sold into slavery in Spain, Cairo, and Kairouan. When ransomed, they created new centers for the study of Torah in Alexandria, Tunisia and Cordova.
Judah b. Saul Ibn Tibbon (Spain 1120 - France 1190)
Of the family of translators. He translated many Jewish Arabic works into Hebrew, including the Kuzari. In addition to translator he was a physician. Judah's ethical will, with its homely style and frankness, is one of the most interesting in this class of literature. It gives insight into the soul of the man and his relation to his son, also a scholar and translator, Samuel..
Abraham Bar Hiyya (d.1136 Spain)
Philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. Published Meggilat HaMegaleh (Scroll of the Revealer) in which he predicted the fall of Christianity and the coming redemption in 1358. He held a senior position in the court in Barcelona, probably as the chief of police.
Benjamin of Tudela (1154 - 1172 Spain)
Jewish traveler and historian. His book Sefer Hamasot (Book of Travel) recounted his travels throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India, Ceylon and China. He gave details about each Jewish community: its size, scholars, and economic conditions. Almost everything we know about the Jewish communities of his day came from his book.
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon-Rambam (Cordoba 1138- Cairo 1204)
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (or Maimonides) is unquestionably the greatest medieval Jewish philosopher, Talmudist, and codifier. The son of a dayan (judge) named Rabbi Maimon, the Rambam is said to be able to trace his ancestry back to Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi.
When he was 13 years old, Cordoba was conquered by a fanatic Muslim sect called the Almohades, and Rambam and his family fled. The family wandered through Spain for a number of years and in 1160, they moved to Fez, Morocco. Conditions proved unpleasant there as well however, and the Rambam later moved to Fostat, near Cairo in Egypt.
He was a prolific writer, composing extensive collections of letters, responsa, and medical treatises. Yet, his three most important works included: his Commentary on the Mishnah [which was an enormous collection of legal rulings and opinions compiled during his youth]; the Mishneh Torah [which was a gigantic multi- volume effort to collect, annunciate, and describe the basic laws that would be derived from the thousands of discussions and arguments in the Talmud]; and the Moreh Nevukhim [or Guide for the Perplexed, compiled in the Rambam's old age, it was intended for students of Aristotelian Philosophy--which sought to demonstrate that the Bible must be interpreted not in conflict but in harmony with reason].
Moses Ben Nachman (Nachmanides) (1194 Spain-1270 Eretz Israel)
Scholar and Jewish leader, known as the Ramban. He is famed for his commentaries on the Bible and his prowess in debating against Pablo Christiani, a heretic Jew, during the Barcelona Disputations, in Aragon 1263.
Although Nachmanides was rewarded by King James I for his presentation, the Dominicans were determined that the outcome should be a victory for Christianity. Two years later they succeed in bringing charges against him for defaming Christianity.
Under pressure from Pope Clement IV, he was banished from Spain. Nachmanides later settled in Eretz Israel where he established a synagogue and school for talmudic studies.
Abraham Abulafia (1240 - 1292 Spain)
One of the first kabbalists. He was opposed by Solomon Aderet who felt that he was almost posing as a messianic pretender.
Abulafia analyzed the Hebrew alphabet and the letters in God's name, calling it chochmat ha zeruf (science of letter analyzation). As a young man he traveled, searching for the legendary Sambation River.
Rabbi Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto (Salamanca, Castille ca. 1452- ca. 1515 Damascus)
Zacuto was a rabbi, mathematician, court astronomer, historian, writer, inventor, mapmaker, and genealogist. He studied with R. Isaac Aboab (1433-1493) who was head of the Toledo Torah Academy and known as “The Last Gaon of Castile.”
Zacuto studied astronomy and mathematics in the Salamanca University and was appointed professor at the university by Bishop Gonzalo de Vivero who was head of the University. Vivero also engaged Zacuto to write his major astronomical work: Ha-Hibbur ha-Godol (1473-1478).
Apparently, when Christopher Columbus stayed in Salamanca, Zacuto showed him some astronomy books including a book by R. Abraham Ibn Ezra. Columbus used Zacuto’s tables in his travels. Zacuto encouraged Columbus to pursue his voyage and was one of the few scholars who believed in its successful completion.
Zacuto also built the first copper astrolabe and improved astronomical tables based on the Alfonsine Tables. In 1492 Zacuto left Spain because of the expulsion of the Jews. He moved to Portugal, settled in Lisbon, and became court astronomer for King John II.
In 1496 the Jews were expelled from Portugal as well and Zacuto went to Tunis were he completed Sefer Ha- Yuhasin, a book of genealogies. Later, he left Tunis for Turkey. In 1513 he was in Jerusalem where he compiled an almanac in Hebrew.
Rabbi Yosef Caro (Toledo 1488- 1575 Eretz Israel)
Rabbi Yosef Caro was a small child when his family fled to Constantinople in 1492, after the Jews were expelled from Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
His father, Rabbi Ephraim Caro, and his uncle, Rabbi Yitskhak Caro, both important scholars during their time, gave the youngster his Talmudic training. Rabbi Yosef Caro arrived in Eretz Israel in 1535, after living briefly in Turkey. It is believed that he studied under Rabbi Yaakov bei Rav while in Egypt.
After arriving in Safed, Rabbi Yosef Caro was appointed to the Beit Din of Rabbi Yaakov bei Rav, his teacher. Rabbi Caro supported his teacher and his attempts at restoring the ancient institution of semichah, authoritative rabbinical ordination and jurisdiction. Rabbi Caro was one of four rabbis who received semichah from Rabbi Yaakov. But other rabbis opposed his tradition and after the death of R' Yaakov in 1546 its use diminished.
Rabbi Yosef became the leader of the Safed Beit Din after the death of Rabbi Yaakov. It was probably the Beit Din held in highest regard throughout the world during its time. Its opinion was sought on difficult issues by rabbis from all over the world. Rabbi Yosef also had a significant impact on shaping halachah, and his works are used today to decide many points of Jewish law.
While living in Turkey, and for the next 20 years, he wrote a commentary to the Turim of Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, which traces each ruling in Tur, to its Talmudic source and cites all other opinions relevant to the ruling and concludes with a decision. The commentary, called Beis Yosef, was finished in 1542. After some revisions, it was published in 1551. It was so well received it had to be reprinted.
Although Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote many famous works, he also wrote Kessef Mishneh, a commentary on Rambam's Mishneh Torah, which was another monumental work. Originally published in 1574, it has been published in almost every edition of Rambam. As a person, this rabbi was humble, devout, gentle, and ascetic. He was a true kabbalist. Source: The Early Acharonim, The ArtScroll History Series.
Rabbi Yosef ibn Zalach (late 1400s)
Rabbi Yosef ibn Zalach lived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and served as rabbi of Jerusalem. Pressures from the Turkish government forced him to flee to Damascus, where he was able to serve as a rabbi. He periodically returned to Jerusalem and was able to finish some kabbalistic works - Avnei HaShoham and She'eiris Yosef, which were never published.
Rabbi Yosef was a noted halachist, who received inquiries from Syria, Egypt, and Eretz Israel. His unpublished volume of responsa contained over 600 replies to halachic inquiries. Some of his decisions have been published in works of his contemporaries, many of whom refer to him with great reverence. Two responsa by Rabbi Yosef appear in Shivah Einayim. Source: The Early Acharonim, The ArtScroll History Series.
Reubeni, David (before 1500)
A Messianic Visionary whose statements indicate he was the prince of a sovereign Jewish state, composed of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh (possibly in Khaibar, Arabia). Reubeni entered the Papal court riding on a white steed, asserting that he represented his brother King Joseph from beyond the Mountains.
Under the protection of Pope Clement VII, he tried to recruit an army with King Joao III of Portugal to join with the forces in the East and to fight the Turks for Jerusalem. He was joined by Solomon Molcho and the two approached Emperor Charles V for assistance.
Both lost favor with the Pope and the King of Portugal, either because of defamation, or because they preached against Christianity. While Molcho was burned at the stake, Reubeni is said to have been brought to Spain and there poisoned. Reubeni's diary, Sefer Nesioth, was edited in Hebrew by Abraham Kahane at Warsaw.
Molcho, Solomon (Portugal ca. 1500 – 1532 Mantua)
A Cabbalist and Messianic visionary, born a Marrano, he died at the stake. Inspired by David Reubeni, Molcho circumcised himself and emigrated to Turkey. He studied the Cabbala with Joseph Taytazak and became acquainted with Joseph Caro.
He wandered as a preacher through Palestine, and predicted a Messianic Kingdom would come in 1540. In 1529 he published a portion of his sermons under the title Derashot, or Sefer ha-Mefo'ar. Going to Italy, he was opposed by prominent Jews, who feared that he might mislead their coreligionists, but he succeeded in gaining the favor of Pope Clement VII.
After his cabalistic and other strange experiments, Molcho proclaimed himself the Messiah, or his precursor. In company with David Reubeni, he went in 1532 to Ratisbon to see the Emperor Charles V.
The emperor imprisoned both Molcho and Reubeni, and took them with him to Italy. In Mantua an ecclesiastical court sentenced Molcho to death by fire. At the stake the emperor offered to pardon him on condition that he return to the Church, but Molcho refused, asking for a Martyr's death.
Lusitanus, Amatus (Castelo-Branco 1511 – 1568 Salonika)
Born to Marrano parents in Portugal, be became a physician. Throughout his adolescent years his parents secretly instilled in him a love of Jewish traditions and a knowledge of Hebrew.
Outwardly a Christian bearing the baptismal name of Juan Rodriguez de Castelo-Branco, he was able to pursue medical studies at the University of Salamanca in Spain (from which he graduated with honors in 1530). Later in life, when he had openly assumed the Hebrew family name of Chabib ("beloved") he Latinized it under the form Amatus Lusitanus (i.e. of Portugal).
Increasing antagonism towards Marranos and fear regarding the implementation of the Inquisition in Portugal led Lusitanus to flee the country-- first to Antwerp, and then later to other regions.
The most notable work produced in his early years was Index Dioscorides, a botanical treatise that was a commentary on and a supplement to the work of the greatest of the Ancient Greek botanists, Dioscorides. In 1540 he was invited to Ferrara by the Duke and he served there as a lecturer at the University.
He then moved on to Ancona, where he served as the town physician, as well as working with a series of important dignitaries, including Pope Julius III, the ambassador of the emperor Charles V, and Cosimo de Medici.
In Ancona, he published his first Centuria, in which he collected 100 medical case histories, along with learned explanations clarifying opinions on their pathology. Lusitanus' high ethical standards and medical skill made him one of the outstanding physicians of the 16th century.
He finally settled in Salonika, and the large Jewish population there allowed him to shed his New Christian status and openly proclaim his allegiance to Judaism. He continued his medical practice in Salonika until his death in 1568 as a result of a plague epidemic.
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto (Damascus 1565-1648)
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, nicknamed Riaf, was from Damascus, Syria.He was the grandson of Rabbi Yaakov bei Rav. As a disciple of Rabbi Yaakov Abulafia, he was ordained with the semicha ordination, received from his grandfather.
Rabbi Yoshiyahu was appointed Chief Rabbi of Aleppo and Damascus after the death of Rabbi Chaim Vital in 1620. Rabbi Vital's son, Rabbi Shmuel Vital, married Rabbi Pinto's daughter. He wanted to settle in Safed and traveled there in 1625, but due to family pressures he returned to Syria to lead the many Jews who lived there.
In 1643, he wrote the commentary on Ein Yaakov, which was titled Meor Einayim. He also wrote a Torah commentary Kessef Nivchar, as well as 15 essays explaining difficult passages of the Talmud and verses of the Torah. Source: The Early Acharonim, The ArtScroll History Series.
Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (Castro Daire, Portugal 1605-1693 Amsterdam)
The first Rabbi (Sephardi) in the Americas, died on April 4, 1693, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca was born to a Marrano family, as Simao da Fonseca, son of Alvaro da Fonseca alias David Aboab. He was brought as a child to Amsterdam, where he proved to be an outstanding student. At the age of 21, he was appointed hakham of the congregation Bet Israel in Amsterdam. And when the three Sephardi congregations amalgamated in 1639, he was retained by the community as senior assistant to R. Saul Levi Morteira.
When the Dutch succeeded in conquering Brazil and a group of Amsterdam Jews established community at Recife (Pernambuco) in 1641, Aboab joined them and became the first Rabbi in the new world. He continued as the Hakham of the community. After the repulse of the Portuguese attack on the city in 1646, Aboab composed a thanksgiving narrative hymn describing the past sufferings, Zekher Asiti le-Nifla'ot El ("I made record of the mighty deeds of God"), the first known Hebrew composition in the New World that has been preserved. While in the Americas, he also wrote a Hebrew grammar entitled Melekhet ha-Dikduk (still unpublished) as well as a treatise on the Thirteen Articles of Faith (which is now untraceable).
When the Portuguese regained control of Brazil in 1654, Aboab was among the Jews to return to Amsterdam. There he was appointed hakham of the community, and became a celebrated leader and preacher for the kahal. He was among the signatories who excommunicated Baruch Spinoza in 1656, and a number of his sermons have since been published. Aboab died at the age of 88 on April 4, 1693, but was long remembered by the Amsterdam Jewish Community. So important was he in fact, that for many years after he died, his name and the date of his death were incorporated in the engraved border of the marriage contracts issued by the community.
Rabbi Shmuel Vital (Damascus - 1677 Cairo)
Rabbi Shmuel Vital was the son of Rabbi Chaim Vital, a Chief Rabbi of Syria. He was born in Damascus where he officiated as Dayan for most of his life. He was a kabbalist who studied with Rabbi Yaakov Tzemach and Rabbi Meir Popperos. He inherited many kabbalist works, called Eitz Chaim, that were written by his father. Rabbi Vital organized the manuscripts into the compendium of the Shmonah She'arim.
In 1663, Rabbi Vital left Damascus and moved to Cairo, Egypt, where he remained for the rest of his life (1677). He wrote a kabbalistic commentary on the siddur, according to the system of Ari, which contained kabbalistic mediations for the prayers. He wrote many other works, most of them unpublished, and collected his own and his father's chidushim on the Talmud.
Source: The Early Acharonim, The ArtScroll History Series.
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
Born in Amsterdam, the son of a Portuguese refugee, Spinoza was a lens grinder, but his writings make him one of the major figures of western philosophy. Spinoza was a rationalist, arguing against Divine revelation and intervention in the world. His Biblical criticism denied Mosaic authorship of most of the Torah. Spinoza was considered a heretic and was excommunicated by the Amsterdam rabbinical council in 1656.
The most prominent character among the Jews of Colonial Georgia. He seems to have been consulted by the Governor and Assembly on several occasions, though at first only in connection with his office of superintendent of the silk industry in the colony. (Huhner, Jews of Georgia in Colonial Times, Publications of the AJHS, v.10. p. 91).
Huehner later discovered that Ottolenghe could be regarded as a Jew by race only. He was born in Italy where his parents were engaged in the silk industry. Emigrating to England, both he and his wife became converts to Christianity, joining the Episcopal Church. He was sent to Georgia originally as a missionary to the negroes, and incidentally to superintend the silk industry.
In 1757 Mr. Ottolenghi was appointed a Commissioner for repairing the public wharf ... In July of the Same year, he is named Commissioner for erecting forts for the defense of the province, and then again to attend to the collection of a taz to defray Court expenses.... (Ibid., p. 93)
Gershom Mendes Seixas 1745-1816
One of the first of Shearith Israel’s scholars was Gershom Mendes Seixas, a scholar who gained fame, not by promoting and building an independent and isolated Jewish community, but through his patriotic contributions to the American cause in the Revolutionary War.
Practically from the beginning of his ministry, he was noted for his patriotism. Not only did he refuse to fly the British flag when the British took New Amsterdam, but he actually closed up the Shearith Israel (the first synagogue structure for Shearith Israel was at Mill Street in lower Manhattan) and took Sefer Torah when he fled, first to Stratford, Connecticut and then to Philadelphia. As Pool explains: "He believed that because he was a Jew a greater measure of gratitude should be his for the proclamation and the realization of the self-evident truths that all men are created equal"1
Seixas demonstrated a great sense of communal activism, addressing many aspects of both the Jewish and the non-Jewish communities. For example, he was instrumental in saving the Jewish cemetery at Chatham Square, in New York, from obliteration. This was significant because the cemetery was filled with men who had fought in the Revolutionary War.
Seixas worked vigorously for education as well, organizing a Hebrew school in 1793, and by teaching in the Polonies Talmud Torah School. And in the non- 1Loc. cit. ￼ Jewish sphere, he acted as a trustee of Columbia College from 1784 till 1814; as well as serving on the first Board of Regents of the State University of New York.2 Significantly, two of Seixas' best known speeches involved American patriotic occasions. For one thing, he offered a blessing at the inauguration of George Washington, and for the other, he gave a special Thanksgiving Sermon in 1789.
Interestingly, in this latter sermon, Seixas asserts that the people were ordained by their creator to uphold the law and the government of the United States as their fundamental duties, while adhering to Jewish tradition and law takes second place.
Rabbi Yitzhak Attia3 (Aleppo 1755 - ??Livorno)
Rabbi Yitzhak Attia’s legacy lives on in the six books he wrote over the course of his life. Many of them were important works, so important that he traveled to Livorno, Italy (Livorno was a place where many Jewish books could be printed in Hebrew) to have them published. The roads to Livorno were difficult and dangerous and it was far from Aram Soba, but Rabbi Yitzhak thought the work was so important that it was worth the risk to his life.
Rabbi Yitzhak’s first book is titled Zara Yitzhak Attia and it is an explanation of the first two sections of the Chumash. The second book, Vayicra Yitzhak, is a continuation and covers the next three Chumash. Zehut Avot is an explanation of the Gemarra. Rov Tagan, his fourth book, is an explanation of the six books of the Mishna. His fifth book Mesharet Moshe, speaks of the strong hand of the Rambam; Echet Chael, is a literal translation of the Woman of Valor poem. His last book was titled Tana Veshiar.
Benjamin Gomez (1769-1828)
Many of the first Sephardic families flourished as merchants. Benjamin was the grandson of Lewis Moses Gomez (1660-1740), who came from a prominent Madrid family of crypto-Jews. Lewis arrived in New York in 1703 and established an import- export business. He and his sons purchased large amounts of real estate, including the site of the Shearith Israel cemetery near Chatham Square. His son Daniel established a profitable fur trade and grandson, Benjamin, was the first Jewish Book Seller. Seven members of the Gomez family served as Parnas of Congregation Shearith Israel, New York, NY between 1730 and the Revolutionary War.
Harmon Hendricks (Amsterdam 1771-1838)
Harmon Hendricks was the son of Uriah Hendricks, who was born in Amsterdam and arrived in America from London in 1755, opened a dry goods store in lower Manhattan. Harmon expanded the family business to international trade and subsequently opened a copper rolling mill in New Jersey. It is probable that the copper produced in his mills was used to cast the steeple bells for Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, as well as for lining the battleship U.S.S. Constellation (Old Ironsides).
He was a leading philanthropist and served as Parnas of Congregation Shearith Israel, New York, NY.
2Leo Hershkowitz (1973) "Seixas family." Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 14 3 Yitzhak Attia, Zara Yitzhak Attia. ￼
Judah Touro (1775-1854)
Isaac Touro (1738-1783) came to Newport from the West Indies. He was one of the founders of the Newport’s Touro Synagogue, where he served as hazzan.
Isaac's son Judah (1775-1854) settled in New Orleans, where he was a merchant and real estate investor. Judah Touro had a reputation as an eccentric and remained unmarried. He spent little and built a great fortune, leaving an estate of nearly $1,000,000, a staggering sum in 1854. Upon his death, he left $483,000 to charities, including Jewish congregations and institutions throughout the United States, a Jewish hospital in New Orleans that bears his name, and $60,000 for relief of the poor in Eretz Yisrael. He was a major benefactor of the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Rabbi Haim Modecai Labaton (Aleppo 1780-1869 Aleppo)
Rabbi Haim Mordecai Labaton, the son of Luna and Helfon Labaton, became chief rabbi of Aleppo and head of the Bet Din. During his lifetime, he was revered and respected by both the Jews and the Muslims of the region.
Haim Mordecai was placed in school at a young age. Rabbi Helfon, his father, asked the teacher to teach his son the Hebrew alphabet. The teacher did not feel a child of that age could learn the alphabet and simply allowed him to play with the other children. Rabbi Helfon took a few hours each night to work with his son and teach him the alphabet. In front of the teacher, Rabbi Helfon asked Haim Mordecai to show what he learned at home. Haim Mordecai read each letter without a mistake. The teacher then took special care to teach him more and soon he was reading from the Siddur (Hebrew prayer book).4
Throughout his schooling, Haim Mordecai5 was engrossed in learning and could often be found in the Bet Hamidrash (library) studying. As he grew older, people recognized the greatness of Haim Mordecai, who quickly became a respected rabbi. He wrote two learned treastises, Nochach Hashulchan and Ben Yayir. He gave one third of his income to charity and maintained Talmud scholars, even though he was not a rich man.
It is said that Rabbi Haim Mordecai had the power to punish those who refused to follow his rulings along with individuals who did not follow Torah properly.6 There are numerous stories about people who conspired to harm him, his miraculous survival, and the people’s reverence for him.
One such story involves an Ottoman official who came to the Rabbi to collect taxes from the community, which were the responsibility of Rabbi Haim Mordecai to collect. It happened that Rabbi Haim Mordecai was ill and he yelled at the official that it was inconsiderate to come to him for taxes when he was ill. The official went to his boss, who said, “I’m willing to do anything except go against
4 Ibid. 5 David Laniado, Holy People of Syria (1980) 6 Rabbi Ezra Basri, Biography of Rabbi Haim Mordecai Labaton, Haktav Institute, p. 10. ￼ Rabbi Labaton, since I fear him.” He commanded the Ottoman official to erase from the record’s debts against the Jewish community for that year.7
Another story had to do with a Christian boy named Musan, who disappeared from Aleppo on the day before Passover. There was a rumor that the Jews kidnapped the boy and used his blood to make matza. The Pasha called Rabbi Haim Mordecai Labaton and told him that if the boy was not found that the Jews would be expelled from the city. The Rabbi called on the Jews to assemble and pray to avoid the evil decree. He went to the place where Musan had been kidnapped and overheard two boys whispering that Musan had been taken to the church. Rabbi Mordecai then went to the Pasha’s home and asked the governor to go with him to the church, without notifying church officials first. The governor agreed. When they arrived and were greeted, the governor saw the boy walking in the church courtyard and ordered the priests jailed.8
Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862)
Uriah P. Levy joined the U. S. Navy in 1806. He performed with honor in the War of 1812 and became an officer. Levy is best remembered for his successful campaign to ban flogging on U. S. naval ships. He was a frequent object of anti-Semitism, which he resisted vigorously. Levy was court-martialed on six occasions, generally for frivolous reasons; three court martial verdicts were reversed upon presidential review. In 1857, after 10 years of suspension, Levy was given a hearing in Washington. The charge of anti-Semitism was fully aired and Levy was restored to active duty. In 1860, Levy was placed in command of the Mediterranean Fleet and appointed to the rank of Commodore.
David Sassoon (Baghdad 1792-1864)
Born to Sheikh Sasson, who was Saraf Bashi (chief banker) and a Nasi (prince), David left Baghdad and preceded to Abushaher (Bunshire) in Persia he then moved to Bombay in 1833. He established David Sassoon & Co. (David Sasson Wehaberaw); by the late 1850s it was said: “silver and gold, silks, gums and spices, opium and cotton, wool and wheat-- whatever moves over sea or land feels the hand or bears the mark of Sassoon and Company." He started with a small counting house and carpet godown (warehouse) but soon he became one of the wealthiest men in Bombay.
He had a summer retreat in Poona and he also had a synagogue built there. He also built a synagogue in Byculla (then a fashionable part of Bombay), and one in Hilla/Hilli near Baghdad that was also dedicated as a Yeshiva in the name of Hesqel Hannabi a”h (the prophet Ezekiel). His other philanthropic enterprises include Midrashim, schools (offering free education), hospitals, burial plots in India, Baghdad, Israel and Chine, a library, and youth training centers. Additionally, he aided the indigent and helped ensure that religious books were published. Throughout his life he remained very religious and committed to the traditions of the Baghdad Jewish community. Though he never learned English (he spoke Amrani, a Jewish Arabic dialect, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, and Hindustani), he became a British citizen in 1853.
7 Rabbi Ezra Basri, Biography of Rabbi Haim Mordecai Labaton, Haktav Institute, p. 12. 8 David Laniado, Holy People of Syria 1980. and Deshen and Zenner, Jews Among Muslims, (New York, 1996) p. 162. ￼
Rodriques, Benjamin Adolph (1815-1871)
Early Jewish Dentist of Charleston, SC. He was one of the first, if not the first to make an artificial palate (cleft palate obturator). He was elected a member of the American Society of Dental Surgeons at its organization in 1840, was a contributor to its publication, American Journal of Dental Science, and was vice-president of the American Dental Convention at its organization in 1860. (Jews of Charleston, p.88- 90.) ... King Solomon's Lodge, No. 1 was revived in 1841 by a warrant in which Benjamin Rodriques was named the junior warden. (Ibid., p.95). He also wrote mystery novels, which may now be found in the New York Public Library.
Rabbi Isaac Labaton (d. 1912 Aleppo)
Rabbi Isaac Labaton was one of the most respected Dayans in Aleppo. He knew the Book of Laws by heart and was an expert in writing agreements and contracts between businessmen according to Jewish law. Rabbi Isaac Labaton wrote Oseh Hayyil, and his responsa are published in works by other authors. In 1897, Rabbi Isaac moved to Jerusalem with his son-in-law, Rabbi Shalom Hedaya, where he became a member of the Beit Din.
Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)
Emma Lazarus came from precisely the same origins as Justice Benjamin Cardozo, and she came to address many of the same issues, using a very different medium. A cousin of Cardozo, she appears in Stern’s First American Jewish Families and was raised with tutors. Like Cardozo, she had great compassion for "the huddled masses" and "the wretched refuse" who were part of the immigrant wave that commenced in the 1880's. She joined immigrant relief workers on Wards Island, supplying the new arrivals with food and direction in the new world; and she wrote poetry of those coming to America "...yearning to breathe free."
But Lazarus' work was not confined to this focus. She produced translations of Heine, along with composing a biography of that great poet. She translated some of the works of the great medieval poets (i.e. Yehudah Ha-Levi and Ibn Gabirol). And she wrote essays and poems praising the Jews and defending them against anti-Semitic attacks. Lazarus was even a bit prophetic in anticipating a Jewish national and cultural revival, if not the creation of a Jewish State. Yet Lazarus is best remembered for her poem "The New Colossus" which was emblazoned at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. So cherished did this treasure become, that the original manuscript9 toured the United States beside the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence during the Bi-centennial Henry (Chaim) Pereira Mendes (Birmingham, England 1852-1937)
A scholar associated with Shearith Israel, Mendez was related to the famous 600 families mentioned in Malcolm Stern’s well-known work: First American Jewish Families. Mendes was trained from the age of 12 at Northwick College in London 10, but he came at a very young age to become the leader of Shearith Israel in New York. During his early ministry in New York, Mendes also received training in medicine, and he graduated from NYU on June 8, 1884. Mendes chose not to 9 Part of the collection in the possession of the American Jewish Historical Society, one of our affiliates at the Center for Jewish History.
10Northwick was a school founded by his father, and the training ground for such dignitaries as Rufus Isaacs, the first Lord of Reading,and Professor Raphael Meldola, father of the British coal tar industry. ￼ practice medicine, but his training led him to involvement in numerous medical activities. In 1884, he was instrumental in the creation of the Montefiore Hospital for Chronic Invalids. In 1896 moreover, he became the chairman of a committee which organized the Crippled Children's East Side Free School, and saw to the opening of the school in 1901. While so engaged, he acquired and took over the large school of deaf and created one of the leading schools for the handicapped of his day.
He was also involved in a number of scholarly pursuits. In 1886, he joined Dr. Sabato Morais in the founding of an Orthodox Jewish Theological Seminary. Organizational meetings were held at Shearith Israel (19th Street Site) and classes were first organized there in 1887. Mendes also took an active role in that organization. He served for many years as president of the Advisory Board, as well as serving as a Professor of History of the Seminary.
Finally, Mendes served as acting president from Morais' death in 1897 until the appointment of Solomon Schechter in 1902. Significantly, the focus of this institution was not merely to create Rabbis, nor even to create scholars, but it was to create American Rabbis and scholars to serve American congregations.
Mendes was also involved in a number of religious, scholarly, Jewish organizations. Notably, he joined his cousin, Meldola de Sola (Minister of Spanish-Portuguese Congregation of Montreal) in forming the Union of Orthodox Jewish congregations of the U.S. and Canada and sat as its president for its first 15 years. Pool asserts that this was a product of enlightened orthodoxy11 but I would say that it was as much a product of this American focus--this was an effort to bring together all of the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of the U.S. under a single organization, distinct from the Jews of Europe and elsewhere.
Finally, in addition to all these other activities, Mendes was also a prolific writer, in many literary genres, including journalism, children's stories, textbooks, commentaries, sermons, prayers, poetry, and drama. Mendes was thus heavily involved in Jewish scholarship.
Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938)
Turning to another luminary of Congregation Shearith Israel, Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo was one of the greatest legal minds of the 20th century. Cardozo’s family could also be traced in Stern’s First American Jewish Families to well before the Revolutionary War, and he was tutored throughout his childhood, most notably by Horatio Alger. This latter, with his "rags-to-riches" all American philosophy, seems to have had a profound impact on Cardozo's young mind.
One can see it expressed in Cardozo's commencement Speech from Columbia College, wherein Cardozo rejects communism as a remedy for social ills, advances instead the idea that in the American environment, everyone had the potential to succeed. Cardozo later softened, to give greater sympathy and support to the poor and the down-trodden--the common man-- both Jew and Gentile.12 Yet, he never stopped fighting for American ideals. In 1913, Cardozo was Elected to State Supreme Court and then appointed to 11 Universal Jewish Encyclopedia p. 479. 12 Cardozo became known as a lawyer's lawyer--able to handle and interpret the most difficult of cases the Court of Appeals. Selected by the "Fusion" Party (liberal Democrats fighting Tamany Hall) because he was the "right kind of Jew" –- he had a heritage that was well entrenched in American culture, involving himself in many of its most notable decisions.
At the age of 25, for example, he battled to maintain the traditions of the Synagogue, when it relocated to its current 70th St./Central Park West location. On the occasion of an Electors’ meeting in 1895, Cardozo gave a long and eloquent speech defending tradition, and rejecting the idea of mixed seating at Shearith Israel. It was not that Cardozo considered himself religious, nor did he dislike women, but he asserted that it was most important to adhere to the traditions of this American institution.
In terms of his scholarship, Cardozo was a major expositor of English Common Law in the 20th century. Cardozo was also an extensive reader, and Charles Evan Hughes Jr. (Clerk) when asked how he liked working with Cardozo, said : "Its great, but its like being an assistant to an encyclopedia.13" Furthermore, Cardozo wrote some six books, mainly based on lectures he gave. He was noted for recognizing that Judges were not merely interpreting the law, but were making the law through their interpretation.
Rabbi Murad Maslaton (Damascus 1876 -1959 New York)
Rabbi Murad Maslaton was the beloved rabbi for the Ahi Ezer community, in Brooklyn, New York and Damascus, Syria. Born in 1876 in Damascus to Joseph and Rebecca Maslaton, Murad was one of seven children, four boys and three girls. His brother Jacob Tarab Maslaton was the Chief Rabbi of Damascus and Beirut.
Rabbi Murad Maslaton taught Hebrew and Arabic for two decades to Jewish boys and girls at the French High School "Alliance Israelite." While teaching, he also served as cantor for the Hebrat Adi Ezer Congregation in Damascus, where his brother Jacob was the spiritual leader. By 1920 many Syrian Jews were leaving, or had left, Damascus for America and the promise of a better future. In the years following World War I, many more left Syria and settled in New York's Lower East Side. Unaccepted by their Ashkenazic brethren and unable to understand their Yiddish and strange dialect of Hebrew, these Damascene Jews needed a spiritual leader.
Rabbi Murad Maslaton was persuaded to come to America and lead the Hebrat Ahi Ezer Congregation on the East Side. Under his leadership, the congregation grew and flourished, moving to Bensonhurst into a private house on 64th Street converted into a k'nis. By 1951, the congregation moved into a newly constructed building complete with social hall and a magnificent sanctuary on 71st Street. Intent on educating the children in the growing community, the rabbi began a Talmud Torah, teaching from 50 to 100 children himself. He was so dedicated to educating the children in Torah, he worked from morning until night, winter and summer, Saturday afternoons and on Sundays as well. 13 Drew Pearson. The Nine old men (1937) ￼ Rabbi Murad Maslaton also wrote many works, including an interpretation of the Holy Bible with his brother Jacob. The esteemed and dignified rabbi served Ahi Ezer Congregation for 40 years.
Harav BenZion Meir Hai Uziel (Jerusalem 1880-1953)
Born to an Orthodox Sephardic Family, Uziel pursued a religious life from his childhood. His father, being the president of the Sephardic community’s rabbinical court, set an example for Uziel as well. After becoming a yeshiva teacher in 1900, he went on to become the leader of Jaffa’s Sephardic Community in 1911.
Uziel attempted to raise the status of the working Jews in Jaffa and the persecuted Jews in Israel. Because of his attempt to do so, the Turkish government exiled him to Syria during WWI, but he was allowed to come back before the British army took over Israel in 1919. He represented the Jewish community in many times of trouble during the British Mandate. He became the chief Rabbi of Salonika from 1921-1923, but returned to Tel-Aviv and became the chief Rabbi there.
In 1939, Uziel was appointed the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. His goals were to raise the education level of the Sephardic Jews, and having better relations with the Ashkenazi community. He established two yeshivas in Israel, Machazikei Torah and Shaare Zion, and wrote many articles on national, communal, and religious topics.
Rabbi Isaac Alcalay (Sofia 1882-1978)
Alcalay completed his secular and rabbinical studies in Vienna, Austria, where he studied at the Vienna Rabbinical Seminary. Around 1909 he became the chief Rabbi of Serbia. During the Balkan wars (1912-13) he served as chief Chaplain. He served as emissary of the Serbian government traveling to France, Great Britain, and the United States (1915-1918). In 1923 he founded the Rabbinical Federation of Yugoslavia and became the first president.
He helped to edit Jevrejski Almanah (Jewish Yearbook). Around 1924 he appointed Chief Rabbi of Yugoslavia by King Alexander, a position equal to that of the Catholic Archbishop and the Greek- Orthodox patriarch. In 1925 he attended the World Sephardi Congress in Vienna where he was elected vice-president of the World Sephardi Federation.
He was also made a State Senator and thus was the first Jew to sit in Yugoslavian Parliament (1930-1938). When the Germans occupied the country in 1941 he fled the country. He settled in the United States after a brief stay in Palestine. In 1942 he served as an emissary of the Yugoslavian government in exile. He became the chief rabbi of the Central Sephardic Jewish Community of America in 1943.
David de Sola Pool (London 1885-1970)
David de Sola Pool became the assistant rabbi of Shearith Israel in 1907 and by 1915, he had assumed most of the duties as hazzan, preacher, teacher, leader of adult education programs, etc. Pool was again related to the 600 first Jewish American families described in Stern's work. Initially his marriage with Shearith Israel was somewhat rocky. Although he came highly recommended in the early 1900’s, Pool was busy with his Ph.D. studies in Europe, and Shearith Israel ostensibly had Mendes as one of the great rabbis of the century.
In addition to serving as Rabbi of Shearith Israel, Pool also served as one of the representatives on Herbert Hoover's food conservation staff in 1917, as well as serving as a field organizer and director of army camp work of the Jewish Welfare Board during World War I (1917-1918). Indeed, so immersed did Pool become in relief efforts and organizational meetings for the creation of the Jewish State in Palestine that his contract with Shearith Israel was not renewed when it expired in 1919. Yet, despite his work for Israel, Pool was inevitably drawn back to his service in the U.S. in 1922, this time to direct the Jewish Education Committee, directing the organization of education on a city-wide basis. With his return to New York, moreover, Shearith Israel took the opportunity to renew his contract, as continued in the tradition of American Service.
Pool's contribution-in addition to serving Shearith Israel for 50 years, Pool became the pre-eminent Historian for the institution. In addition to his books on the Kaddish and on Hebrew Learning Among the Puritans of New England Prior to 1700 (1911) Pool also wrote extensively about America’s Jews. He compiled a history of Chatham Square Cemetery in Portraits Etched in Stone in which the focus was not merely upon Jews, but upon Jews involved in American events, most notably--the American Revolution. Furthermore, in addition to a number of pamphlets and books describing the history of each of the different Synagogues that represented Congregation Shearith Israel, Pool compiled another enormous tome describing the history of the Congregation, entitled Old Faith in the New World Here again, the focus was not merely upon Jews, but upon the Jews in America.
Last, but not least, Pool was responsible for the compilation of a whole collection of Prayerbooks--which came to replace the prayer books developed by Isaac Leeser. What is most significant is that in addition to compiling this classic Sephardic Prayer book, Pool also developed the Traditional Prayerbook. This Siddur is used not merely in Sephardic Synagogues, nor even exclusively in Orthodox Shuls, but with its inclusion of the 5 Megillot, it is even used in some Conservative synagogues. The impact of Pool's intellectual efforts, then, are felt throughout the Jewish World.
Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya (Aleppo 1890 – 1969 Jerusalem)
The second son of Rabbi Shalom Hedaya and Sarah Labaton was Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya (1890 Aleppo -1969 Jerusalem), who was brought to Jerusalem from Aleppo at age nine.14 During World War I, he fled the country in fear of the Sultan and spent four years in exile, returning to Jerusalem at the end of the war.
At the age of 18, he wrote his first book titled Servant of the King, based on the Rambam and received many awards for his writing. Rabbi Ovadya won the Israel Prize as well as the Honor of Those Who Hold Jerusalem Dear. Rabbi Ovadya was made principal of Yeshivat Porat Yosef in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he remained until 1945.
He also served as Hazan at Oz Vehadar, the Kabbalistic yeshiva next to Porat Yosef. Rabbi Ovadya succeeded his father as dean of the Yeshiva Be El and became Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Petach Tikva in 1939. In 1951, he became a member of the chief rabbinate of Israel, authoring many books on Jewish law and speeches. He also served as a Dayan, judge of the Av Bet Din.15 He wrote many books and his rabbinical writings were honored with awards from the Israeli government. 14 Laniado. 15 Laniado. ￼ When the Arabs burned the old building of Yeshiva Bet El in 1948 in the Old City of Jerusalem, Rabbi Ovadya took on the task of rebuilding the yeshiva in the new section of the city.
HaRav Yisrael Abuchatzeirah, ZT”L (“Baba Sali”) (Tafillalt, Morocco 1890-1984)
Born to a family of kabbalists, he was known as a miracle worker, and his nickname “Baba Sali” is Arabic for “our praying father.” He was a Talmudic scholar, ascetic, and a leader of the Sephardic community in Morocco and Israel. At 19 was inducted as Rosh Hayeshiva, later he became Rav of the kehilla (community), and he served as a judge on the Beit Din. In 1964 he emigrated to Israel, at first he settled in Yavne, and in 1970 he moved to Netivot. He was often visited by people seeking his advice and blessing; it was believed that his blessings were particularly potent, and that he had Ruach Hakodesh or “Divine Spirit.” He wrote many discourses on the Torahm Shavouot, Shabbat HaDado, Shabbat Zachor and the power of tzdaka.
Kassin, Rabbi Jacob S. (Jerusalem 1900-1994 New York)
Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin was born in 1900 in the old city of Jerusalem. He attended yeshiva Ohel Mo’Ed, a prestigious Torah academy in Jerusalem that was founded by Rabbi Rafael Shlomo Landau, a great Gaon. Rabbi Saul Kassin, Jacob Kassin’s father, instilled in Jacob a love of Torah and the importance of learning. This perpetuated the family’s rabbinical line.
After his bar mitzvah. Jacob was sent to Yeshiva Ohel Mo’Ed. His rabbis, who saw the capabilities of this gifted student, gave Jacob special attention. He excelled in his studies and continued his education at the Yeshiva Porat Yosef, a Sephardic yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he established his reputation as a scholar and later became a teacher.
By the age of 16, Jacob was known in Jerusalem for his knowledge of Talmud, which he himself attributed to his father. In the midst of World War I, Jacob’s fahter and sister died of typhoid fever. His mother died soon after. Jacob was an orphan at 16. Although he continued to study at the yeshiva, Jacob was poverty- stricken. He had little food and money. His clothing became threadbare. Food in Jerusalem was so hard to get that many people ate seeds and became sick. Jacob worked selling groceries to earn money to help feed his brothers. But the constant hunger left a toll on Jacob. He developed a debilitating stomach disease that stayed with him for years to come.
At age 18, Jacob Kassin was invited to the Jerusalem home of Rabbi Shalom Hedaya, a noted Kabbalist and Talmudic scholar. Rabbi Hedaya was very impressed by Jacob’s voice, his learning and most of all with his extreme modesty. Jacob was appointed Rosh Yeshiva in the then-newly-erected Yeshiva Porat Yosef building.He studied Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) under Rabbi Shalom Dweck.
Rabbi Jacob taught classes at Yeshiva Porat Yosef, often studying Kabbalah late into the night. Word soon spread that Jacob was a student of Kabbalah, bringing him to the attention of Rabbi Shaul Hayyim Dweck, a respected rabbi known for his knowledge of Kabbalah. Rabbi Dweck invited Jacob to become one of a select group of scholars who studied regularly with him.
In early 1922, a leading Kabbalist in Jerusalem was losing his sight. But the rabbi refused to leave Jerusalem to have the operation needed to cure his eyesight. He needed someone to read to him. Rabbi Dweck recommended Jacob as a good reader. For the next three years, Jacob read Kabbalah and, in turn, the rabbi explained the text to Jacob, making him an expert in Kabbalah.
During the course of his life, Jacob wrote several books of Kabbalah. In 1925, he published the Light of the Moon, the Light of the Month and the Light of the Life, a three- volume commentary entitled Or HaLevanah based on the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Shalom Sharaby. These books are Kabbalistic works studied by Kabbalah students today. In 1926, he wrote a book of questions and answers on marriage vows as well as the Foundation of Belief in manuscript form. Among his belongings was a handwritten pizmoneem book.
In 1928, Kabbalist Rabbi Rahamim David Shrem zt’l, was completing a major work on Kabbalah entitled Sha’arei Rahamim. The book was a collection of questions posed to his teachers – Rabbi Hayyim Shmuel Dweck and Rabbi Avraham Ades - on topics in the writings of Ari and the Rashash. Worried that there may be errors in the book, Rabbi Schrem needed a scholar to review the work. Rabbi Shrem sought out Rabbi Jacob Kassin, whose knowledge of the subject and whose gift for eloquent writing made him a perfect choice for the assignment.
In 1930, Rabbi Jacob added his signature to a joint approbation about the work Yad Eliyahu, by the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Yitzhak Hazan zt’l. From 1928 to the end of 1932, Rabbi Jacob served as a judge (Dayyan) in the Supreme Bet Din of the Sephardic Community of Jerusalem.16 In 1931, Jacob received his rabbinical ordination from the Great Rabbis of Israel, where he was established as a Talmudic and Kabbalistic scholar. In the same year, Rabbi Jacob published the Fruit of the Tree of the Garden, a book on Kabbalah that included questions and answers as well as puzzles. Mazal Hedaya and Jacob S. Kassin married in Jerusalem in 1919. Their ketubah lists the dowry as 205 liras. Both Mazal and Jacob descend from rabbinic families, thus they were observant and pious.
In 1931, Jacob received his rabbinical ordination and was established as a Talmudic and Kabbalistic scholar. Rabbi Dweck saw Kassin succeeding and sent him from Israel to Brooklyn, New York in 1931 to raise money for Sephardic orphanages in Palestine. Rabbi Jacob became an emissary sent to establish a spiritual anchor in America and to gather financial support from Sephardic Jews who hailed from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Morocco.
Rabbi Jacob traveled by ship to America in 1931. He spent six months in New York and Mexico where he made speeches, usually in Arabic, to several community groups. Although there were already several rabbis in New York, 16 Princely Wisdom, p. 80 and Biography of Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, Testimonial Dinner Journal, January 18, 1964. ￼ Rabbi Jacob Kassin was offered the position of Chief Rabbi of the Syrian community in Brooklyn. On August 10, 1933, Jacob, Mazal and their first four children (Shaul, Shulamith (Charlotte), Abraham, and Itzhak), came to New York and lived in Bensonhurst, near the established Magen David Congregation on 67th Street between 20th and 21st Avenues.
As chief rabbi of the Syrian Sephardic community, Jacob ran the synagogue, the Talmud Torah, and prepared boys for their bar mitzvahs. His presence was required at brit milahs, at funerals and numerous other occasions. Prior to every wedding, he took the time to meet with each couple in his small study in his home and give them books on family purity.
Rabbi Jacob ran the Bet Din, deciding on cases and formed the community’s Rabbinical Council. Brooklyn’s Syrian community was growing by leaps and bounds and Rabbi Jacob was their spiritual leader. Over the years, Rabbi Jacob brought the community together, reorganizing the Kahal (congregation) and establishing the various Jewish institutions onto a firm and stable foundation, which carries the community today. During his tenure as Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Jacob gained international repute as an expert on Jewish Law. Learned men sent queries of law to him from all over the world for his decision. He settled issues involving business transactions, weddings and provided valuable religious guidance.
Concerned about the non-Jewish influences members of the community were exposed to during their time away from their families, Rabbi Jacob and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian Community issued an edict in 1935 against marriage to converts. Such marriages were not to be recognized by the community. Children of such marriages could not attend community yeshivot. Further, rites of passage such as bar mitzvahs, weddings and the right to be buried in the community’s cemetery would be denied. The Takana (edict) had its base in a ruling by Rabbi Shaul David Setton of Aleppo,17 who accepted a position as rabbi and head of the rabbinic court in Argentina in 1912.
Rabbi Setton, saw a community “bereft of Torah and he set about remedying this situation, by establishing a kosher slaughterhouse, synagogue and other institutions. Rabbi Setton also started the rabbinic ban on conversions and marriage with converts in Argentina in 1927, the same ban that was later adopted in New York. Orthodox Jews in Argentina are believed to continue to observe this ban.
In New York, the Takana was signed was specifically to address those who converted to Judaism for the purpose of marriage, not someone who was a righteous convert.18 The edict, which was reissued on three occasions, became a cornerstone of Brooklyn’s Sephardic community. Although controversial in rabbinical circles, the strongly worded Takana essentially saved the community from intermarriage with non-Jews, a practice widely seen in Ashkenazic circles.
17 Moshe Zemer, “The Rabbinic Ban on Conversions in Argentina,” Judaism 37:84-96 (1988). 18 Internet www.sephardicinstitute.org/html/untitled_2_onconver.htm ￼ Unhappy with the limited education the children were receiving in the Talmud Torah, it was Rabbi Jacob who pushed to open the first Sephardic yeshiva. By the late 1950s, the community had opened Magen David Yeshiva, on Avenue P and Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst community.
By the late 1960s, most children in the community were attending yeshivot, marking a turning point in the religious education of the Brooklyn Syrian community. This gradually influenced more Syrian Jews to become more observant than the previous generation, a trend that has continued until today.
As families grew and more synagogues opened, Rabbi Jacob was the leader among the community’s many rabbis. While each rabbi lead his own flock, it was Rabbi Jacob whose word was law. As new issues arose, it was Rabbi Jacob who kept peace and maintained unity.
Over the years, Rabbi Jacob married one couple after another. He is credited with performing over 2,000 marriages, each carefully logged into six consecutive ledgers kept by his son Leon Kassin. For each wedding, Rabbi Jacob was careful to record the parentage of the bride and groom and to keep the documentation in case future questions came up. Rabbi Jacob officiated at happy occasions and life cycle events, such as brit milahs and bar mitzvot, as well as the community’s sad occasions, the funerals.
Rabbi Dr. Jacob S. Kassin often viewed his job as chief rabbi as one of diplomat. As the community grew, it splintered into factions, factions that Rabbi Jacob’s diplomacy and objectivity could hold together like glue. He issued and gathered support for many proclamations over time. Seeing too much gossip and ill will, he issued a Proclamation Against Slander (Lashon Hara).
Inappropriate dress was not tolerated. To reign in his congregation, in 1993 he authored a rabbinical resolution that members of a bridal party must have their shoulders and arms covered during the marriage ceremony. And in 1992, Rabbi Jacob issued a Rabbinical Proclamation against Bachelor Parties, which he felt were displays of inappropriate behavior for bridegrooms.
During the 62 years that Rabbi Jacob led Brooklyn’s Syrian community, he revived Sephardic heritage, culture, tradition and customs, as well as an awareness of Sephardic identity which remains unique and authentic. Rabbi Jacob served by accentuating the importance of serving and attending to the needs of everyone in the community.
Rabbi Jacob guided by the principle of respect for fellow men and of acceptance of every member of the community, regardless of their level of observance. By accepting the less observant, Rabbi Jacob sought to bring them into the fold.
Indeed, over the course of his life, Rabbi Jacob brought many that strayed from Torah observance back to the path of Judaism. Rabbi Jacob’s inspiring sermons, personal example and private counseling facilitated the return to the traditions and practices of Sephardic Judaism. During a time when many large Jewish communities were weakened by intermarriage, Brooklyn’s Syrian community was strengthened.
As Chief Rabbi, Jacob was the undisputed leader of Syrian Jewish communities worldwide. His decisions on halachic matters carried international weight among Jews. Realizing his influence, Rabbi Jacob sought to keep a firm hand on the religious affairs of other Syrian communities, encouraging them toward higher spiritual standards. Source: Sarina Roffé, Brooklyn Sephardic Community Historian
Henry V. Besso (1905-1993)
Born in Salonica, Besso received his early education at the Solinca Altshek Institute de Commerce and the College St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle. After the death of his parents he came to New York City with his older brother. He worked with an import-export firm until it closed during the Depression. He furthered his studies by attending evening classes and earned a B. A. from New York City College in 1931 and an M. A. from Columbia University in 1935. During the Depression, he worked for the Works Progress Administration; he began in the New York Adult Education Program, teaching French and Spanish, but was soon supervising and training other teachers. In 1940, he was transferred to Washington, DC where he trained Air Force and Naval officers and US government officials. He eventually became a research analyst and speechwriter for the Voice of America. He wrote extensively in the field of Hispanic and Judeo-Spanish linguistics. For a time he served as the Executive Director of the American Branch of the World Sephardi Federation. In 1967 he was one of the founders of the American Society of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University.
Salvator Altchek (1910-2003)
He was born in Salonika, which was then a part of the Ottoman Empire and is now in Greece. He graduated from Columbia and New York Medical College. Known as the “five dollar doctor,” he worked in a basement office, serving the medical needs of the poor in his Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, and often charging just $5 or $10 or working without fee if his patients could not afford to pay.
Haham Shalom Messas (Maknes, Morocco 1913-2003 Jerusalem)
Haham Shalom Messas, Morocco's retired Chief Rabbi and Jerusalem's Sephardi Chief Rabbi for the past 25 years, died April 12,2003 at the age of 90. Haham Messas served as the head of the rabbinical court in Casablanca. After retiring, he immigrated to Israel to serve as chief Jerusalem rabbi, like his cousin Haham Yosef Messas, who served as Haifa's chief rabbi after retiring in Morocco. Messas clashed with then chief Israel rabbi Ovadiah Yosef about preserving the customs of Morocco's Jews in Israel. Yosef said the customs of Israel should take precedence over all the customs of the countries of origin.
This was in keeping with the rulings of Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of Shulhan Aruch - the book laying the foundations to the halakha world in the past 400 years - who lived in Safed in the 16th century. Haham Messas was among the few Sephardi rabbis who dared dispute Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and staunchly defended the independent customs of Morocco's Jewry. He also supported publishing prayer books in their original Moroccan version. Source: Yair Sheleg, Haaretz Correspondent
Hahambashi David Asseo
Chief Rabbi of Turkey, who led the Jewish community for 41 years died at 88. Haham Rabbi Dr. Solomon Gaon, (December 15, 1912-December 21, 1994) Dr. Gaon was born in Travnik, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia) to Isaac and Raquel (Pinto) Gaon. In 1949 he was named Haham of Spanish and Portuguese Congregations of the British Commonwealth, a post that he maintained until 1982. He was elected president of the American Society of Sephardic Studies in 1968.
From 1976 until his retirement in 1993, Dr. Gaon was University Professor of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University. From 1978 until his death at the end of 1994 Dr. Gaon was the Haham, or Chief Rabbi, of congregations affiliated with the World Sephardi Federation. In 1990 the Spanish Royal family honored Dr. Gaon, on behalf of the world’s Sephardic Jews with the Prince of Asturias Concord Prize – the equivalent of the Spanish “Nobel Prize” – bestowed by Prince Felipe in Oviedo, Spain.
Dr. Gaon’s wrote and edited numerous scholarly articles, books, commentaries, and translations, including Minhat Shelomo, a commentary on the Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, The Influence of the Catholic Theologian Alfonso Tostado on the Pentateuch Commentary of Isaac Abravenel, “The Contributions of the Sephardim to Anglo-Jewry” in Journal of the Folklore Research Center, and “The Character of the Sephardim and Their Outlook” in the Festschrift for Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie. He co-edited Sephardim and the Holocaust.
Gabriel Shehebar (1917-)
He was born in Cairo, Egypt, his father, Abraham, was from Aleppo, Syria. He left in Egypt in 1957 after the Suez War of 1956. During the Suez War the Egyptian government shut down Jewish businesses, including his own business. After failing to obtain an immigration visa to the United States, he decided to move to Cuba. When Castro came to power business became difficult. He finally obtained an immigration visa to the U.S. and moved to New York. He worked for Jack Tobias in his shop. Eventually, he arranged to purchase the shop from Mr. Tobias, and the enterprise expanded to include many stores. He established a Foundation for support of religious studies in Israel. He principally supports four yeshivot which carry his name. Thiese include: Navat Yisrael, and Makhon Ha-ketab. There also rooms dedicated to him in other yeshivot.
Louis N. Levy (New York April 23, 1918 - )
Louis Levy was born on the Lower East Side, the son of Yeuda Levy of Chorlu, Turkey and Regina Calderon of Monastir in the Balkans. Levy was nurtured in the world of Sephardim and Ladino. Frequenting the coffee houses so popular among the new immigrants, Levy learned to speak Ladino, while he read the Judeo-Spanish weekly newspaper La Vara. He attended Talmud Tora and synagogue at the Berith Shalom- Sephardic Jewish Center (Centro Judio Sephardi) that was established by the Congregation Shearith Israel Sisterhood to serve the Sephardim in the area. He became acquainted with many of the Sephardi leaders of the time, including Rabbi Joseph de Abraham Benyunes, Albert J. Torres, David N. Barocas, and Rabbi David de Sola Pool of Congregation Shearith Israel.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and when he returned home he became active in efforts to unify the Sephardic community, joining with such figures as Rabbis Nesim Ovadia and Isaac Alkalay, as well as other notables like Joseph Papo and Mair Jose Benardette.
Though efforts to maintain the community as an independent entity failed, Levy was able to work with and promote a number of its component parts. Thus he became the treasurer for the Sephardic Home for the Aged, in Brooklyn, and joined with David N. Barocas in creating the "Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture" to publish works on Sephardic history and culture. He further supported a number of Sephardic organizations, including The World Sephardi Federation, Yeshiva University's Sephardic Studies Program, The World Organization for Jews of Arab Countries, The Sephardic Educational Center, The Sephardic Brotherhood of America, and Peace and Brotherhood of Monastir. He was also a strong advocate supporting Sephardic students and scholarship through The Broome and Allen Boys Association. He further promoted scholarship by encouraging Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and David N. Barocas to translate and to publish in English the great Ladino Commentary on the Bible known as Me'Am Lo'ez. At the same time as he was doing all of these other things, Levy worked to build the stunning Ladino and Rare Book Library.
Chaim Herzog (Belfast, Ireland 1918 - 1997)
Born on the 17th of September 1918, the son of Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Ireland's Chief Rabbi in the midst of the Irish Revolution, Chaim spent his formative years in the Irish Jewish ghetto, the ghetto of James Joyce'c Leopold before being sent to school in Palestine. He returned to fight for Britain in World War II , helping to liberate the German concentration camps , one of the first outside witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust. In his role as a British officer he was present for the surrender of Heinrich Himmler.
He returned to Palestine a Zionist dedicated to the formation of the state. Through his eyes we see the process from his days in the early underground movement where it was difficult to tell who was the more dangerous enemy, the Arabs or the British; through his years in the Israeli army, rising to the rank of General; to his involvement in creating and developing Israel's superb intelligence organization. In the turbulent 1970's he took on the role of U.N. Ambassador, never shrinking from the fight, even when it seemed the entire world was against him and his country. In 1983 he was elected President of Israel, serving for ten years as head of state. Source: http://www.herzog.org.il/ebook.htm
Rabbi Shaul J. Kassin (Jerusalem 1920-
Born in Jerusalem to Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin and Mazal Hedaya, Shaul came to New York in 1933 with his parents and siblings. Shaul became a teacher and was editor in chief of Nir, the Teachers Institute at Yeshiva University yearbook, and the school newspaper, where he also wrote Hebrew articles. Rabbi Saul was an excellent mathematician, and always typed his own speeches in Hebrew and English. After becoming a rabbi, Rabbi Shaul taught at Magen David Talmud Torah and later at Magen David Yeshiva, the Syrian community’s first yeshiva.
Rabbi Shaul had hundreds of students during those first years in the community. His students include Rabbi Isaac Dweck, Rabbi Moshe Shamah, Rabbi Benjamin Seruya, Rabbi Diamond, Rabbi David Cohen, Dr. Robert Matalon, Dr. Eddie Sutton, Dr. Leo Sultan and many others.
Rabbi Shaul was also his father’s most trusted assistant. He was Rabbi Jacob’s secretary, and wrote articles for him. He was also secretary of the Bet Din, which met every Monday and Thursday morning. There were three judges – Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, Rabbi Matlouf Abadi and Rabbi Eliahu Husney.
During his lifetime, Rabbi Shaul has many accomplishments with which to be proud. Rabbi Shaul published Light of the Law (Shengold Publishers, 1980), a book on Jewish law that must be observed, as well as commentaries. He assisted in the building of Mikvehs in the United States and Israel and established Nivat Yisrael, a school for girls with over 700 students.
On a daily basis, Rabbi Shaul is engulfed with settling disputes involving business, marriage, and children, as well as medical and educational. His priamry role is to bring peace amongst his followers. Dignitaries from around the world - such as kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents of countries, senators, congressman, attorney generals, military attaches - all come to Rabbi Shaul for consultations and blessings. As a rabbi, Shaul J. Kassin is highly respected not only in Brooklyn’s Syrian community, but in Sephardic Jewish circles around the world. Most of today’s community rabbis attribute their Hebrew and Torah education to Rabbi Shaul.
Rabbi Shaul opened three yeshivas in 1995 in the Sephardic section of Uzbekistan, in the former Soviet Union. He was also instrumental in forming the Syrian community’s vibrant Rabbinical Council in 1987, a group that has created a dialogue among rabbis of different philosophies and through which community issues can be settled. As today’s Chief Rabbi, Shaul is held in high esteem by his congregation and by the entire Syrian community in Brooklyn.
Baruj Benacerraf (Caracas, Venezuela 1920-)
Born of Spanish-Jewish ancestry, his father was from Spanish Morocco and his mother was brought up in French Algeria. His family lived in Paris from the time he was five until 1939, when they returned to Venezuela. He went to Columbia University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1942. While in medical school at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, he was drafted into the army. He has won much recognition in his field, and in 1980 he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine with two other men, for their discoveries concerning genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions.
Eydie Gorme (New York 1931-
First successful as a clear-voiced, spirited American soloist, Eydie Gorme later became known for her duets and nightclub act with husband Steve Lawrence. Born Edith Gorme on Aug. 16, 1931 in The Bronx, her parents spoke only Spanish throughout much of her youth, and she became fluent in the language. She appeared in several of her high school's musical productions and thought about a career as a performer but took a job as an interpreter for a theatrical supply company upon graduation and sang in a band on the weekends. She later decided to try show business full time and landed positions with the Tommy Tucker, Tex Benecke, and Ray Eberle bands.
In the early 1950s, Gorme cut some singles for Coral Records and performed in nightclubs. She also hosted Cita Con Eydie (A Date with Eydie), a radio program on Voice of America that was broadcast to Spanish-speaking countries around the world. Steve Allen asked her to join the permanent cast of his Tonight show in 1953. As a last-minute substitute for Billy Daniels at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City in 1956, she proved so popular that she returned months later as the star of her own show. That same year, she recorded the songs ‘Too Close for Comfort' and ‘Mama, Teach Me to Dance'. Other works included ‘You Need Hands' (1958), ‘Blame It on the Bossa Nova' (1963), ‘Love Me Forever' (1967), and ‘Tonight, I'll Say A Prayer' (1969). She received a 1966 Grammy award as best female pop vocalist for her rendition of ‘If He Walked Into My Life' from the musical ‘Mame'.
Gorme married balladeer Steve Lawrence, another regular on Allen's Tonight show, in 1957. The two had their own television show the following year as summer replacements for Allen. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences established the Grammy category of best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal in 1960, and that year Gorme and Lawrence won for We Got Us. In 1963, they released the hits ‘I Want To Stay Here' and ‘I Can't Stop Talking About You'. They went on to appear together in several Emmy-winning television specials and were popular live performers with their nightclub act.
Edmond J. Safra (Beirut 1932 – 1999 Monaco)
A noted philanthropist and banker, Safra was born in Beirut in 1932 to a wealthy family of Syrian Jewish bankers who had once financed the camel caravans. He was hired by his father's bank at 16 and took charge of the precious metals department. In 1949, the family moved to Italy, fleeing the anti-Semitic persecution brought about by the emergence of the State of Israel. Edmond Safra worked for a trading company in Milan. The family moved once again in 1952, this time to Brazil, where Edmond Safra founded the Banco Safra S.A. in 1955.
In 1956, Edmond Safra settled in Geneva where he set up the Trade Development Bank and worked with wealthy clients from around the globe. In 1966, he founded Republic National Bank of New York. Edmond Safra became famous in 1983 through the sale of the Trade Development Bank to American Express, a transaction that turned into a legal battle between the 2 parties. The financier came out on top and, in 1988, he founded the Safra Republic Holdings S.A., a firm specializing in wealth management.
By the early 90s, Edmond Safra's fortune was an estimated 2.5 billion dollars. He made many donations to Jewish hospitals, schools and universities throughout the world. As he approached his 60s, the financier shared his time between his home in Geneva, New York and his villas on the French Riviera. Weakened by Parkinson's Disease, Edmond Safra decided to sell his financial empire, an estimated value of 2.75 billion dollars. He died in 1999, in Monaco, at the age of 67.
Daniel Judah Elazar (1934-1999)
Mr. Elazar was born in Minneapolis, and later moved to Detroit with his family when he was 13. In 1944, Elazar left to the University of Chicago to study political science and to receive his masters and his doctorate. He later became a professor of political science at Temple University in Philadeplhia, and at the Bar- Ilan University in Tel-Aviv.
He founded the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University. He was the first president of the American Sephardi Federation, and his term lasted from 1973-1975. Although he was afflicted with polio at a young age, it didn’t stop him from his academic interests in Jewish communal life and Western-style government. Elazar did much research about Judaism, and even went on to write books about Judaism and Jewish communities. He always wanted to help out the Jewish community in any way that he possibly could. He helped set up the libraries in the United Hebrew Schools, and wrote A Classification System for Libraries of Judaica, which helps librarians with their work till this day. Politically, he advised all governments on the theory behind free republics. Because his political ideologies were very popular and well respected, President Reagan named him to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations in 1986.
Victor Haim Perera (Guataemala City 1934 – 2003 New York)
Mr. Perera moved to Brooklyn, NY with his parents and sister when he was 12. After graduating from Brooklyn College, he received an M.A. in English literature from the University of Michigan. In the 1960’s he was a fact checker at the New Yorker and in 1972 he moved to California where he became a lecturer in literature, writing and journalism at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In 1993 he became a lecturer at the graduate school of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. His writings include, The Cross and the Pear Tree: A Sephardic Journey (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), a memoir in which he traces the Perea name back to medieval Spain and follows the family’s migration through Portugal, France, Italy, and Greece to 19th-century Jerusalem. He also wrote on the Mayan Indians and several novels including, The Conversion (Little, Brown, 1970) about an American Jew.
Moshe Safdie (Haifa 1938 - )
A trained architect, Moshe Safdie is a Sephardi who seeks to combine beauty and functionality in every building he creates. Growing up as a sabra (native born Israeli) and a Sephardi, Safdie lived between two worlds: he was the child of a Sephardi merchant family that originated in Aleppo, Syria, while he was immersed in the largely Ashkenazi socialist milieu of the fledgling state of Israel. Safdie is part of a Sephardic tradition that stretches through Syria back to Spain. His mother, born and raised in Manchester, England, came from a family of Jews from Aleppo, Syria but traces themselves to Spain.
His father's family may have originated in the Middle East, in the town of Safed located in the mountains of the Galilee in Israel. At some point during the past couple of hundred years, they moved to Aleppo. However an alternate family tradition traces their Sephardic roots to Spain. The family does not speak Ladino, but this was not necessarily unusual among some descendants of the Spanish Jews. On the other hand, they have preserved the custom of lighting an extra candle each night of Hanukah, a custom that is unique among the Syrian Jews of Judeo-Spanish origin.
Some explain this custom as the result of the difficulties these Jews encountered after they were expelled from Spain. Their journey was quite arduous, as they wandered from port to port until they found a country willing to shelter them. When they finally found a haven in Syria they determined that they would kindle an additional candle in thanksgiving.
Safdie’s father arrived in Haifa in 1935. Like many of his fellow Aleppans, he was involved in the textile trade, importing materials from around the world. This ended abruptly in 1953, when Israel established a ban on imports. The elder Safdie, unable to legally conduct his business felt obliged to gather up his family and emigrate to Canada. Like the others of his generation, Safdie dreamed of growing up and founding his own Kibbutz in the socialistic environment of Israel in the 1940's.
This interest in people and the desire to erect "functional, economical, buildings that solved social problems" served as the inspiration for his first and best known masterpiece: Habitat '67 at the Montreal Expo. Habitat '67 was a prefabricated concrete housing complex comprising three clusters of individual apartment units arranged like irregularly stacked blocks along a zigzagged framework. The project was bold and widely acclaimed by critics and laymen alike, and proposals for similar projects were drawn up for various sites around the world. In the end however, few places were able to commit to such massive building campaigns and thereby make the system of prefabrication used in building the "Habitats" cost-effective.
On moving to Montreal, Canada at the age of 15 Moshe had encountered a very different attitude toward Sephardic culture. Here the Sephardim were treated as royalty, where they had been treated as second-class citizens in Israel. And even though they were not actively involved in the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal, the Safdie’s were able to give expression to their Sephardic practices along with other like minded Egyptian and Syrian families.
When Safdie returned to Israel 15 years later moreover, things had changed significantly: the Sephardim now represented the majority of the Jewish population in Israel, and they began to assert themselves in the world. One of Safdie's first opportunities to give expression to his Sephardic tastes was in the design and construction of the restored Yeshivat Ben Porat.
He noted that he and his family had personal connections with the Yeshiva (his uncle was an active member of the Synagogue administration and his cousin was married to one of the two rabbis in charge), but he also noted that he is an Aleppo Jew and "every Aleppo Jew assumes that every other Jew from Aleppo is a blood relative in one way or another." Safdie's goal in building this new complex was to create something that appeared as if it had always been there. Thus, although this 80 year old Yeshivah had been destroyed during the Arab occupation of the Old City of Jerusalem, Safdie tried to restore it to its once and future brilliance. He went on to place his signature on the re-building of the Old City and on development of the new center. He maintains an office in Jerusalem and among his achievements are the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College (1989), and the Yad Vashem Children's Holocaust Memorial (1987).
Safdie's architectural commissions extend to all corners of the globe. They range from educational and cultural institutions such as the Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex in the Punjab, India to airport projects like the new Ben Gurion airport at Lod, Israel. He also designed the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem and the U.S. Institute of Peace Headquarters in Washington D.C. Unquestionably, Moshe Saftie’s life and work balances differing elements of experience: functionality with aesthetic sense; human dimension with grandeur; and a traditional Sephardic heritage with Israeli pragmatism. Sources Beyond Habitat and Jerusalem the future of the Past by Moshe Safdie. The Hanukkah Anthology by Phillip Goodman. “Truth in Architecture” by Larissa MacFarquhar (New Yorker, January 20, 2003) Oral history of Mr. Safdie located in the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library.
Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel (Seattle 1945- )
Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City which, founded in 1654, constitutes the oldest Jewish congregation in North America.
Rabbi Angel traces his ancestry back to the Sephardic community of Rhodes. His fascination with things Sephardic has led him to write more than 20 books, beginning with The Jews of Rhodes (1978) and includes such titles as La America (about the early Ladino newspaper) and Voices in Exile on the history of Sephardic scholarship. Throughout his life, Angel has played an active role in many national Jewish organizations, both Sephardic and otherwise. He has been a long time President of the Union of Sephardic Congregations, and he served for a time as the president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). In his effort to promote Sephardic awareness moreover, Rabbi Angel founded Sephardic House, and he has been a long time member of the Board of Directors of the American Sephardi Federation.
- Noteworthy Sephardim - Compiled by Sarina Roffe
- The Chida חיים יוסף דוד אזולאי
- Ovadya M'Bartenura עובדיה מברטנורא - classic Mishnaic commentary
- Saadia Gaon - Babylonian leader
- Abraham Ibn Ezra - classic commentator, rabbi and poet
- Yehuda Ha-levi - the Kuzari
- Joseph Karo יוסף קארו - author of the Shulchan Aruch
- Ovadiah Seforno - classic commentator
- Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar - the Or Ha-chaim
- Moses Maimonides; משה בן מימון - הרמב"ם ; موسى ابن ميمون ; Mūsā ibn Maymūn (c. 1138 - 1204) Rabbi, great commentator, physician & philosopher
- Solomon Ibn Gabirol, poet and philosopher
First-generation Sephardic exiles:
- Don Isaac Abarbanel דון יצחק אברבנאל
- Solomon ibn Verga, A
- Abraham Zacuto
- Abraham ben Salomon de Torrutiel Ardutiel
- Yosef ben Tzadiq of Arévalo
- Doña Gracia Nasi
- Joseph Nasi
- Abraham Cohen Herrera
- Isaac Orobio de Castro
- Uriel da Costa
- Lea Michele
- Pedro de Herrera
- Baruch Spinoza
- Isaac Pinto
- Solomon de Medina
- Gershom Mendes Seixas
- David Ricardo
- Moses Montefiore
- Grace Aguilar
- Isaac D'Israeli
- Judah P. Benjamin—politician and lawyer
- Emma Lazarus—poet
- Moses Angel
- Philip Guedalla
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo
- Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz
- Menasseh Ben Israel
- Jacob ben Aaron Sasportas
- Saul Levi Morteira
- Isaac Aboab da Fonseca
- Jacob Abendana
- David Nieto
- Raphael Meldola
- D. A. de Sola
- Isaac Leeser
- Abraham de Sola
- Sabato Morais
- Abraham Pereira Mendes
- Frederick de Sola Mendes
- Henry Pereira Mendes
- Moses Gaster
- David de Sola Pool
- Shem Tob Gaguine
- Solomon Gaon
- Abraham Lopes Cardozo
- Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo
- Marc D. Angel
- Yitzhak Ben-Gualid, Tetuan, Morocco
- Abdallah Somech, Baghdad, Iraq
- Eliezer Papo, Sarajevo, Bosnia
- Rahamim Hai Havita Hakohen, Djerba, Tunis
- Matzliah Mazuz, Djerba, Tunis
- Eliyahu Mani, Baghdad, Iraq
- Shelomo Aben-Danan, Fez, Morocco
- Rephael Encaoua, Sale, Morocco
- Shimon Agasi, Baghdad, Iraq
- Yehuda Fetaya, Baghdad, Iraq
- Ezra Hamway, Aleppo, Syria
- Yosef Yedid Halevy, Aleppo, Syria
- Ben-Sion Hazzan, Baghdad, Iraq
- Sadkah Hutzin, Baghad, Iraq
- Yehoshua Sharbani, Baghdad, Iraq
- Ben-Sion Meir Hai Uziel, Jerusalem
- Yosef Messas, Meknes, Morocco
- Yitzhak Abuchatzera , Tafillalt, Morocco
- Abraham Harari-Raful, Jerusalem
- Amram Ben-Diwan, Jerusalem
- Yaakob Kassin, Jerusalem
- Baruch Ben-Haim, Jerusalem
- Yosef Moshe Ades, Jerusalem
- Mansour Ben-Shimon, Sfad, Israel
- Meir Abuchatzera, Sale, Morocco
- Shalom Shar'aby (Rashash)
- Haim Pinto
- Haim Palagi (Habif)
- Yaakob Abuchatzera (Abir Yaakob)
- Shelomo Eliezer Alfandri (Saba Kadisha)
- Yitzhak Abulafia
- Haim Hizkiah Medini (Sdei Hemed)
- Haim Shaul Dweck Hakohen
- Yaakob Haim Sofer (Kaf Hahaim)
- Epharaim Hakohen
- Ezra Attiah
- Obadiah Hedaya
- Raphael Baruch Toledano
- Israel Abuchatzera (Bab Sali)
- Yitzhak Kaduri
- Yaakob Ades
- Salman Mutzafi
- Yaakob Mutzafi
- Yehudah Sadka
- Mordechai Shar'aby
- Shalom Messas
- Ben Sion Abba Shaul
- Biographies of Sephardi Hachamim'- 2 volumes
- Sephardic Genealogy by Jeffrey S. Malka
- Don Isaac Abravanel by Benzion Netanyahu
- Malkhei Rabanan - rabbis of Morocco Extensive biographical listing by Ben Naim, Yosef , Jerusalem, 1931 (Hebrew).
- Malkhei Tarshish - rabbis of Tunisia -Extensive biographical listing by - Cohen, Benyamin Rafael , Jerusalem, 1986 (Hebrew).
- Toldot Hakhmei Yerushalayim. Rabbis of Jerusalem - Jerusalem, 1872 (Hebrew).' Biographical listing by - Frumkin, A. ,
- Yehudei Hamizrach Be'Eretz Israel. Mizrachi Jews in Israel- Gaon, Moshe David , Jerusalem, 1836 (Hebrew).
- Les Noms des Juifs du Maroc Institut Montano, Madrid, 1978 Extensive biographic listing - Laredo, Abraham , detailed sources, etc. Terrific for genealogists. This book which was out of print and long unavailable has now been reprinted and available in 2 volumes at Libreria Hebraica in Spain.
- Malkhei Yeshurun of rabbis of Algeria - Marciano, Eliahu Rafael , Jerusalem, 2000 (Hebrew). Extensive biographical listing
- Fez ve hakhameha. Rabbis (from Yahas Fez) - Ovadia, David , Jerusalem, 1979 (Hebrew).
- Index to Malkhei Tarshish. Tagger, Mathilde , Ben Zvi Institute, 1994 (Hebrew).
- Toldot Hakhamei Tunis. Tunis rabbis. - Tanugi, Y. , Bnei Brak, 1988 (Hebrew).
- Dicionário Sefaradi de Sobrenomes. 2003 (Portuguese/English). Order from Avotaynu or Livraria Cultura , by Faiguenboim, G., et al. ,