Making Four Sefardic Authors Known
On a few occasions when I had the privilege of being received by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zi"l, he praised me for publishing manuscripts of great Sefardic talmidei chachamim (Torah sages) and encouraged me to continue doing so.
From time to time, when I visit the great Sefardic sage, Chacham Ovadya Yosef, in Jerusalem, he expresses his appreciation of the fact that , although an Ashkenazi, I give preference to publishing Sefardic authors from manuscripts in my library. I explained to him that while Ashkenazic words are widely published and studied, I see it as my special mission to give wide access to works by great Sefardic Torah sages and Talmudists, who had a tremendous influence on their own communities, although the rest of the world knows little about them.
Herewith are four, brief biographical sketches of authors whose works I have published.
Born around 1610 in Turkey, he died in Jerusalem in 1683. His birthplace was either Adrianopolis or Constantinople. As his Spanish name shows, his family originated from Spain. His early studies took place in Adrianopolis, where he was also accepted as the chacham of the city. All the great sages of his time, in Egypt and Turkey, turned to him for his halachic (Jewish legal) decisions, and his opinion was accepted as binding. He was also known for his sermons, which earned him a great reputation and following.
By 1652 he was established in Jerusalem with many of his followers. His historic accomplishment there was his encounter with Shabbatai Zvi and his "prophet," Nathan of Gaza. Rav Avraham Amigo quickly realized that Shabbatai Zvi was a fraud, and together with two other great kabbalists, expelled him from the Holy City. This incident is reported in various books, including one by Rav Yaakov Emden (Taavetz), who spent a lifetime fighting followers of the false Messiah.
At that time a yeshiva was established in Jerusalem by the name "Baalei Battim," founded by the wealthy Veiga family, also of Iberian origin. Rav Amigo was appointed to head this academy, which had a great number of students who later occupied important posts in the Sefardic world, among them Rav Chayim Abulafia and Rav Moshe Galantl. Rav Amigo had very rich exchanges with such Torah sages as Rav Shlomo Algazi, Rav Yitzchak De-Boton and Rav Shemuel Garmizan.
After Rav Avraham Amigo and his colleagues had expelled Shabbatai Zvi from Eretz Yisrael, they sent letters to the heads of the communities of Venice and Constantinople with their findings about the messianic pretender. The decisive action by Rav Amigo undoubtedly led to the discrediting of Shabbatai Zvi in the rest of the Jewish world and forced him back to Izmit, Turkey, where he became a Moslem apostate.
None of his complete works have until now been printed. When I discovered that I had an autograph -- manuscript written in the author’s own hand -- and had it identified by Professor Meir Benyahu in Jerusalem, I decided that it must be published. The work contains partly halachic, partly homiletic writings, often based on kabbalah.
His contemporaries called him "The Great Prince," "The Great Luminary" and "The Greatest in His Generation." The great bibliographer Rav Hayim David Azulay (Chidah) praises his work, but laments that his writings were lost. It is therefore a special privilege to have salvaged writings by this great historic Sefardic personality.
Bosnia-Herzogovina, as we all know now, is the source of unbelievable turmoil and violence. This situation has been going on for over 400 years, because of the forced occupation of the area by the Moslem Turks, who spent centuries converting the Christian population to Islam through cruel persecutions and violence. No wonder that the Serbs, who have survived the Turkish genocide, are bent on taking revenge on the Moslem Bosnians. This configuration of religious and political extremes has more than once led to war on a worldwide scale. It is amazing that out of this chaos one of the greatest talmidei chachamim arose.
Rav Avraham Pinso was born in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, called in Hebrew, "Sharye de-min Bosnia." Already under the rule in the 16th century of the famous Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent -- the builder of the city walls around Jerusalem -- Jews settled in Sarajevo. Their fate rose and fell according to the varying character of the rulers throughout the centuries. By 1765, the community appointed the Venetian Talmudist Rav David Pardo as its leader. When he moved from Venice across the Adriatic Sea to set up his seat in Bosnia, he brought great Talmudists with him. Thus, a center of learning was established that was highly respected and productive. For a while he lived in Belgrade -- "Belo Grado" in Hebrew -- but then was called to head the community in Sarajevo.
His leading disciple in Sarajevo was Rav Avraham Pinso, a native of the city. Rav Pinso, born in 1740, dwelt throughout his life on the Torah and kabbalah that his great teacher had passed on to him. He held Rav David Pardo’s works in manuscript form for many years and used them as the foundation of his own learning. He worked hard to have his teacher’s works printed. For this reason he traveled to Livorno, the important Italian town.
There he met Rav Azulay, who added his warm recommendation to the introduction to Rav Pardo’s works, which were printed in Livorno. Rav Azulay was so impressed with Rav Pinso that he wrote great praises about him in his own bibliographical work, Shem Hagedolim. He particularly stressed the great piety and humility of Rav Pinso. In 1805, toward the end of his life, Rav Pinso settled in Jerusalem. In doing so he followed in the footsteps of his master and teacher, Rav Pardo, who also came to live in the Holy City.
My manuscript by Rav Pinso, written in his own hand, are called Katit la-Maor and Ezrat Metza, which contain responses as well as chiddushim (insights) on many tractates. These voluminous works are printed in two volumes and are a delight for scholars and students. Rav Pinso died in Jerusalem in 1820.
Rav Eliezer Chazan, a descendant of a very famous rabbinical family, was born in Izmit, Turkey. His father, Rav Joseph Refael Chazan, is known by the name of his leading work, Chiqrey Lev. Rev Eliezer Chazan was born around 1790 and died in 1823. One of his descendants was a rabbi in Alexandria, Egypt, and evidently took with him the very voluminous manuscripts of Rav Eliezer Chazan, titled Amudey Arazim, which I have published in four volumes. The very unusual feature of this work is that it is a very extensive commentary on Sefer Yereim, a medieval work by Rav Eliezer of Metz, one of the Tosefites. This work lists all 613 Mitzvot, and it is likely that Rav Chazan wrote his commentary on all of them -- but only a portion has survived, filling four volumes.
Here you have a fine combination of the great Ashkenazic tradition of the French-German school, combined with a commentary of the Sefardic Turkish school. Today’s scholars marvel at the erudition and depth of Rav Chazan’s work. When the first volume of this important work was published, I attached to it an essay by my late son Jamie, z"l, translated into Hebrew, on "Love and Fear of G-d in the Rambam."
One of the most fascinating Jewish communities in the world is without a doubt that of the island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. The beginnings of this community are lost somewhere in the beginning of our history. Their own local tradition claims that the Jews were living there in the days of Joshua, certainly they were there in the days of Ezra.
The ancient synagogues of the island are visited by visitors from all corners of the world. The concentration of kohanim and scholars there is unusually high. Much of that splendor has survived until our days. There was for many years a printing press in Djerba and I own a number of books printed on that exotic island, by authors who are largely unknown in the Ashkenazic world.
A handwritten autograph in my possession by Rav Tzemach ha-Kohen, who lived over 250 years ago, contains commentaries on various tractates of the Talmud. It is called Terumath Ha-Dashen, a favorite name occurring in Talmudic literature. My publication of the work took place a few years ago.
The research for the publication of works by the four listed authors was done by the Ahavath Shalom Institute in Jerusalem. Each volume contains a Hebrew introduction written by me, and each volume is dedicated, in my and my wife’s name, to the memory of our late son Jamie, z"l.
It is our ardent wish that the revival of the works of these giants of Judaism, for so long ignored, will give spiritual sustenance to our people at this critical time in our history
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