Article - Rabbis of Jerusalem
Rabbis of Jerusalem
Rabbi Jacob Saul Eliachar
Rabbi Samuel Salant
Rabbi Jacob Meir
The three rabbis were active in Jerusalem toward the end of the era of Turkish rule and served as spiritual authorities for the entire country. Rabbis Eliachar and Meir held the title Rishon le-Zion ("First in Zion") – a title used during the era of Turkish rule signifying chief rabbi of Jerusalem.
A large majority of the Jews living in Jerusalem then were supported by charity distribution (halukkah) – funds collected abroad and distributed to Jews for whom "Torah was their craft" ("toratam umanutam"). For this purpose, all three rabbis traveled abroad to assist their community. All three played an important role in the development and expansion of Jerusalem outside the walls of the old city, starting with the Mishkenot Sha'ananim ("Tranquil Dwellings") quarter, built at the initiative of the philanthropist Moses Montefiore (1860), and followed by the construction of other quarters. The rabbis encouraged the poverty-stricken Jewish residents of Jerusalem to leave the confines of the walled city and establish agricultural settlements throughout Eretz Yisrael.
They laid the foundations for the establishment of the institution of the Chief Rabbinate, which functions to this day.
Rabbi Jacob Saul Eliachar ("Yissa Beracha")
Jacob Saul Eliachar was born in 1817 in Safed. He was 7 when his father died. His mother then married Rabbi Benjamin Mordecai Navon, who raised the young boy. Rabbi Eliachar became an outstanding Torah scholar and served as dayyan (judge) in the Sephardi religious court, later heading the court. In 1893 he was appointed chief rabbi of Jerusalem, succeeding Rabbi Meir Raphael Panigel. Held in high esteem not only by his own community but by the Arab community and the Turkish authorities, he was presented with certificates of appreciation by Sultan Abdul Hamid II and by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II for his activity as spiritual head of the Jewish population. He traveled to Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Italy on missions on behalf of his community. Rabbi Eliachar encouraged Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael, raised money for this purpose, and supported a liberal interpretation of the ancient law of shmittah (the sabbatical year) that would allow Jewish farmers to continue working the land then. He was the author of a large body of responsa Torah literature, including Simha le-Ish, Ma'aseh Ish and Sho'el Ish, and a book of homilies, Ish Emunim , all these works, and others that he wrote, bearing the word "Ish," the initials of his name. He was widely referred to by the expression "Yissah Berakhah" ("conferring a blessing") – an acronym derived from the initials of his name. The Jerusalem quarter Giv'at Sha'ul is named for him. He died in 1906.
Rabbi Samuel Salant
Born in 1816 in the Bialystok region of Poland, Samuel Salant completed his studies in the Volozhin Yeshivah and settled in Eretz Yisrael in 1841. He traveled abroad in 1848 to collect funds for the growing Jewish community, and after his return was viewed as chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem. Rabbi Salant was a founder of the main yeshivah in Jerusalem, Etz Hayyim ("Tree of Life"), and headed the Knesset Israel General Committee, which united all the kolels (institutions for advanced Talmudic studies for married students) in Jerusalem. He supported the establishment of new neighborhoods outside Jerusalem, a revolutionary concept then, and wrote a letter of support for the ideas of "the national sentiment and the love of Torah and courteous behavior" – a reference to support of agricultural settlements, in contrast to opposition to this notion by rabbis of the previous generation who feared it would curtail financial contributions to the older community. Symbolizing his support for this new concept, Rabbi Salant accepted an invitation to visit the village of Motza outside Jerusalem, founded by the B'nei Brith organization in Jerusalem. He died in 1909 at the age of 93. Three volumes of his Torah literature were recently published, titled Be-Shem Torat Rabenu Shmuel Salant ("Teachings in the Name of our Rabbi Samuel Salant").
Rabbi Jacob Meir
Born in Jerusalem in 1856, Jacob Meir first worked in commerce, despite his great Torah erudition, declining to serve as a rabbi because he modestly claimed he was unworthy. He held central roles in the Sephardi community, raising funds for the construction of the Misgav Ladakh Hospital and for support of the community. Traveling for this purpose, he visited Bukhara, Tunisia and Algeria. He was appointed to serve on the religious court in 1888 by Rabbi Eliachar, then head of the court. Rabbi Meir's multi-faceted public activities focused on the development of Jerusalem. He displayed daring and innovation in encouraging the exodus from the closed and relatively protected Jewish quarter of the old city, which, without the support of the Rishon le-Zion, would not have taken place. Appointed Rishon le-Zion of Jerusalem in 1906, his nomination was cancelled by the chief rabbi of Constantinople (appointed by the Turkish government with authority over the entire Ottoman Empire) because of suspicions regarding his Zionist leanings. He became chief rabbi of Salonika in 1907, returning to Jerusalem after the great fire of Salonika and the end of the First World War. With the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate of Eretz Yisrael, he and Rabbi Abraham Kook were named chief rabbis of Eretz Yisrael, with Rabbi Meir given the additional title of Rishon le-Zion. He was appointed president of the first Elected Assembly (Asefat Hanivharim), and honorary president of the World Sephardi Federation, and was formally decorated and honored by heads of state. All his Torah literature was lost in the Salonika fire. He died in 1939.
Rabbi Dr. Yizhak Alfassi