Lot : 104

Historic Document Cairo, Egypt 1909
by Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon

Start price: $1,500
Est. Price: $2,000 - $3,000
Historic Document Cairo, Egypt 1909
by Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon
Handwritten letter by Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon, Av Beis Din of Egypt and author of Nahar Mitzrayim and Tuv Mitzrayim, complete with his autograph and impressive stamp.
In the framework of their battle to preserve the spiritual sanctity of Jerusalem and shield it from the schemes of the Enlightenment and Alliance schools, Gedolei Yisrael fought mightily to prevent the appointment of an enlightened Jew to the position of Chacham Bashi, which was the title designated for the Chief Rabbi of Constantinople and Ottoman Empire. The Chacham Bashi exerted powerful influence on Jewish congregations throughout the Empire and, specifically, on the schools and religious institutions in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yitzchak Eisik Halevi, who spearheaded this critical battle, dispatched an urgent appeal to Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon with a request to announce his candidacy for the coveted position of Chacham Bashi and endeavor to represent the needs of religious congregations in the Ottoman court.
Rabbi Rephael Aharon replies that although he personally has no inclination to accept the position, “To fulfill the will of the honorable and [G-d] fearing Rabbanim in the Diaspora, I have annulled my own desires and wrote to Constantinople that they should write my name among the candidates for this position.”
Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon (1847-1929) was born in Jerusalem to Rabbi David ben Shimon, who was renowned as the Tzuf Dvash. (Rabbi Dovid also authored Shaar Hachatzer.) In 1888, Rabbi Rephael Aharon set out twice as a Rabbinical emissary of Kollel Adath Hamaaravim in Jerusalem, and in 1891, was inaugurated as Chief Rabbi of Egypt where he endeavored mightily to cultivate religious observance and battled furiously against the winds of the Enlightenment. In 1921, Rabbi Rephael Aharon returned to his native land in Jerusalem where he passed away seven years later. His legacy includes the works Nahar Mitzrayim and Tuv Mitzrayim.
Cairo, 21 Kislev, 1909. Stationery of the Egyptian Beis Din. Page Size: 27×21 cm. Handwritten, autographed and stamped with his impressive seal.
Condition: Good.
Learn more about Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon and his correspondence regarding the Constantinople Rabbinate in Igros Rabbi Yitzchak Eisik Halevi (Jerusalem, 1972) p. 156.
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Valuable Collection of Letters
The Battle by Gedolei Yisrael
to Preserve traditional Judaism in Eretz Yisrael.
An Historical account



When the winds of the Enlightenment began blowing throughout Europe, one of the first objectives of the liberal movements to advance their agenda was to dismantle the institution of the traditional Rabbinate, by replacing the Rabbinate with “enlightened” Rabbis who would support their progressive ways and institutions.
During the era these letters were written, Eretz Yisrael was under the control of the Ottoman Empire whose axis was in Constantinople.
Ottoman authorities traditionally bequeathed the Chief Rabbi of Constantinople, known as Chacham Bashi, a wide scope of authorities and privileges that powerfully influenced and impacted Jewish communities throughout the vast Empire. In particular, the Chacham Bashi was able to facilitate the needs of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael and represent them to the authorities. Also included in the Chacham Bashi’s powers was the appointment of new Rabbis in the Holy Land.
In 1909, progressive Jews exerted their influence in the Ottoman court to depose the Chacham Bashi, Rabbi Moshe Halevi, and campaigned strongly to appoint Chaim Nahum in his stead. Nahum, a graduate of the Alliance school and of Parisian Universities,
Gedolei Yisrael of the era regarded his appointment as a severe blow to tradition, as well as a grave threat to the spiritual future of Eretz Yisrael. They put up a fierce battle to oppose the new Chacham Bashi and to preserve the religious character of the Holy Land and of Jerusalem in particular.
Rabbi Yitzchak Eisik Halevi (1848-1914), author of Doros Rishonim, spearheaded this spiritual battle, and the letters in this collection are all addressed to him.
The present collection constitutes an eye-opening historical documentary of the times, with letters spanning Gedolei Yisrael from Chassidic, Sephardic and Lithuanian (Misnagdim) sects, among them Rabbi Chaim Halevi Soloveitchik, the Avnei Nezer, Imrei Emes, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and others. Each letter reveals the individual Rabbi’s unique perspective and pure Torah outlook on the concept of Rabbanus along with his personal battle to preserve spiritual sanctity during this turning-point in Jewish history.
For further information regarding the battle waged by Gedolei Yisrael, see Rabbi David Kamenetzky’s work Rabban shel Yisrael (Jerusalem, 2021 Ch. 14).