A Sephardic Perspective on Hevron<br>Part II

Prior to 1929, Hevron possessed four Sephardic Talmud-Torahs. There were three mutual-aid societies and a free dispensary for medications. During the period of British occupation of Palestine, the British expropriated Beit Romano and used it as a police station; after the 1929 riots, the Jewish survivors were brought there.

Shelomo Alfassa,

Shelomo Alfassa
Shelomo Alfassa
Arutz 7
[Issued by the International Sephardic Leadership Council in light of the crisis in Hevron, Israel. Part one can be read at http://www.israelnationalnews.com/article.php3?id=5960]

In 1831, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt took Gaza, Hevron, Jerusalem and other cities with 40,000 men from the Turkish Sultan. Pasha had arrived in Egypt in 1799 along with the Ottoman Expedition to drive out the French. Wanting to be an independent ruler, but not able to be, he declared war against the Sultan. Although he marched his troops as far as the Syrian cities, an internal revolt occurred. This stemmed from Pasha's order to collect firearms from the population. These measures and others alienated his fellow Muslims, but were received with satisfaction from Jews who had always feared the armed Arabs.

In 1858, Hakham Eliahu ben Suliman (Shelomo) Mani, traveled from Ottoman Baghdad to Hevron and was elected chief rabbi of the city. He remained chief rabbi for 40 years, passing away at the age of 75.

Hevron has been considered such a holy location that Jews would make the precarious journey there not just to live, but also to die. From across land and sea, on foot and with beasts, Jews would journey to settle in Hevron and live out their remaining years. Historic literature demonstrates Jews emigrating from the Balkans, Thrace, Venice and Anatolia. Hakham Yehuda Havilo, the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria, emigrated north across the desert to Hevron for just this reason. Chief Rabbi and Dayan (rabbinical judge) Hakham Yosef Fintsi of Belgrade emigrated to the sacred soil of Hevron when he was elderly. For centuries, Jews have migrated to the Holy Land if for no other reason than to fulfill a final misvah of burial there.

Hevron was a poor city throughout its time of Turkish occupation. The 1839 Montefiore Census notes that Jews were employed as silversmiths, clerks, bakers, slaughterers, but most of all, professional Torah scholars. The community was administered by the chief rabbi and a council of seven members. The following were chief rabbis of Hevron: Israel Sebi (1701-1731); Avraham Castel (1757); Aharon Alfandari (1772); Mordekhai Ruvio (c. 1785); David Melamed (c. 1789); Eliakim (end of 18th century); Hayyim HaLevi Polacco (c. 1840); Hai Cohen (1847-52); Moshe Pereira (1852-64); Elia Suliman (Shelomo) Mani (1864-1878); Rahamim Joseph Franco (1878-1901); Hezekiah Medini (former chief rabbi of Karasu-Bazar in the Crimea, known as the Hakhambashi Wakili, who was the chief rabbi in 1901). Bension Koenka served as chief rabbi of Hevron at the turn of the 20th century. Prior to this, the respected Spanish sage was the head of the rabbinical court in Jerusalem.

In 1879, Haim Yisrael Romano of Constantinople constructed a large and elaborate home known as Beit Romano. The home functioned as a domicile for visiting Turkish Sephardim. The building included a synagogue, called the Istanbuli Synagogue. Today, Beit Romano houses Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, a school for young men of Hevron. Prior to 1929, Hevron possessed four Sephardic Talmud-Torahs. There were three mutual-aid societies and a free dispensary for medications. During the period of British occupation of Palestine, the British expropriated Beit Romano and used it as a police station; after the 1929 riots, the Jewish survivors were brought there.

Violence and unrest was never distant from the Jews who suffered under continued Arab coercion. On August 23, 1929, Arabs, under direction of their Islamic religious leaders (muftis), attacked the Jews with a most savage zeal, wielding axes, knives and other weapons upon the defenseless community. They not only murdered Jews, but they utilized ghastly methods of torture, including rape, castration and limb amputations. They assailed Jews throughout the Holy Land, from Safed to Hevron.

Scores of Jews, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, were murdered during this gory rampage. In Hevron, the Islamic murderers killed Hakham Hanokh Hasson, the chief Sephardic rabbi, and his entire family. The prominent Hakham Yosef Castel locked himself in his home, but Arab mobs broke in, murdering him and his family and then setting the home ablaze.

The last Sephardic rabbi in Hevron subsequent to the 1929 pogroms was Hakham Meir Franco, who had lost his son-in-law in the murderous frenzy. Shortly after the massacre, Hakham Franco, with a number of other rabbis, produced a small brochure in Ladino, the language of the community. It was an appeal to fellow Sephardic Jews throughout the world to assist financially in rebuilding the community of Hevron. The brochure detailed the destruction, and contained pictures of the synagogues and holy places before the Arab destruction. It educated the reader about the holy city where their forefathers were buried, and about the ancient Jewish community. The Spanish-language volume expressed urgency for help, communicating that the community desperately needed funds for rebuilding.

Partially because the British had no great love for Jews, as well as the fact that the British did not want to provoke the Arab world, the British government was unwilling to subsidize the costs for a large police force in Palestine to control the Arabs. In addition, the British adamantly did not allow any independent legal Jewish self-defense force. Thus, the Jews were disarmed and had virtually no protection against rioting Arabs.

Later, in a bizarre twist of fate, the British helped the Arabs become the undeserving masters over the Jews. The British essentially sided with the Arabs and issued a set of discriminatory regulations. One restricted Jewish rights to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The riots of 1929 were investigated internationally and reported in the Hope Report. According to the report, the riots were instigated by none other than Mufti Amin Al-Husseini, the same man who, one decade later, would be working hand-in-hand with Adolph Hitler to murder the Jews in Arab countries and the Balkans during the Holocaust.

Hevron was liberated in 1967, and today has more than 600 Jews, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. The city is bordered to the east by the large settlement of Kiryat Arba, whose population now reaches 6,000. Today, attacks and murders are again the norm, not the exception. Not only are these courageous Jews constantly on the defensive against the Arabs, but they continually have to defend themselves from the international media, which attempts to make them look like criminals.

Hevron and all of the Holy Land was stolen from the Jews by the savage Romans, occupied by murderous medieval Christian armies, and more than once occupied by various power-hungry Islamic regimes. The Jewish people liberated the city of Hevron, by the grace of God, only 38 years ago, but now - three decades later - the international community has fallen for Arab propaganda that Hevron belonged to some mythical country of "Palestine". The world now seeks to take Hevron away from the Jews and give it to the Arabs. A few years before he died, Yasser Arafat shouted, "Are there no stones left in Hevron? Where are the stones and where are the mobs? Prepare yourselves for a struggle if the Israelis do not retreat from Hevron."

Sadly, the bizarre thinking of many people (Jews and non-Jews alike) is that if we reward those who kill us with land, then they will stop killing us and we shall have peace. However, multiple times, Arabs have stated that their purpose is not to have peace, but to "liberate all of Palestine." This includes Hevron.

In clear speech: Arabs plan to exterminate all the Jews and take their land. There is an old saying: "When someone says they are going to kill you - believe them." The Palestinian Authority, in speaking to their people, sum up their goals perfectly. As their leaders once said, "Reach the sea and hoist the flag of Palestine over Tel Aviv."

Today, the Jews of Hevron face not only gunfire and stabbings, but also political attacks aimed at removing the city from the sovereignty of the State of Israel. The United States, Britain and all of the European Union have officially decided that Hevron, as well as other communities in Judea and Samaria, should be turned over to the Arabs and made part of a new country, Palestine.

Anyone who believes in the Torah must believe that Hevron is, and must always be, Jewish. To find the deed to the land and to the Cave of Makhpela, one needs to look no further than Genesis 23.

[Part 2 of 2]



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