President Isaac Herzog
President Isaac HerzogHaim Zach/GPO

On Sunday, President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog hosted a study session at the President’s Residence in honor of the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabbah.

The event was held to mark 200 years since the passing of Rabbi Raphael Berdugo, one of the great sages of Moroccan Jewry. The event was attended by Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar; the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher; Rabbi David Berdugo, a sixth-generation descendant of Rabbi Raphael Berdugo; and other rabbis, scholars, and descendants of the Moroccan sage.

Rabbi Raphael Berdugo (“the Angel Berdugo”) passed away 200 years ago today, the eve of the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabbah. He was one of the greatest rabbis of Moroccan Jewry and left a tremendous mark on the history of Middle Eastern Jewry, leaving behind a glorious legacy. This special study session in his honor was the initiative of the Israel Prize laureate Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher, the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

President Herzog wished his guests and the whole Jewish People chag sameach and said: “The ‘Angel Raphael,’ Rabbi Raphael Berdugo of blessed memory, was an exemplar of combinations. His writings, rulings, and conduct reveal a rich and multifaceted character, a character who could on the one hand dive deep into the worlds of thought and intellect, to be completely engrossed in Torah, an expert in its plain meaning and the commentaries… and at the same time, never lose sight of the social reality, with the poor knocking at his door, with the aspiration for tikkun olam, for repairing the world. Perhaps because he had personally experienced poverty, hunger, and distress, he delivered his rulings from a place of empathy and attention, with tremendous responsibility and sensitivity.”

President Herzog added: “It pains me that the story of this tradition has been pushed to the margins of our national influence and consciousness. This is a historic mistake, and this evening is part of the process of fixing that. Not all of us have had the honor of getting to know Rabbi Raphael Berdugo’s story… and the stories of other sages in the Middle East, Morocco, and North Africa. We must all, as a nation and as a state, lovingly embrace the roots of the tradition of the Jews from Arab and Islamic lands, those known as Mizrahi Jews, and make it a significant and influential element of our conduct and lifestyles—as a society, as individuals, and most importantly—to discover, to learn, and to know.”

President Herzog concluded by saying that he hopes that the tradition of the Open Sukkah at the President’s Residence, canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will return next year.