RAV SHLOMO ELIEZER ALFANDRI
By D. Sofer
Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri, otherwise known as the Saba Kadisha, was once
seated at a seudas mitzva of one of the most prominent members of Istanbul's
Jewish community, when he eard two maskilim discussing the "natural" causes
of earthquakes. His face ablaze, Rav Shlomo Eliezer rose from his seat and
vehemently countered their arguments.
"According to your scientific theories," he cried, "an earthquake can't
occur here at this moment. But if Hakadosh Baruch Hu wills it, an earthquake
will occur here this moment, in defiance of the laws of nature."
At that very moment, an earthquake shook the entire city. And Istanbul's
Jews came to regard Rav Shlomo Eliezer as a miracle worker.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer was a rare blend of gentleness and firmness. He was kind
and humble in his interpersonal relationships, yet resolute and undaunted
when it came to defending Torah values and Torah-true outlooks.
When the Torah's honor was at stake, he defied court ministers and even
kings. He feared no one but Hashem; yet all feared him because of his great
JUST A 'SIMPLE' LAYMAN
Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri was born in 5580, and he stemmed from a
distinguished family of sages. His great-grandfather, Rav Yaakov Shlomo
Eliezer, was the author of Mutzal Mi'Eish. His grandfather, Rav Chaim Shlomo
Eliezer, wrote Maggid Mi'Reishis, and his father, Rav Yaakov, was an
outstanding talmid chacham who passed away at an early age. His mother,
Chana, also came from a prominent family.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer's greatness was evident even as a youth. While still a
young man, he was appointed to the Vaad Haruchani of Istanbul. Many of
Istanbul's Jews pleaded with him to accept the position of Chacham Bashi, or
rav of the city, and to join its beis din. Rav Shlomo Eliezer, however,
refused to accept any rabbinical positions, preferring to devote himself to
Torah study. He also refused to wear the customary dress of Istanbul's
chachamim, which consisted of a turban and a silk robe. When people referred
to him as the city's rav, he would reply, "I am not a rav - just a simple
Appreciating his greatness, Istanbul's Jews founded a yeshiva for him, and
many outstanding scholars studied there. One of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's most
distinguished students was Rav Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, the Sdeh Chemed.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer was so humble that he not only refused to accept a
rabbinical post, but also recommended his student, Rav Yitzchak Akarish, for
the position of Istanbul's chief rabbi.
Rav Yitzchak, author of Kiryat Arba, was one of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's most
outstanding students, and he devoted himself solely to Torah study. When his
family's financial situation became desperate, however, he sought Rav Shlomo
Rav Shlomo Eliezer promised to find Rav Yitzchak a rabbinical post - on one
condition: he had to accept any position offered to him.
Rav Yitzchak agreed to Rav Shlomo Eliezer's terms, but was startled when Rav
Shlomo Eliezer secured him a position as Rav of Istanbul. How could he serve
as a rav in the very same city in which his illustrious mentor lived? But he
had already accepted Rav Shlomo Eliezer's condition, and couldn't renege on
Istanbul's Jewish leaders were likewise reluctant to appoint Rav Yaakov -
for the very same reasons. However, they couldn't disregard Rav Shlomo
Eliezer's directive or his demand that Rav Yaakov receive a respectable
From then on, whenever questions were addressed to Rav Shlomo Eliezer, he
would refer them to Rav Yitzchak, stressing that he was the city's rav.
THE DRAFT DECREE
When the Jewish fugitives of the Spanish Inquisition originally settled in
Turkey, the Sultan made a pact with them that they would never be drafted
into his army. But when Abed El Chamid became Sultan, he issued a decree
obligating all non-Moslems to enlist in the Turkish army.
Serving in the army, however, involved desecrating the Shabbos and eating
nonkosher food. Istanbul's rabbanim tried to have the decree rescinded, but
they were unsuccessful. Despite its severity, they finally decided to accept
the decree, not wanting to provoke the Turkish authorities. The city's Vaad
Haruchani even issued a proclamation urging the region's Jews to fulfill
their obligations to the Turkish government, and to enlist.
Only one man protested this course of action: Rav Shlomo Eliezer.
At the Vaad meeting, he declared: "Since serving in the Turkish army
involves Shabbos desecration and the defiling of oneself with nonkosher
food, enlisting in the army is considered a chillul Hashem. We mustn't yield
to Sultan Abed El Chamid. If we are firm, Hashem will help us."
After completing his fiery speech, he burst into uncontrollable sobs. The
other members of the Vaad knew that Rav Shlomo Eliezer's words were
justified. Nonetheless, they feared expressing their opinion in public.
The Jewish community did have one hope, however. One of its wealthy members
was particularly influential in the Sultan's court.
But instead of trying to cancel the decree, the Jew collaborated with the
Sultan and helped promote it. But when he visited the palace to supervise
various aspects of the decree, he suddenly lost consciousness and died.
The following day, a large throng assembled at the wealthy man's funeral. In
Istanbul at that time, Rav Shlomo Eliezer was always the first to deliver a
hesped at a funeral, and no one dared to precede him. But instead of
attending the funeral, Rav Shlomo Eliezer remained at home.
The community leaders pleaded with Rav Shlomo Eliezer to attend the funeral,
or at least to grant others permission to eulogize the deceased. But Rav
Shlomo Eliezer flatly refused, saying that the man wasn't worthy of honor.
The niftar's sons offered Rav Shlomo Eliezer a large sum of money, which
they said could be used for tzedaka, if only he would relent.
With tear-filled eyes, Rav Shlomo Eliezer replied, "Yesterday I visited your
father and asked him not to collaborate with the Sultan. But he defied me.
Therefore, I cannot honor him."
In the end, none of the city's rabbanim eulogized the deceased. Everyone
knew that Rav Shlomo Eliezer was right and respected his actions.
IN THE SULTAN'S PALACE
When the Sultan learned of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's efforts to cancel his
decree, he was furious and decided to punish him for inciting the Jews
against him. He immediately summoned Rav Shlomo Eliezer to his palace.
Once in the palace, Rav Shlomo Eliezer quietly explained his position to the
Sultan. The Sultan was very impressed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer; in fact, he was
so impressed that he accorded him the title of Chacham Bashi, granting him
the authority to issue amendments and edicts in the Jewish community.
In the end, the draft decree wasn't implemented due to internal conflicts in
the royal court.
After being appointed Chacham Bashi, Rav Shlomo Eliezer decided to leave
Istanbul. In 5657, he was offered a position as the Rav of Damascus, which
During this time, the brilliant Rav Yitzchak Abulafia, author of Pnei
Yitzchak, lived in Damascus. He had a very sharp mind, and if he felt that a
halachic ruling by one of his contemporaries was incorrect, he did not
hesitate to challenge it.
A number of people advised Rav Shlomo Eliezer not to accept the position of
Rav of Damascus, lest his rulings come under Rav Yitzchak's scrutiny.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer was not deterred. "I look forward to learning from him,"
Rav Shlomo Eliezer was warmly welcomed by Damascus' Jews, and he and Rav
Yitzchak soon developed a close relationship. The two studied together for
many hours a day, and Rav Yitzchak never saw a need to challenge Rav Shlomo
Rav Shlomo Eliezer founded a yeshiva in Damascus, which produced dozens of
students who served as rabbanim and dayanim in Sephardic communities
throughout the region.
In 5664, when Rav Shlomo Eliezer was nearly 90, he moved to Eretz Yisroel.
He settled in Chaifa, where he studied undisturbed for the next several
years. When Tzefas' sages learned that Rav Shlomo Eliezer was in Eretz
Yisroel, however, they invited him to serve as their city's av beis din.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer accepted the position, and many people sought his counsel
In Nissan of 5674, Rav Shlomo Eliezer, accompanied by many of Tzefas'
residents, went out to bless the new moon. After completing the blessings,
he looked upward, clapped his hands and let out a piercing cry. Then he
said: "I see that a large-scale war will soon break out."
Four months later, World War I began.
During the war, Tzefas' residents suffered from a lack of food and water.
One time, the Turkish pasha visited the city. He was perched on a white
steed, and was accompanied by an entourage of soldiers. He wore a flashy
uniform, and a glossy medallion, which indicated his high rank, hung from
When Rav Shlomo Eliezer heard of his arrival, he went out to greet him. The
pasha, who was awed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer's majestic appearance, asked him
for a blessing.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer replied, "Only the humble can receive blessings. I will
bless you after you come down from your horse."
The pasha got off his horse and lowered his head to receive the Rav Shlomo
Eliezer's blessing. "May Hashem help you in your efforts to see to the needs
of the oppressed Jewish Nation," Rav Shlomo Eliezer said.
The pasha was very impressed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer and, as a result of that
encounter, he made sure that Tzefas' residents had sufficient food and
WITH YERUSHALAYIM'S saGES
In his later years, Rav Shlomo Eliezer suffered from many ailments. Having
no other recourse, he sought medical treatment in Yerushalayim. During his
trips there, he tried to remain incognito.
However, news of the hidden tzaddik's arrival spread quickly throughout the
city, and the gedolei haTorah of that time longed to meet him.
One of the many gedolim who visited Rav Shlomo Eliezer in his lodgings was
Rav Ezra Attia, who later became the rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef. Rav Shlomo
Eliezer held Rav Attia in high esteem, and whenever Rav Attia called on him,
Rav Shlomo Eliezer would stand up for him.
In 5685, Rav Shlomo Eliezer contracted a serious illness. He was in Teveria
at the time, and he refused to undergo treatment in a hospital where tznius
wasn't meticulously observed. Instead, he was brought to Shaarei Tzedek
Hospital in Yerushalayim. When he recovered, Yerushalayim's sages pleaded
with him to settle in the city.
Rav Shlomo Eliezer acceded to the sages' request, and rented an apartment in
the Ruchama neighborhood, near Geula and Mekor Baruch. Today, the street on
which he lived is named in his memory.
HIS HOME IN YERUSHALAYIM
Once Rav Shlomo Eliezer had settled in Yerushalayim, many gedolei Yisroel
from all sects frequented his home. Among those who consulted and conversed
with him in Torah were Rav Velvel Mintzberg, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav
Avraham Weinberg of Slonim and Rav Yitzchak Abuchatzeira.
The Minchas Elazor the Munkatcher Rebbe also made a special trip from
Hungary especially to see Rav Shlomo Eliezer, and a special bond of
friendship developed between them.
Many of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's halachic responses are included in his sefer
Saba Kadisha. Among them are replies the he wrote to Rav Yaakov Shaul
Elyashar, the Chacham Bashi of Yerushalayim; Rav Moshe Kliers, the av beis
din of Teveria; and Rav Pinchas Epstein, the av beis din of Yerushalayim's
Various other letters, in which he discussed many public issues, were
collected in Masos Yerushalayim, Kumi Roni and Amudei Arazim.
On his way to Eretz Yisroel, Rav Shlomo Eliezer stopped off in Beirut, where
many questions were addressed to him regarding shmitta. His responses, which
indicate that he strongly opposed the heter mechira, appear in Afakata d'
Malka, written by Rav Shlomo Eliezer Margalios.
In Iyar, 5690, Rav Shlomo Eliezer contracted a serious case of pneumonia.
His dedicated physician, Dr. Wallach, spared no efforts to ease his
suffering, but to no avail.
On the 22nd of Iyar, Rav Shlomo Eliezer asked his students to wrap him in a
tallis and to place two pairs of tefillin on his arm and head. Then he began
to recite the Shema. When he reached the word "emes," he hinted to his
students to remove his tefillin. Then, with much effort, he said: "Enough.
The ikar is emes. I can't continue any longer."
Shortly afterward, at his suggestion, he was served a glass of warm milk.
After he had recited a shehakol blessing and had sipped some milk, his pure
soul departed to the World of Truth.
Thousands participated in his levaya. His students carried his bier from his
home in the Ruchama neighborhood all the way to Har Hazeisim, where he was
buried close to sunset.
He was 110 years old at the time of his petira, and he left behind
generations of students in several countries who carried on his life's work
of upholding Torah and all it stands for.
Re-Printed with permission from Yated Ne'eman. All rights reserved.