Pillar of Sephardic Jewry: Rav Yehuda Tzadka ZTL
5670-5752 (12 Cheshvan)
By D. Sofer
sleep well? Rav Yehuda Tzadka once asked a prominent neighborhood rav.
Do you sleep well? Rav Yehuda Tzadka once asked a prominent neighborhood rav.
Yes, the rav replied.
Do you eat well?
Yes, the rav nodded, wondering at what Reb Yehuda could possibly be driving at.
What do you take for your headaches? Reb Yehuda continued.
Why is the rosh yeshiva so worried about me? the rav interjected. Am I so pale?
No, Reb Yehuda replied. But I expected you to suffer from insomnia, a loss of appetite and splitting headaches. Thats how I would feel if a secular school was about to open in my neighborhood.
That was Reb Yehuda Tzadka. He was a pillar of Torah Jewry-and Sephardi Jewry in particular-and would stop at nothing to protect the honor of the Torah.
A SUDDEN WEAKNESS
Rav Yehuda Tzadka was born in Yerushalayim on 3 Shevat, 5670, a few weeks after the petira of the Ben Ish Chai. Reb Yehudas father was the tzaddik Rav Shaul Tzadka, the great grandson of Rav Tzadka Chutzin, author of Tzedaka Umisphat. His mother, Simcha, was the Ben Ish Chais niece.
The Tzadka family lived in a small dwelling in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood of Yerushalayim. When Yehuda was 5, he began to study in a talmud Torah near his home.
Yehuda was a cheerful, robust child. However, not long after the beginning of the school year, his mother noticed that something was amiss.
Why is he so weak? Why does he sleep later than usual? she wondered.
Rebbetzin Simcha decided to discuss the problem with Yehudas teacher. But when she entered Yehudas classroom, she was stunned when she saw the teacher-and his bare head. Understanding the cause of her sons sudden weakness, she immediately took him out of the school.
That same day, she went to the Bnei Tzion Talmud Torah in the Bucharian quarter, and asked its administration to admit Yehuda. The school secretary, however, said that he simply could not accept a new student once the school year had begun.
Determined not to send Yehuda back to his former talmud Torah, Rebbetzin Simcha hired a private tutor to teach him. In order to subsidize these lessons, she took a job as a housekeeper, working long hours. At the end of the year, she registered him in Bnei Tzion.
In time, Yehuda became Bnei Tzions top student. The time he spent in Bnei Tzion had a decisive influence on his development, and he would often speak about the outstanding melamdim who taught in that institution.
PORAT YOSEF YESHIVA
In 5698, after completing talmud Torah, 12-year-old Yehuda Tzadka enrolled in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City.
Porat Yosef was founded more than 80 years ago to preserve Sephardi Jewry by producing outstanding Sephardic Torah scholars who would perpetuate Torah and Torah study.
Reb Yosef Avraham Shalom, a philanthropist from Calcutta, played a major role in the founding of the yeshiva. Reb Avraham Shalom had originally wanted to found a hospital in Eretz Yisroel. When he wrote the Ben Ish Chai about his plans, he received the following response: Found a yeshiva, not a hospital. True, it is important to build a hospital in Yerushalayim. However, many people will be eager to grab that mitzva, while very few appreciate the value of Torah study.
Reb Avraham Shalom heeded the Ben Ish Chais advice, and contributed a vast sum of money for the founding of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva.
A DEEP RELATIONSHIP
In Porat Yosef, the young and brilliant Yehuda Tzadka became very close with its great leaders, Rav Yaakov Addes and Rav Ezra Attia. Reb Yehudas relationship with Rav Attia was particularly deep.
Reb Yehuda quickly became Porat Yosefs top student. During the day he would study in the yeshiva, and at night hed continue learning in the Beer Sheva shul in Beis Yisroel. On Friday nights, he would study in the Shoshanim LeDavid shul, in the company of such renowned Sephardic sages as Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer, better known as the Kaf Hachayim, and Rav Yehoshua Sharhabani.
Despite Reb Yehudas brilliance, he regarded himself as nothing more than a servant of those who serve Hashem. Calling himself an iskupa hanidresset, a threshold trampled by Torah scholars feet, he effaced himself not only before gedolei Yisroel, but also before all who studied Torah.
His self-effacement was so far reaching that he once asked a young Torah scholar from Bnei Brak who had approached him for a blessing, Why must an avreich from Bnei Brak come all the way to Yerushalayim to receive my blessing when there are thousands of excellent Torah students in your city?
At last, out of pity for the young man who had traveled so far, he said, Yours is a mouth which studies Torah. Recite the blessing yourself, and I ll respond with an Amen.
In 5644 Reb Yehuda married Fahima, the daughter of Rav Selim Tzalach Batat of Baghdad, and together they built a genuine Torah home. Fahima was known for her modesty, alacrity and kindness. Her greatest aspiration was to enable her husband to study Torah and to raise G-d-fearing children.
The two were blessed with seven children, five boys and two girls, all of whom followed in their parents footsteps.
Fahima passed away when she was just 57. At her levaya, Reb Yehuda spoke about her remarkable traits, saying that all of the Torah he studied was to her credit.
Later, Reb Yehuda married Tamar Asuderi, who served him faithfully until his final day.
After his marriage to Fahima, Reb Yehuda continued to study in Porat Yosef, regarding Torah study as his lifes goal. In 5697, when Chacham Eliyahu Lopes, one of the most venerable and respected ramim in Porat Yosef, felt too weak to continue teaching, Rav Ezra Attia declared, From now on Chacham Yehuda will teach Rav Eliyahus students.
The other members of the yeshivas teaching staff were surprised by Rav Attias suggestion. Rav Lopes was an elderly sage, while Reb Yehuda was a young man. However, Rav Attia averred, True Rav Yehuda is young, but he possesses vast knowledge.
Among Reb Yehudas first students were Rav Abba Shaul, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Yehuda Mualem and Rav Ezra Addes.
In time, Reb Yehudas influence on the yeshiva grew, and he was asked to become its menahel ruchani. In that capacity, his sole concern was the welfare of his students who, in turn, loved and esteemed him.
Although introverted and quiet by nature, Reb Yehuda was transformed into a different person when it came to Torah study. He would often pace the yeshivas study hall, demanding of his students, Louder, louder, and wasnt at ease until the entire beis medrash buzzed with the sound of Torah.
In 5730, when Rav Ezra Attia passed away, all of the helmsmen of the yeshiva agreed that only one man could replace him: Rav Yehuda Tzadka, with whom he had been so close.
But one person disagreed-Reb Yehuda. Throughout the remainder of his life, he refused to reconcile himself to the fact that he had been appointed rosh yeshiva. I am not the rosh yeshiva, he would often insist. Since the passing of Rav Attia, Porat Yosef has no rosh yeshiva. He left us a sacred trust-the yeshiva; but it is only a trust. I pray that I merit to preserve that trust, without changing its essence or format.
He so loathed being called the rosh yeshiva that he would remove the logo off the yeshivas official stationery when writing letters, so that people would not receive the false impression that he was its head. Once, he discovered that a notice about a hesped that listed the speakers had referred to him as rosh hayeshiva, and he reprimanded those who had posted it.
However, his attachment to the yeshiva and deep bond with his students was unsurpassed, and he and the yeshiva were like one entity.
Writing in Vzos LeYehuda, on the life and the times of Rav Yehuda Tzadka, Rav Aharon Sorasky relates that when Petach Tikvas chief rabbi, Rav Reuven Katz, founded a regional beis din, he asked Reb Yehuda to assume the prestigious and well-paying position of its Sephardic dayan. However, Rav Tzadka refused that offer, regarding teaching in Porat Yosef as his life goal.
In the yeshivas early years, its students would complete their studies in the late afternoon so that they could return to their homes in the new city before nightfall. Concerned by how the students might occupy themselves at night, Rav Tzadka founded an evening yeshiva for them in the Bucharian quarter.
Reb Yehuda studied in that yeshiva, along with Rav Yaakov Cohen, Rav Yehuda Mualem and Rav Naim Eliyahu, and slowly but surely his students began to join him there. In time, the yeshiva grew and became known as Yeshivat Habachurim. This yeshiva was conducted in a very formal manner. All the bachurim studied the same tractate, on which they were tested at the end of the zman, and awards were distributed to the outstanding students. Yeshivat Habachurim later became a supplementary department of Porat Yosefs yeshiva gedola. Eventually, the program was incorporated into the yeshiva itself, in the form of night seder.
During the Jordanian siege of the Old City, Porat Yosefs students continued to study with valor. But in the end, the Jordanians gained the upper hand and captured the Old City. Among those taken captive by the Jordanians was the rosh yeshivas son, Rav Yosef Attia.
Determined not to close the yeshiva, Reb Yehuda established study sessions in synagogues in Geula, Katamon and the Bucharian quarter in the new city. Soon a plot of land was acquired, and plans to construct a new building in the Geula section were launched. Reb Yehuda traveled abroad to raise funds for the building, despite the fact that leaving Eretz Yisroel was very difficult for him.
Once, while on a fundraising trip to London, he learned that certain longstanding donors had begun to desecrate Shabbos. He immediately sent messengers to inform them that he would not accept their contributions. Although the yeshivas trustees pleaded with Reb Yehuda to reverse his decision, they were forced to yield to his firm resolve.
That week, all of those donors whose donations Reb Yehuda had declined arrived at his lodgings and begged him to reconsider. In the end, he agreed to accept their donations-on one condition: that they promise to repent and observe Shabbos from then on.
Eventually, the yeshiva had enough money to built a new facility. At last, the joyous day arrived: 26 Kislev 5715, the day on which the cornerstone of the new building would be laid. Peering at the empty plot of land, Reb Yehuda excitedly asked his nephew, Rav Naim Eliyahu, Do you hear the heartbeats of our fellow Jews?
I hear the beats of hoes and hammers, Reb Naim replied.
No, Naim, he quietly said. These are the beats of the pure hearts of Am Yisroel.
To what was Reb Yehuda referring? Rav Aharon Sorasky relates in Vzos L Yehuda: On the very morning of the ceremony, to which many rabbanim, among them Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Yitzchak Nissim and Rav Yitzchak Herzog, had been invited, the laborers who were supposed to prepare the ground for the cornerstone laying did not arrive. Every moment was crucial and the yeshivas administration was very upset.
Suddenly, scores of Iranian Jews were seen marching toward the plot of land, hoes and hammers in their hands. They asked Rav Naim where the ground had to be leveled. Assuming that they were laborers who had been hired instead of those who hadnt appeared, he showed them the place.
However, it soon became clear that those laborers were none other than members of Reb Yehudas synagogue who, having heard about the ceremony, had come to the site in order to actively participate in the preparation of the land on which the yeshiva would be built.
THE KINGS ARMY
Although quiet and unassuming, Reb Yehuda was a valiant soldier in the legion of the King of kings and, when necessary, would man the front lines in the battles to prevent the spiritual decimation of Sephardic Jewry. At times, he would lead these battles, and at other times he would station himself at Peylims central office like a young soldier reporting for duty.
His entire life was one long saga of strenuous efforts to convince parents to give their children a proper Torah upbringing and not to abandon them to secular influences. Al techetu bayeled, Do not sin with the child, he would roar at rallies all over the country, echoing the words uttered by Reuven thousands of years earlier as he attempted to prevent his brothers from killing Yosef. These words have become an aphorism that means: Dont make fatal educational mistakes at the expense of your children.
The days on which school registration was conducted were like Yom Hadin for him, and he would travel all over the country, pleading with parents, Al techetu bayeled. Register your children in Torah schools.
A student who accompanied him on many of these registration campaigns recalls the following story: One evening, as we were riding to a distant settlement, one of the activists turned on some music. Rav Yehuda was taken aback. How can you listen to music when the Shechina is in exile and thousands of young people are being turned away from Torah?
On another occasion, Reb Yehuda learned that a child from the French Hill neighborhood was studying in a Conservative framework. Reb Yehuda personally tried to transfer the child to an appropriate school, but the principal adamantly refused. Reb Yehuda restated his request in writing, but to no avail. Early one morning, Reb Yehuda reported at the childs home. Taking him by the hand, he brought him to the Torah school. Entering the sixth grade, Rav Yehuda told the teacher, This is my son. If there are any problems, call me.
According to a veteran Peylim activist, there was not a single chareidi battle that Reb Yehuda did not join.
One time Peylim sponsored a rally on behalf of Iranian immigrants in spiritual distress, the activist recalled. At the rally, the gedolei hador and the countrys greatest roshei yeshiva, among them Rav Yehuda Tzadka, delivered rousing speeches. Afterward, the rallys organizers announced that forms for prospective volunteers were being distributed at a stand in the back of the auditorium. Joining the bachurim, Rav Tzadka approached the stand and filled out a form, too. A copy of that form is still in Peylims possession.
During that period, the government would sponsor social activities that brought Arab and Israeli youngsters together. Late one Friday afternoon, Reb Tzadka learned that such an encounter was to take place the very next day-Shabbos-in a school in Bayit Vegan.
Shortly before Shabbos, Reb Yehuda asked a group of avreichim to drive through the neighborhood and announce that a demonstration protesting the get-together would be held that very afternoon. Then he began to coordinate the rally. Despite the late hour, he called dozens of institutions in Bayit Vegan and pleaded, Go out and demonstrate. Many activists doubted that a rally could be organized on such short notice, but somehow, the demonstration became a reality.
Reb Yehuda was not concerned with kavod, but rather with achieving his goals, and he would not hesitate to delegate a leadership role to anyone capable of acting during a crisis.
During a fierce struggle against the States absorption policies, a mammoth rally was scheduled to be held in Yerushalayim. A day before the rally, a young Peylim activist approached Reb Yehuda and mentioned a point that he thought the rosh yeshiva should raise in his speech.
Reb Yehuda was so impressed by the young mans presentation that he said, Youll speak at the rally instead of me. The young man was taken aback by the strange suggestion that he speak at a rally attended by the nations greatest Torah leaders, but Reb Yehuda insisted.
The purpose of this rally is to sanctify Hashems Name, he said. Since you understand the problems so well, you must speak.
In time, Reb Yehuda became the backbone of Sephardic Jewry in Eretz Yisroel. In addition to heading Porat Yosef Yeshiva, he, along with other gedolim, founded a network of talmud Torahs that reinstated the golden era of Sephardic Jewry. He also spread Torah in immigrant camps and waged a fiery battle against autopsies and the proposed Sheirut Leumi law. Thanks to his efforts, Jews from Turkey, Iran, Persia, Georgia, Morocco, Syria and Yemen were saved from spiritual decimation.
HIS LOVE OF TORAH
Love of Torah literally burned within Reb Yehuda like raging flames. Even during his final years when he was very ill, he did not forego delivering shiurim in the yeshiva. During these shiurim, the ailing and pain-wracked Reb Yehuda would be totally rejuvenated. A moment after the shiur ended, the pain would return.
When his situation was so grave that he could not breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank, he still did not forego the spiritual oxygen provided by his shiurim. At such times, his oxygen tank would be brought into his shiur room and attached to him as he lectured. In this manner, he would be revived both physically and spiritually.
Reb Yehuda knew that this world is only a bridge to the World of Come, and his simple household furnishings and lifestyle were strong indications of this.
At one point, he suffered from severe back pains. Nonetheless, he refused to let his family purchase a therapeutic armchair that would have eased his pain.
A person must feel that this world is only a passageway to a different one, he said. Sofas and armchairs do not convey that message, he said.
During the final decade of his life, Reb Yehuda remained young at heart and had boundless spiritual energy. He closed the introduction to his sefer Kol Yehuda, which was first published in 5744, with the prayer: Please, Hashem, give me the strength and the health to do Your Will and to continue my life mission with success. May I be able to continue to dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life.
During the last Elul of his life, he would often visit the yeshiva urging his students to increase their Torah study and to grow in their yiras Shamayim and avodas Hashem.
On Rosh Hashana 5752, he prayed in the Shaul Tzadka shul, surrounded by his sons, grandchildren and students. He delivered a powerful drasha prior to the shofar blowing, inspiring everyone in attendance. But on motzaei Rosh Hashana, he was seized by sharp chest pains. He was rushed to the Bikur Cholim Hospital, and from there he was transferred to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.
News of his condition spread like wildfire, and students and admirers all over the country assembled to pray for his recovery. A massive prayer rally was held at the Kosel. Among those in attendance were the thousands of youngsters who were in Torah schools thanks to his tireless efforts.
Early in the morning of 12 Cheshvan 5752, he returned his pure soul to its Maker. His levaya was attended by thousands, led by Eretz Yisroels most prominent Sephardic and Ashkenazic Torah sages.
He was buried in the Sanhedria cemetery in his family plot, leaving Sephardi Jewry-and all of Torah Jewry-bereft of one of its greatest leaders.
Re-Printed with permission from Yated Ne'eman. All rights reserved.