Friday, November 14, 2014

Success After Exile

When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492, Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn (Abi) Zimra (known as the RaDBaZ, his initials) was 13 years old.  His family fled to Safad in the Holy Land, where he remained for 18 years.

By the time the Radbaz left Safed, he was a respected Torah scholar. He served on the beit din (rabbinical court) in Fez, Morocco, until 1517, when the Ottoman government began impinging on the autonomy of the Jewish community in Morocco.

The Radbaz relocated to Cairo, Egypt, where he was appointed Chacham Bashi (Chief Rabbi). In addition to serving as the head of the Egyptian Jewish community, the Radbaz was a successful merchant. His personal wealth not only garnered him the respect of the Egyptians, but freed him from any limitations in leading the community that may have resulted from financial dependence. Consequently, he was able to successfully initiate a number of wholesale changes to the practices of the Egyptian community. Many of these edicts were meant to return the Egyptian community to the common practices of the global Jewish community, such as the way the Amidah was recited with a prayer quorum (silently by all, then repeated by the prayer leader) and marking their calendar years since the creation of the world, rather than with the Seleucid dating system.

Resigning at the age of 90, the Radbaz divided his wealth among the poor and moved from Egypt to Jerusalem. Alas, the Ottoman governor had imposed heavy taxation on the Jewish community in Israel, so the Radbaz chose to head north to Safed. Maintaining an active scholastic life, the Radbaz continued to publish books, write teshuvot (answers to Jewish legal questions) and participate in the beit din led by Rabbi Joseph Caro.

The Radbaz passed away on 21 Cheshvan in 1589. He was 110 years old.

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