Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SERIES Sephard in Ashkenaz and Ashkenaz in Sephard. Sephardic Jews of Ashkenazic descent Part 1

אילן יוחסין משפחת הצרפתי-צרפתי

In a variation of the theme you are all familiar with by now, namely that of Ashkenazic Jews (Particularly in Eastern Europe) of Sephardic descent, I now want to take a moment and discuss an opposite phenomenon. I briefly mentioned in a previous post the sage Rabbenu Asher (known as the Rosh) who was born in Western Germany and moved to Toledo, Spain where he died in 1328. His two sons were known scholars in their own right but little is known about their descendants after that.

More than two centuries before the Rosh, one of the most famous Ashkenazic sages Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (known as Rashi) established his Talmudic academy at Troyes, Champagne in northern France. One of Rashi's daughters Yocheved married the Tosafist sage Meir ben Shmuel, their children were Shmuel (the Rashbam) (1085-1174), Yaakov (Rabbeinu Tam) (c. 1100- c. 1171), and Yitzchak (the Rivam).

In 1306 the French King Phillip the Fair signed an edict of expulsion against all the Jews living in France. We subsequently find the desecendants of the aforementioned Rabbi Yaakov a.k.a. Rabeinu Tam in the Castille region of Spain where they took on the surname Ha-Sarfaty (Hebrew for "the French one"). After the expulsion from Spain in 1492 we come across the figure of Rabbi Vidal Ha-sarfaty I who ministered to the expelled Jews and served as the Rabbi of Fez, Morrocco, a haven for many of the expellees.

There were several subsequent generations of Rabbis of the Sarfaty family (the prefix 'ha' was dropped during the French occupation) with the first name 'Vidal'.

The last of this Rabbinic line was Rabbi Vidal Sarfaty V (1862-1921) {pictured} who was the first to be called with the title "Chief rabbi of Fez". As Rabbi and Jewish communal leader, he used his influence to ease the conditions of Morrocan Jewry who were subjected to unfair treatment by the authorities.

From a letter dated January 30, 1911 by Avram Elmaleh, Head of the Fez boys' school, to the President of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Paris, we learn of the degrading conditions imposed upon the rabbinical leaders of the Moroccan Jewish community, in connection with “community business” (i.e., such as payment of the jizya), even into the second decade of the 20th century:

I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter No. 1283 of 30 January, enclosing a letter from Rabbi Vidal Sarfaty. The rabbi asks you to intervene with Si Mohamed el Mokri, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, at present in Paris, for the abolition of the degrading custom imposed on Jews, not to enter Dar el Maghzen (the royal palace in Fez) except barefoot. Unfortunately, the facts given in Rabbi Vidal's letter are correct. Jews must take off their shoes at the gate of Dar-Maghzen. Quite apart from the humiliation involved in this measure, it is an intolerable suffering for our co-religionists to be obliged to stand many hours barefoot on the earth of the Palace courtyard, which is either cold and damp or white-hot from the summer sun. Rabbi Vidal. a regular visitor to the Dar-Maghzen in connection with community business or on behalf of individuals, has often returned ill from a rather too long sojourn in front of the offices. It is my opinion that it would be impossible to obtain an order from the Sultan to allow Jews to enter the Palace with their shoes on. It is a concession which his pride would not permit, and one quite contrary to the Muslim conception of the relative positions of the Jews and themselves.

Rabbi Vidal is also remembered for his custom of riding a white horse into town every Friday afternoon to bid the townsmen shabbat shalom (apparently this custom was instituted only after the French occupation; during the Muslim period, Jews were forbidden to ride horses).

To see the entire genealogical chart of the Sarfaty family click on the photo top left. More information on the family can be found here

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