Table of Contents

Kassin Rabbinic Dynasty

by Sarina Roffé

Part II

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Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin > Rabbi Rafael Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Rabbi Saul Kassin > Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin

Rabbi Jacob, the middle son, moved to New York in 1933, where he became chief rabbi of the Syrian Sephardic community in Brooklyn.

Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin was born in 1900 in the old city of Jerusalem. He attended Yeshiva Ohel Mo’ed, a prestigious Torah academy in Jerusalem that was founded by Rabbi Rafael Shlomo Landau, a great Gaon.

Rabbi Saul Kassin, Jacob’s father, instilled in Jacob a love of Torah and the importance of learning. This perpetuated the family’s rabbinical line. Rabbi Saul miscalculated Jacob’s age and he was a bar mitzvah at age 12,(F22) a year earlier than is legal according to Jewish law. Soon after, the members of the synagogue realized the mistake, but saw the true brilliance of Jacob.

The mistake was compounded when Jacob’s father apprenticed him with an expert scribe so that Jacob would be able to earn a living. Jacob’s handwriting had a smooth and graceful scroll. Within months, Jacob acquired the skills to become an expert. Jacob was a noted scribe and wrote a complete Sefer Torah at Bet El, the yeshiva of kabbalists in Jerusalem. A scribe must be able to write the Sefer Torah with no mistakes, for a mistake would make the document unkosher and not fit for use.

But a child of 12 cannot be permitted to be a scribe as he is not yet a man according to Jewish law. When the mistake was realized, Jacob was sent back to school at Yeshiva Ohel Mo’ed. His rabbis, who saw the capabilities of this gifted student, gave Jacob special attention. He excelled in his studies and continued his education at the Yeshiva Porat Yosef, a Sephardic yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he established a reputation as a scholar and later became a teacher.

By the age of 16, Jacob was known in Jerusalem for his knowledge of Talmud, which he attributed to his father. In the midst of World War I, Jacob’s father and sister died of typhoid fever. His mother Altoon died soon after. Jacob was an orphan at 16. Although he continued to study at the yeshiva, Jacob was poverty-stricken. He had little food and money. His clothing became threadbare. Food in Jerusalem was so hard to get that many people ate seeds and became sick. Jacob worked selling groceries to earn money for food. But the constant hunger left a toll on Jacob: He developed a debilitating stomach disease that stayed with him for years to come.

At age 18, Jacob Kassin was invited to the Jerusalem home of Rabbi Shalom Hedaya, a noted kabbalist and Talmudic scholar. Rabbi Hedaya was very impressed by Jacob’s voice, his learning and most of all his extreme modesty. Rabbi Hedaya wanted a match between Jacob and his daughter Mazal. Mazal Hedaya and her mother, Sarah Labaton Hedaya, a descendant of the Labaton rabbinic dynasty, were not impressed with Jacob. They were put off by his threadbare clothing and the fact that he had nothing to offer her. But Rabbi Hedaya convinced his wife and daughter that Jacob was destined to be a great man, and Jacob and Mazal wed.

Jacob was appointed Rosh Yeshiva in the then-newly-erected Yeshiva Porat Yosef building.(F23) He studied Kabbalah under Rabbi Shalom Dweck.

Rabbi Jacob taught classes at Yeshiva Porat Yosef, often studying Kabbalah late into the night. Word soon spread that Jacob was a student of Kabbalah, which brought him to the attention of Rabbi Shaul Hayyim Dweck, a respected rabbi known for his knowledge of Kabbalah. Rabbi Dweck invited Jacob to become one of a select group of scholars who studied regularly with him.

In early 1922, a leading kabbalist in Jerusalem was losing his sight. But the rabbi refused to leave Jerusalem to have the operation needed to cure his eyesight. He needed someone to read to him. Rabbi Dweck recommended Jacob as a good reader. For the next three years, Jacob read Kabbalah and, in turn, the rabbi explained the text to Jacob, making him an expert in Kabbalah.(F24)

During the course of his life, Jacob wrote several books on the science of Kabbalah. In 1925, he published Ohr HaLevanah (Light of the Moon), which consisted of three parts – Ohr HaLevanah, Ohr Hadash and Ohr HaHayyim – a commentary with novella from the teachings of Rashash.(F25) These books are kabbalist works studied by Kabbalah students today.

Jacob also wrote Yesod Ha’Emunah (Foundation of Belief). The latter book included arguments that dispelled doubts about the authenticity of Kabbalah, as well as responsa.(F26)

In 1928, kabbalist Rabbi Rahamim David Shrem zt’l, was completing a major work on Kabbalah entitled Sha’arei Rahamim. The book is a collection of questions posed to his teachers - Rabbi Hayyim Shmuel Dweck and Rabbi Avraham Ades - on topics in the writings of Ari and Rashash. Worried that there might be errors in the book, Rabbi Shrem needed a scholar to review the work. Rabbi Shrem sought out Rabbi Jacob Kassin, whose knowledge of the subject and whose gift for eloquent writing made him a perfect choice for the assignment.(F27)

In 1930, Rabbi Jacob added his signature to a joint approbation about the work, Yad Eliyahu, by the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Yitzhak Hazan zt’l.(F28)

In 1931, Rabbi Jacob published Pri Eitz Hagan (Fruit of the Tree of the Garden), which included biographies of prominent tzadikkim, including Rashash, and discussions of their ethical teachings, solutions to problems posed by Gaon Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad and the order of prayers for Rosh Hashanah, along with explanations.(F29)

From 1928 to the end of 1932, Rabbi Jacob served as a Dayan in the Supreme Beit Din of the Sephardic Community of Jerusalem.(F30) In 1931, Jacob received his rabbinical ordination from the Great Rabbis of Israel, where he was established as a Talmudic and kabbalistic scholar. In the same year, Rabbi Jacob published the Fruit of the Tree of the Garden, a book on Kabbalah that included questions and answers as well as puzzles.

In 1933, Rabbi Jacob accepted an offer from Magen David Congregation of Brooklyn, New York as Chief Rabbi and Chief Dayan. On August 10, 1933, Jacob, Mazal and their first four children - Shaul, Shulamith (Charlotte), Abraham, and Itzhak - came to New York.

Jacob and Mazal had nine children who reached adulthood. Shaul, Leon and David became rabbis. Meyer became a business man, Moshe Morris became an attorney and Esther became a mother. Shaul became Chief Rabbi of the Brooklyn community after the death of his father in December 1994.

Rabbi Jacob ran the Beit Din and formed the community’s Rabbinical Council. Brooklyn’s Syrian community was growing by leaps and bounds and Rabbi Jacob was their spiritual leader. Over the years, Rabbi Jacob brought the community together. He reorganized the Kahal (congregation) and established the various Jewish institutions on a firm and stable foundation, which supports the community today.

During his tenure as Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Jacob gained international repute as an expert on Jewish Law. Learned men sent queries of law to him from all over the world for his decision. He settled issues involving business transactions, weddings and provided valuable religious guidance.

Rabbi Jacob and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian Community issued an edict in 1935 against marriage to converts. Such marriages were not to be recognized by the community. Children of such marriages could not attend community yeshivot. Further, rites of passage such as bar mitzvahs, weddings and the right to be buried in the community’s cemetery would be denied.

The Takana (edict) had its roots in a ruling by Rabbi Shaul David Setton of Aleppo,(F31) who had accepted a position as rabbi and head of the rabbinic court in Argentina in 1912. Rabbi Setton, saw a community "bereft of Torah and he set about remedying this situation by establishing a kosher slaughterhouse, synagogue and other institutions." Rabbi Setton also started the rabbinic ban on conversions and marriage with converts in Argentina in 1927, the same ban that was later adopted in New York.(F32) Jews of Syrian descent and who follow the laws and traditions of Aram Soba in Argentina continue to observe this ban.

In New York, the Takana was signed to specifically address those who converted to Judaism for the purpose of marriage, not someone who was a righteous convert.(F33) The 1935 edict, which was reissued in 1946, 1972 and 1984, was signed by leaders of every Syrian Jewish institution and became a cornerstone of Brooklyn’s Sephardic community.

During the 62 years that Rabbi Jacob led Brooklyn’s Syrian community, he revived Sephardic heritage, culture, tradition and customs, as well as an awareness of Sephardic identity,(F34) which remains unique and authentic. He attended every bris, wedding, bar mitzvah and funeral with the same sincerity and attention, no matter if the family was rich or poor.

Rabbi Jacob served by accentuating the importance of serving and attending to the needs of everyone in the community. Rabbi Jacob was guided by the principle of respect for fellow men and acceptance of every member of the community, regardless of their level of observance. By accepting the less observant, Rabbi Jacob sought to bring them into the fold.

Indeed, over the course of his life, Rabbi Jacob brought many that strayed from Torah observance back to the path of Judaism. Rabbi Jacob’s inspiring sermons, personal example and private counseling facilitated the return to the traditions and practices of Sephardic Judaism. At a time when many large Jewish communities were weakened by intermarriage, Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community was strengthened.

On the world scene, the community became internationally known for being the largest group of Syrian Jews in the world. And Chief Rabbi Jacob was the undisputed leader not only in Brooklyn but of Syrian Jewish communities worldwide. His decisions on halachic matters received international recognition. Realizing his influence, Rabbi Jacob sought to keep a firm hand on the religious affairs of other Syrian communities, encouraging them toward higher spiritual standards.

The descendants of Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin boast numerous offspring in numerous states and countries around the world. Its rabbinic dynasty spans five centuries, has vast wealth and exerts enormous political influence, especially in the areas of Israeli politics and philanthropy.

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin > Rabbi Rafael Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Rabbi Saul Kassin > Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin > Rabbi Shaul J. Kassin

Rabbi Shaul was editor in chief of Nir, yearbook of Teachers Institute at Yeshiva University and the school newspaper, where he also wrote Hebrew articles. Rabbi Shaul is an excellent mathematician. He always typed his own speeches in Hebrew and English.

After becoming a rabbi, Rabbi Shaul taught at Magen David Talmud Torah and later at Magen David Yeshiva. Rabbi Shaul had hundreds of students during those first years in the community. His students include Rabbi Isaac Dweck, Rabbi Moshe Shamah, Rabbi Benjamin Seruya, Rabbi Diamond, Rabbi David Cohen and many others.

Rabbi Shaul was also his father’s most trusted assistant. As Rabbi Jacob’s secretary, he wrote articles for him. Rabbi Shaul was also secretary of the Beit Din, which met every Monday and Thursday mornings. There were three judges – Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, Rabbi Matlouf Abadi and Rabbi Eliahu Husney.

The marriage of Rabbi Shaul and Freida Seruya produced eight children - four sons and four daughters – Molly, Anna, Jacob, Abe, Sarah, Esther, and the twins, Morris and Isaac. Jacob’s eldest son, Saul, is a rabbi.

Rabbi Shelomo Kassin

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin > Rabbi Rafael Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Rabbi Saul Kassin > Rabbi Shelomo Kassin

Rabbi Shelomo, the youngest son of Rabbi Saul, remained in what is now Israel. He became an expert on the laws of marital status and was a highly competent shohet. He spent most of his life as a Dayan and Rabbi in different parts of Israel, serving for many years as a Dayan on the Beit Din of the rabbinate of Tel Aviv.(F35) He wrote four books: Kerem Shlomo, which contained his novellae on the Talmud; Divrei Shlomo, containing responsa, novellae and discourses; Taharat Benot Yisrael, on the laws of family purity; and Nitzutzei Ohr, on ethics and daily conduct.(F36) Rabbi Shelomo and his wife are buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Information on his descendants could not be located.

Sarina Roffé
Brooklyn, New York, USA


22. Telephone interview with Leon J. Kassin, 1999.(return)
23. “In Memory of Jacob Kassin A.H.”, Image (January 1995, p. 14).(return)
24. Telephone interview with Leon J. Kassin, December 27, 1998.(return)
25. Princely Wisdom, p. 50.(return)
26. Ibid, p. 56.(return)
27. Testimonial Dinner Program, Lubavitch Youth Organization, May 18, 1998.(return)
28. Princely Wisdom, p. 72.(return)
29. Ibid, p. 74.(return)
30. Princely Wisdom, p. 80 and Biography of Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, Testimonial Dinner Journal, January 18, 1964.(return)
31. Moshe Zemer, “The Rabbinic Ban on Conversions in Argentina,” Judaism 37:84-96 (1988).(return)
32. Zenner, “Reinterpretation…” (return)
33. Sarina Roffé: An analysis of Brooklyn's rabinnical takana prohibiting Syrian and Near Eastern Jews from marrying converts. Thesis (M.A.) - Touro College.   (return)
34. Obituary, Jewish Press, November 24, 1995.(return)
35. Laniado.(return)
36. Ibid.(return)

Sarina Roffé is a career journalist and holds a masters in Jewish Studies. She has researched numerous genealogies including the Kassin and Labaton rabbinic dynasties and is considered an expert in Aleppan Jewry. She is a member of Brooklyn's Syrian Jewish community and the Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc. of New York. She may be contacted by email at