Table of Contents

Online Journal

Sephardic Rabbis: Four Short Biographies

by Sarina Roffé

Rabbi Yitzhak Attia

Rabbi Yitzhak Attia (b: 1755 Aleppo) was the father of Rachel Attia, who married Ezra Hedaya. It is said that the Attia family is related to Saadya Gaon and that the Attias are descendants of David HaMelech and were students of Rev Yosef Ari.

Rabbi Yitzhak Attia had a difficult life, but his legacy lives on in the six books he wrote over the course of his life. In the introduction to one of his books, Rabbi Yitzhak describes the difficulties he had during his lifetime.

His first marriage was to Leah, with whom he had two daughters. Leah was a righteous woman who fell ill after the birth of their second daughter. She wanted to stay alive at least until the young daughter reached her first birthday. But Leah could not care for the children and they had to be sent to an orphanage. Leah clung to life for five years, but died soon after. The youngest daughter also died. While Rabbi Yitzhak was healthy himself, he was heartbroken over the deaths.

He remarried a woman named Sevatia Setton, but she too fell ill and was fighting death. Her name was changed to Simcha in the hope that she could live, and she survived. At the time, there was also a plague in Aram Soba (Aleppo), where over 300 children fell ill. Rabbi Yitzhak's son with Leah, fell ill from the epidemic.

Over the years, Simcha and Rabbi Yitzhak had many sons and a daughter, from whom Rabbi Yitzhak derived much pleasure. Thirty years later, an earthquake shook Aram Soba and many people died and homes were destroyed. Only 10 people from the Attia family survived, including Rabbi Yitzhak Attia's youngest son and his brother's son.

Rabbi Yitzhak wrote six books over the course of his life. Many of the books Rabbi Yitzhak wrote were important works, so important that he traveled to Livorno, Italy to have them published. Livorno was a place where many Jewish books could be printed in Hebrew. He traveled by land and by ship to Livorno, stopping in Damascus, Beirut and Egypt. The roads to Livorno were difficult and dangerous and it was distant from Aram Soba, but Rabbi Yitzhak thought his work was so important that it was worth the risk to his life.

In his works he detailed the people he met along the way and how they helped him both physically and financially. Rabbi Yitzhak's first book is titled Zara Yitzhak Attia and is an explanation of the first two sections of the Chumash. The second book, Vatican Yitzhak, is a continuation and covers the next three Chumash. Shut Avot is an explanation of the Gemarra. Rov Tagan, his fourth book, is an explanation of the six books of the Mishna. His fifth book Mesharet Moshe, speaks of the strong hand of the Rambam; Echet Chael, is a literal translation of the Woman of Valor poem. His last book was titled Tana Veshiar. Rabbi Yitzhak Attia was away from home for seven years. He died in Livorno.

Rabbi Shabatai Beda

Rabbi Shabatai Beda (b: 1892) was one of two sons of Rabbi Moise Beda and Mazal Gindi. Sarah Faham and Rabbi Shabatai married in Aleppo in 1908 through an arranged marriage. Economic conditions in Aleppo declined and business was poor. The couple moved to Manchester, England, where there was an established Syrian Jewish community.

In approximately 1914, Shabatai Beda visited Buenos Aires to do business as a textile merchant, but could not get back to Manchester due to the outbreak of World War I. He was separated from his family. Following the war, Rabbi Shabatai returned to his family in Manchester. He began to ship merchandise to the Fahams (his wife's family), who lived in Buenos Aires. There is a record of Shabatai Beda entering the United States in New York in 1919 when he was 27 years old.

In England, the Bedas had a one-family home on Clyde Road in Didsbury, where the children attended public school and Talmud Torah. They were members of Sha'are Zedek Synagogue on Lansdowne Road, West Didsbury, Manchester. The synagogue merged with Sha'are Rahamim and became Sha'is Hayim, a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.

The Beda children - Moise, Eli and Latife were born in Aleppo, while Clement, Gladys and Jack were born in Manchester. Rabbi Shabatai went to Cuba for a brief period in 1926. World War II was a time of separation for the family as many were in different parts of the world. In 1947, the family passed through New York en route to Colombia, South America, where they waited for two years before receiving permission to enter the United States.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Shabatai taught many students from Aleppo. As a displaced non-citizen, he always traveled on an affidavit. Rabbi Jacob Kassin sponsored Rabbi Shabatai Beda in 1949 to emigrate from Colombia to America, where he ultimately became an American citizen. For many years, the Bedas lived at 901 Avenue R in Brooklyn.

Rabbi Shalom Hedaya

Ezra Hedaya > Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Hedaya > Rabbi Shalom Hedaya

Shalom Hedaya, the son of Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Hedaya and Ovadya Shamah, was orphaned at an early age and was very poor. He was so poor he had no one to take care of him and he considered leaving the path of Torah in order to earn a living. He was taught by Rabbi Shaul Sitton, who later became Head of the Rabbinical Court in Buenos Aires.

Rabbi Shalom Hedaya visited Jerusalem in 1890. He developed an illness in his eyes and soon became blind. He traveled to Alexandria, Egypt for surgery and completely recovered. In 1899, he settled in Jerusalem, where he was respected by all the rabbis. In 1904, he became Judge of the Beit Din for Sephardic Jews and in 1930 he became head of the court. After a time, he became very ill and had to travel to Amman, where he was treated and cured. When Rabbi Shalom returned to Jerusalem, he became Rabbi of Yeshiva Bet El and was given the title Harav Hachasid.

At a young age, Rabbi Shalom Hedaya married Sarah Labaton and they had four sons: Rabbi Isaac, Rabbi Ovadya, Moshe and Ezra, and two daughters, Mazal and Rena. Rena married Rabbi Moshe Ezra Mizrahi and she died at a young age. Mazal married Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, who became Chief Rabbi of Brooklyn's Syrian Jewish community in 1933.

During his lifetime, Rabbi Shalom wrote four books - Shalom Le-Am (Aleppo, 1896); Degel Ephraim, where he thanks God for the miracles and wonders done for him; Kisay Shlomo (Jerusalem, 1924); and Shalom VaTzedek, published in 1948 (the last two chapters were written by his son Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya).

Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya

Ezra Hedaya > Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Hedaya > Rabbi Shalom Hedaya > Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya

The second son of Rabbi Shalom Hedaya and Sarah Labaton was Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya (1890 Aleppo -1969 Jerusalem), who was brought to Jerusalem from Aleppo at age nine. During World War I, he fled the country in fear of the Sultan and spent four years in exile. He returned to Jerusalem at the end of the war.

At the age of 18, he wrote his first book titled, Servant of the King, based on the Rambam. He received many awards for his writing including the Israel Prize as well as the Honor of Those Who Hold Jerusalem Dear. Rabbi Ovadya was made principal of Yeshiva Porat Yosef in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he remained until 1945. He also served as Hazan at Oz Vehadar, the kabbalistic yeshiva next to Porat Yosef. Rabbi Ovadya succeeded his father as dean of the Yeshiva Bet El and became Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Petach Tikva in 1939. In 1951, he became a member of the chief rabbinate of Israel, authoring many books on Jewish law and speeches. He also served as a Dayan, judge of the Beit Din.

A pious man, Rabbi Ovadya went to the mikveh daily, regardless of the weather or season. According to his granddaughter, Ruth Nakash, his handwriting was very neat and he was very efficient. "People wrote to him from all over the world asking his opinion. He had a special room with books from floor to ceiling. He typed the answers and decisions himself. He was very independent."

When the Arabs burned the old building of Yeshiva Bet El in 1948 in the Old City of Jerusalem, Rabbi Ovadya took on the task of rebuilding the yeshiva in the new section of the city.

Rabbi Ovadya married Sulha Shrem (1893 Aleppo-1975 Jerusalem) and they had three girls and one boy - Sarah (b: 1912), Mazal (1916-1983), Shalom (b: 1926) and Esther (b: 1930) - and 29 grandchildren. Their son, Shalom, became a rabbi. Sulha was an educated woman for her time, who attended school and learned to read and write during an era when it was uncommon for women to do so. Rabbi Ovadya Hedaya is buried on Haritz Mountain in Israel.

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