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Online Journal

Kassin Rabbinic Dynasty

by Sarina Roffé

Surnames in the Kassin rabbinic dynasty: Alexander, Attia, Chreim, Cohen, Crodi, Guideon, Hedaya, Kassin/Cassin/Katzen, Labaton, Masri, Seruya, Sitt, Sutton, and Zakay. See also: Labaton Rabbinic Dynasty.

Part I 

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The name Kassin is traced to a long line of rabbinical scholars, as well as to the French wine merchant and Jewish community leader Fedia Jacob Joseph Cassin and French jurist and statesman Rene Samuel Cassin, winner of the 1968 Nobel Peace Prize. The name can be spelled a number of ways, including Cassin, Kassin and Katzen.

The Kassins have nearly five centuries of rabbinical and Torah scholars behind them. Indeed, they fulfill the meaning of their ancestral name, Cassin. The Hebrew term Cassin means head of the community. The biblical word refers to captain or judge and occurs often in the Tanach. Kassin pre-dates the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain, indicating the family held positions in Spain as judges and leaders for hundreds of years. The name Kassin was also recorded as a Jewish surname in Vauclause, France in the 14th Century. The Kassin family spans over 500 years of unbroken scholarship and leadership, compared to great Jewish dynasties in Eastern Europe.

Their story is traced to 16th Century Spain, where, according to original Hebrew records translated by Rabbi Shaul J. Kassin in his 1980 book, The Light of the Law, his ancestor Señor Shlomo Kassin lived in 1540.(F1)

As a wealthy Spanish merchant, Señor Shlomo Kassin fled Spanish persecution for the safe haven of Aleppo, Syria in 1540 where he soon became head of the Jewish community there. In Aleppo, Señor Shlomo devoted his energy to Torah study and to good works.

The Kassins – 1540 until 1916

Señor Shlomo Kassin had two sons, Ephraim (b: ca. 1590) and Menashe, both of whom continued their father’s work in philanthropy and community leadership. It is unclear from which son Shlomo’s grandson, Rabbi Yomtob Kassin(F2) descends, but he was the first known rabbi of the family. A great kabbalist, talmudist and authority on Jewish law, Yomtob served as chief rabbi and head of the Beit Din of Aleppo.

Descendants of Rabbi Yehuda Kassin

Rabbi Yomtob Kassin > Rabbi Yehuda Kassin

Rabbi Yomtob Kassin’s son, Yehuda Kassin (Aleppo 1708 – 1784 Aleppo) was the second rabbi in the family and also served as head of the Beit Din of Aleppo. He is considered one of the most famous rabbis of his generation. Rabbi Yehuda was also a respected kabbalist and authority on Jewish law. A dispute between the Jewish community of Aleppo and a group called the Señores Francos was settled in a 220-page rabbinical decision (Mahane Yehuda treatise, Livorno, Italy) issued by Rabbi Yehuda Kassin. Mahane Yehuda (Livorno, 1803) (F3) contains hundreds of responsa and illustrates mastery of all phases of Talmudic literature. The end of the book has printed agreements between Jerusalem and Damascus rabbis.(F4)

A collection of Rabbi Yehuda’s responsa was subsequently published in Jerusalem by his great grandson Rabbi Shaul Kassin under the title Ro’ei Yisrael (Jerusalem 1904) (F5) in three parts. A collection of his sermons, VaZot LiYehuda, exists in manuscript form. It is a book of questions and answers on Torah, Gemara, and Kabbalah.

"Rabbi Yehuda was highly respected for his humility; on at least one occasion, Rabbi Shlemo Laniado, chief rabbi of Aleppo, referred a question of rabbinic law to him because he, Laniado, felt that as chief rabbi he lacked the requisite modesty Yehuda possessed in ample measure."(F6)

At the age of 30, Rabbi Yehudah went to Eretz Yisrael to study for five years. His health was not good, yet he lived to be 76. He was buried in the Cave of the Righteous opposite Aleppo’s Great Synagogue.(F7)

Rabbi Yehudah had two sons, Rabbi Bekhor Kassin and Rabbi Eliahu Kassin.

Rabbi Bekhor Kassin

Rabbi Yehudah Kassin > Rabbi Bekhor Kassin

Rabbi Bekhor (1745/46-1851/52) was a modest man and great orator.(F8) He lived over a century and was buried in the Cave of the Righteous, like his father. Rabbi Bekhor Kassin had three sons, David, Itzhak and Abraham, all of whom became rabbis.

Descendants of Rabbi Bekhor Kassin

Rabbi Yehudah Kassin > Rabbi Bekhor Kassin > Rabbi David Kassin

Rabbi David Kassin (1789/90-1876/77) was such a great orator that he drew crowds of 1,000 or more on Jewish holidays. A rabbinic scholar, he bore only daughters, no sons. He published his sermons in Va’ye’esof David, which included some sermons of his brother Abraham. A manuscript version of the book is in the hands of the Kassin family in Brooklyn.(F9)

Rabbi Yehudah Kassin > Rabbi Bekhor Kassin > Rabbi Itzhak Kassin

Rabbi Itzhak Kassin (1809-1896) was a very humble man of great rabbinical knowledge. He had four sons - Yehuda, Ezra, Shelomo and Moshe.(F10)

Descendants of Rabbi Itzhak Kassin > Yehuda Kassin

Rabbi Yehudah Kassin > Rabbi Bekhor Kassin > Rabbi Itzhak Kassin > Yehuda Kassin > Ezra Kassin

Ezra was born on April 12, 1911 in Kilez, Syria. After emigrating as a child to New York, he married Esther Sutton, daughter of Shaul Sutton and Nizha Sitt, on July 16, 1935. Their children are Louise, Leon, Sol, Joseph, Victor Robert, Sally, Rabbi Sammy, Susan, Elliott and Wayne.

Rabbi Yehudah Kassin > Rabbi Bekhor Kassin > Rabbi Itzhak Kassin > Yehuda Kassin > Ezra Kassin > Rabbi Sammy Kassin

Rabbi Sammy Kassin, son of Esther Sutton and Ezra Kassin, was born October 10, 1944. In 1965, Rabbi Sammy married Malka Cohen in Israel. Their children are Ezra, Mickal, Leah, Moshe and Aharon. Rabbi Sammy is world renowned for the Shehebar Center, located in the old city of Jerusalem, where young men study Torah.

Rabbi Abraham Kassin

Rabbi Yehudah Kassin > Rabbi Bekhor Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin

Rabbi Abraham Kassin (Aleppo 1810/1-1896/7 Jerusalem), like his brother, was a rabbinical scholar. Some of his sermons were published in Va’ye’esof David and others were published in Likkutei Abraham.(F11) He frequently traveled to North Africa to raise money for charity. He went to Morocco(F12) as an emissary for the community. In 1890, he emigrated to Jerusalem. He is buried in the Mount of Olives, Block 7, in an area marked for individuals of pious significance.

Descendants of Rabbi Eliahu Kassin

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin

Rabbi Eliahu Kassin (1757/58-1829/30) was the second son of Rabbi Yehuda Kassin and was able to amass great wealth during his lifetime. He followed his father’s footsteps as head of the Aleppo Beit Din.(F13) Rabbi Eliahu had one son, Rabbi Rafael Kassin (1780-1871).

Rabbi Rafael Kassin

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin> Rabbi Rafael Kassin

Since Rabbi Eliahu was affluent, his son, Rabbi Rafael, was able to devote his lifetime to studying Jewish law. Rabbi Rafael was very social and mingled with many people from all walks of life, including royalty. On a visit to Aleppo, the Pasha of Iraq met with Rabbi Rafael Kassin and was so impressed that the Pasha invited him to Baghdad to become chief rabbi there to which he agreed.

The chief rabbi of Baghdad was a position appointed by the king and Rabbi Rafael held the title for many years. He was frequently called upon to defend the tenets of Judaism in debates with Muslims. Eventually he resigned from the chief rabbinate and returned to Aleppo. His writings include Maarekhet HaShulhan, Lehem HaMarekhet, Yayyin HaRekaa (a collection of sermons), Derekh Hahayyim (a defense against Gentile attacks on the Bible and Talmud) and Tekafo Kohen.(F14) Rabbi Rafael Kassin had six sons: David, Michael, Itzhak, Abraham, Joseph and Gabra.

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin> Rabbi Rafael Kassin >Itzhak

Itzhak, the third son of Rafael, had two sons, Rafael and Ezra. Rafael settled in Egypt, where he lived until his death.

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin> Rabbi Rafael Kassin >Rabbi Abraham Kassin

Abraham, the fourth son of Rabbi Rafael, had two sons, Saul (1863-1916), a businessman, and Hayyim.

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin> Rabbi Rafael Kassin >Joseph Kassin

The fifth son of Rafael was Joseph, who had two sons, Rafael and David. David had a son Salim. The men earned their living as businessmen, thoroughly versed in Jewish studies.

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin> Rabbi Rafael Kassin >Gabra Kassin

Gabra Kassin, the sixth son of Rafael, had a son Rafael, who became a rabbi in Buenos Aires, Argentina.(F15)

Descendants of Rabbi Abraham Kassin

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

Rabbi Saul Kassin (1864-1916) had three sons, Rabbi Abraham (1895-1965), Rabbi Jacob S. (1900-1994) and Rabbi Shelomo (1908-1982), along with a daughter. All three sons and their wives are buried in Jerusalem. Rabbi Shelomo is buried on the Mount of Olives and Rabbi Jacob and Rabbi Abraham are interred at Har Menuhot in Jerusalem.(F16)

The Brooklyn Kassin rabbinic dynasty comes from the line of Abraham Kassin and his son Saul Kassin. Born in Aleppo, Rabbi Saul was betrothed to Altoon, the daughter of Jacob Attia, by his 18th birthday. Rabbi Saul continued his studies and wrote numerous Talmudic commentaries and rabbinical responsa. He read Tikkun Hatzot at midnight each night and began studying Kabbalah. There were many tragedies in his life as none of his older children survived past the age of seven.(F17)

At the age of 24, Rabbi Saul moved to Hebron where he studied with Rabbi Elihau Mani. At the age of 27, Rabbi Saul moved with his wife to Jerusalem so he could spend more time in prayer and study. He studied Kabbalah at Yeshiva Bet El and lived in the Beth Israel section near the Bokharan quarter.(F18)

Rabbi Saul was a humble, very pious and quiet man. Each day he studied from dawn until noon and each afternoon he delivered public lectures on Jewish law, never charging for his services. He walked on Sabbath mornings to Nahalat Shimon, a Jerusalem shul which was far from his home, to deliver the weekly sermon. Rabbi Saul endured poverty most of his life. He served as cantor each Friday night at synagogue services and at the Yom Kippur Musaf service. Rabbi Saul composed songs for weddings and other happy occasions in his community.(F19)

"Rabbi Saul was a prolific writer but was never able to publish his manuscripts because he lacked the funds to do so. His major work was Kehillat Shaul which has four volumes: Volume I contains responsa, Volume II is a collection of sermons based on weekly Torah readings, Volume III is a collection of kabbalistic commentaries and Volume IV is a compendium of religious chants based on maqqamot."(F20)

Rabbi Saul Kassin and an unnamed daughter died of typhoid fever in 1916, in the midst of World War I in Jerusalem. His wife Altoon died a year later, leaving their three surviving sons, Abraham, Jacob and Shelomo, as orphans.

Descendants of Rabbi Saul Kassin

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

Rabbi Abraham Kassin was born in 1895 in Jerusalem, the eldest son of Rabbi Saul Kassin and Altoon. Rabbi Abraham studied at Ohel Mo’ed Yeshiva in Jerusalem. During World War I he fled to Egypt to escape famine and remained there until 1921, when he returned to Jerusalem. Once in Jerusalem, he married Sarah Hedaya, the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Hedaya. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Abraham moved to Mexico, where he and his family lived the rest of their lives.

The children of Rabbi Abraham and Sarah Hedaya are Saul A. (d. 2000, Mexico); David; Moshe (d. 1985 Mexico); Victoria (b: August 13, 1937, Mexico) married to Abraham S. Crodi; Jana (b: February 11, 1935, Mexico); Fortuna (b: November 2, 1941, Mexico) married to Moshe Zakay; Ezra A. (d. January 27, 1954, Mexico) married to Linda Masri; Simbol (November 17, 1926-March 1978, Israel); and Bahie. As in the Spanish tradition, which includes the surnames of both parents, the children have the surname Kassin Hedaya. Although there must be many grandchildren, the only ones found were the son of Saul, named Abraham, and the children of Fortuna Kassin and Moshe Zakay, who have four children and reside in Panama.

Rabbi Abraham earned his livelihood as a merchant and supported Torah students by dispensing charity. He died a tzaddik in 1965 in Mexico. Abraham and his wife are buried at Har Menuhot in Jerusalem.

Descendants of Rabbi Abraham Kassin

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin > Rabbi Rafael Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Rabbi Saul Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Saul A. Kassin

Saul A. Kassin had many children. The only name we could locate was Avraham.

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin > Rabbi Eliahu Kassin > Rabbi Rafael Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Rabbi Saul Kassin > Rabbi Abraham Kassin > Fortuna Kassin Zakay

Fortuna A. Kassin was born on November 2, 1941 in Mexico.(F21) She married Moshe Zakay on October 1, 1965. They have four children – Selma (b: March 01, 1967, Mexico), Elias (b: May 12, 1968, Panama), Sara (b: September 18, 1969, Panama) and Abraham (b: June 18, 1974, Panama).

Selma Zakay married David Chreim on May 24, 1987 in Panama. Their children are Shaul (b: August 11, 1988, Panama); Moshe (b: October 10, 1990, Panama); and Tania Mazal (b: August 16, 1994, Panama).

Elias Zakay married Judy Alexander on January 21, 1996 in Panama. Their children are Mazal Fortuna (b: April 24, 1997, Panama) and Moshe (August 10, 1998, Panama).

Sara Zakay married Nissim Cohen on November 08, 1987 in Panama. Their children are Joseph (b: October 13, 1988, Panama) and Moshe (b: February 4, 1992, Panama).

Abraham Zakay married Vivian Guideon on November 17, 1996 in Panama. Their children are Moshe (b: October 3, 1997, Panama) and Mazal (b: December 31, 1998, Panama).

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1. Shaul J. Kassin, The Light of the Law (Shengold Publishers, 1980), p.2. (return)
2. Rabbi David Laniado, Holy People of Syria, 1980. (return)
3. Moshe David Gaon, Oriental Jews in Eretz Israel, 1938. (return)
4. Lehrman, Algemeiner Journal. (return)
5. Moshe Gaon. (return)
6. Light of the Law, p. 2. (return)
7. Moshe Gaon. (return)
8. Laniado. (return)
9. Light of the Law, p.2. (return)
10. Light of the Law, p. 3. (return)
11. Laniado. (return)
12. Moshe Gaon. (return)
13. Light of the Law. (return)
14. Ibid. (return)
15. Ibid. (return)
16. Ibid. (return)
17. Ibid. (return)
18. Ibid, p. 4. (return)
19. Ibid, p. 4. (return)
20. Ibid, p. 4. (return)
21. Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, Princely Wisdom, 1995, p. 25-26. (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