Thursday, February 2, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Yehuda Bibas (1776-1852)

Today, I would like to start writing about one of the most prominent Sephardic rabbis of modern Jewish history, Rabbi Yehuda Bibas. His thoughts and ideas have strongly influenced the history of the nation of Israel in ways that affects us today and hopefully for ever.  The irony is that so little (virtually nothing) has been written about him.  Barely, a few lines in the Jewish encyclopedias.  Even his last name was not properly recorded. One can find Bivas, Bibas, Vivas and even Vidas. Such the fate of many (too many...) Sephardic rabbis from the last five centuries who did so much for Am Israel and were unjustly forgotten by all of us. 

The information I got is from a rare book in Spanish  ("Mi padre: David Elnecave",  written in 1985 by one of his descendants: Señor Nissim Elnecave (1910-1986).  Recently, an article about Rabbi Bibas appeared in the Hebrew version of Wikipedia. In the English Wikipedia there is still nothing.  

I got all this information thanks to my friend Rabbi Nissim Elnecave from Miqdash Eliyahu, Brooklyn, who is very knowledgeable in the history of Sephardic Jews. 
Today I will share with the readers only part of his biography, and hopefully in the coming weeks we will get more familiar with his creative ideas and his contributions to Am Israel.  

Rabbi Yehuda Bibas was born in Gibraltar (G.B.). From his mother side, he was the grandson of the famous Moroccan rabbi Chayim ben Attar, the Or-haChayim-haQadosh (1696-1743). From his father side they belonged to the Moroccan Jewish community of Tetuán, Spanish Morocco.  Rabbi Bibas study as a child in Gibraltar an after the death of his father he moved to Livorno (Italy) to live with his grandfather. Livorno had a very prestigious and educated jewish community. Rabbi Bibas received in Livorno most of his Jewish and secular education, including his title as a physician. He then returned to Gibraltar where he established himself as the Rosh Yeshiba. To his Yeshiba attended students from England, Italy and North Africa. In 1810  he came to London, where he met  with the famous Jewish activist and philanthropist Sir Moises Montefiori (Livorno 1784- London 1885).  By now, the reader understand that rabbi Yehuda Bibas spoke perfectly English, Italian, Spanish and Hebrew, and he was a rabbi and a Physician.   In 1831 rabbi Bibas was appointed as the Chief rabbi of the Corfu Island (today belongs to Greece). Corfu had a very heterogenous and prosperous Jewish community, among them the 'Corfiot Italians', Jews from Venice that found refuge in that beautiful Island. 
To be continued.... 
(If any of the readers has more information or a picture about Rabbi Yehuda Bibas, they are welcome to email me at :

The Jewish community of Corfu and the Shoa
"When Italy surrendered to the Allies, the island was occupied by the Germans on September 27, 1943. After a period of deceptive calm, on June 8, 1944, an ordinance was passed, according to which all the Jews were to remain in their homes. About two hundred Jews succeeded to flee. On the dawn of the following day, the Germans arrested all the others and deported them to Auschwitz via Athens. The Nazis and the mob looted their homes and shops. Out of 1900 Jews of Corfu, about 180 survived the Holocaust. Many of them emigrated to Israel or settled in big cities. In 1946 the Community had 140 members; the Synagogue and the school were almost ruined. As time passed the Community re-formed and resumed normal life. Today it is composed of 65 members who continue their course."
Read more about the Jews of Corfu here