Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Ya'aqob Meir (1856-1939)

Rabbi Ya'aqob Meir was Born in Jerusalem in 1856. He was the son of a successful merchant, Caleb Mercado. Rabbi Meir studied under Rabbi Menachem Bechor Isaac and Rabbi Aharon Azriel.  He was an eximious talmudic scholar, fluent in Hebrew as well as five other languages.

In 1882 he was sent from Jerusalem in a mission to Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and he was instrumental in encouraging the immigration of Bukharian Jews to Palestine. In 1885, 1888, and 1900 he visited Tunisia and Algeria as an emissary. From 1888-to 1899 he was a member of the Bet Din of Rabbi Ya'aqob Shaul Elyashar, in Jerusalem. Under Turkish rule, he often interceded with the authorities on behalf of the Jewish community. In 1899 he was appointed deputy head of the Bet Din of Rabbi Raphael Isaac Israel. In 1906 he was chosen chief rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1921 the Chief rabbinate of Palestine was established and rabbi Meir was elected as Sephardi chief rabbi of Palestine and took the position, assuming the title of "Rishon le-Zion". He held the post until his death in 1939. 

He was at the forefront of the effort to revive Hebrew as a modern language. He also encouraged the construction of new Jewish quarters of Jerusalem. He was very active in the efforts to establish a good relationship between Jews and Arabs living in Palestine. He wrote a famous letter in 1936 called an "Appeal for Friendliness" called on the Muslims of Jerusalem to halt any hatred and animosity towards Jews who were returning to their Holy Land.  

Rabbi Ya'aqob Meir was honored with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire award for service to the British. He was also awarded the French Legion of Honor and received decorations from the sultan of Turkey and the Greek government as well as Hussein bin Ali, King of Hejaz.

WATCH this rare historic footage from 1918. The 3rd rabbi is R. Ya'aqob Meir.