Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Yehuda Alqalai (1798-1878)

Rabbi Yehuda Chai Alqalai (or Alkalai) was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia. He came to Israel with his parents at the age of 11.  At a very young age he was ordained as a rabbi by Rabbi Eliezer Pappo, the author of Pele Yo'etz.  He was sent from Israel to serve as the Rabbi of the important Sephardic community of Zemun (present day Serbia).

In 1839 rabbi Alqalai met with rabbi Yehuda Bibas (see this), who inspired him and shared with him his enthusiastic ideas about the return of the Jews to the land of Israel.

In 1840 the Jewish world was  shocked by the Damascus blood libel. Not only because of the ridicule accusations that "Jews killed gentiles to consume their blood", but especially because the French authorities in Damascus and the modern "media" of that time, accepted those absurd accusations. "The Jews thought that the world had outgrown, especially in the West, where Jews were convinced that Western culture would not accommodate such terrible lies."

The Damascus libel affair represented a turning point in the life of Rabbi Alqalai. His ideals would now become part of a practical plan to restore the Jews to the land of Israel and obtain their political independence, as Rabbi Yehuda Bibas had envisioned and preached. 

Rabbi Alqalai published in 1840 his first book, Minchat Yehuda, where he called the Jews to reunite in the land of Israel. 
Rabbi Alqalai had practical plans for the establishment of the Jews in israel. He wrote and spoke about the need of teaching the Hebrew language to the Jews. He saw that the revival of Hebrew will represent a unifying factor between the Jewish communities worldwide. He also wrote about the need of having a Jewish Bank which, through individuals' funds, will buy lands in Israel. He insisted in the urgency to address the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He suggested the formation of joint-stock company between the Jewish Bank and the Ottoman Empire, such as a steamship or railroad trust, with the purpose of inducing the  Sultan to cede Palestine to the Jews as a tributary country, on a plan similar to that on which the Danube Principalities were governed.

To be continued....


Rabbi Yehuda Alqalai with his wife Esther (Viena, 1874).

Read here about the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840