Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rabbi Hayim Habib (1882-1945)

Rabbi Hayim Habib was born in the city of Salonica (aka Saloniki, or Thessaloniki), Greece, in 1882. His father was a Dayan (Rabbinical judge), rabbi Refael Habib.  The Salonican Jewish community was one of the most prolific Sephardic communities in the world. In 1900 there were approximately 80,000 Jews in Salonica, out of a total population of 173,000 souls. The Jews could be found in every profession: merchants,  lawyers, physicians, teachers, etc. The Jewish stevedores of Salonica were famous. On Shabbats the town and the port was closed since the Jews did not work. There were 49 Synagogues in Salonica and a 500-year-old Sephardic cemetery with half-million graves. 

Rabbi Hayim Habib studied in the Talmud Tora (elementary and High School) under rabbi Moshe Ottolenghi (1840-1901) and later in the rabbinical School of Salonica, "Bet Yosef" where he was granted his rabbinical ordination.  He also studied accounting and European languages. 

When he was in his early 40's Rabbi Habib was offered to serve as the chief rabbi of Salonica.  He was so humble that at the beginning he refused to take the position, but upon the insistence of the Rabbis, he accepted the difficult job.   The duties of rabbi Habib were many. Besides being responsible of the kashrut of the city and overseeing all the technical issues of Jewish family Law, Bet Din, etc. he was also in charge of overseeing education . He supervised the rabbinical school, the appointment of hazanim, mohalim and rabbanim for all the Synagogues of the city. 

He was also involved in the schools, assisting the teachers, examining the students and making improvements in the school curriculum, which included also the study of modern Hebrew.  Rabbi Habib and all Salonica Jews, were very involved in the Zionist movement. 
Rabbi Habib was very loved by its community and many considered him a saint (איש קדוש) because he was always helping those in need. The poor, the sick, the elder, they all could count with the unconditional support of rabbi Habib. 

During the early 1900' many Salonica Jews left Greece and emigrated to the US , France and Israel. Still, the pre-World War II Jewish population of Salonica counted 56,000 souls. 

In 1941 the Nazis יש"ו came to Salonica.  They destroyed the Synagogues, the Jewish schools, the libraries, and desecrated the Jewish cemetery.   98 percent of Salonica's Jews, 54,000 Sephardic Jews, were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, or died during the long, exhausting Death March from January to May 1945.  Among them Rabbi Hayim Habib, his wife and his two daughters הי"ד.

Rabbi Habib had also another daughter and a son who emigrated to Israel before the Nazis came into the city. The descendants of rabbi Habib live today in Tel Aviv.