Rabbi Capsali was born in the Island of Crete (today Greece) in 1420. Not much is known about his early life, except that he went to study Tora in Germany, became a rabbi and then in 1450 he settled in Constantinople (modern day, Istanbul).
Rabbi Capsali became
very prominent thanks to his closeness with the Turkish Sultan Mehmed
the Second, also known as "The Conqueror". Mehmed II brought the end of
the Byzantine empire and conquered Constantinople in 1453. He was one of
the most powerful men on the planet in those days. The Sultan appointed
Rabbi Capsali as the Chief Rabbi or Hakham Bashi of the Ottoman
As the Chief rabbi of the Empire, rabbi Capsali was
in charge of appointing other rabbis and supervising the collection of
taxes coming from the Jews. He also acted as a civil judge. It is said
that the Sultan's respect for the rabbi was because, disguised as a
civilian, Mehmed II was present one day while Capsali was rendering his
decisions and he assured himself that the rabbi was incorruptible and
impartial in his judgments.
The Sultan appreciated so much
Rabbi Capsali that he assigned him a seat beside the Mufti, the Muslim
highest authority, and above the seat of the Christian patriarch.
of the most important contribution of Rabbi Capsali to Am Israel is
that thanks to his favor with the Sultan, the Sultan opened the gates of
his empire to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees who were escaping
form the horrors of the Inquisition in Spain and from persecutions they
suffered in many Christian countries. The Sultan allowed and even
encouraged the Jewish refugees to build homes, synagogues and houses of
study (Bate Midrash), and to practice their religion freely.
1492, towards the last years of Rabbi Capsali's life, the great tragedy
of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place. His advanced age
notwithstanding, Rabbi Capsali dedicated himself in soul and body to
help the victims of the expulsion. Many Sephardic Jews were captured by
pirates when escaping from Spain and were sold as slaves. Rabbi Capsali
personally traveled to various Jewish communities in his country to
collect funds for Pidyon Shebuim, to redeem these Jews. It was thanks
to rabbi Capsali that the most prominent Sephardic communities in those
times flourished in Constantinople and other cities of the Ottoman
Rabbi Capsali died in 1495 at the age of 75 he was succeeded as Hakham Bashi by Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrahi.