Letter by Jerusalem Rabbis Regarding the Mission of the Author of Pri Chadash – Polemic of Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Jerusalem
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Two handwritten leaves, copy of a letter by Jerusalem rabbis regarding the mission of R. Hezekiah da Silva, author of the Pri Chadash, and about the polemic between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Jerusalem. [Italy, end of the 17th century]. Cursive Italian Hebrew script. Early copy [copied close to the time of writing] of the letter by Jerusalem rabbis, R. Moshe Galante, Maharam Chaviv, R. Ovadia Aharon Chayun, R. Chiya Avraham di Boton, R. Avraham Tzemach, R. Ya'akov Molcho, R. Chiya ben Dayan and R. David Yitzchak - regarding the mission of R. Chizkiya da Silva, author of the Pri Chadash from the month of Tishrei 1688. The letter is addressed to the community leaders, the gaba'im and the rabbis of the "Holy communities in the region of the Frankish cities and the notables of Italian cities and the governing rulers of the Ashkenazi cities". The Jerusalem rabbis write in the letter that about three months previously, they sent the "sage…Chizkiya da Silva to knock at the doors of donors…", and upon arriving in Egypt, he met the Jerusalem emissary R. Avraham HaLevi who told him that he was not as successful as in the past in collecting funds in the communities he visited. R. HaLevi attributed this decline in donations to an earlier visit by another emissary by the name of R. Moshe HaCohen "who teaches Torah to the Ashkenazi communities in Jerusalem", who collected funds allocated for Jerusalem to pay the debts of the Jerusalem Ashkenazi community, after showing them an agreement signed between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities in Jerusalem, according to which both communities were united regarding all monetary matters. In their letter, the Jerusalem rabbis cried out protesting the fact that the donations that were allocated for Sephardim were given to pay Ashkenazi debts: "And upon hearing this thing, we were astonished that this was done, that funds which belong to our community of Sephardim were given to pay debts of the Ashkenazi communities, because we have never consented to this". According to them, the agreement of unifying the two communities was contingent upon the Ashkenazim first paying all their debts and only afterward, the communities would unite. The Sephardim claim that they do not waive their rights to the funds already collected by R. Moshe Cohen as well as funds donated in the future and they grant R. Hezekiah da Silva the power to ban and excommunicate anyone who denies this right. Many historic details are cited in the letter shedding light on the state of the two Jerusalem communities - the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi, such as the debts of the Ashkenazim which eventually led to the obliteration of the their community in 1720 and the monetary agreements drawn between the two communities, including the agreement of the Sephardi community to arrange the tax payments for the Ashkenazim. Rabbi Hezekiah da Silva (1656-1695) was born in Livorno, Italy and ascended to Jerusalem in 1676 at the age of 20. He studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Moshe Galante (the Rav HaMagen) and the Chida tells that he heard from his disciple, author of Batei Kehuna, that "on the first day he went to the yeshiva of Harav HaMagen he postulated with much wisdom and spoke with considerable proficiency". It was not long before he was appointed head of the yeshiva. Some of his great disciples are Rabbi Yitzchak HaCohen author of Batei Kehuna, Rabbi Shlomo Algazi (the second) and Rabbi Yeshaya Azulai, the Chida's grandfather. In 1688, he was sent by Rabbi Moshe Galante as an emissary to Western Europe [this is the mission discussed in this letter]. The Amsterdam community received him with great honor and generously supported his cause. Rabbi Moshe Hagiz relates that he saw in the notebook of the Amsterdam Sephardic community that they allocated the large sum of 600 'lions' for Rabbi Galante's mission and that "it was because he really was a great expert and erudite and perfect in Torah learning'. The Amsterdam community also negotiated with
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