Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, known by his nickname Manitou, asborn to his mother and to his father, Hacham David, on 25 Sivan, 5682 (June 21,1922) in Oran, Algeria. He received a traditional Jewish education at the Etz Haim Talmud Torah and then in French state schools. He went on to study Talmud with Rabbi Moshe Fingerhut and Kabbala with his family, as well as philosophyand psychology in academic institutions.

In 1940 (5700) he joined the Jewish Scouts Movement, which at the time operated clandestinely against the Nazis. He received the nickname Manitou, which means "Great Spirit" in the language of the Algonquin
Amerindians, in the Scouts Movement.

In 1943 (5703) Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. He participated in battles for the liberation from the Nazis and was wounded in Alsace.

In 1945 (5705), at the end of the war, he immigrated to France. As part of his efforts in rehabilitating the French Jewish community, he established the School for Young Jewish Leadership in Orsay jointly with Robert Gamzon.

Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi married Esther (Bambi) and continued to teach Torah, philosophy and Jewish identity. Along with Emmanuel Levinas and André Neher, Hakham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi led the French School for Jewish Thought.

In 1968 (5728), following the Six Day War, he immigrated to Israel and went to live in Jerusalem. Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi established the Ma'ayanot Institute and Merkaz Meir for Israel studies.  During that period; he also taught French-speaking students in Machon Meir. Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi became
the spiritual leader for many of Israel's French speakers, and continued to teach in France as well.

Hacham Leon Ashkenazi passed away in Jerusalem on October 21, 1996 (9 Heshvan 5757) at the age of
74 and is buried on Har Hamenuchot.

Most of his available writings are based on lectures that he gave in various settings. The books deal with Jewish identity as viewed through Midrash and Jewish Thought, and in the differences between the Jewish faith and other religions. His books include Sod Haivri, Midrash Besod Hahaphachim, Sod Midrash Hatoldot, and Misped Lamashiach.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches that "love thy neighbor" applies to close friends, it being easier to love from afar.
The emphasis in "love your fellow as yourself" refers to friends in particular because, contrary to what one may usually think it is actually more demanding to love one's brother or friend than one who is distant. It is quite easy, as an ideal, to love the world, the blacks in Africa or an Arab enemy from a distance. On a daily basis, however, it is more difficult to really love an irritating mother-in-law, constantly noisy neighbors, or the rude bank clerk. They, however, are the "fellow" whom we must love.
Yitzhak Chouraqui, in Tradition in the Modern Age, Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, Torat Hatoldot, p. 332, Yedioth Aharonoth Press, Tel Aviv, 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he clarifies the reason for which the return to Zion came naturally to Sephardi communities
The Ashkenazi diaspora is composed principally of exiles from the First Temple period who did not return to the Land of Israel during the Second Temple. As a result, their consciousness is imprinted with the experience of a nation that has not yet returned from exile.
In contrast, the Sephardim returned from the Babylonian exile and are descendants of the exiles of the Second Temple. When we heard of the blue and white flag, the Hatikva anthem, and the Israeli soccer team, we immediately saw in them signs of national redemption and integrated them in a natural way into the community.
Yitzhak Chouraqui, in Tradition in the Modern Age, Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, Torat Hatoldot, p. 289, Yediot Press, Tel Aviv, 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he teaches that Gentile morality is a prelude to holiness.
Basic morals are universal, and termed "the ways of the land" in Aramaic, referring to the type of natural human behavior that enables life in human society, as simple as it sounds. I must begin by acknowledging that I have been created and that I have been granted my existence by the Creator…
I must also acknowledge that the other is a creation of the same Creator as well and that we both share a task, which is to solve the equation of brotherhood, through mutual respect between two individuals that are of equal value, without transforming the other into an object or imposing a master-slave relation on him…
There is morality among non-Jews, principally among the Righteous of the Nations who understood the importance of adopting and cultivating those values that are, in a sense, the prelude to sanctity. The Righteous of the Nations have the sincere intention to construct a human society in which the other is protected and can live.
Sod Midrash Hatoladot A, Malcei Tzedek, pp. 199-200, Dudu Press, Kiryat Arba (or Hava Press, Beit El) 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he teaches that one does not acquire the Law of Moses without accepting Abraham's attributes
If the countenance of Moses does not resemble the countenance of Abraham one cannot acquire the Torah… Whoever studies Torah but does not have the countenance of our father Abraham – features of charity, features of the attribute of compassion –"the law of kindness on his tongue"– cannot acquire the Torah. The angels, the absolute truth of holiness, are unwilling to give him the Torah, because Torah without derech eretz [common decency] is dangerous. Moses without Abraham is, as it were, impossible.
If the Law of Moses is severed from Abraham's attributes, then the angels refuse to give the Torah. This is an extremely important issue, because many of Moses' students who study Torah as Halacha have regretfully forgotten that Moses was a son of Abraham. They have forgotten the connection between our father Abraham's attributes and the Law of Moses.
Misped Lamashiach?, Third Section – The Period of the Omer, p. 197, Manitou Institute Publishing, Dudu Press, Kiryat Arba, 2006
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Traditions of the Fathers' in which he teaches that one must be grateful to the Almighty, just as he feels towards his or her parents
The reason for which the Torah innovates with the commandment concerning children's attitude towards their parents is to educate people and accustom them to the idea that the same gratitude that one feels towards one's parents, who have granted us life, is the gratitude one is to feel before the Creator, who has granted the gift of life to both us and them.
Yitzhak Chouraqui, in Tradition in the Modern Age, Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, Torat Hatoladot, p. 327, Yedioth Publishing, Tel Aviv, 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he teaches that our tradition to grow beards is no impediment to the acknowledgement that all people of Israel are brethren
It has always been clear that Jews who wear beards are Jews, but the converse, to those who wear beards, has not always been that clear. Were it not for the power of Torah, were it not written in the Torah that every Jew is a Jew, the beard-wearing Jews would not have recognized their brethren as Jews. It is within this recognition that lies the beginning, the first stage or initial step in the highly crucial process of "And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew him not".
Misped Lamashiach?, Third Chapter – The Period of the Omer, p. 192, Manitou Institute Publishing, Dudu Press, Kiryat Arba, 2006