Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen

A Short Tribute

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen was born in 1874 (5634) to Hacham Shalom Hacohen and his wife Tarki on the island of Djerba in the south of Tunisia. He studied with his father and with Hacham Yosef Berreby, who was subsequently appointed Chief Rabbi of Tunisia. In 1891, at the age of 17, he moved to the town of Zarzis and was appointed to the position of ritual slaughterer. In 1895 he married his cousin Mas'ida and they had two sons and four daughters. He later suffered from an illness that damaged his eyesight.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen returned to Djerba to continue his studies but his damaged eyesight now made studying more difficult. He refused to fill rabbinic positions for many years, but in 1917, when Hacham Moshe Zaqen Mazouz passed away, he agreed to replace him and was appointed to the Djerba Bet Din [rabbinic court]. He served as head of the rabbinic tribunal from 1935 until his death.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen instated many important takanoth [communal bylaws] and was vigilant about religious observance throughout the island of Djerba. He held classes on Mishna and posqim [Halachic decisors] in his home every Sabbath and provided his pupils with the tools for halachic ruling. The Hacham was renowned for his modesty and for his identification with the poor of the community. He even avoided eating meat on weekdays and categorically refused to benefit from the special status of his public positions.

He was among the founders of the Atereth Zion movement in 1919 that promoted Aliyah to the Land of Israel and supported institutions in the Yishuv [pre-state Israel] and Hebrew language instruction. Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen also purchased a dunam of land [1/4 acre] in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood. In his essay Geulat Moshe he presents detailed propositions as to the structure of the future State of Israel. The Hacham corresponded with the British Supreme Commissioner and maintained ongoing correspondence with the world leaders of the Zionist movement. When the state was eventually established, he ruled that Israel's Independence Day be made a three-day celebration in Djerba.

In 1943 the Nazis invaded Djerba. Although the Nazis were beaten, the war had a negative impact on Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen's health. He sent his son Shushan to Tunis in 1949 to obtain the certificates required for immigration but the degeneration of his health prevented his Aliyah to Israel.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen wrote some 40 works, several of which were published during his lifetime and some posthumously, while others still remain in manuscript form. His famous and important works include: Responsa Shoel and Nishal in 9 volumes, Brit Kehuna - 4 volumes of innovations on the Shulchan Aruch and a collection of Jewish customs, Darash Yaacov – an anthology of sermons, and Yad Moshe, on the Torah.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen passed away on 18 Shevat 5710 (1950) on a Sabbath day and was buried in Djerba. His remains were brought to Israel 55 years after his death, where he was buried in Jerusalem's Har Hamenukhot cemetery on 7 Heshvan 5765 (2005).

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches not to ignore argument but to eliminate it entirely
There is no trait characteristic to the People of Israel as good as the one of amity and, by contrast, no characteristic as bad as argument. Should one note any disagreement with another, it is not fitting to ignore it or to continue arguing and disagreeing. The right thing to do is to seek out the cause and to remove it entirely…
This is how our father Abraham acted… His shepherds were certainly well-bred, and the major cause of the quarreling and fighting no doubt originated with Lot's shepherds. Nevertheless, Abraham did not quarrel with him about this, nor did he ignore it. He sought out the root and reason for the quarrel so that they could go to live different territories.
Darkei Moshe, p. 4a, David Idan Press, Djerba, 1935
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' the custom clearly being that ritual circumcisers take no fee.
It is the custom that circumcisers take no fee for circumcision and that they vie with one another for the privilege. Many of them even go from one town to another, where there is no circumciser, and take no fee aside from travel expenses. The more meticulously observant ones among them even pay the travel expenses out their own pockets.
Brit Kehuna Hashalem, p. 277b, 1940
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he clarifies [the prophesy that] that the liberation of Zion will take place through the judgement of nations, but the return to it through charity
What is said in the verse, "Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return by righteousness" suggests that Zion was redeemed by First World War, when an explicit judgement and law issued by all nations decreed that it [Zion] was to be given to the Nation of Israel, "justice" referring to the judgement issued by the nations. "They that return" – meaning the return and ingathering of the exiles – will, however, take place through charity, that is, merit and good deeds… We must each try to make a vigilant effort to avoid sin and to increase in good deeds, charity in particular, so that we may hope and expect to deserve that the declaration about to be issued by the heads of nations will favor the people of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles.
Torah Vehaim: entry on redemption, pp. 72-74, Hai Haddad Press, 1963
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he teaches not to ignore argument but to eliminate it entirely
It is fitting and correct that we recognize the value of humankind, God created man in His image. Conflict between human creatures is also inappropriate, whether between an Israelite and his Israelite brethren, or between an Israelite and a Christian, or between an Israelite and an Ishmaelite. For as concerns universal reconciliation and being humane, we are all brothers, whereas where religion and law are concerned they are to do as they wish, and we are to follow the written, oral and holy Torah transmitted in God's name. Also, no government can access anything that concerns spirit, they can judge only the physical body, and have therefore permitted us to act according to the Torah and its commandments.
Darkei Moshe, p. 4a, David Idan Press, Djerba, 1935
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' according to which it is not enough to establish a national homeland; the redemption of Zion is in the ingathering of the exiles.
The Torah clarifies that there are two returns: The first – that the Almighty shall return our captives and take mercy upon us; the second – that the Almighty will gather the scattered and distant ones among us from all the nations among which the Lord had us dispersed. And that He will bring us to the land inherited by our forefathers, and will reward us and make us more numerous than our forefathers. Now, we have been privileged in our times with the first return. The Lord, in his mercy, instilled in the hearts of the enlightened great rulers that there no longer be injustice and oppression, subjugation and slavery, for the entire House of Israel in the Diaspora, and also that the Land of Israel be returned to us – our Land and our forefathers' legacy, Zion the city of our festivals – as a national homeland for the nation of Israel, and all of our brethren who live there have obtained the privilege of citizenship in the Land…
The Lord will yet return, to act a second time by gathering the remaining dispersion of Israel with the coming of the Redeemer to Zion.
Darkei Moshe, pp.235 – 237, David Idan Press, Djerba, 1935
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Traditions of the Fathers' explaining that a son is to attend to his father's bidding whatever the father's rank
We should always keep a careful watch on the education of our children and household members so as to guide and direct them in keeping with Torah and the commandments, so that they follow in God's way and always be just and charitable… not only during our life… before losing our strength, we should instruct our children to follow the ways of God. For it is highly commendable that every person fulfill his father's directives and legacy, and always follow his advice, even if his father is the least of persons of the lowest rank.
Darkei Moshe, p. 5, David Idan Press, Djerba, 1935