Hacham Yosef Massass

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yosef Massass was born in 1892 in Meknes, Morocco to his mother Simcha and father
Hacham Haim Massass. As a youth, he studied at the Etz Haim Yeshiva, headed by Hacham Haim Birdugo, in the city of Meknes.

In 1908 he married Simcha HaCohen. In 1922, after 4 years during which they were not blessed with children, he married Rachel Lakhrief.

In 1924, at the age of 31, he was appointed to the position of Chief Rabbi of the city of Tlemcen, Algeria.

In 1941, following the decease of Hacham Moshe Toledano, he returned to the city of Meknes to serve as dayan [rabbinic court judge]. Upon his return, he found favor with the King of Morocco and was granted an honor award.

Hacham Yosef Massass was a gifted illustrator and his books are decorated with his drawings. His language is fluent and numerous poems can be found throughout his books, written in beautiful and flowery rhyme.

In 1964 he made Aliyah to Israel and settled in the city of Haifa. In 1968 he was appointed Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Haifa. In Israel, Hacham Massass maintained his charitable work; he frequently visited the sick in hospitals, and provided personal support for soldiers wounded in Israel's wars. He was a source of solace and encouragement for bereaved parents. Rabbi Yosef Massass also visiting prisons regularly, where would evoke regret in the hearts of prisoners for their misdeeds.

Hacham Yosef Massass authored 48 books, including: Otzar Hamichtavim (A Treasury of Letters), three volumes; thousands of letters on numerous topics. Ner Mitzvah (The Light of Commandments) – on the festival of Hannukah and its customs; Nachalat Avot, six volumes, ethics on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), Ma'im Ha'im (Living Waters), Responsa, two volumes. Hacham Yosef Massass passed away
on 2 Shevat 5734 (1974) and was laid to honorable rest in the Haifa Cemetery.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches to share bread with those who do not recite the blessings, there being a commandment to welcome guests.
His Honor was asked by a friend, a religious person who has well-bred secular friends whom he hosts at home and to whom he serves food at his table, such as meat and wine, and offers them all manner of things, whether this does not involve a transgression, since it is forbidden to share bread with one who does not recite the blessing.
Maran [Our Master], of blessed memory…did not write this in the sense of prohibition but rather as a warning, meaning stringency… since he is fulfilling the commandment of hospitality he is not transgressing "do not place a stumbling-block before the blind", and whether he recites the blessing or doesn't, he should serve him.
Every instance of hospitality has a reason and is an inherent commandment, whether it be receiving guests, brotherly love, granting a favor, domestic harmony, forestalling a threat or obtaining a favor, or unexpected visits that are difficult to send off empty-handed, and it is also a great sin to offend their dignity…
If so, since in each sense there is an aspect of a major or minor commandment, and it is very problematic to embarrass and very problematic to rebuke, and not everyone knows how to rebuke, silence is therefore called for, and amity is best, so that one should receive every person gracefully and provide them with food and drink to their good health, and the Almighty will determine his reward.
Otzar HaMichtavim, Chapter 3, letter A 815, p. 182. Published by Otzrot HaMaghreb, Bnei Issachar Institute, Jerusalem, 1988
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he teaches that it is obligatory to attend the funeral of a deceased Gentile, even the lesser ones among them.
His Honor also asked whether it is permissible to attend a Gentile's funeral. My friend! This matter is an obligation, to maintain amity, even with the lesser ones among them, and certainly if he is among his followers, for they have a share in the World to Come.
Otzar HaMichtavim, Chapter 1, letter 240, p. 108. Published by Otzrot HaMaghreb, Bnei Issachar Institute, Jerusalem, 1998
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he teaches that there should be something to benefit the poor in the house of every member of the people of Israel
"Let your home be wide open" – so that every person may find relief from his distress therein: the hungry will find food, the poor find charity, the hard-pressed a loan, the ill medicine and so on. Not that they should all come at once, but that each should benefit, within one's capacity. The principle is that the homes of the people of Israel should have in them some item to benefit the poor… There was a poor woman in the city of Drakart who would rise early each morning, heat the stove and lend hot water or coals to her neighbors. There was a fire in town and she and her neighbors were saved thanks to this good deed. For despite the fact that they were poor, when they had the means their homes were wide open for the benefit of others.
Nachalat Avot, Chapter 1, pp. 213-214. Printed by Bros. Yitzhak and Eliyahu Abicassis Maghreb Printing, Jerusalem 1976
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he tells of the awakening to Aliyah and what prevented them from emigrating.
And from that day onward the holy spark would return and become a great flame in my heart, and I began to awaken the community to make Aliyah [immigration to Israel]. But my words were of no avail, because the hearts of the Jews of Algeria were closed tightly shut to hearing about this matter because of the peace and quiet and plenty in which they lived. And in particular because they were unfamiliar with the Hebrew language spoken in Israel… I received a telegram from Morocco... and immediately travelled there, where I discovered a great enthusiasm for Aliyah and much information concerning the situation in Israel. Indeed, many travelers returned from there with slander about the land, about its lack of material and spiritual wealth, and we have therefore been weakened, while our income remains more than ample, and the peace and quiet and great plenty in which we live have added to impeding our immigration to Israel. Although Aliyah had not ceased, but increased very slowly and began to increase in the year of 1947.
Otzar HaMichtavim, Chapter 1, author's preface, pp. 17-18, Published by Otzrot HaMaghreb, Bnei Issachar Institute, Jerusalem, 1998
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he gives the reason for the custom of accompanying Torah scrolls to geniza [repository for old religious manuscripts] with songs and piyutim.
Concerning the age-old custom in the month of Sivan (April) of storing worn Torah scrolls and printed books, and escorting them from town to the cemetery to be buried with song and piyut, whether there is any basis for this custom…
I have not seen anything written in books concerning the custom of escorting them with song and piyut, yet in the place of my birth, in Meknes, an important Jewish town, may G-d protect it, the custom was indeed to escort them to burial to the sound of much singing. I've heard that this was also the custom in several cities of the Maghreb and here, in Tlemcen, as well, the custom on the day of geniza is to hold a small festive meal…since the reason that the scrolls are worn is the extensive amount of study for which we have used them, and therefore at the sight of worn scrolls and pages, which shows how much Torah study there is in the city, we sing and rejoice at having studied so much Torah.
Mayim Haim Responsa, Chapter 1, Orach Haim section, pp. 60-61. Published by Otzrot HaMaghreb, Bnei Issachar Institute, Jerusalem, 1998
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he explains how Torah scholars cause poverty to their sons by having them not become scholars.
'For what reasons is it not common for Torah scholars to give rise to Torah scholars among their sons? Because they do not first recite a blessing over the Torah' – I have seen a certain commentator interpret this to mean that most Torah scholars are poor, and when they bless their children they begin by wishing them wealth, that they not be as poor as they, and bless them with Torah learning at the end, making it seem as though Torah is not important to them, and therefore their sons do not achieve Torah learning, and this is, to my mind, correct.
Otzar HaMichtavim 1, letter 353, p. 184. Published by Otzrot HaMaghreb, Bnei Issachar Institute, Jerusalem, 1998