Hacham Haim Palagi

A Short Tribute

Hacham Haim Palagi was born in Izmir to Cali Kadin and to Hacham Yaakov Palagi in 1788. In 1807, at the age of 19, Hacham Haim Palagi married, and in 1813 he received his ordination as Hacham Shalem from his grandfather, Chief Rabbi Rishon LeZion Hacham Raphael Yoseph.

Hacham Haim Palagi did not accept any public position while his father was still living, and it was only in 1828 that he agreed to serve as a dayan in the Rabbinic Court and as Head of the Beit Yaakov Rabi yeshiva in Izmir.

In 1837 Hacham Haim Palagi was appointed President of the Great Rabbinic Court of Izmir, and in 1857 he was appointed Hacham Bashi, the highest rabbinic office in Izmir.

Hacham Haim Palagi spoke out for the poor of his community and would reprimand its wealthy individuals in his sermons. He legislated takanot (Halachic enactments) and founded charitable institutions; he toiled to establish a Jewish hospital in Izmir and enlisted the support of renowned philanthropists.

Hacham Haim Palagi began writing at the age of 16 and is famous for his numerous books, over 80 in number. His books deal in a broad range of topics, and include 7 books on the Bible, 9 on the Talmud, 15 on Midrash and sermons, books on morals, and 24 books on Halacha, Kabbala, Responsa. When he completed a book, Hacham Haim Palagi would hold a se'udat mitzvah – a consecrated festive meal - and distribute his books gratis. He never sold his books.

On 11 Av, 5601 (1841), a fire broke out in Izmir, destroying the Jewish neighborhood and burning 54 of his books. Over the years, Hacham Haim Palagi restored many of his writings and had them reprinted, leaving a small number in manuscript form.

Hacham Haim Palagi passed away 17 Shevat, 5628 (1868). He was buried in the ancient cemetery of Izmir in an official state funeral, attended by Turkish military and state officials as well as representatives of foreign countries.

His books include Pe'ulat Tzaddik LeHaim – his first book, Semicha LeHaim Responsa – which he authored with his grandfather and teacher, Hacham Raphaek Yoseph Hazan – Rachamim LeHaim, Artzot HaHaim, Lev Haim, Haim LeRosh, Kol HaHaim, Matza Haim, Tzeddakah Haim, Pe'ulat Tzaddik LeHaim, Ginzei Haim, and Birkat Mo'adecha LeHaim – his last book, published a day before his death.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches that a person who has no merit of their own has a share in their fellow-person's merit, as they are partners

All Israel have a portion in the World-to-Come. This can be interpreted to mean that since we share the understanding that "All of Israel are responsible for one another", they are to be considered partners in fulfilling the commandments, and in upholding and studying the Torah. And just as partners share benefits, the People of Israel share each other's merit in one another's Torah and good deeds… The Bible does bring evidence: "And your people, all of them are righteous" – and each has her or his own. Should you ever find totally empty people among Israel, they nevertheless "Shall possess the land for all time". "For all time" means that this includes even those who have nothing of their own.

Pe'ulat Tzeddek LeHaim, p.a, Siach Israel Publishing, Jerusalem 1998