Hacham Yehuda Alkalai

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yehuda Alkalai was born to his mother and to his father Hacham Shlomo in 1789 in Sarajevo, Bosnia. As a child he studied Torah with his father, who was a dayan [rabbinic judge] in the Sarajevo community, and from Hacham Eliezer Papo, author of the Peleh Yo'etz. He later took Esther to be his wife. In 1825, at the age of 27, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Sephardi community in the town of Zemun (today part of the city of Belgrade, Serbia). As part of his role he also served as a children's teacher, for which purpose he authored his first book, Darkei Noam, for Hebrew language study, in Ladino.

In 1840, in response to the Damascus libel and the general situation of the Jews, in particular in the area in which he lived, he awoke to the need for a solution to the exile. Rabbi Alkalai's plan included choosing the Hebrew language as a language to be shared by all Jews, promoting its study, finding unifying customs for Jews of all ethnic origins, promoting Aliyah [immigration] to Israel, and establishing political life there. Hacham Yehuda Alkalai published these ideas for the first time in the Shlom Yerushalaim booklet in Ladino and subsequently in Hebrew, in his famous book, Minhat Yehuda. These ideas were publicized many years before the First Zionist Congress, for which reason he was named the Herald of Zionism.

Later in life he authored additional works on these topics – Kol Hamevasser, Sepher Haim, Goral LeHashem, Mevasser Tov, Shem Israel, Meoded Anavim, Menahem Zion, and others. Hacham Yehuda Alkalai tried to disseminate his ideas in additional ways, and traveled to Jewish communities throughout Europe where he tried to share his doctrine. In 1852 he established the Shlom Yerushalaim Company for the settlement of the Land of Israel, but it collapsed immediately after he left the city.

In 1874 he immigrated to Israel with his wife, Esther, and settled in Jerusalem. He passed away four years later, in 1878 without seeing any of his plans materialize. The town of Or Yehuda is named after him, and five of his students established the city of Petach Tikva.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he explains the Messiah son of Joseph to mean developing sources of livelihood for those living in Israel
The People of Israel and their leaders, most of all, the noble people of Israel, are obligated to protect and attend to the livelihood of our brethren, the People of Israel, the first to dwell in the Kingdom of G-d, in the Holy Land, those going to live there. And when the People of Israel will hear that the Lord has remembered His people and provided them with bread, their hearts will awaken to returning to G-d and fill His House.
For this reason the first redeemer has been called Messiah son of Joseph – because he resembles Joseph. Joseph's greatness was in that he was under Pharaoh's control, and thus it is that the greatness of Messiah son of Joseph will be under the control of His Grace, our Lord, may His glory be exalted. Just as Joseph was sent by G-d in advance of his brothers for sustenance, thus will Messiah son of Joseph be sent for the purpose of sustenance by G-d, to attend to and protect the livelihood of our brethren Children of Israel, to develop sources of work and craft so that they may earn a living and not be humiliated by hunger before the Gentiles.
The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai; Volume 2, Sepher Haim, chapter 17
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he teaches to appoint elders to institute the ingathering of the exiles and to unify customs.
Our Sages, of blessed memory, differed as to which of the commandments included the most commandments. One said "Love thy neighbor as thyself" – that the commandment in which most of the Torah is included is brotherly love. That we should love each member of the people of Israel as our own souls, and be compassionate one to another. On the basis of this principle, elders should be appointed to institute the ingathering and to reconcile between us – in written and spoken laws, and in customs – since love is only between equals, and so that our Torah and religious observance not be [divided by] Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Polish, French or Italian custom and the like…
For the dwellers of the Land and those who will arrive…will be called Israelis, so that they may conduct themselves in love and brotherhood as appropriate to the ingathering.
The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai; Volume I, Minhat Yehuda, paragraph 29, pp. 248-249, Mossad Harav Kook Press, Jerusalem 1974
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' according to which providing work for the poor is the charity that hastens the redemption.
Maimonides, of blessed memory, wrote the Halakha on gifts to the poor, in these words: "There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next. The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others etc."
This is what is meant by "Charity is greatest for it hastens the redemption". Meaning to say, the greatest charity – that is, strengthening those immigrating from the Diaspora so that they may earn a livelihood – is what hastens the redemption.
And Jerusalem can only be redeemed through this great charity, as it is said "Zion will be redeemed by justice." The RadaK [Rabbi David ben Yosef Kimchi, 1160 – 1235] interpreted this as: justice – this means commandments between man and his fellow man. That is, Zion will be redeemed by [observing the] commandments between man and his fellow man.
That is, to strengthen the hands of the weak and reinforce failing knees, to provide them with employment and craft so that they may earn a livelihood, for if there is no livelihood there is no redemption, as our Sages of blessed memory said: "Greater is livelihood than redemption", for redemption is by an angel – as it is said, "And He sent an angel, and brought us forth out of Egypt", and livelihood is by the Almighty – as it is said, "Thou openest Thy hand, and satisfiest every living thing with favour".
The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai; Volume 2, Goral leHashem, paragraph 17, pp. 540-541, Mossad Harav Kook Press, Jerusalem 1974
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he says that each soul of the People of Israel holds one of the Torah's letters.
The Midrash says: Jacob deserved that he be the one to give the Torah, as it is said, "give truth to Jacob", but the population was too small, that is, they did not number six hundred thousand, and could not receive the Torah until they reached six hundred thousand…and He gave us the Torah, 248 obligations corresponding to the 248 limbs in the human body, and 365 prohibitions, corresponding to the number of its tendons. This is to teach you that through Torah, we, the People of Israel, are considered as one body, and there are, as well, six hundred thousand letters in the Torah. So each soul of the people of Israel holds a single letter of the Torah, and the word "Israel", when taken as an acronym in Hebrew represents "There are six thousand letters in the Torah". Not until they reached six hundred thousand in number could they receive the Torah – the body did not yet conform to the norm as written in the Midrash: On the day that they received the Torah they were six hundred thousand minus one. The Almighty descended to Mount Sinai and was counted among them, completing the count of six hundred thousand.
The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai; Volume 1, Darkei Noam, p. 6, Mossad Harav Kook Press, Jerusalem 1974
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he says that our Holy Land will be a land of liberty for all its residents
The excellent and joyous ingathering will make our holy land a land of liberty, and will "proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" with no religious differentiation. For persons of all nations will follow their G-d and we will follow in G-d's path for ever.
The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai; Volume 2, Meoded Aniim, p. 607, Mossad Harav Kook Press, Jerusalem 1974
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' speaking in praise of unity
To unite the people of Israel to become one people of one heart, one society and one language, with one Torah and united in custom, the custom of Israel, as promised by the prophet "and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me"…to draw the people of Israel close one to another, to make them one people in the land, in the hills of Israel.
The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai; Volume 2, Shivat Zion, p. 664, Mossad Harav Kook Press, Jerusalem 1974