Hacham Raphael Berdugo

A Short Tribute

Hacham Raphael Berdugo, known also as HaMal'akh (the Angel) Raphael, was born to Rachel and Hacham Mordecai, known as HaMarbitz, in 1747, in Meknes, Morocco. He began his studies with his elder brother, Hacham Yekutiel. At night, they would study by the light of the moon because they did not have the means to purchase candles.

In 1762, when he was 15 years of age, Hacham Raphael Berdugo's father died, and he continued his studies in dire poverty. Hacham Raphael Berdugo never forgot his life of poverty and when he reached adulthood he stood up for the Jewish poor. He often spoke in their praise in his commentaries on the Torah as well as when ruling public amendments (takanot hakahal).

Hacham Raphael Berdugo married, and we know of four of his sons, one of whom was Hacham Maimon Berdugo, known as the MEVIN and author of the book, Lev Mevin.

Hacham Raphael Berdugo wrote his commentary on the Talmud, Sharvit Zahav, in 1771, when he was 24 years of age. He was appointed Av Beit Din (President of the Rabbinic Court) of Meknes while still in his thirties, and was considered his generation's foremost teacher of Halakha by the Maghreb communities.

As a community leader, Hacham Raphael Berdugo was a source of comfort and support for the Jews of the Maghreb, during the droughts and epidemics of plague that the Maghreb underwent in those years, and particularly during the riots that broke out between the years 1790 and 1792. The riots were triggered in 1790 by the death of Mohammed, the Alawi Sultan and by the subsequent battles between his sons over the inheritance. Mulay Yazid, the son who seized power, went on a murderous rampage against the Jews of Morocco. Hundreds of Jewish martyrs died horrible deaths, Jewish women were raped, and the houses of the Jews were burned to the ground. The famous lamentation by Hacham David Hassin, the poet of that period (who was married to Hacham Raphael Berdugo's sister), was written to memorialize those riots.

Because of his pious and ascetic ways, Hacham Raphael Berdugo earned the name of "Raphael the Angel". On 21 Tishrei 5582 (1822), Hoshanna Raba Eve, after having completed the study of the Idra from the Book of Zohar and completed the Tikun, Hacham Raphael Berdugo passed away, at the age of 75. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Meknes in a coffin.

Hacham Raphael Berdugo had many amendments made and authored books in various domains, some of which still remain in manuscript form. His published work includes Mishpatim Yesharim – Responsa, in two volumes; Mei Menuhot – on the Torah; Sharvit HaZahav – a commentary on the Talmud; Hessed VeEmet – sermons and eulogies; Torah Emet – on the Arba'a Torim; Rav Peninim – sermons; Rokeach Mirkakhot – on the legends in the Talmud; Mesamchei Lev – on the Torah; Leshon Limudim – on the Bible; Kitzur Takanot Hachmei Castilla – on the ritual slaughter and verification laws according to Maghreb custom.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he teaches that "Torah is his craft" refers to those who study during the entire time when they are not engaged in their craft

To whom does "Torah is their craft" refer? To those who engage minimally in a craft or commerce for their livelihood and review Torah or study on a regular basis, whenever they have a free moment … A Torah scholar for whom "Torah is his craft" returns to his studying at every opportunity that he is freed from his dealings. There have been Torah scholars who have a shop and spend most of their day dealing in commerce, sitting in their shop all day, such as the one in Bzazin.

Mishpatim Yesharim, p. 81b, question 172, Cracow 1891, Jerusalem 1993, second printing