Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan (Jato) was born to Camrona and Hacham Shalom, known as Jato, in Djerba, Tunisia. After his father died, Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan inherited most of his money and assets yet made little use of them. He contributing most of his wealth to charity and continued to work in his shop at the market, devoting his nights and spare time to Torah study. He would complete the Hoq L’Israel daily portion every day and read the Book of Psalms and the Zohar over the year.

Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan was a paytan and musician who would perform at weddings, circumcisions and similar events, for the wealthy as well as for the poor, seeking no remuneration.

Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan had the reputation of being a humble and modest individual; he refused to have his original commentary published and when on his way to his shop, would keep the books from which he studied out of view so as not to be taken for a Torah scholar.

When Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan’s eyesight began to fail, and his wife would read to him and he would explain; she gradually advanced in her studies and they would study as colleagues. Her name is not mentioned in the book Zera’ Yaakov out of modesty, and her original commentary is referred to as heard “by word of mouth”.

Towards the end of his life, circa 1933, Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan’s yearning for the Land of Israel led him to leave Djerba and he went to live in Zoara, Tripoli with his son Hacham Zion, who officiated as the city’s rabbi. He remained with his son for nearly two years, trying to obtain an immigration permit to the Land of Israel. After succeeding, he went to Tripoli to sail to Alexandria and, from there, to the Land of Israel but was stopped by the ship’s captain, who refused to let him board because of his advanced age. He was forced to return to Djerba, where he died a month later.


Hacham Yaakov Cohen Yonathan passed away on 6 Av, 5696 (1936) in Djerba and was buried there. He wrote a large amount of original commentary on the Torah, some of which was published in his book Zera’ HaShalom. After his death, his sons published Zera’ Yaakov, with additional original commentary, all attributed to his wife.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he teaches how to transform a hostile heart to a loving one

“We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Esau really had come to kill him, and it is astounding how he was transformed and began to love Jacob a moment after he reached him. The reason is that Jacob used a ruse to transform his brother’s heart and make him love him. We find that King Solomon, may he rest in peace, wisely said, “As face answers to face in water, So does one man’s heart to another.” For when a person feel hatred towards another, it is a sign that the other hates them as well, and the opposite (is also true); when a person loves another, it is a sign that the other loves them as well. Jacob used this to transform Esau’s heart from foe to friend, by considering his love for his brother Esau in his heart while waiting for Esau to arrive; by saying to himself that he had indeed sinned against his brother Esau by taking the blessing and firstborn’s birthright from him. By soothing himself about this he felt only good things about Esau. Love, therefore, arose in Esau’s heart towards Jacob, and he felt only good things about Jacob, despite his having taken his birthright from him. The power not to relinquish it had been his, and it was he who was responsible. Neither was Jacob responsible for receiving Esau’s blessings, which he did against his will and only because his mother had ordered him to do so. And since human hearts feel the blaze of love from one another, Esau came to love Jacob.

Zera’ Yaakov, p. 9, Mekiketz David Saadon Press, Djerba, 1928