Hacham Haim Hizkiyahu Medini

A Short Tribute

Hacham Haim Hizkiyahu Medini, son of Eliyahu Raphael and also known as the Sdei Hemed, was born in Jerusalem in 1833. He studied with Chief Rabbi Rishon LeZion Hacham Yitzhak Kobo and with Hacham Yoseph Haim Burla. By the age of 13 he had already been ordained as a teacher; he was also married at a young age, to Rivka.

In 1853 his father died, and as a result Hacham Hizkiyahu and his wife, along with his mother and his two sisters, left for Kushta, Turkey (Istanbul of today) where he was welcomed with great honor. He was offered several Torah-teaching positions, but refused to earn a living from teaching Torah and taught the public without receiving a salary.

In 1866, Hacham Hizkiyahu Medini was invited to serve as city rabbi of Karasau-Bazaar (today called Bilohirsk, in Crimea). Since he spoke Turkish, which is related to the Krimchak (Crimean) dialect, he got along easily with the local community. The community members were suspected of being Kara'ites, but Hacham Hizkiyahu Medini determined that their identity as Jews was indisputable, and succeeded in arousing and renewing their affinity to tradition and Torah. Despite the tensions between the Ashkenazi Jews and the Krimcheans, he was no less appreciated by the city's Ashkenazi community. He would often rule in Halachic issues and received questions from all over the world. He began to work on an encyclopedia of Halacha, entitled Sedei Hemed.

In 1869, his son died. Hacham Hizkiyahu Medini left Karasau-Bazaar in 1878, to the regret of the community, and immigrated to the Land of Israel. After a two-year stay in Jerusalem, he moved to the city of Hebron to officiate as its rabbi and as a dayan. He continued to teach the public and opened a yeshiva for youth. Hacham Hizkiyahu Medini was very popular with the Arabs of Hebron as well.

Hacham Hizkiyahu Medini married his daughters to Torah scholars who were also craftsmen – a shoemaker, a tailor, and a hatter. Hacham Hizkiyahu Medini passed away on 24 Kislev, 5665 (1904) and was buried in Hebron.

His books include Sdei Hemed – an Halachic encyclopedia that includes guidelines for ruling Halacha, Or Li – a book of questions and responsa written anonymously in memory of his deceased son, and Michtav LeHizkiya – an additional book of questions and responsa. Igrot Sdei Hemed contains his letters, various missives and takanot.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he teaches that a heavenly wind blows through the hearts of Torah titans, and inspires them to settle the Land

It is so publicly known a fact that the notion of settling the Land of Israel is a great and honorable matter that the idea needs no reinforcement or evidence. Nor is this notion a new one, coming as it does from the camp of the Hebrews, having begun ages ago to throb in the hearts of the nation's great personalities and Torah titans. It has become like a flying banner - to liberate the earth, return to the Land, rebuild its ruins and plant its trees; this began even while our brethren, the People of Israel, still rested quietly in the lands where they were dispersed. It will lead to our wellbeing, and we shall be like all the nations on this earth. Nevertheless, the great Torah scholars and ministers of the nation, who could look ahead in time, sensed the future and set their sights to the land of our forefathers, Eretz HaTzvi, the Land of Israel. They could not, for various reasons, carry out their positive thoughts to action at the time. The Negev desert winds (a reference to the pogroms of 1881-1882) blew into the dry bones, making the spark of settling the Land of Israel glow and spread, until it became a divine flame. For the heavenly winds blew on outstanding people, who gathered their strength and powers to unite, shoulder to shoulder, and heal our hearts on this holy matter, calling out in a great voice: Brothers! Be strong and be strengthened for the sake of our nation and so as to settle the Land, and let us all be steadfast and helpful towards each other.

Igrot Sdei Hemed, Eretz Israel, Letter no. 101, pp. 218-219, Shem Olam Institute Publishing, Bnei Brak, 2006