Hacham Shem Tob Gaguine

A Short Tribute

Hacham Shem Tob Gaguine was born to Rivka and Hacham Yitzhak on the 15th of Elul, 5645 (1885) in Jerusalem.

His grandfather's grandfather was kabbalist Hacham Sar Shalom Sharabi, and his great-grandfather was Hacham Haim Avraham Gaguine, who was the first person to be appointed to the Hacham Bashi (Chief Rabbi) position in the Land of Israel, a position which was later to known as the Rishon LeZion. Hacham Shem Tob Gaguine attended the Doresh Zion School and later studied with kabbalist Hacham Yaakov Alfiayah. In 1908 he received certification as a teacher from Rabbi Haim Berlin.

In 1913 he moved to Cairo where he served as a member of the Beit Din for both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. In 1920, he moved to England where he served as rabbi of a Sephardi community and was a member of the Beit Din for the Ashkenazi communities in Manchester.

In 1921 he relocated to London to officiate as Rosh Beit Din for the Sephardi communities. In 1929 he was appointed Rosh Yeshiva at Ohel Moshe VeYehudit, named after the Montefiore couple, in the city of Ramsgate. In 1933 he was elected Vice-Chairman of the Rabbinical Committee of England and officiated as Rosh Yeshiva of Etz Hayim in London.

Hacham Shem Tob Gaguine passed away on the 18th of Av, 5713 (1953).

Among his publications are the Keter Shem Tob, on Sephardi and Ashkenazi customs, and Jewish Life in Cochin, on the Jewish community of Cochin. He wrote for Jewish newspapers in England, such as the Israel Messenger and the Jewish Chronicle, as well as for Hebrew journals such as HaHavatzellet, and for the Hame'aseph collection of Torah innovations. Additional Torah innovations of his were published in books by Hacham Moshe Elyashar and Hacham Aharon Elhadif, and a book of his poems has also been published. Several works of commentaries by Hacham Shem Tob Gaguine still remain in manuscript form.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he teaches the morality found in matzah and sukkah – the rich person cannot boast with his wealth
The great moral that we learn from eating the bread of affliction [matzah] on Passover and from sitting in the Sukkah on Sukkoth - leaving a fixed dwelling for a temporary one informs us that we are not permanent residents in this world, but only visitors: here today and gone tomorrow. The principal hope for the faithful is the afterlife. Eating matzah, the bread of affliction, can be similarly understood, in that eating should be moderate and limited to bodily sustenance needs.
Dwelling in the sukkah and eating the bread of affliction are equal for both rich and poor in that the rich person cannot boast with his wealth. As the Bible says: "The rich and the poor meet together, the Lord is the maker of them all". Through these actions, therefore, the rich person will be familiarized with the poor person's situation, gain compassion for him and provide him with support. 'The sated person does not feel the pauper's hunger' may be a popular saying, but when a rich person eats the bread of affliction himself, not being accustomed to it all year, and also when he dwells in the sukkah, since the way of the rich is to dwell in beautiful and comfort abodes and he is now sitting in a roofless hut covered with only branches, his compassion is at once aroused, and he becomes convinced and sensitive to the pauper's distress.
Keter Yom Tob, Chapter Seven, Sukkot Festival Customs, p. 2, מכון ג'ק] ]G.K. Institute Publishing, 1998
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he teaches that the kedusha ritual was instituted so that the People of Israel would all be involved in Torah
The kedusha prayer reads from the verse, "But You are the Holy One, enthroned, the Praise of Israel" to "and make their hearts constant toward You". It was instituted so that all People of Israel would be involved in a minimal amount of Torah every day, meaning that reading and explaining are equivalent to involvement. And since it is customarily said throughout the people of Israel, both scholars and simple folk, its value is twofold: sanctification of the Name and Torah study.
Keter Shem Tob, Chapter One, The Significance of Customs and Differences between Liturgical Rites, p. 94, Kedainiai, Movsoviciaus ir Kagano, 1934
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he teaches that the psalm "As the hart panteth" is recited on Sukkot because our exiled spirit thirsts in Diaspora.
The reason that Sephardim customarily recite the psalms "Like a hind crying for water" and "Judge me, O Lord" before the Arvit evening prayer is that it is followed by "My soul thirsts for God, the living God; When will I come to appear before God!" The intended meaning is: When will the Lord once again grant the privilege of going on pilgrimage to the Temple as in ancient times… Now, in particular, that we are in exile "our souls thirst for God". When will we go – meaning, when will our Temple be rebuilt to come and "appear before God"?... The reason we also recite the "Judge me" psalm is because of its close connection to the one preceding it, that says: Send forth Your light and Your truth…". 'Your light' is the Messiah King, who is likened to light, as he is in the verse "I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one" and 'Your truth' is the Prophet Elijah, the true and faithful prophet, "…they will lead me; they will bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place".
Keter Yom Tob, Chapter Seven, Sukkot Festival Customs, p. 2, G.K. Institute Publishing, 1998
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Traditions of the Fathers' , in which he teaches that those who always aspire to innovation should observe and respect old customs
Their words are aimed at the new generation of our day that always aspires to new things and despises the old, and says that Jewish customs are outdated and have aged and, at their advanced age, should be buried. For they are no longer suited to the spirit of the times in which we – a generation with opinions, a generation of progress, a generation of erudition and wisdom – now live; that the time has come for uprooting, removing the old to make room for the new, and reason is not to be found among the aged – and I say: "There is no wisdom in youth".
To those who admire innovation, I quote, "Doer of novel [acts], Master of Wars". How did their eyes fail to see that these old customs were established by prophets and sages who foresaw the future? Since these customs were naturalized in the Talmudic literature it befits us to observe and respect them. Even if by chance they discover customs that are not in the spirit of these times, being that they have persisted for many ages, we are to defend them with all our might.
Keter Shem Tob, Chapter Three, Introduction, p. X-XI, Superior Printers Press, London, 1943
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he instructs to write about the Sephardim, and not to act as though they were unknown
God willing, I will compose a special booklet about the Sephardim of Vienna, from the day of their arrival, and about the magnificent synagogue as well. I was there many years ago and visited the synagogue, and was amazed to see the glorious building with its wonderfully painted arabesque – What a pity that it was burnt. I will write about the charitable institutions and the honorable people who served there from the day they were exiled from accursed Spain. I saw no mention of the Sephardi community in the chapter on Vienna in the Otzar Israel book - as though it were unaware of it. They mentioned only the Ashkenazi community and made no mention of the generations upon generations of rabbis. It is worthwhile, I feel, to compose this special booklet.
Keter Shem Tob, Sukkot Festival Customs, p. 203-204, G.K. Institute Publishing, 1998
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' teaching that the Bar Mitzvah boy is to be brought to the synagogue accompanied by lighted candles
In Egyptian towns it is customary that on the day a boy is initiated to wearing Tefillin he is brought to the synagogue in joy and song and with lighted candles on Mondays or Thursdays, so that he may be called up to the Torah scroll - on days that the tahanun is not recited during the morning Shacharit prayer. This is also the custom in the Land of Israel.
Keter Shem Tob, Chapter One, The Significance of Customs and Differences between Liturgical Rites, p. 13-14,Kedainiai, Movsoviciaus ir Kagano, 1934