Hacham Zion Cohen Yehonatan

A Short Tribute

Hacham Zion Cohen Yehonatan was born in Djerba in 1872, the only son of Maryuma and Hacham Shushan Cohen Yehonatan. In 1897, at the age of 25, he was appointed dayan on the island of Djerba. In 1912, at the age of 40, he was appointed President of the Djerba rabbinic courts and remained in this role until his death.

Hacham Zion Cohen Yehonatan had seven sons and two daughters; his eldest son is Rabbi David Hacohen Yehonatan and the youngest son is Rabbi Yoseph Hacohen Yehonatan.

In 1919 he was party to the founding of the Attereth Zion organization that dealt in Jewish and Zionist education, promoting the Hebrew language, and raising funds to support the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and to  redeem land.

Hacham Zion Cohen Yehonatan was renowned for his Torah learning and deep knowledge of Talmud and halakha. He was said to have completed in-depth study of the entire Talmud three times during his lifetime. The sage gave public Torah classes that were held in his home and at his uncle Hacham Sassi Maatuq's yeshiva. His classes were known as the Four Cubits of Halakha.

One of his close students was Hacham Moshe Khalfon Hacohen, who presided alongside him in the rabbinic court. Hacham Zion Cohen Yehonatan once went to the community committee requesting that his salary be increased. This raised quite a tumult, for his family was considered wealthy. He insisted, nevertheless. It eventually became clear that the sage, knowing the distress of his student, had asked for a salary increase knowing that his student, who presided alongside him, would thus also receive a salary increase. After his demise, his daughter recounted how her father would send her out every week with a cloth bag of coins containing his weekly salary to distribute to the city's poor and needy people.

Hacham Zion Cohen Yehonatan passed away after an illness on 26 Av, 5691 (1931) and was buried on the island of Djerba. His remains were brought to Israel in 2010 and buried in Moshav Berachia.

After his death, several of his books were published by his sons and students: Zion B'Mishpat Tipadeh in three volumes – original commentary on the weekly Torah Reading portions, Ethics of Our Fathers and the Passover Haggadah; Sha'arei Ratzon – original commentary on the Talmud; Shivat Zion –responsa on Orach Haim.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he explains that when the People of Israel are unified, they share in each other's credit

"Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death." As for the connection between these two sayings, one might consider that a righteous person's credit protects that generation. Meaning that when the People of Israel are united and can be considered as a single body, they share in each other's credit. But if their hearts are separate and there is no unity between them, then each one is considered on their own and the credit of one is of no benefit to the other… This is what is meant by Hillel's saying "Do not separate yourself from the community". It means that one should not be in conflict with the community or be detached from it, the reason being "Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death" – as if to say that you will have no transgressions for which to be punished. For even if at this moment you have no transgressions, you may have transgressions at some other time, and if you are in unity with the community, you will benefit from the credit of righteous people.

Zion B'Mishpat Tibaneh, Volume 3, p. 14b, Yeshua Haddad Press, 1943