Hacham Abraham Entebbe

< Tammuz 5784 July 2024 >

A Short Tribute

Hacham Abraham Entebbe, also known as Hacham Abraham Entebbe the Great, was born in 1765 in the city of Aleppo (known then as Aram Tzova), Syria. He learned Torah from his father, Hacham Yitzhak Entebbe, who was one of the leading rabbis and sages of his generation.

When Hacham Eliyahu Shama Halevy, Chief Rabbi and Persident of the Rabbinic Court of Aleppo, died in the great epidemic of 1814, Hacham Abraham Entebbe was appointed in his stead, and he served as Chief Rabbi of Aleppo and presided over its rabbinic court for forty years. His brother, Judah, and his brother's wife also died during the epidemic, leaving their young son, Judah Shabetai Raphael Entebbe, to be raised by his uncle, Hacham Abraham Entebbe, as one of his own children.

During that period, the amount of commerce coming through Aleppo began to shrink and the economic situation worsened as the Ottoman Empire deteriorated. The tax load became heavier, and the number of poor people increased. In his Responsa, Hacham Abraham Entebbe often dealt with the distribution of taxes, business quarrels and other social problems that arose as a result of the economic situation. Under the circumstances, the sage frequently made religious rulings for his community [takanot kahal], some of which appear in his book, Mor VeOhalot.

In 1822, an earthquake in Aleppo demolished the city, and approximately 1,000 members of the community died. Survivors, whose homes were destroyed, were forced to make camp in the desert and live in tents. His book of sermons on the Torah, Yoshev Ohalim, was written during this period. Given the lack of available books, he based his bibliographic sources on his memory.

In 1840 a blood libel began to spread in Damascus. Following the disappearance of a Christian monk and his Muslim servant, key figures of the local Jewish community were accused of kidnapping and murdering them for the purpose of using their blood in baking matzah. Hacham Abraham Entebbe's nephew, who at the time officiated as Rabbi of Damascus, was tortured almost to death and imprisoned for several months.

Hacham Abraham Entebbe was a prolific writer, and only part of his work has been published: Pnei HaBayit – in two volumes, on the Rabbi Shlomo ben Abraham Even Adderet [RASHB"A] and on Rabbi Yosef Caro [author of the Shulchan Aruch]; Mor Ve'Ohalot – a book of Responsa, Ohel Yesharim, Derech Hukeikha, Hochma U'Mussar and Pnei Ohel Mo'ed – contain sermons for the year's Sabbath Days, and Hukei Ha'Nashim – a commentary on the Even Ha'Ezer.

Hacham Abraham Entebbe is also known for the piyuttim he wrote to melodies of Arab songs. His piyuttim are sung by all Jewish communities, and some have been included in the book of Bakashot. Among his more famous piyuttim are Or Tzach VePashut and Im Hacham Libkha Bni.

On his deathbed, he read the Idra [chapters of the Zohar] and asked his son, Hacham Yitzhak Entebbe, to say kaddish. When his son gently hinted that there were only nine present out of the ten required for a minyan [quorum], Hacham Abraham Entebbe replied that Rabbi Himnouna the Elder was also present among them. A little later, on 14 January 1858, he passed away. He was buried in the Aram Tzova burial cave for the righteous.


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