Hacham Haim Palagi

< Iyar 5784 May 2024 >

A Short Tribute

Hacham Haim Palagi was born in Izmir to Cali Kadin and to Hacham Yaakov Palagi in 1788. In 1807, at the age of 19, Hacham Haim Palagi married, and in 1813 he received his ordination as Hacham Shalem from his grandfather, Chief Rabbi Rishon LeZion Hacham Raphael Yoseph.

Hacham Haim Palagi did not accept any public position while his father was still living, and it was only in 1828 that he agreed to serve as a dayan in the Rabbinic Court and as Head of the Beit Yaakov Rabi yeshiva in Izmir.

In 1837 Hacham Haim Palagi was appointed President of the Great Rabbinic Court of Izmir, and in 1857 he was appointed Hacham Bashi, the highest rabbinic office in Izmir.

Hacham Haim Palagi spoke out for the poor of his community and would reprimand its wealthy individuals in his sermons. He legislated takanot (Halachic enactments) and founded charitable institutions; he toiled to establish a Jewish hospital in Izmir and enlisted the support of renowned philanthropists.

Hacham Haim Palagi began writing at the age of 16 and is famous for his numerous books, over 80 in number. His books deal in a broad range of topics, and include 7 books on the Bible, 9 on the Talmud, 15 on Midrash and sermons, books on morals, and 24 books on Halacha, Kabbala, Responsa. When he completed a book, Hacham Haim Palagi would hold a se'udat mitzvah – a consecrated festive meal - and distribute his books gratis. He never sold his books.

On 11 Av, 5601 (1841), a fire broke out in Izmir, destroying the Jewish neighborhood and burning 54 of his books. Over the years, Hacham Haim Palagi restored many of his writings and had them reprinted, leaving a small number in manuscript form.

Hacham Haim Palagi passed away 17 Shevat, 5628 (1868). He was buried in the ancient cemetery of Izmir in an official state funeral, attended by Turkish military and state officials as well as representatives of foreign countries.

His books include Pe'ulat Tzaddik LeHaim – his first book, Semicha LeHaim Responsa – which he authored with his grandfather and teacher, Hacham Raphaek Yoseph Hazan – Rachamim LeHaim, Artzot HaHaim, Lev Haim, Haim LeRosh, Kol HaHaim, Matza Haim, Tzeddakah Haim, Pe'ulat Tzaddik LeHaim, Ginzei Haim, and Birkat Mo'adecha LeHaim – his last book, published a day before his death.

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