A Short Tribute
Hacham Eliezer Papo, son of Hacham Yitzhak and also known as the Peleh Yo’etz, was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1786. Hacham Eliezer Papo's teachers were Hacham Eliyahu Hayoun and Hacham Moshe Danon. He became renowned for his diligence in Torah study while he was still a child. He comported himself with restraint and sanctity, and engaged in charity.
In 1820 he began to serve as rabbi and head of the rabbinic court of the Silistra community in Bulgaria, to which he devoted the bulk of his time. As head of the community he ran its charity program, acted as mediator for married couples and others as well, and sought to minimize disputes between Torah scholars.
Hacham Eliezer Papo, out of Ahavat Israel, would offer the following daily prayer: May it be Thy will, LORD our God and God of our Fathers, that you have mercy on each man and woman, child and adult, of the People of Israel”.
Hacham Eliezer Papo wrote his books in great modesty, requesting no approbations [haskamot] and consulting with only his spouse on the ethical issues in his books. His book Hodesh HaAviv contains original commentary on the Talmud; Ya’alozu Hassidim was written on Sefer Hassidim, and Dan Anochi is on the Midrash. In Orot Elim, Hacham Eliezer Papo collected customs and halachot from the Talmud tractates and from the Zohar; Chesed LaAlafim is a book on halachot that integrates texts on morals, while Peleh Yo’etz, Hacham Eliezer Papo’s most famous book, is an alphabetically ordered book on morals. Beit Tefilla contains a collection of prayers on various matters, assembled by Hacham Eliezer Papo for himself and shared by him for public benefit. Two books of his Responsa have been published: Peleh Yo’etz Responsa and Dan Yadin. In addition, he wrote a book of commentaries on the Bible, entitled Elef HaMaguen.
In 1819 he arrived in Bucharest, in what is today Romania, to serve as the city’s Sephardi community’s rabbi. After a short while, he returned to serve in Silistra.
His student, Rabbi Yehuda Alkelay, would subsequently become one of the early proclaimers of Zionism. Rabbi Alkelay recounts the story of a Jew from Hacham Eliezer Papo’s community who was condemned by the authorities to the death sentence. The community was unwilling to pay the large sum of money required to redeem him, and Hacham Papo ordered that the all Torah scrolls and sacramental objects be sold to redeem the condemned man, because the Torah was given to the People of Israel, and without the People of Israel there can be no Torah. Thus did he maintain mutual social responsibility above all else.
Hacham Eliezer Papo fervently wished to immigrate to the Land of Israel but was overtaken by illness in 1827. Because of the illness, the name Yehezkel was added to his name. He passed away on 20 Tishrei 5588 (1828) at the age of 42, and was buried in Silistra.