Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah

< Tammuz 5784 July 2024 >

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah was born in 1877 in Tripoli, Libya. His father Shmuel passed away in 1880, when he was three years old, and his mother, Aziza, raised him among sages.

Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah was Hacham Shalom Guita's student and married his daughter, Cassima.

In 1895 he was ordained to the rabbinate. He served as shochet [ritual slaughterer] and mohel [ritual circumciser], taught Torah and Talmud, and was the city synagogue's cantor. In 1912 he moved to Malta to serve as a rabbi. It was there, in 1913, that he heard of his mother's death.

In 1915, during the First World War, he was sent by the Tripoli community council to the town of Khoms, Libya to help the Jewish community deal with the ramifications of the Arab-Berber rebellion against the Italian army. The town of Khoms, which had been surrounded by the Arab-Berber army, was suffering from hunger and sickness, and death tolls were rising. His son, at the age of five, died and the death of his daughter, Barcossa, soon followed. Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah went to the town's besiegers to obtain food and medicine, placing himself in mortal danger. Heaven's mercy had it that the Arab army's commander, who was from the city of Misurata, had recruited Jews from Misurata to his army who were acquainted with Hacham Yoseph Rubin and vouched for him. It was Mustapha Kamel, at the time a Turkish lieutenant, who was to subsequently become the President of Turkey, Atatürk, who accompanied the Arab forces.

In 1919 Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah was sent to serve in the city of Zuwara. After some time, he returned to the city of Tripoli to head the Talmud Torah. A cholera epidemic erupted, leading to the death of many of the townspeople. It eventually became clear that one of the physicians had intentionally caused the deaths of the sick people instead of trying to heal them. Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah, who had stood up to the physician, was forced to escape from Tripoli. He reached Crete, and continued on to Izmir. This all took place at the time of the Greek-Turkish War. In 1922 the Turkish forces, led by Mustapha Kamel, were about to reconquer Izmir from the Greeks when a huge fire broke out that decimated the Christian quarters. Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah went to meet Mustapha Kamel, who recognized him and promised him that no harm would come to the town's residents.

In 1923 Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah returned to Malta, where he served for 8 years. In 1931 he returned to Tripoli, where he served as the community council's secretary, to supervise the Talmud Torah tutors. In 1935 he moved to serve in the city of Tobruk, an Italian colony in Libya on the Egyptian border, where he met Italian head of state Benito Mussolini. The battles over the city of Tobruk, which was passed back and forth between the Italian, German and British armies during World War Two, caused him to flee back to Tripoli. He was then overcome by illness and lost his sight.

In 1949 he immigrated to Israel with his family. They settled in the Yad HaMa'avir ma'abara [transit camp] in north Tel Aviv (now the Neve Sharett neighborhood), where he established the Libyan community's synagogue.

Hacham Yoseph Rubin Elkabelah passed away on 19 Tishrei 5688 (1952). A kollel was opened in his name on Moshav Dalton. He began writing his book, Yoseph Hen – sermons and halachot – in the village of Khoms, and completed it on the island of Malta. The book was published in 1928 in Tripoli, his home town, by the Abraham Teshuva Press and reissued in Israel by the Ganzi Raphael Institute.

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