Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon

< Tammuz 5784 July 2024 >

A Short Tribute

Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon was born to Aziza and Yehezkel Abraham Gabay in 1859, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. The Sassoons were a family of merchants and businesspeople who reached India from Iraq. The Sassoons, being very wealthy, were sometimes referred to as the Rothschilds of the East. Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon was educated by private tutors and the Baghdadi community’s rabbis, and attended a Catholic school. By the age of 17, she had mastered Jewish texts and seven languages.

In 1876, she married her uncle, Mr. Sliman Sasson, who ran many of the Sassoon family ventures. The couple had three children: David Sliman, Rachel, and Mazal-Tov.

In 1894, her husband died and she undertook the entire operation of the family's business. During the 1896 plague epidemic in India she provided financial support for Mordecai Zeev Havkin, who developed vaccines against plague and cholera, and helped save many lives. She was also active in the anti-purdah movement that fought the attempt to impose complete veiling of women's bodies, including their faces and, in some cases, their eyes as well. In 1901 she moved to London, where she hoped to obtain medical treatment for her daughter, Mazal-Tov. Whenever she traveled, she would be accompanied by ten men, so she could pray with a minyan, and a shochet as well, to ensure that she would have kosher food.

In 1910 she visited Baghdad with two of her children, David Sliman and Rachel. Her trip included official meetings with the Walli of Baghdad, with Hacham Ezra Danghoor – Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, and with Hacham Yosef Haim, the son of the Ben Ish Hai. During her stay she read the Torah in the synagogue from a Torah scroll that one of the Sassoon family heads had donated.

Following the Balfour Declaration, Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon supported the plan to establish a Jewish state. She also supported and provided guarantees for Jewish refugees who sought to reach England. She visited in Jerusalem in 1925 with her son, David Sliman.

With the help of her daughter Rachel, who remained in India, Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon located and collected manuscripts written by Jews from the Orient. Today, the Sassoon collection is one of the more important sources for the research of manuscripts pertaining to Jewish Studies. Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon was an expert in Oriental Jewish manuscripts, in Midrash, and in Sephardi customs and halakhic practice, and corresponded with Hacham Yosef Haim, known as the Ben Ish Hai, on halakhic issues and additional topics.

Madam Frecha-Flora Sassoon passed away on 9 Tevet, 5696 (1936) and was buried on the Mount of Olives cemetery. Her articles were published in the Jewish Forum journal.


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