A Short Tribute
Hacham 'Allwan Shimon Avidani was born in 1881 in the village of Narwa, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and passed away on 27 Tammuz 5741 (1981). His family ties go back to Avidan the Gideonite from the Tribe of Benjamin, as attested by the sage himself, and he signed his books accordingly as "Avidan the Gideonite". Hacham 'Allwan Shimon Avidani studied Torah with his father, Hacham Shimon Avidan, who raised to become a rabbi, shochet [ritual slaughterer] and mohel [ritual circumciser]. When he reached adulthood he moved to the town of Amadiah to lead its community.
In 1917, at the age of 35, he was drafted during the First World War to serve in the Turkish army, apparently because of his strength, courage and bodily size. Despite the harsh conditions in the Turkish army, he did not eat non-kosher food; he grew weak and became ill. He defected from the army because of his illness but was captured and faced a death sentence. By the grace of God, he encountered a senior Turkish officer who suffered from an acute toothache. The sage wrote him an amulet that healed the officer's pain. Seeing his stature and wisdom, the officer annulled the sentence and released him from the military draft. His good relations with military officers and the Turkish governor served him well when he subsequently officiated as Av Bet Din [Head of the Rabbinic Court] in the town of Amadiah, at the time when he headed the Aliyah endeavor. The Hacham helped groups of families make their Aliyah, and in 1933 he also immigrated to Jerusalem. He eventually settled in the Zichron Yosef neighborhood outside Jerusalem's Old City walls, living below the Amedi community's Hanavi Yehezkel synagogue. There he served as rabbi, teacher, shochet, mohel, preacher and Halakhic adjudicator. The Hacham obtained public recognition principally because of his book of sermons and tales on the weekly Torah portion readings, Ma'asei Gedolim. He translated the Bible into Kurdish, wrote piyutim, and authored Korbanin Va'alvan, a commentary on the Zohar.
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he speaks of the sin of Sodom and in praise of those who welcome guests
It is written that His mercies are over all His works, from the fishes in the depths of the sea to the birds in skies does His mercy conquer, even more so over Man who is in the Godly image…
Come and see that the Ishmaelites also welcome guests with a fair countenance, as we witnessed in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, when I, the author, would go to circumcise their sons. They would proclaim my arrival throughout the entire town and tell them to gather at their great minister's house in honor of the circumciser and teacher, the Jew's sage, and would arrive in droves to a large room prepared for gatherings, and I would preach words of reprimand to them in their tongue, the Kurmanji language, and they would very much enjoy this, and I would at times pronounce judgement for them according to Torah.
Once I went to a city named Sepidareh and they all gathered about me, and an argument began between them, for they wished to overthrow their old leader and replace him with a young one; they asked me about this and I recounted the tale of King Solomon's son, Rehoboam, to its end. They then unanimously thanked me and left the old man in his position until the day of his death; they have always had great respect for our holy Torah.
Ma'asei Gedolim, Genesis, Va'yerah, section 8 – The Tale of Sodom, their law and their evil custom, p. 245. Jerusalem, Second Edition, 1978
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he interprets the verse "But they that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength"
''They that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength' – 'Rabbi Nehorai says, I set aside all trades in the world and I teach my son only Torah' etc. Why? Because the Torah will stand for him in good stead in his old age, giving him hope and support. Regarding youth it says, 'They that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength' and regarding old age it says, 'They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and richness'. Therefore every person who deals in Torah is elevated, not only those of the People of Israel but non-Jews as well.
They said of the Rav HIDA [Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806] that he had a sister who was more knowledgeable than he in Mishna but would read [the letter] het as chet, so he said to her: My sister, you are not Ashkenazic, why do you read het as chet? She answered him: Brother, dear, Scripture says "they that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength" – kaf renews het. [strength in Hebrew – ko'ach, written with kaf and het].
Ma'asei Gedolim, Genesis, Lech Lecha Haftara, section 1 – A Tale of Rabbi HIDA's sister, p. 226. Jerusalem, Second Edition, 1978
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he tells of the town of Amadiah's custom to hearten mourners during the Passover festival
If, Heaven forbid, a person's relative died during a particular year, then one must take care not to weep about this at all on the Seder eve, and the people of the household are not to agonize about this. One should gather one's strength and overcome one's nature notwithstanding; he, his wife and household should be happy and be strong and, with God's help, their luck will improve.
While we were still living abroad in the town of Amadiah, we had an excellent custom on this matter. On Passover eve, after the afternoon and evening prayers, or in the morning at dawn we would go to the home of one who was still within the twelve months [of mourning the deceased] and dress all the household members in festive garments, and go to the Passover festival prayers together.
Ma'asei Gedolim, Leviticus, Tzav weekly portion, section 15, B, p. 90. Ma'arav Printing, Jerusalem, 1974
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he speaks in praise of singing, for which merit Israel are redeemed
Whoever has participated in singing the Bakashot on Sabbath evenings, and been among the singers, the listening congregation, young men and women and children in particular, meaning that listening, enjoying, singing pleases God and people. For it says, 'Honour the LORD with thy substance' – read not substance, but throat – If God has gifted you with a pleasant voice, do not withhold the good from its owner. It was He, the Holy One blessed be He, who granted you a pleasant voice.
I heard a tale from my father, my master, of blessed memory and in the world to come. A tough and violent Ishmaelite notable once set out to kill a Jew named Baba Eli who owed him much money and had gone bankrupt. He traveled a day's journey and happened upon the town of Amadiah in Iraq on Yom Kippur at the hour of the Moussaf prayer.
The cantor was my elder teacher and master Rabbi Binyamin Avidani, may his memory be for the world to come, and his attendants were his two sons, my master and teacher, my uncle Hakham Rachamim, of blessed memory, and my father, my master, Rabbi Shimon, may his memory be in the world to come, and at the time they were reciting the piyut 'Happy is the eye that saw this all, our spirit is saddened by what we hear".
And the notable heard the loveliness of their voices. The three had pleasant voices that could shatter cedars. Once they had finished the entire Selichot, the notable stood up on his feet and said: I have traveled a day's journey to kill the Jew [mentioned above], but because of the pleasant sound of this prayer by your sages, I have forgiven him, and he immediately turned away and left… Therefore, gentlemen, imagine the value of songs and bakashot here, in our holy land. I therefore request from you honorable men. Strengthen your hands by them. Be strong, increase, sanctify the holies of Jacob…and that we may, as a result, merit total redemption, Amen.
Ma'asei Gedolim, Exodus, Shemot weekly portion, section A, And these are the names of the sons of Israel coming. p. 1-2. Ma'arav Printing, Jerusalem, 1974