History

The Bajayo Family and the Last Rabbi of Hebron

Many of the buildings where the Bajayo family lived are now being used as homes, schools & institutions for revitalized Hebron.

17.12.15, 18:55
The Sephardic exiles from the Spanish Inquisition made Hebron their new / old home in the homeland. The story of one such family, called Bajayo, is a fascinating one and a window into the larger story of the ancient City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

The Bajayos were a family of Portuguese Jews of Marrano origin from the city of Beja, Portugal. Their name is alternatively spelled on some documents as Bejano, Bejaio, Begayo or Bagiaio. At the end of the second half of the 17th century, the father left Portugal, to be repatriated in Hebron. There he publicly returned to Judaism, something impossible during the Spanish Inquisition. Over the years, the rest of his family made aliyah to Hebron where they reunited and played a significant part in Sephardic community life in the city. Some of their descendants lived in Hebron continuously until the forced eviction of the Jewish community following the riots of 1936. 

Rabbi Pinchas Mordechai Bajayo (18th century)
 
The first written evidence of the presence of the family in Hebron dates to 1744 when a family member and a leader in Hebron by the name of Rabbi Pinchas Mordechai Bajayo signed for a SHADAR, or shaliach de'rabanan (emissary), who was sent abroad to raise funds.
 
He signed a receipt in 1750 for funds regarding a Mr. Yehuda Assia. These two signatures indicate that Rabbi Bajayo held important status in the Hebron Jewish community.
 
Apart from these references, there are other places in which his name appears, indicating that he was known throughout the Jewish world and not just in Hebron. In 1758 he signed an approbation for the book Orot Gedolyim (Great Lights). He also and also signed a letter sent from Hebron to Italy to Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai, the famous writer known in the Jewish world as the CHIDA (1724 - 1806). 
 

(Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai, the CHIDA)
 
The CHIDA was a Jerusalem-born scholar, traveler, and a pioneer in the publication of Jewish religious writings. He lived in Hebron as did one of his ancestors, Rabbi Abraham Azulai 1570–1643 and wrote the now classic commentary on the Kaballah called Chesed le-Abraham. There is also a dramatic tale of how Rabbi Abraham Azulai saved the Jewish community of Hebron in the early 1640s by retrieving the lost sword of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from the Cave of Machpela.
 
Rabbi Haim Rahamim Bajayo (18th century) 
 
Another family figure from the same period was Rabbi Haim Rahamim Bajayo, probably the brother of Rabbi Pinchas Mordechai Bajayo. He was the head of the Chesed le-Abraham Yeshiva which was established in Hebron by the Anousim (forced converts) and Marranos (secret Jews) who returned to their Jewish roots in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century. Future generations of the Bajayo family held positions at the synagogue of the Anousim.
 
Like his brother, Rabbi Haim Rahamim signed a letter for fund raising missions and signed a receipt of funds for Mr. Yehuda Assia. In 1763 he was sent, along with Rabbi Isaac Zeevi, to North Africa and Italy. According to the book Emissaries from the Holy Land: The Sephardic Diaspora and the Practice of Pan-Judaism in the Eighteenth Century by Matthias Lehmann, "In 1768 Rahamim Begayo (Bagiaio) and Isaac Zeevi raised 1,100 livres for Hebron."
 
(A rare document written in Italian regarding sending Rabbi Zeevi as an emissary for the community of Hebron signed by Rabbi Bejayo. Source: Kedem Auction House.)
 
Isaac Zeevi is related to Hebron resident Rabbi Hayyim Abraham Israel ben Benjamin Ze’evi (1650 - 1731), a grandson of Rabbi Abraham Azulai and author of Orim Gedolim (The Great Lights).
 
In Turin, Italy, Rabbi Haim Rahamim fell ill and his friend traveled on to southern France. He then went to the Netherlands and Livorno, where he agreed to write an approbation for the book Nahar Shalom (Peace River) by Rabbi Shabtai Ventura in 1772 .

Rabbi Haim Yeshua Bajayo (late 18th century and early 19th century) 
 
Rabbi Haim Yeshua Bajayo (nicknamed Haim the Jewish Egyptian by local non-Jewish residents) was a leader of the Sephardic community from Spain and Portugal in Hebron. The land acquisitions he initiated were an important chapter in the history of Hebron.
 
In 1807, the Hebron community, using Rabbi Haim Yeshua as its agent, purchased additional parcels of land in two locations including the area abutting the Jewish quarter (what later became the non-Jewish wholesale market). The acquisitions are identifiable to this day by the olive trees that were planted there. The heads of the Muslim Waqf confirmed the purchases by means of a signed kushan (deed). Some considered this to be the first land purchase made by Jews in the Land of Israel in modern times. These deeds were used in 1997 by Israeli courts to prove Jewish land ownership of the area. 
 

(Land deed in Arabic for Rabbi Haim Yeshua Bejayo's purchase in Hebron.)
 
In May of 1811, Rabbi Haim Yeshua made another purchase on behalf of the community. This area encompassed 800 dunam of land including the area of Tel Hevron (later known as Tel Rumeida) and the Tombs of Ruth and Yishai, the ancient burial site of the Biblical father and grandmother of King David. 
 

(Land deed. The Jewish community sought to be legally repatriated to their ancestral soil.)
 
The documents of these purchases were transferred for safekeeping to his descendant Rabbi Chaim Bajayo (1873 - 1960), the last rabbi of the Jewish community of Hebron and later verified by the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs. 

Additional references to Rabbi Haim Yeshua are found in 1822, when he signed for an emissary and ambassador to be sent to European Jewish communities. In 1830 he was among the dignitaries and community leaders who signed an agreement enhancing good relations between the Sephardic and Ashkenazic institutions in the city.
 
Rabbi Shlomo Bejayo and Rabbi Abraham Nissim Bajayo (late 18th century and early 19th century) 
 
During this period, two parallel leadership positions were held by individuals named Rabbi Shlomo Bajayo and Rabbi Abraham Nissim Bajayo. They apparently served the public during the same time as Rabbi Haim Yeshua Bajayo.
Records dated to 1782 state that both served as emissaries of the Hebron community.
 

                  (Rabbi Avraham Bejayo)
 
The Bajayo Family in the 19th century 
 
The continuity of the family in leadership positions continued into the 19th century. Family members served in the profession of shohet, or butcher. Other family members served as head of the local Beit Din, or rabbinical court system and were caretakers of the historic Avraham Avinu synagogue, which still functions today.
 
Three censuses were held in Hebron by Sir Moses Montefiore, the noted benefactor for the Jewish community, in 1855, 1866 and 1875. These censuses indicate that in 1855 there was just one synagogue in the city, and Elijah Bajayo was the shamash (also know as a gabbai), or caretaker. That year the Sephardic Jewish community numbered about 249 people.
 
The census of 1866 refers to the Avraham Avinu Synagogue. The rabbi was named Rabbi Zvi Bajayo and the shamash was Ye'uda Bajayo. In that same year the city there were six Beit Midrash seminaries. In addition, the census shows that a man named Judah Bajayo read the Psalms at the first of every month.
 
The census from 1875 states that 59-year-old Rabbi Zvi Bajayo was one of four directors of the Sephardic community in Hebron. The Sephardic community numbered 433 people and the Ashkenazic community, mainly from the Chabad hasidic movement, numbered 489 people.

Rabbi Haim Bajayo - Last Rabbi of the Jewish Community in Hebron (1873 - 1960) 

                  (Rabbi Haim Bajayo)

Rabbi Haim Bajayo served as community treasurer and teacher. He became famous as a prodigy in Torah as well as in mathematics. Rabbi Haim married Mercada Bajayo. After the infamous riots of 1929 and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Hebron, he was appointed to Acting Chief Rabbi of the evicted residents.
 
In 1931, together with Mr. Abraham Franco and Judge Joseph Hason, he organized 160 exiles to return to Hebron and renew the Jewish community on the property abandoned after the riots. 
 
In 1935 there were about 37 families in Hebron. On April 23, 1936, the British evicted the Jewish community in the dark of night. This action came in the midst of the riots incited by Haj Amin al-Husseini. From then on there was only one Jewish family, that of Yaakov Ezra, in Hebron until 1947.
 
The Hebron exiles arrived in Jerusalem after losing all their possessions. Rabbi Bajayo helped his fellow ex-Hebron residents deal with resettlement, job retraining and allocations for the needy. 
 
Rabbi Haim Bajayo headed the Magen Avot Institution and was granted power of attorney for the property confiscated during the riots, specifically in what had become the wholesale market, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano and other community assets.
 
In the early 1950s, after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Ministry of Religious Affairs declared the Magen Avot organization to be guardians of Jewish property in Hebron. Thanks to this fact, Jewish people were able to locate their assets later, when the community was reestablished after the Six Day War in 1967.
 

(Letter from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Source: Fair Use / Wiki Commons)
 
In 1995 the Jerusalem municipality honored him with Rabbi Haim Bajayo Street in the German Colony neighborhood.
 
Today many of the buildings where Rabbi Bajayo and his family lived and taught are now being used as home, schools and institutions for revitalized Jewish community in Hebron.
 
To visit Hebron and the buildings where the Bajayo family lived and taught please contact us:
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.org/
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial