History

The Rabbi from Hebron and the President of Yale

Rabbi Raphael Chaim Yitzchak Karigal, was a colorful young leader from Hebron and America's first shaliach.

21.2.16, 15:22
The colorful story of Rabbi Raphael Chaim Yitzchak Karigal tells a slice of history not only of America but that of Hebron, which was in a renaissance of Jewish life. Ezra Stiles, future president of Yale University and a founder of Brown University considered him a personal friend.
 
He was born on October 15, 1733 in Hebron, as part of the Sephardic community who had earlier escaped the Spanish Inquisition and returned to their ancestral homeland. He studied at the Chesed L'Avraham V'emes LeYaakov yeshiav which was founded in 1659 by Avraham Israel Pereira, a wealthy Marrano who had escaped in Inquisition in Portugal and was ordained as a rabbi at the age of seventeen.
 
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, he was the first rabbi to have visited the colonies that became the United States including Barbados -- where be passed away on May 5, 1777 -- as well as Jamaica, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island, where be befriended Ezra Stiles.
 
Rabbi Shmuel Singer in his essay The Chacham for the Colonies comments of the role of the shaliach, or emissary, also know as a SHADAR, or shaliach de'rabanan. Rabbi Singer write: 
 
"Rabbi Karigal was appointed to be a shliach of Hebron in 1754, when he was only twenty-one. While it was understood that his mission was basically to travel to the Diaspora to raise money for his community's scholars, a shliach was much more than a fundraiser. He would also bring the fruits of the Holy Land's Torah study to the Diaspora. While on his travels, he would be asked difficult questions of halachah, and be requested to resolve communal disputes and problems. He would also check into the health of the local Torah institutions, suggesting improvements in them. Thus, a prominent scholar would be selected as a shliach ... As a case in point, the Chida (also from Hebron) had spent much of his career traveling the world as a shliach of Eretz Yisrael."    
 
In 1754 he set out on a series of voyages which included two years in Constantinople (1754–56); two years in Curaçao, (1761–63); four years in his native Hebron (1764–68); two and a half years in London (1768–71); one year in Jamaica (1771–72); and one year in the British colonies of North America (1772–73). 
 
On July 21, 1773 he sailed for Suriname, and in 1775 he was recorded to have been in the Central American island of Barbados. In London, he wrote that he served as a teacher at a Bet Midrash (institute of Jewish learning), earning a salary of £100 per annum. 
 
In the nearby island of Curaçao, he appears to have held the office of rabbi. He spent some time in New York and Philadelphia, and sojourned in Newport, Rhode Island (March – July 1773), as the guest of the community where he often officiated services, sometimes in Spanish.
 
Ezra Stiles

While in Newport, Rhode Island, Rabbi Karigal became an intimate friend of Ezra Stiles, future president of Yale. They studied together, discussing the Bible, and corresponded, mostly in Hebrew. The letters still exist among the collection of Stiles papers in the library of Yale University. Stiles also took advantage of the opportunity to improve his basic skills in the Hebrew language, feeling (as did many scholars of divinity in the period) that this was advantageous for study of the ancient Biblical texts in their original language. 
 
 
Stiles, in his diary, speaks lovingly and admiringly of his Jewish friend; gives a long account of his dress, manner, and personality; and, in a series of entries occupying many pages, draws up a complete memoir of his career in Newport. Stiles commissioned a portrait of Rabbi Karigal by artist Samuel King for Yale.
 
Stiles describes Rabbi Karigal at the March, 1773 Purim service at the Newport synagogue as "dressed in a red garment with the usual Phylacteries and habiliments, the white silk Surplice; he wore a high fur cap, had a long beard. He has the appearance of an ingenious and sensible man" and at the Passover services the next month as wearing "a high Fur Cap, exactly like a Womans Muff, and about 9 or 10 Inches high, the Aperture atop was closed with green cloth," and singing in a "fine and melodious" voice. 
 
Thus impressed by Rabbi Karigal, Stiles invited him and Aaron Lopez, a respected local Jewish merchant, to his home on March 30, 1773. The two immediately hit it off; according to Stiles' records they met 28 times before Rabbi Karigal's departure 6 months later, to discuss a wide variety of topics ranging from the politics of the Holy Land to the mysticism of the Kabbalah. Rabbi Karigal also tutored Stiles in the Hebrew language, to the point that they were to correspond extensively in Hebrew after Rabbi Karigal's departure.
 
Rabbi Karigal appears to have written two booklets of sermons, published in Newport in 1773. The published sermons are the first Jewish sermons published in the United States.
 
Rabbi Karigal influence as a representative of the Jewish community of the Land of Israel continues to this day. The modern Jewish community of Hebron looks to the leadres of the past for inspiration. 

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Executive Committee of the Editorial Board and George Alexander Kohut (1901–1906). "Carregal (Caregal, Carigal, Carrigal, Karigal, Karigel, Karigol, Kargol, Kragol), Raphael Ḥayyim Isaac" - Jewish Encyclopedia.
 
For more information:
 
Ezra Stiles and the Jews; selected diary passages concerning Jews and Judaism
 

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