History

Malchiel Ashkenazi and the Revival of Hebron Post-Inquisition

He built the Avraham Avinu synagogue and led Sephardic refugees to their motherland.

20.3.18, 12:54
Rabbi Malkiel (also spelled Malchiel) Ashkenazi  (מלכיאל אשכנזי) is credited with helping revive the Jewish community of Hebron, by assisting refugees from the Spanish Inquisition and building the historic Avraham Avinu synagogue. His dates of birth and passing are estimated to be 1520-1620.
 
Prof. Jerold Auerbach, in his book Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel states: "...in 1540, a group of Jewish exiles from Spain, joined by Menachem ben Moshe Bavli, a respected author from Baghdad, acquired a tract of land in Hebron from the local Karaite community, a splinter sect of Jews... Rabbi Malchiel Ashkenazi, their benefactor, purchased a courtyard that became known as El Cortiyo, "the Court of the Jews." He also subsidized the purchase of additional buildings around the newly built synagogue, where he became the first rabbi of Hebron's restored community. Referred to as an "accomplished scholar, pietist, and saint," he encouraged the migration of scholars of Kabbalistic mysticism from Safed, where he had studied before arriving in Hebron." (p. 40)
 
The Jewish Quarter, with the Abraham Avinu Synagogue in its center, was a densely populated residential area. Its houses were built as a closed quarter surrounding an open courtyard. The houses served as an outer wall to the quarter. Narrow passages led to the quarter, which could be easily blocked to protect the community on a day of rage. Over the generations, upper levels to the buildings were constructed to a height of four stories. According to writings, there was cleanliness and order, and Torah educational institutions were there despite the difficult conditions.
 
Isaiah Horowitz, known as the holy Shelah, referred to him in his work Shenei Luhot HaBerit as "The great rabbi, the complete sage, the humble Chassid, Rabbi Malchiel Ashkenazi" (page. רכ"ז)
 
In the book Divrei Yosef by Rabbi Yosef Sambari, it is written that he came from Tzfat.
 
Rabbi Hayyim Joseph David Azulai (The CHIDA), whose family came from Hebron, wrote in his book "Shem HaGedolim": "We heard from elders that the late rabbi was a reason for Israel to be in the city of Hebron." He also mentions Rabbi Malkiel meeting the older, and gradually diminishing Karaite community upon his arrival.
 
Rabbi Yehosef Schwartz the geographer (1805-1865) stated that 1540 was the year of Rabbi Malkiel's arrival in Hebron, and when he purchased from the Karaites the courtyard that was known as the Jewish Quarter and built the synagogue that was known as the Avraham Avinu Synagogue.
 
More details about Rabbi Malkiel's family were found in a letter that was discovered in the Cairo Genizah and published by the researcher Dr. Avraham David: "You are peace and your home is peace and all that you have. Most of us all, why my son [apparently this is his younger brother] will not let me know how you and your sons are doing. And from then on your writing will not be lacking in your reality. Because you will be required to have our sisters and sons, Rabbi David and Rabbi Yeshaya... and I am here with our holy fathers... I always pray to God for you... Malkiel Ashkenazi."
 
On the other side of the page was written: "To my wise and veteran brother, Rabbi Moshe Ashkenazi, From Hebron to Egypt." (Cathedra, Nisan 5751, 59, pp. 39-40.) If we find that Rabbi Malkiel, brother of Rabbi Moshe Ashkenazi and a sister who lived in Egypt, may have supported him financially in his endeavors in Hebron.
 
LIBRARY
 
Rabbi Malkiel had a large library. The CHIDA wrote: "It will be known that the sage Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi found a pamphlet composed by Rabbi Shimshon barbi Eliezer called Baruch Shemer." Another testimony to the collection of Rabbi Malkiel's books is found in Sefer Melechet Shlomo by the Hebron rabbi Shlomo Adani. "Then I found a proof in the Talmud of the wise and humble sage Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi, may his memory be blessed, which was defended by the late Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi..." (Malchat Shlomo, Berachot 1: 1).
 
In his book of responsa and answers, Rabbi Eliezer ben Aracha, the rabbi of Hebron, permitted the use of a hot mikvah water. Among other things, he relied on the precedent made by Rabbi Malkiel. He wrote: "And here, too, at the time of the Chassidim, such as Rabbi Avraham ben Yakar and of the chief rabbi, Malkiel Ashkenazi, holy people in the land -- if they did an act, we too will follow their footsteps to walk in their paths."
 
Rabbi Chaim Vital, a disciple of the Holy Ari, met with Rabbi Malkiel who edited six volumes of his writings (see Yosef Avivi, Kabbalat HaAri, Jerusalem 5769, p. 272, 878- 877, 913.)
 
The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia quotes the CHIDA as saying, "local tradition attributes the foundation of the modern community to Malkiel Ashkenazi, in whose honor a service is held every year on the anniversary of his death."
 
Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi was buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. Although most of the graves were destroyed during the Jordanian occupation of 1948 - 1967, the CHIDA made a list of famous people who were interred there.
 
Today, a street in Hebron is named in his memory, going past the refurbished Avraham Avinu synagogue.
 

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