The Rabbis of Rhodes

The Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire operated as self-governing bodies, known as “millets”.  The Jews of Rhodes organized and conducted their communal life according to the teachings of the Jewish traditions.

Because they were so involved with Jewish law and custom, it was necessary for them to have teachers and scholars who could interpret and clarify the requirements of these laws.  Consequently, the rabbinic authorities were held in high regard and respect.

A “Chief Rabbi” was assigned to lead the rabbinic authorities.  For centuries, the small Sephardic community of Rhodes was fortunate in having a number of additional religious scholars.  There were many rabbis and “hahams” in Rhodes to serve the community.

Rhodes was always known for its traditional observance of Judaism.  In fact, from 1927 to 1937, Rhodes maintained a Rabbinical College which served the Aegean Sea area.

The last Chief Rabbi of Rhodes was Reuben Eliahu Israel.  He served the Jewish community from 1922 to 1932.  He was also the 12th descendant of the same religiously prominent family to serve as Rabbis, a succession which lasted over 200 years.  Rabbi Israel devoted a great part of his life to the translation in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) of psalms, proverbs, poems and religious works, such as the “Kryiat de Izhak” (The Sacrifice of Isaac) and the “Pirke Avot” (The Sayings of Our Fathers).

4 Rabbis who served during the early 20th Century

Rabbi Codron rabbi-yehuda-moshe-franco rabbi-yakov-capuya rabbi-reuben-eliahu-israel
1900 of Rabbi Chilebi Nissim Codron 1915 of Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Franco 1920 of Rabbi Yakov Capuya 1931 of Rabbi Reuben Eliahu Israel

The Rabbinical College

For centuries, the Jewish community of Rhodes held an important position both religiously and geographically.  It was home to the Romaniot Jewish community and later to the Sephardic Jewish community.  It was an “in-between” position for various Jewish communities of the Aegean Sea and Europe to the Holy Land.  It also developed an increased measure of importance relating to questions (“responsas”) for interpreting Jewish laws and practices.

In 1928 the Rabbinical College was established as the natural need for the development of a center for spiritual learning.  The school attracted professors and students from several countries and earned an international reputation.  Its graduates have played important roles in several Jewish communities.

Originally, the Rabbinical College was located in the Old City of Rhodes in the Jewish Quarter.  Later it was moved to larger premises in the New City of Rhodes.

In 1938 the College was closed down when the anti-Jewish laws were passed by the Governor of Rhodes.  In its relatively short existence, it had become one of the leading rabbinical seminaries among Sephardic communities.

1934 Rabbinical College of Rhodes

rabbinical-college-of-rhodes Students and Professors, left to right:Top row: Albert Fintz, Jacques Taraboulos, Moise Capelouto, Herzl Cohen, Rafael Capelouto, Haim Menashe, Moise Israel, Aron Angel and Moise Levy.
2nd row: Henri Camhi, David Harari, Prof. Calabro, Prof. Bergman, Prof. Marcus, Michel Sidis and Jacques Camhi.
Front row: Samuel Levy, Samuel Cohen, Prof. Breger, Director Pacifici, Prof. Azus, Robert Hanan and Haim Aboulafia.

1934 Diploma

Diploma of Rabbi Michael Albagli. He was born in Izmir, Turkey and graduated from the Rabbinical College in Rhodes. He later served as the Rabbi for the Rhodes Jewish communities of Los Angeles, California and later in Portland, Oregon. diploma
study-room reading-table professors
A study room of the Rabbinical College. This was a time when the Italian government was tolerant of Jewish activities. This is the reading table (known as the “teva”), which was used by the students for religious study. Professors, sitting, left to right: Rabbi Marcus Breger (Prof. of the Talmud), Riccardo Pacifici (the Director) and Shlomo Azus (Prof. of Shohet and Mohel). Standing left to right: Mr. C. Calabro (Prof. of Mathematics), Mr. F. Bergmann (Prof. of French) and Mr. Simon Marcus (Prof. of Hebrew).

The 4 Locations of the Rabbinical College

The first two locations were within the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the last two were in the New City.

first-location college rabbinical-college last-location
The first location was owned by the Alhadeff family on Calle de los Ricos. For a few years the College was housed in a building built by the Crusaders (the Hospice of Saint Catherine). The Rabbinical College located in the New City of Rhodes with the Aegean Sea in the background. Photo of the last location of the College, also located in the New City until it was closed in 1938.

1934 list of the Rabbinical students of Rhodes and their city of origin:

Name City
Aboulafia, Haim Izmir
Angel, Aharon Bourgas
Camhi, Jacques Alexandria
Capelouto, Moise Island of Cos
Capelouto, Raphael Rhodes
Cohen, Herzl Rhodes
Cohen, Samuel Izmir
Fintz, Albert Andrinople
Hanan, Robert Rhodes
Harari, David Alexandria
Iakoel, Moise Alexandria
Israel, Moise Rhodes
Kamri, Henri Cairo
Levy, Moise Rhodes
Levy, Samuel Rhodes
Menashe, Haim Rhodes
Romano, Maurice Sarajevo
Sidis, Michel Rhodes
Sutton, Mourad Aleppo
Taraboulos, Jacque Cairo

funeral-procession-of-chief-rabbi-reuben-eliahu-israel
1932 of the funeral procession of Chief Rabbi Reuben Eliahu Israel.

The Extraordinary Israel Family Rabbinical Lineage

There was a unique family on the island of Rhodes which provided the Jewish community with a lineage of rabbis, all coming from the Israel family.  Please find below two charts of this family which has been compiled by Leon Taranto.

Israel6generations

MosheIsrael4Gen

HaimYehudaIsrael 17-09-07

Tombs of the Rabbis

In the Jewish cemetery of Rhodes there is a separate section reserved for the Rabbis.  After entering the cemetery, it is the row of tombstones located immediately on the left after entering the cemetery.  To view photos of the tombstones and read their inscriptions, please select this link.