Thursday, December 30, 2010

A description of, and conversation with the great R' Yisroel Moshe Chazan

Following is a passage from "Nach Jerusalem" by Ludwig Frankl (pg. 4 of translation):

I reached, after walking a considerable distance, the stately house of Mr. Chazan, the Head Rabbi of the Ionian Islands. The guide, when I told him to conduct me to him, did not at first understand, till recollecting himself, he said: —

" Ah! you mean to the Archbishop of the Hebrews."

I found the worthy gentleman in a spacious library on the second floor of the house, a lofty figure in a long black girded robe, walking up and down reading a book. A black overcoat, with many folds and a violet border, and a white stiff-pointed collar round the neck, added to his imposing appearance. A broad-flapped hat, reclin ing gently on the head, cast an artistic shade over a pale noble countenance.

Having already learned through the newspapers the object of my journey, he welcomed me with delight, and promised me at once the strongest letters of recommendation to his friends in Jerusalem, the city of his birth. Profoundly versed in Talmudistic lore, and known as a theological writer, he received a call to be Head Eabbi of the community in Rome, where he lived five years, and mastered the Italian language so thoroughly that he was soon accounted one of the most distinguished preachers in Italy. Having been called to Corfu five years ago, he enjoys here also a high reputation. Subsequently, we had the pleasure of calling him our guest at Vienna [1]; soon after, he accepted a call to be Head Rabbi at Alexandria.

Mr. Chazan speaks with great liveliness and force, to which his intellectual and animated countenance in no small measure contributes. A long pale face, with a long black beard, sparkling black eyes beneath stronglymarked, deeply-arched eyebrows, a lofty forehead, and a bold aquiline nose impart to his countenance that style of beauty which we call Oriental, and which caricature reproduces as the characteristic of the whole of our race. He reminded me of Kapistran, who, a century ago, preached at Vienna in the Latin tongue, unintelligible to the masses, but who, by dint of his outward appearance, the powerful tone of his voice, and the energy of his gesticulations, transported every one with enthusiasm.

Mr. Chazan spoke of the very sad condition of the Jews in the Ionian Free States. There are four thousand of them in Corfu, and two thousand in the Island of Zante. Most of them are engaged in trade; only a few support themselves as mechanics. Scarcely any of them are in comfortable circumstances, and notwithstanding the proud title, Ionian Free States, and the Protectorate of England, they neither enjoy liberty nor are they free from oppression.

Jewish children are mocked at in the schools, girls altogether excluded. The Jews of Zante had just drawn up a representation to the Government, begging that their deplorable social condition might be ameliorated.

I requested Mr. Chazan to give me an exact statement of the circumstances of the case, which he promised to send after me to Jerusalem. On my return from the East, I visited him again; he excused himself for not having kept his word, on the ground that the representatives of the community had not deemed it advisable tc make communications, which might become public and give offence to Government.

But when is a Parliament resentful of publicity, especially one opened and led by a Lord High Commissioner of England ? It is everywhere the lot of the oppressed that they do not venture to express that even which the law allows them, and which is becoming the dignity of a manly character.

Mr. Chazan took me to visit the School of the Community, where the managers, having already been informed by him of my intended visit, received me in a friendly manner. About eighty boys, who nearly all exhibited the expression and form of body distinctive of the South, were assembled in a large room. Only a few gave signs of their Jewish descent, a phenomenon which has frequently struck us in the German schools, where the fair hair and blue eyes reminded us as th( most likely explanation of the conduct of the patriarch Jacob, grounded on physiological principles, when hf wished to produce speckled sheep. Winckelmann deduces, among other reasons, the beautiful shape of the Italian head and body, from the sight of the noble forms of sculpture and painting presented to the view in Italy in many different ways.

I was even here introduced to the children, with true Oriental hyperbole, as " the first doctor of Europe," by whose "gracious and happy visit" they ought to feel themselves flattered and elevated, and incited to diligence and good behaviour.

At a given signal with a bell all stood up, and, marching forth from their desks, walked in regular procession round the room, and then arranging themselves at their desks, every child took his own place again. Mr. Chazan explained to me that in the hot climate this exercise was necessary, in order to keep the children awake and ready to receive instruction. They were then examined by the teachers, first in Hebrew, then in Greek and Italian. I observed that the children remained bareheaded [!] while the Hebrew prayer was pronounced ; the answers of the children were lively, and proved that they were well taught.

" Greek," observed one of the managers, " as being the language of the. country, is taught with special care, and with a pure accent, unmarked by any peculiarity. We wish to avoid being derided on account of any defects in our mode of speech," added he, in a low tone, audible only to me.

The only Jew was the teacher of Hebrew and of the Bible; the other teachers were Greeks. When I asked whether there were not Jews in Corfu capable of giving instruction on secular subjects, Mr. Chazan observed :—

" We regret very much that as yet no Jew here possesses that capacity, but we trust in God to be able to train such men among ourselves."

" And have the Jews of acknowledged piety in this island no repugnance to allowing their children to be instructed by Christians "

" Better a learned heathen than a high priest who is an idiot," quoted Mr. Chazan, from the Talmud [2].

1 was equally surprised and delighted with the utterance of such sentiments by a strictly orthodox Rabbi. I took the liberty of putting some questions to the managers on general subjects, which were answered with great caution, and with significant glances at the Christian teachers.

[1] On this same occasion he probably visited Shir who was also much impressed by R' Chazan - see here.
[2] Sanhedrin 59a


S. said...

>At a given signal with a bell all stood up, and, marching forth from their desks, walked in regular procession round the room, and then arranging themselves at their desks, every child took his own place again. Mr. Chazan explained to me that in the hot climate this exercise was necessary, in order to keep the children awake and ready to receive instruction.


DF said...

"Profoundly versed in Talmudistic lore,"

William Safire once write a coloumn (a short one) on the didfference between "talmudic" and "talmudistic". The former, according to him, means "abstruse", while the latter means REAL hair splitting.

"At a given signal with a bell all stood up, and, marching forth from their desks, walked in regular procession round the room, and then arranging themselves at their desks, every child took his own place again. Mr. Chazan explained to me that in the hot climate this exercise was necessary, in order to keep the children awake and ready to receive instruction."

When I was in Kol Torah in J-M, on shavuous night, every hour the beis medrash would all sing some song together, like "mah ahavati torosecha" or something like that. [the yeshiva has a dome, so the sound carries.] It would really wake everyone up and refreseh them. Best damn minhag I eve saw there.

Anonymous said...


I begin on internet with a directory

Yitzhak said...

R. Y. M. Hazzan was certainly an interesting character, as a perusal of his כרך של רומי readily reveals.

And I've long contended that there are few Jewish families that include as many illustrious Rabbanim as the Hazzans.

S. said...

Nu, we're waiting for your next post.

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