Hakham Eliyahu Lavi, son of Hacham Mordecai, was born in Benghazi, Libya in 1820. He traveled through the cities of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to have his books published and reached Malta in 1857. In 1862 he was appointed Av Beit Din and leader of the Jewish community in Benghazi.
In 1867, during Passover Hol Hamo'ed, his son David went out to the countryside with three of his friends to recite the Blessing on Trees [Birkat Ha'Ilanot]. While they were enjoying the holiday, they dined and drank wine, and the wine stained the tablecloth on which they were eating. On their way back, they rejoiced and danced, made a sort of cloak out of the tablecloth, and wrapped themselves in it. They encountered a Christian couple on the way, who returned to the townspeople saying that the Jews were mocking them with a blood-stained tablecloth – a reference to the killing of their messiah. At the time, a capitulation regime was in place in the Ottoman Empire that, among other things, afforded consuls of the European powers extraterritorial judiciary jurisdiction over their own nationals residing in the Ottoman Empire. The European countries exercised these rights on Christians residing in the empire as well.
Two of the four men, David Lavi and Nissim Buaron, were British subjects; the other two - Ephraim Goueta and Yoseph Tsror - were Ottoman subjects. The four of them were put in irons and severely beaten, as were thirty notables from the community who had come to their defense. The prisoners were taken out to the city streets on the Hol Hamo'ed Sabbath day and subjected to curses and stones, showered upon them by the passersby. The British consul declared that he would have them burned within four days. Hakham Eliyahu Lavi rushed to the British consul's home and tried to mollify him, but the consul rejected his pleas outright. Some of the Jews fled to the desert, and those remaining shut themselves in behind lock and key.
On the eighth night of Passover, a minyan of men dared leave their homes to attend the evening prayers. Immediately after the prayers had begun, a mob surrounded the synagogue, threatening to burn it down along with the Torah scrolls it held and to kill the worshipers. They were rescued by the town's Turkish governor who, after having received a delegation from the Jewish community, sent the military to protect the city's Jews.
Shaul Lavi, Hakham Eliyahu Lavi's brother, who at the time served as the Austro-Hungarian consul in Tripoli and was also president of the local Kol Israel Haverim branch, turned to the British General Consul and requested his intervention. After some discussion with the consul in Benghazi, an order was issued by the monarchy to release all the Jewish prisoners. The British and French consuls of Benghazi, who had been involved in the reprehensible affair, were dismissed from their positions and left the city.
Hakham Eliyahu Lavi passed away on 11 Tevet, 5640 (1880).
Hakham Eliyahu Lavi authored several books: Menuha LaHaim - in three parts, Orakh Yashar, Geulat Hashem, and a commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers.
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