Hacham Raphael Ankawa was born to Baïda and Hacham Mordecai Ankawa on 2 Tevet 5608 in Salé, Morocco. Hacham Raphael Ankawa had the privilege of studying Torah with the Av Bet Din [Head of the Rabbinic Court] of his city, Hacham Issachar Assaraf, and eventually married his daughter, Sa’ada.
In 1880 Hacham Issachar Assaraf immigrated to the Land of Israel and appointed Hacham Raphael Ankawa as a member of the Bet Din, along with his uncle, Hacham Mas’oud Ankawa and Hacham Yitzhak Amzalleg.
Hacham Raphael Ankawa established a yeshiva in approximately 1880 that attracted numerous students. Among his outstanding students were Hacham Abraham Revakh, Hacham Ephraim Shalom Ankawa and Hacham Michael Issachar Ankawa, his only son.
In 1918, the French government decided to establish a High Court of Appeals in the city of Rabat (adjacent to Salé). The city’s Jewish committee proposed that Hacham Raphael Ankawa be appointed Head of the Bet Din and preside over the court of appeals. Hacham Raphael Ankawa refused the appointment, proposing Chief Rabbi Hacham Shlomo Dennan in his stead. The French governor refused, threatening to cancel the court’s establishment. Hacham Raphael Ankawa yielded, and officially appointed Chief Rabbi Hacham Shlomo Dennan as his deputy; in practice, however, he considered him president.
Hacham Raphael Ankawa’s fame spread, and many sought him for his extensive knowledge, in Morocco and beyond. His books were distributed free of charge to Torah scholars and to the poor, as well as to synagogues and study houses.
Hacham Raphael Ankawa passed away on a Sabbath eve on 4 Av 5695 (1935) and was buried in his home town, Salé. His many books include Sefer Karnei RE'EM, Pa'amonei Zahav, Sefer To'afot RE'EM, Sefer Pa'amon VeRimon, Sefer Haddad VeTema.