Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen


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A Short Tribute

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen was born in 1874 (5634) to Hacham Shalom Hacohen and his wife Tarki on the island of Djerba in the south of Tunisia. He studied with his father and with Hacham Yosef Berreby, who was subsequently appointed Chief Rabbi of Tunisia. In 1891, at the age of 17, he moved to the town of Zarzis and was appointed to the position of ritual slaughterer. In 1895 he married his cousin Mas'ida and they had two sons and four daughters. He later suffered from an illness that damaged his eyesight.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen returned to Djerba to continue his studies but his damaged eyesight now made studying more difficult. He refused to fill rabbinic positions for many years, but in 1917, when Hacham Moshe Zaqen Mazouz passed away, he agreed to replace him and was appointed to the Djerba Bet Din [rabbinic court]. He served as head of the rabbinic tribunal from 1935 until his death.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen instated many important takanoth [communal bylaws] and was vigilant about religious observance throughout the island of Djerba. He held classes on Mishna and posqim [Halachic decisors] in his home every Sabbath and provided his pupils with the tools for halachic ruling. The Hacham was renowned for his modesty and for his identification with the poor of the community. He even avoided eating meat on weekdays and categorically refused to benefit from the special status of his public positions.

He was among the founders of the Atereth Zion movement in 1919 that promoted Aliyah to the Land of Israel and supported institutions in the Yishuv [pre-state Israel] and Hebrew language instruction. Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen also purchased a dunam of land [1/4 acre] in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood. In his essay Geulat Moshe he presents detailed propositions as to the structure of the future State of Israel. The Hacham corresponded with the British Supreme Commissioner and maintained ongoing correspondence with the world leaders of the Zionist movement. When the state was eventually established, he ruled that Israel's Independence Day be made a three-day celebration in Djerba.

In 1943 the Nazis invaded Djerba. Although the Nazis were beaten, the war had a negative impact on Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen's health. He sent his son Shushan to Tunis in 1949 to obtain the certificates required for immigration but the degeneration of his health prevented his Aliyah to Israel.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen wrote some 40 works, several of which were published during his lifetime and some posthumously, while others still remain in manuscript form. His famous and important works include: Responsa Shoel and Nishal in 9 volumes, Brit Kehuna - 4 volumes of innovations on the Shulchan Aruch and a collection of Jewish customs, Darash Yaacov – an anthology of sermons, and Yad Moshe, on the Torah.

Hacham Kalphon Moshe Hacohen passed away on 18 Shevat 5710 (1950) on a Sabbath day and was buried in Djerba. His remains were brought to Israel 55 years after his death, where he was buried in Jerusalem's Har Hamenukhot cemetery on 7 Heshvan 5765 (2005).

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