# 341 (s5764-34/ 21 Iyar)

The Silent Funeral

In the palace, Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfandari quietly explained his position to the Sultan.

The Silent Funeral

When the Jewish fugitives of the Spanish Inquisition originally settled in Turkey, the Sultan made a pact with them that they would never be drafted into his army. But when Abed El Chamid became Sultan in the mid-1800's, he issued a decree obligating all non-Moslems to enlist in the Turkish army.

Serving in the army, however, involved desecrating the Shabbat and eating non-kosher food. Istanbul's rabbanim tried to have the decree rescinded, but they were unsuccessful. Despite its severity, they finally decided to accept the decree, not wanting to provoke the Turkish authorities. The city's Vaad Haruchani even issued a proclamation urging the region's Jews to fulfill their obligations to the Turkish government, and to enlist.

Only one man protested this course of action: Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri, otherwise known as the Saba Kadisha.

At the Vaad meeting, he declared: "Since serving in the Turkish army involves Shabbat desecration and the defiling of oneself with non-kosher food, enlisting in the army is considered a chillul Hashem. We mustn't yield to Sultan Abed El Chamid. If we are firm, Hashem will help us."

After completing his fiery speech, he burst into uncontrollable sobs. The other members of the Vaad knew that Rav Shlomo Eliezer's words were justified. Nonetheless, they feared expressing their opinion in public.

The Jewish community did have one hope, however. One of its wealthy members was particularly influential in the Sultan's court.

But instead of trying to cancel the decree, the Jew collaborated with the Sultan and helped promote it. But when he visited the palace to supervise various aspects of the decree, he suddenly lost consciousness and died.

The following day, a large throng assembled at the wealthy man's funeral. In Istanbul at that time, Rav Shlomo Eliezer was always the first to deliver a hesped at a funeral, and no one dared to precede him. But instead of attending the funeral, Rav Shlomo Eliezer remained at home.

The community leaders pleaded with Rav Shlomo Eliezer to attend the funeral, or at least to grant others permission to eulogize the deceased. But Rav Shlomo Eliezer flatly refused, saying that the man wasn't worthy of honor.

The niftar's sons offered Rav Shlomo Eliezer a large sum of money, which they said could be used for tzedaka, if only he would relent.

With tear-filled eyes, Rav Shlomo Eliezer replied, "Yesterday I visited your father and asked him not to collaborate with the Sultan. But he defied me. Therefore, I cannot honor him."

In the end, none of the city's rabbanim eulogized the deceased. Everyone knew that Rav Shlomo Eliezer was right and respected his actions.

When the Sultan learned of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's efforts to cancel his decree, he was furious and decided to punish him for inciting the Jews against him. He immediately summoned Rav Shlomo Eliezer to his palace.

Once in the palace, Rav Shlomo Eliezer quietly explained his position to the Sultan. The Sultan was very impressed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer; in fact, he was so impressed that he accorded him the title of Chacham Bashi, granting him the authority to issue amendments and edicts in the Jewish community.

In the end, the draft decree wasn't implemented due to internal conflicts in the royal court.

[Excerpted and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from www.yadyosef.com]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri (1820 - 22 Iyar 1930) was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where where his reputation for piety and wisdom was established at a young age. He served as the chief rabbi in Istanbul and Damascus, and subsequently in Safed for 20 years toward the end of his life. He passed away at age 110 (!) in Jerusalem. Many of his halachic responses are included in his book, Sabba Kadisha. For more information on his life and writings, see our website/click here.


Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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