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January 2: Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem in the 19th Century

January 2, 2015

200px-Shmuel_SalantShmuel Salant, who served as a leading rabbi in Jerusalem for nearly seventy years, was born in Bialystok on this date in 1816. He emigrated in 1840 with his wife and son to Jerusalem, in part on the advice of doctors, who urged him to live in warmer climes due to a lung disease. En route, in Constantinople, Salant befriended Sir Moses Montefiore, who was himself traveling to defend the Jews falsely accused in the Damascus Blood Libel. Some five hundred Ashkenazim lived in Jerusalem when he arrived, and he served as one of their key fundraisers, traveling to Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain to collect funds — which Salant ensured were equally divided between Jerusalem’s Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities. In 1866, when cholera struck the city, Salant helped to found an umbrella organization to unite all the various Ashkenazi factions represented in Jerusalem. This became the predecessor of the Vaad Haklali (General Committee), which became the central institution dealing with the Ashkenazic community’s financial and religious affairs. Salant became the chief Ashkenazic rabbi of the city in 1871 (a post that was not recognized by the Ottoman rulers), and during his tenure, ending with his death in 1909, the Jewish population of Jerusalem grew from 5,000 to 30,000, swelling beyond the walls of the Old City, and established several important centers of charity and learning.

“Palestine is now ready for its own people. When I came to Jerusalem, it took four weeks to make a journey that can be made in four days now. it is wonderful, wonderful!” —Rabbi Shmuel Salant at 95