On 13 MarCheshvan, 1960, Rabbi Haim Nahum Effendi passed away in Cairo, and thousands of people – Jews, Muslims and Christians – attended his funeral.
Rabbi Nahum (born in Izmir, Turkey – 1872) was an extraordinarily intelligent person with an exceptionally diverse education. He received his formal Jewish education in Tiberias, his secondary education at a French lycee, a degree in Islamic law from Constantinople, and attended the Sorbonne’s School of Oriental Languages while at the same time attending the Rabbinical Academy in Paris. He then returned to Constantinople and taught at the Turkish Military Academy.
Rabbi Nahum’s unusual background and eclectic interests earned him great respect. From 1909 until 1923, he served as Hacham Bashi (Chief Rabbi) of the Ottoman Empire and was granted the title of “Effendi” (Lord) by the Turkish government.
In 1923, Rabbi Nahum agreed to become the head of the Jewish community in Cairo, and thus the Chief Rabbi of Egypt. Here, too, Rabbi Nahum became a man of noted success within the greater society. He was soon appointed a Senator, he helped found the Royal Academy of the Arabic Language, and was instrumental in making possible the reconvening the Society for the Historical Study of the Jews of Egypt. As Chief Rabbi, he also made connections with the Jews of Rhodes and the Beta Israel in Ethiopia.
With the rise in Arab nationalism in the late 1940s, life for Egyptian Jews became increasingly difficult. There was an abundance of political intimidation and economic oppression. Although he gave into government pressure to denounce Zionism (using vague, meaningless phrases), he held firm in his refusal to have synagogues recite prayers for an Egyptian victory in the 1948 war. Ignoring his own failing health (and blindness), Rabbi Nahum spent his final years in service to the greatly diminished Egyptian Jewish community. He was 88 years old when he died.
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.