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Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, ZL 

Rabbi Jacob Kassin was born in Jerusalem in 1900. He was born into a large rabbinic dynasty that spanned over five generations of Sephardic-Syrian rabbis. As a young boy he attended Ohel Moed, a prestigious yeshivah in Jerusalem which was the forerunner of Yeshivat Porat Yosef. By the age of 16, Rabbi Kassin was already known in Jerusalem for his extensive knowledge of the Talmud.

Unfortunately, by the time Rabbi Kassin was 18 years he was an orphan as both his parents had passed away due to severe illnesses. Times became very difficult and food became rare. As a result, Rabbi Kassin developed stomach problems which caused him great pain for many years. Nevertheless, he continued to focus and excel in his study of Torah and Kabbalah. Soon thereafter, he had the good fortune of marrying Mazal Hedaya, the daughter of noted Kabbalist Rabbi Shalom Hedaya. Slowly his fortunes began to turn as he became a teacher in Porat Yosef and was awarded an apartment next to the Yeshivah. This gave him the convenience of teaching Torah and Kabbalah late into the night. He was even able to write numerous books on Kabbalah.

By the late 1920's Rabbi Kassin served as a dayan of the supreme bet din of the Sephardic Community of Jerusalem. He was also able to publish numerous books on the subject of Kabbalah: Or Halebana, Yesod Haemunah, Pri Etz Hagan as well as many others. His reputation was so great that in 1932 he was asked to travel to the United States to raise funds for the Sephardic Orphanage of Jerusalem. While in America he made a large impact on the Syrian Community in Brooklyn. He spent six months there and signed an agreement that if it ever entered his mind to leave Israel, he would reside as the rabbi of Magen David in Bensonhurst.

After a year of pleading for his return, Rabbi Kassin finally accepted the offer to become the Chief Rabbi of the Syrian Community in Brooklyn and in 1933 arrived with his wife and four young children. Immediately from the start, he worked tirelessly in strengthening the Talmud Torah, the Synagogue, Maoz Lebyon and every other organization at the time. In addition, over the years he was extremely instrumental in creating key institutions such as Magen David Yeshivah, the Sephardic Center and many more. It was calculated that over his tenure as Chief Rabbi over 40 new institutions were established.

Aside from his heavy responsibility as the rabbi of the community, he devoted his life to guiding and uplifting every member of the community both spiritually and morally. His tolerance, self-sacrifice, exemplary character, and pleasant disposition gained him love, respect and confidence from every community member. This enabled him to lead the community during difficult times. He also presided over thousands of events such as weddings, brit milahs, bar mitzvahs, funerals and many more occasions. He even personally interviewed and counciled over 2,000 engaged couples in preparation of their marriage. It was said that no occasion was complete without the presence of Chief Rabbi Kassin.

Rabbi Kassins core philosophies were peace and unity. He headed the Bet Din in order in order to settle disputes and keep peace among the people. He kept the people and families together by respecting everyones individual needs whether they were rich or poor, young or old, observant or not so observant. It was through these methods that the community grew exponentially during his lifetime. In addition, Rabbi Kassin created the Enactment of Marriage Edict in 1935 in order to protect the community from outside influence. He had the tremendous foresight to see what trouble would lie ahead if we didn't protect ourselves. It is an undisputed fact that this edict or takanah saved the community from assimilation and protected us from melting away into American society.

After a long, brilliant and productive life, Rabbi Kassin passed away in December 1994 at the age of 94. It was a tremendously sad day for the entire community as his funeral was attended by over 1000 people and his body was flown to Israel to be buried on Har Hamenuhot. His leadership continued through his son Rabbi Shaul Kassin, ZL. 

Rabbi Jacob Kassin will always be known and remembered for his strong leadership and devotion to the community. He carried and built the community during the most difficult days. As strong as he was, he was able to balance it with tolerance and love. There is no doubt that his contribution during his years as Chief Rabbi has set the community on track to continue to grow and expand for many years to come. May his memory be blessed forever.


Written by Joe Mansour 

Copyrighted. All Rights Reserved. Congregation Shaare Zion.

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Wed, July 17 2024 11 Tammuz 5784