Tag Archives: Kurdistan

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Zecharia Barashi

World’s Oldest Jew

Rabbi Barashi (Credit: Lazar Berman)

Zecharia Barashi (1900-2017) was born in Kurdistan, the last of ten children in an observant Jewish family. His father was a rabbi who traveled from village to village, serving the needs of small Jewish communities in Iraq. Unfortunately, this job did not come with a salary, and the poor family made a meager living by sowing clothes and selling nuts and dates. Several years of harsh poverty, disease, and the difficulties of the First World War left six of the ten children dead. Barashi himself nearly died when he was 11 years old. He would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi as well. Inspired by Zionism, Barashi struggled to move the family to Israel. In 1936, he finally got a chance by working as a Hebrew interpreter for the Jewish Agency. After a long and arduous journey, the family settled in Jerusalem. Throughout World War II and Israel’s ensuing War of Independence, Barashi supported the war effort by digging trenches, and paving roads and runways. In 1950, the Jews of Iraq and Kurdistan made a mass aliyah to Israel, and Barashi soon became their spiritual leader. He would go on to earn the esteemed title of Chacham, “Sage”. He also published four important books on Judaism. He was in the midst of writing his fifth book when, at the age of 111, his eyesight became too poor. Deeply respected as one of Israel’s greatest rabbis, Barashi was known for his incredible memory, humility, and great sense of humour. Sadly, he passed away earlier this week. Until that moment, he was the world’s oldest living Jew. He was also Israel’s oldest living resident, having spent over 80 years in Jerusalem. Although he outlived two of his own children and his beloved wife, he is survived by five more children, 29 grandchildren, 72 great-grandchildren, and 24 great-great-grandchildren. His advice for a long life: “Always be happy, never jealous. Stay active. And never overeat, always leave the table a little hungry.”

Chag Purim Sameach!

Words of the Week

“My brain is the key that sets my mind free.”
Harry Houdini

Rabbi Barashi with Shimon Peres (Credit: Mark Neyman/Flash90)

Jews of the Week: Asenath Barzani & the Maid of Ludomir

Two Amazing Women

Torah

Asenath Barzani (1590-1670) was born in Mosul, Iraq to the chief rabbi of Kurdistan, Shmuel Barzani. After her father’s passing she took over his role, serving as the head of the Mosul Yeshiva and teaching Torah to the masses (preferring to do this from behind a curtain, for she was also very beautiful). Asenath was given the title Tanna’it (“Great Teacher”) and was known for performing incredible miracles, including reviving a dead dove, bringing a legion of angels down from Heaven, and fighting crime using only her mystical powers. To this day, people make pilgrimages to her grave in Iraq.

On the other side of the world, in the Ukranian town of Ludomir, lived a woman named Hannah Rachel Verbermacher (1805-1888). After a midnight incident at a cemetery, where she had a certain revelation, Hannah Rachel transformed into a highly respected Torah teacher famous across Eastern Europe (she, too, gave her speeches from behind a screen for modesty). Many Hassidim became her devoted followers, building a synagogue and study house for the great ‘Maid of Ludomir’. Some even called her rebbe, and she was often seen wearing tefillin and a tallit (which stirred up quite a bit of controversy). At the end of her life, she made Aliyah to Israel and is said to have joined a descendant of the great Yemenite sage Shalom Shabazi in the mission of bringing Mashiach. However, according to legend the angel Eliyahu came down to stop them, for the world was not yet ready!

Words of the Week

Don’t ask for a lighter burden, ask for broader shoulders.
– Jewish Proverb