Tag Archives: Sephardic Jews

Jews of the Week: Rabbi Shlomo & Shlomo Moussaieff

Shlomo ben Yakov Moussaieff (1852-1922) was born in the emirate of Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan). Both a renowned rabbi and a wealthy businessman, he made aliyah to the Holy Land in 1888 – bringing with him forty cases of gold – and was one of the founders of Jerusalem’s famous Bukharian Quarter. Moussaieff built four synagogues, and homes for 25 poor families. Meanwhile, he published a prayer book and disseminated it widely, making it his mission to inspire more Jews to pray regularly. He also continued his business ventures, particularly in real estate, tea, silk, and gemstones. Moussaieff was an avid collector of rare manuscripts, and amassed an impressive library with 225 ancient texts, including prized manuscripts of Maimonides and the mystical teachings of the Arizal. Until his last days, Moussaieff was committed to the development of Israel, and stated in his will that only those of his seven children that remain in Israel would receive any inheritance.

His grandson, also Shlomo Moussaieff (1923-2015), though better known as Sam, would become even more famous. One of twelve children raised in Jerusalem, Sam Moussaieff ran away from home as a teen to avoid his strict father. Living in a synagogue, he worked for a carpenter and sold ancient coins he would find in Jerusalem’s caves and tombs. Once arrested by Arab policemen, he ended up in a Muslim school for nearly a year, becoming proficient in Arabic and the Koran. At 17, Moussaieff enlisted in the British Army to fight the Nazis. After World War II, he fought for Israel’s independence and was captured by the Jordanians, who imprisoned him for a year. Moussaieff returned to Jerusalem and joined the family jewellery business. He soon opened his own antiquities shop in Jaffa, at times getting in trouble for smuggling goods. In 1963, Moussaieff was offered to have his record cleared of legal issues, as well as the rights to an exclusive shop in London’s Hilton Hotel, in exchange for handwritten letters from Maimonides which he owned. Moussaieff accepted and moved to London. His shop soon specialized in jewellery, and he became the dealer of choice for wealthy barons from Arab oil states thanks to his pristine Arabic. Moussaieff became world-renowned for his extremely rare and special gems. He owned the most precious stone in the world: a red diamond valued at $20 million. In 2011, he was ranked among the richest Londoners, with an estimated worth of some $350 million. Moussaieff amassed a personal collection of over 60,000 ancient artifacts, including millennia-old seals from Jerusalem’s First Temple, and reportedly even items associated with the forefather Abraham! His stated goal was to collect indisputable evidence proving the accuracy of the Torah. Moussaieff was given an honourary degree by Bar Ilan University (to whom he donated many artifacts, including his grandfather’s ancient manuscripts) which established the Dr. Shlomo Moussaieff Center for Kabbala Research. Interestingly, Moussaieff once purchased an ancient Torah scroll for $1 million from the Allenby family – who had the Torah because the elder Shlomo Moussaieff gave it as a gift to General Allenby during World War I!

Words of the Week

My spirit moved me to leave the land of my birth, in which I grew up, and to ascend to the Holy Land, the land in which our ancestors dwelled in happiness, the land whose memory passes before us ten times each day in our prayers…
Rabbi Shlomo Moussaieff, in the introduction to his prayer book, Hukat Olam


Make your Shavuot night-learning meaningful with the Arizal’s ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’, a mystical Torah-study guide, now in English and Hebrew, with commentary.

Jew of the Week: Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was born in New York City. Her father came from a Jewish family that immigrated from Germany, while her mother was from an illustrious Sephardic-Portuguese family that settled in America before the Revolution. Lazarus studied literature and language, speaking German, French, and Italian. She became a famous poet, novelist, and playwright; one of the first successful Jewish-American authors. Her first book of poetry was published when she was just 17 years old, and she went on to collaborate with such great writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lazarus was also an influential social activist. Her first cause was fighting for tax reform and fairer distribution of land. After hearing of the violent pogroms in Russia, she advocated strongly on behalf of Russian Jews and helped settle Jewish refugees in New York. Lazarus worked for the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, training impoverished immigrants and helping them find work. She also co-founded the Hebrew Technical Institute to educate Jewish refugees. Meanwhile, Lazarus argued passionately for the creation of a Jewish state in Israel – thirteen years before Theodor Herzl arrived on the scene! (For this, among other reasons, she was once described as the “fiery prophet of the American Jewish community.”) Lazarus is undoubtedly most famous for her poem “The New Colossus”, which she wrote to raise money for the construction of the Statue of Liberty. The sonnet’s powerful words – familiar to most Americans – have inspired many, and have been quoted by leaders like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Two decades after she first wrote it, the poem was etched onto a bronze plaque at the base of the Statue. It has been said that the poem transformed the Statue into a symbol of immigration and freedom, and defined “the American vision of liberty”. Sadly, Lazarus did not live to see this day. She tragically died at the young age of 38, from lymphoma. She has since been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Words of the Week

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
– From “The New Colossus”, by Emma Lazarus

Plaque of the “The New Colossus” in the Statue of Liberty