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THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF HACHAM AVRAHAM DWECK-KHALOUSI, ZT”L

By: David Mizrahi



    Aleppo. For those who were born there, the name brings back waves of nostalgia. For those of us who were not, it evokes longing for the past. This citadel of Torah has a rich history, spanning thousands of years of religious life.

 The 19th century was an era of peace, tranquility and growth under the brilliant hachamim who led the community. The revered Chief Rabbi Hacham Avraham Dweck-Khalousi, zt”l, was at the helm for much of this time period. He led our people during what many consider the Golden Age of Aleppo.

   Hacham Avraham Dweck-Khalousi  was born in the late 1700’s to Hacham Ezra Dweck-Kassab in Aleppo, Syria. Hacham Ezra was a respected Aleppian scholar from the noted Dweck rabbinical family. Some of their members include: Hacham Yaakob Shaul Dweck, Chief Rabbi of Aleppo; Hacham Shaul Dweck, brother of Hacham Ezra; Hacham Eliyahu Dweck, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rehovot HaNahar in Jerusalem; Hacham Moshe Dweck-Kassab, noted rabbi in New York.  Hacham Ezra’s second son, Hacham Shaul, was a noted scholar and the grandfather of the famous Kabbalist, Hacham Haim Shaul Dweck.
  In his younger years, Hacham Avraham served as the rabbi in Antioch, Syria. He was also the shohet and the mohel there. In 1882, after the death of Hacham Moshe Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Aleppo, Hacham Avraham was appointed to succeed him.

Hacham Avraham devotedly fulfilled his role as the last government-appointed Chief Rabbi of Aleppo. He served not only as the rabbi there but also as judge, and Rosh Yeshiva. In these capacities he earned the respect not only of  his community but also of town officials. It was customary for Hacham Avraham to ride upon on a white mule, preceded by an attendant (known as a kawas in Arabic). Such treatment was befitting for a dignitary of his stature.
   Hacham Avraham was known as a strong ruler who feared no one. He often met with the Turkish king, the famed Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who treated him with great respect and even gave him a Medal of Honor for uncovering an assassination plot against a royal minister. The much-treasured medal stayed with his son Moussa Dweck until his death. Hacham Avraham composed a pizmon in honor of the Sultan, thanking him for his benevolence to Aleppo’s Jews.
   Hacham Avraham was known for the benefits he was able to attain for the downtrodden and oppressed Jewish community. He put extra effort into getting Jews released from the Turkish army, which was known for its appalling conditions.
  In spite of all of these honors and political connections, Hacham Avraham remained exceedingly humble and respectful to all. He generously assisted Torah scholars and poor people, giving secret donations of money and food on a weekly basis.
   Hacham Avraham corresponded regularly with Hacham Yaakob Shaul Elyashar, the Chief Rabbi of Eres Yisrael. A responsum in the latter’s book praises Hacham Avraham’s scholarly abilities.
   The former Chief Rabbi of Aleppo was also a powerful leader. A story is told that illustrates his strength of character. One Ereb Pesah in Aleppo, the shohatim went on strike because they wanted a raise. As such, there was no meat to be had for the holiday. When Hacham Avraham heard of this predicament, he decided to take decisive action. He went to the slaughterhouse and single-handedly slaughtered more than fifty animals. He sent them out to the shops of the city, so that the populace could have ample meat for the holiday. Many people came to bless the rabbi for the great service he’d provided. This is just one incident of many which demonstrates Hacham Avraham’s tremendous dedication to his community.
   The rabbi cared about every single person equally. Once, as an older man, he was officiating at a wedding. Right before the ceremony, the groom ran away. To spare the bride the humiliation, Hacham Avraham offered to take her as a wife. (It was accepted practice then to have multiple wives.) The girl replied, “How will we have children if you are so old?” Hacham Avraham promised that they would have children. Indeed, they were blessed with two of them.
   Though he could be soft and sympathetic, Hacham Avraham was a firm leader when needed. Once, a relative of his put a picture of Hacham Avraham on a cigarette pack. Hacham Avraham told the relative to remove it since it looked like he was endorsing the cigarette smoking. When the relative refused, he proceeded to die a horrible death. He signed numerous documents and edicts during his time in a leadership position.
   In 1895 Hacham Avraham was deposed from his position as Chief Rabbi, after a tedious battle against his dissenters. Unfortunately, by 1895, his opponents succeeded in removing him from his post.
   After a long and productive life, Hacham Avraham passed away on Shabbat, 12 Tammuz 5661 (1901) His exact age at the time is unknown, but he was suspected to have been at least 104.  His relationship with the  ruling Sultans continued until his final days. On his grave it states:


     “On this I eulogize, on this great man whom the land now lacks, he had three names with the Crown of Good Name above all[i], the Rabbi, ruler, exceptional judge, Hacham Avraham Dweck HaKohen may he rest in honor, the 12th of the month of Tammuz 5661.”


 
After Hacham Avraham’s death, a new stanza was added into the Yom Kippur evening services, honoring him.

  Hacham Avraham left behind many hiddushim in manuscript form, which are currently housed in the Sephardic Heritage Museum. He wrote unpublished sermons on the four special parashiyot and the High Holidays, as well as a commentary onPirkei Avot. He also put together a pizmonim book, which he is holding in the above picture.

  The legacy of Hacham Avraham lives on. Today, his manyrespected descendants continue his work in spreading Torah. Rabbi Shmuel Beyda, Rabbi Joey Mizrahi, Rabbi Alex Mizrahi, Rabbi Albert Dweck and Rabbi Abraham Fallas are just some of the modern-day rabbis who come from Hacham Avraham. Be’ezrat Hashem, we should continue to preserve his legacy and perpetuate his holy work.

Below is a list of some of Hacham Avraham’s Children.


 R’ Ezra, a respected scholar of Aleppo. In fact, he is listed on the weekly stipend list reserved for exceptional scholars. He was the father of hazzan R’ Avraham, and the consuegro of Hacham Ezra Hamway-Khabaz.

 Moshe (Moussa), a wealthy businessman who resided in Egypt and was one of the only Shabbat-observant men in Cairo. Many teenagers came to Moussa Dweck for jobs, since his business was closed on Shabbat. He started them off as shomrei Shabbat, for which Hacham Ovadia spoke very highly of him. Moussa built a synagogue called Magen Avraham in memory of his father. In time, he moved to Montreal, Canada where he lived until the 1970’s and died at over 100 years of age.
 R’ Shaul, who was born in Aleppo and immigrated to Brazil. He printed a book in memory of his father called HaMezakeh LeHaye Abba (A Merit for My Father’s Life). The book is a compendium of mussar from Pirkei Abot, Shebet Mussar, and the Hida. It was published in Rio de Janeiro in 1953.
Murad Bey, an important dignitary of Istanbul, Turkey. He was part of the delegation that greeted Hacham Hizkiya Shabbetai upon his arrival to Istanbul in March 1908.

Simcha,a daughter born to Hacham Avraham in his old age. She went on to marry Selim (Sam) Beyda.

Malka,who married her cousin Hacham Moshe Dweck (the youngest son of Hacham Shaul). It seems he took the name Khalousi from his father-in-law (showing just how respected Hacham Avraham was). Hacham Moshe Dweck was a noted scholar, Kabbalist and hazzan, but he died young, only a year after his father. He was survived by his son hazzan Yehezkel Dweck-Khalousi, an expert on makamot.

 Yaakob(known as Jack) was a wealthy businessman.