It wasn’t every day that Morris Harary, Esq. was summoned by the revered Chief Rabbi. So on that evening in the late 1980’s, when Hacham Yaakob Kassin, z.s.l., leader of the Halabi and Sephardic communities of Brooklyn, New York, invited him to his home, he was somewhat puzzled to say the least.
Upon entering the rabbi’s living room, Morris noticed a plastic envelope filled with aging papers, some even sewn together. Slowly, Hacham Yaakob handed over the package and lamented over not having been able to advance the holy and important project, which was given over to him some four-and-half-decades earlier.
The rabbi explained that the documents were the kitvei yad (handwritten manuscripts) of Morris’ grandfather and namesake, Hacham Moshe ben Hacham Yizhak Harary, z.s.l. Hacham Moshe’s wife, Garaz Harary d’Bet Nasi, had entrusted this treasure with Hacham Yaakob shortly before her passing in 1943, and requested that he review the manuscripts and prepare them for publication. Hacham Yaakob was regretfully unable to fulfill this undertaking during his lifetime, so he requested that Morris accept an appointment as his shaliah (agent) to carry out the promise made to his grandmother.
Deciphering Nus Qalam
Publishing the manuscript proved to be no simple task. The text was written mostly in hasi qoulmos or nus qalam, the Judeo-Arabic script used years ago by Sephardic talmide hachamim (Torah scholars) in the Middle East, and with which most people today are unfamiliar. Morris, and his brothers Alfred and Joe, tried to enlist the help of several learned men in the Brooklyn community to decipher and edit the papers, but with little success.
During the late 1990’s, Morris discussed the matter with his good friend Joey Harari (whom he later discovered to be a relative!). Joey had moved to Israel and is involved in the administration of Kenees Ades, the renowned Halabi synagogue in Jerusalem. Joey advised Morris to speak to his friend Rabbi Yeshua Salem, who had published – among other works – manuscripts of the revered Ben Ish Hai (Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad), z.s.l.
Over the course of the next year, the text in the manuscripts was transcribed into contemporary Hebrew. The content of the material unfolded, it was discovered to contain, among other things, piske din (jurisprudential decisions) in commercial matters from old Halab, which were rare, making this manuscript an especially valuable work. Rabbi Avishai Teharani, a young, capable talmid hacham, who today presides as a dayan (judge in rabbinic court), was known to have particular expertise in the field of halachic jurisprudence, and undertook the task of researching the halachic queries, filling in gaps and clarifying text that was unreadable or missing. Rabbi Avishai even wrote extensive hearot (footnotes), which he appended to the bottom of each responsum.
Perfecting a Masterpiece
Once the first draft of the work was completed, it was brought back to Brooklyn by Morris and given to Rabbi Moshe Laniado, Hacham (Hacham Moshe Harary’s great-great-grandson from his first wife.) Rabbi Laniado reviewed the draft along with the assistance of Rabbi Yehiel Harari z.s.l. (who, tragically, is no longer with us), Rabbi Yosef Saadeh and Rabbi Shaul Dayan. They made important comments and observations which were sent back to Jerusalem and incorporated into the final draft.
Upon the work’s completion, Morris and his son Danny visited Maran Hacham Ovadia Yosef, shelita, to present the completed, but as yet unpublished work. The Hacham not only graced the visitors with his haskamah (approbation) and personal blessings for the project, he also proposed a name for the monumental work. His suggestion, Pene Moshe was a reference to an observation by the sages of old that, “Pene Moshe kifne hama – Moshe’s face was like the sun.” The Hebrew word hama (sun) spells the acrostic of “Hacham Moshe Harary.”
Last Purim, the first copies of Pene Moshe were printed in Israel and brought back to New York. Since then, numerous copies of the book have been sent to Sephardic scholars, dayanim, and students throughout the world.
During his lifetime, Hacham Moshe made great scholarly and political contributions to the community of Halab in which he lived. Now, 92 years after his passing, with the efforts of his grandson, Morris, his works and writings will continue to guide and instruct Torah scholars, and serve as a lasting testament to the rich Torah heritage of the great sages of Halab.
The Scholar and Diplomat,
Hacham Moshe ben Hacham Yizhak Harary z.s.l.
Hacham Moshe Harary was born in Halab in 5591/1830 to Rabbi Yizhak and Oro Harary. His illustrious rabbinic ancestry traces back to Rabbi Moshe Harary, a famous figure in early 17th-century Halab. His great-grandfather, Rabbi Yizhak Harary, z.s.l., was the author of Shuut Zechor Leyizhak, a seminal work often cited by Hacham Ovadia Yosef.
Hacham Moshe Harary was not only an accomplished Torah scholar, but served also as a diplomat for the Turkish Pasha and was even called upon to address the Spanish Council. Among other things, the power he wielded in this position enabled him, on more than one occasion, to save Jewish girls who were kidnapped and taken to convents. He sent his son Jack (Morris’s father) to demand the girls’ release, threatening that he would otherwise request the Pasha’s personal intervention.
Hacham Moshe’s brilliant scholarship is evident in the responsa recorded in his manuscripts. He corresponded with many of the Sephardic Torah leaders of the time, including Rabbi Hayim Moshe Elyashar, the Rishon Lesion (Chief Rabbi in the land of Israel); Rabbi Yizhak Moshe Aboulafia; Rabbi Rahamim Franco, Av Bet Din (head of the Rabbinical Court) in Hebron; and Rabbi Refael Yizhak Yisrael, Av Bet Din of Jerusalem.
Hacham Moshe married his cousin, Esther, the daughter of Shlomo Harari Raful, a.h., from whom he had two daughters. After her passing, he married Morris’s grandmother, Garaz.
In the early 20th century, during a period of migration from Halab, Hacham Moshe, his wife Garaz and their family moved to Cairo, Egypt. Apparently though, Hacham Moshe disliked the cosmopolitan life of Cairo, which differed from the quaint traditional life in Halab, and so he fulfilled his life’s dream and moved to Jerusalem. He spent his final years in the holy city devoting himself to learning and serving the Jerusalem community.
The rabbi departed this world on 11 Kislev, 5678/1917, and was buried in the Mount of Olives Cemetery. Tragically, after 1948 the Jordanians built a road over the burial site, desecrating it and rendering it inaccessible.
After Hacham Moshe’s death, Garaz returned to Egypt to be with her children, and later moved to New York, where she entrusted the precious manuscripts to Hacham Yaakob Kassin.