Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar (1656-1733)

Born in Fez during the month of Elul in the year 5415, Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar was one of the great rabbis of Morocco. He became the Av Beth Din of his city and undertook important decisions aimed at strengthening the spiritual life of his community. For many generations the Jews of Fez remained connected to his teachings, and many are the stories that are told linking his name to miracles.

He left this world in the year 5493 (1733) at the age of 77.

The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai) recounts the following story. One day the Gaon Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar was put into prison and left there until such time as the Jewish community paid what was necessary to free him. This was a common practice in the eastern world in that era. Only at that time, the amount fixed by the governor for his release was too great and in fact way above the capability of the Jewish community to meet. Therefore Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar stayed in prison. Soon afterwards, the cruel governor decided to throw the Rabbi into the lions’ den. Imagine, then, the utter astonishment of the guards when they saw Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar sitting quietly on the ground and pursuing his studies with the lions respectfully crouching around him. As soon as he was informed, the governor liberated the Rabbi and accorded him great respect for as long as he lived.

We as well tell of the following story concerning Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar. In the city of Tunis, a Jew and a Muslim decided to operate a commercial business together. Their work succeeded greater than they had imagined, and the Jew made a great amount of money. As for the Muslim, he didn’t know much about the work or the accounts that his Jewish colleague had set up for him. The Muslim had complete confidence in the Jew and depended on him for all the details of their association together. It follows that he had no reason to complain about the trust that he had put in the Jew, since he saw with his own eyes how well the business was doing. Over the years the non-Jew never demanded his part in the earnings of the business, so much in fact that the amount that the Jew owed him grew ever more. One day, despite everything, the Muslim wanted to leave the business and claim everything owed to him. He informed his colleague, the Jewish merchant, but unfortunately the latter (knowing that the Muslim had no proof of their business association) had the audacity to completely deny everything, including the fact that they were even business partners! The non-Jew was terribly distressed. His Jewish associate had betrayed his trust, and he himself didn’t know how to recoup his money.

Finally, he pressed the Jew to swear that his words were in accordance to the truth and that he didn’t really owe him anything. He didn’t ask him to swear to a simple oath; he asked him to swear by the name of his Rav, Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar. Knowing what the truth was, the Jew refused with all his might to utter the oath. The non-Jew then understood that this refusal represented his opportunity. He understood to what point the name of the Gaon Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar was important in the eyes of his Jewish business partner.

From then on he didn’t leave the Jew in peace or stop insisting that he swear to him as he had requested. The Jew finished by swearing by the life of the Gaon Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar that he owed him nothing now, and that he had never owed him even the least penny. After having thus given his oath, the Jew happily returned home. He therefore rid himself of the presence of the non-Jew, a presence that had weighed heavily upon him. He was happy because he had now taken possession, without the least effort, of the wealth of his former business partner. In fact he was so happy that he decided to offer a Seuda (a dinner) to his family and all his friends. During the course of the meal, the Jew went to the cellar to get some wine in honor of his guests. Unfortunately for him, in leaving the cellar with the bottles in hand he forgot to extinguish the candles that he had lit when he went down. A few moments later a fire started in the cellar and spread to the whole house, and thus all his wealth and unfortunately his children were lost in the flames. When the non-Jew heard the news, he was so affected that he left Tunis, his city, and traveled to Fez in Morocco. There he went to the home of the Gaon Rabbi Yehudah ben Attar with gifts. He entered his home, kissed the hands of the Tzaddik, and told him everything that happened. He insisted that he accept the gifts that he had brought. Of course Rabbi Yehudah refused these gifts, which consisted of money, and the Muslim went and distributed this large sum to tzeddakah and to schools where Torah was taught. For all his life this Muslim publicly recounted his story, and thus the Name of the G-d of Israel was sanctified.




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