Rabbi Raphael Encaoua

Rabbi Raphael Encaoua

In 1912 Morocco became a French Protectorate, and it was the French (with Marshal Lyautey at their head) who were the real leaders of the country. The French demanded that the Jews name a committee to represent their community, and at its first session it was decided to ask Marshal Lyautey to establish the position of Moroccan Chief Rabbi to represent the Jewish community before the new government. In addition, it was decided that this position would be entrusted to Rabbi Raphael Encaoua, who was then the head of the Rabbinical Court of Sale.

The French authorities agreed to these requests, and representatives of the Jewish community went to see Rabbi Raphael Encaoua to inform him of his nomination. When he heard this, however, he jumped up and angrily exclaimed, “And who made me the Chief Rabbi of Morocco, since there is Rabbi Shlomo ben Danan in Fez, and in there is a Gaon in Marrakech, and there is the Chief Rabbi of Meknes, and in Sefrou there is…! How could you have even thought to choose me instead of one of these Torah greats?”

The members of the committee attempted to justify themselves by saying that it was Marshal Lyautey who had appointed him to the position. However he began to scold them: “How could a non-Jew have chosen me from among all these great sages? Only the Rabbanim are qualified to choose the most eminent among themselves. For that reason, you must tell Marshal Lyautey that I am not suitable for the job,” he humbly concluded.

The committee members went back to Marshal Lyautey and told him that Rabbi Raphael did not accept the position and that he should choose another man. When Marshal Lyautey heard what Rabbi Raphael had said, he decided that he alone would make the best Chief Rabbi of Morocco. And if he absolutely refused to take the position, Morocco would have no Chief Rabbinate.

Once again the committee members went to find Rabbi Raphael and informed him of the governor’s decision, explaining to him that this position was very important for the Jews of Morocco and that no one had the right to renounce it. The Rav asked that he be given some time to think about it, and after a week he went to Fez and met with Rabbi Shlomo ben Danan, the head of the rabbinical court. Rabbi Shlomo was an extremely learned Posek, and he had written several books of Halachah, including his responsum Bikesh Shlomo and Asher LiShlomo.

Rabbi Raphael told him that he had been offered a position that he was not entitled to. However he felt that it was suitable for him, Rabbi Shlomo, which is why he came to see him, for he tried to convince him to become the Chief Rabbi of Morocco. He suggested that Rabbi Shlomo be the first to sign all rulings that would emerge from the country’s top rabbinic court. The difference in salary between the position that he presently held and that of Chief Rabbi would be refunded to him as well, for Rabbi Raphael (who would obtain this difference from the government) would reimburse it to him. As regards outside appearances, Rabbi Raphael would be the Chief Rabbi of Morocco, and those rulings issued by the Rabbinical court that were translated into French would be signed first by Rabbi Raphael, then by Rabbi Shlomo.

After hours of discussing the matter, with each trying to convince the other that, in fact, the other was greater and better qualified for the position, Rabbi Raphael’s opinion eventually won out. However Rabbi Shlomo only agreed on condition that the difference between his present and new salary would go to paying the expenses incurred by his move from Fez to Meknes, and other such costs. That condition was agreed to.

After several years, people noticed that all the rulings of these two Tzaddikim were unsigned. Apparently, there was a difference of opinion over who should sign first. As for the money that Rabbi Raphael reimbursed to Rabbi Shlomo, the latter protested it should actually go to Rabbi Raphael, yet because of the costs that he incurred by moving, he found himself obliged to use it.

The following story illustrates Rabbi Raphael’s great modesty:

Someone once saw Rabbi Raphael going to pray in another synagogue in order to pay tribute to an important family. Naturally, his arrival in the synagogue was viewed with great honor, and when the Torah reading began the Chazan called out: “May our teacher and Rav arise, the crown of our head, the Gaon and flawless Dayan, a man humble and righteous…” along with other such accolades.

Rabbi Raphael did not move from his place when he was called up. Since everyone believed that he had not heard the Chazan’s invitation, he was told that he had been called up to the Torah. He softly replied that he had heard what the Chazan had said, but that such a description did not refer to him. The Chazan was describing someone else, and Rabbi Raphael refused to move until the Chazan called out again and invited Rabbi Raphael Encaoua, without further qualification, to come up to the Torah.




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