Chacham Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l, On His Yahrtzeit, Today, 19 Tammuz


rav-benzion-abba-shaulAmbulances speeding down Geula’s Malchei Yisroel Street with their sirens wailing are, sadly, not an uncommon sight. Nonetheless, each time the wail of an ambulance was heard in the Geula-based Porat Yosef Yeshiva, its Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Ben Tziyon Abba Shaul, would bless the passing patient with a speedy recovery. Then he would quietly resume his shiur or studies. While it’s impossible to know what effect these particular blessings had, it is well known that Reb Ben Tziyon’s blessings worked miracles.

“Why are your blessings so effective?” a student once asked him.

“Because I really love people,” was his unassuming reply.

This love for his fellow Jew-Ahavas Yisroel-was an inherent part of Reb Ben Tziyon’s every action. His love for others was so great that when he would see young children walking to cheder, their innocence and sweetness would cause his heart to swell with a love for all of Klal Yisroel.

Before going to bed each night, he would forgive all those who had wronged him during the day. He recited the nighttime prayer “I hereby forgive all who angered meÉ” not by rote, but with great sincerity.

Once, someone greatly offended Reb Ben Tziyon. “Did you recite the prayer that night?” a friend asked him.”To tell you the truth,” replied Reb Ben Tziyon, “I found it very hard to forgive him. Twisting and turning in bed, I said, ‘Hashem, my anger is justified. But what should I do? Skip the prayer?’ “Then I sat up in bed and for a long time struggled to judge that person favorably. When I was certain that I no longer bore a grudge against him, I placed my head on the pillow and recited the prayer.”

Reb Ben Tziyon’s formula for developing and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships was based on simple arithmetic: Instead of calculating what others owed him, he would ask, “What do I owe others?” Then, enumerating all of the mitzvos between man and his fellow, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Don’t despise your brother in your heart,” “Don’t bear slander,” “Don’t harbor vengeance,” he would say, “How can I be at odds with people to whom I owe so much?”


As was the case with many Gedolei Yisroel, prior to Reb Ben Tziyon’s birth, miraculous events occurred to his parents. These events seemed to foreshadow the greatness of the child they were destined to usher into the world.

Rav Ben Tziyon’s father, Reb Eliyahu, grew up a small village in Iran. One day, one of the Moslem rulers gave the Jews there an ultimatum: convert or leave the country. Reb Ben Tziyon’s grandfather fled Iran with his family and boarded the first available boat to Eretz Yisroel. But instead of reaching Chaifa’s port, the boat crashed on the shore opposite Eliyahu’s Cave on Mount Carmel.
Rescue squads arrived on the scene and tossed the passengers into rowboats. Reb Eliyahu was also tossed into a rowboat, but he landed in the sea. A non-Jewish sailor noticed the drowning child and dragged him out of the water, saving his life.

After much wandering, the family settled in Yerushalayim, and became followers of Rav Tzadka Chutzin.

Reb Eliyahu later married Banya, a woman who was very devoted to Torah. When her children returned home from talmud Torah, she would hug them and say, “May you become talmidei chachamim.” Her prayers were answered, and all of her children become talmidei chachamim. The fact that the entire family remained Torah observant during a period when many families of Oriental and Sephardic backgrounds were lured into sending their children to Zionist schools was highly unusual. The fact that they became talmidei chachamim was even more so. Reb Ben Tziyon was born in the year 5684, on the 29th of Tammuz, the yahrzeit of Rashi. He studied in the Bnei Tziyon school founded by Rav Moshe Porush. When Reb Ben Tziyon grew older, he helped Rav Porush recruit students for the school, saving many children from spiritual destruction.

As a youngster, he also studied under Rav Yaakov Adas and Rav Tzadka Chutzin. But he reached the height of his spiritual growth in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where he studied under its Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Ezra Attia, his primary mentor. The two were very close, and Rav Attia came to regard Reb Ben Tziyon as his successor.

Whenever Rav Attia came up with a chiddush, he would discuss it with Reb Ben Tziyon and anticipate his reaction. Reb Ben Tziyon, meanwhile, would tremble in awe when he spoke with the rosh yeshiva.


In 5709, Reb Ben Tziyon married Hadassah, the daughter of Rav Yosef Sharbani, a great Torah scholar and son of the kabbalist Rav Yehoshua Sharbani, a student of the Ben Ish Chai.

During that period, there were still no Bais Yaakov schools in Eretz Yisroel, and the Sharabani daughters were considered very unusual in that they wanted to marry Torah scholars. When Hadassah became engaged, people tried to dissuade her from marrying Reb Ben Tziyon because he planned to devote his life to Torah study. But she ignored them. True to her goal, she enabled her husband to study Torah after their marriage even under the most difficult circumstances.

Reb Ben Tziyon earning his living as a teacher at the Bnei Tziyon Talmud Torah. In time, Rav Attia asked him to serve as rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef. But he refused to accept that position as long as his mentor, Rav Yehuda Tzadka, was alive. Instead, he agreed to serve as a Ram at the yeshiva.

In his new role, Reb Ben Tziyon taught Choshen Mishpat and tested the students. He also delivered Torah shiurim in the Ohel Rachel shul, and gave Shabbos lectures to hundreds of prominent young Torah scholars.

Following Rav Tzadka’s passing in 5743, he became Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef Yeshiva, a position he held until his own petira 15 years later.


During Reb Ben Tziyon’s tenure as rosh yeshiva, people came to him not just to learn Torah, but also to receive his blessings and advice.

Once, a father whose son was critically ill came to Reb Ben Tziyon. The doctors had recommended a treatment for his son that was very risky, and he was unsure whether to give them the go ahead to do it.

“Take him out of the hospital,” Reb Ben Tziyon advised him.

The father followed Reb Ben Tziyon’s advice, but it proved to be rather complicated. Taking a seriously ill patient out of the hospital is no simple affair, since in such cases hospitals refuse to release medical records to the patient’s relatives. In this case, the hospital staff went so far as to call in the police, and it was only due to the intervention of a community leader that charges weren’t pressed against the family.

In the end, the child recovered-without the treatment, the consequences of which may have been dire.

Reb Ben Tziyon disagreed with doctors on many different occasions, and his diagnosis would invariably prove to be correct. How was this possible? He never studied medicine, nor did he have access to X-ray machines or ultrasound devices. As the Chovos Halevavos says, “One who lives a life of faith merits to see without an eye, to hear without an ear. His soul sees” (Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh, Ch. 3).

Reb Ben Tziyon also gave advice on family matters. His approach was innovative-and invigorating.

A father whose son had left yeshiva told Reb Ben Tziyon, “My son ‘s a good-for-nothing. He not only roams the streets, but he has even asked me to buy him a motorcycle.”

“Then buy him one!” replied Reb Ben Tziyon.

Though surprised by Reb Ben Tziyon’s reaction, the father decided to heed his advice and bought his son a motorcycle. When the young man saw that his father was reaching out to him, he reacted in kind and eventually returned to yeshiva.


Rav Ben Tziyon’s ability to freely give advice and blessings was a natural outgrowth of his great Ahavas Yisroel. That Ahavas Yisroel was coupled with an equally great sense of humility.

Rav Ben Tziyon Mutzafi, Rosh Yeshiva of the Bnei Tziyon Yeshiva and the son of the kabbalist Rav Suleiman Mutzafi, told the following stories to illustrate Reb Ben Tziyon’s humility:

“In 5723, the Porat Yosef Yeshiva decided that all of its rabbis and teachers had to wear long rabbinical coats. Reb Ben Tziyon was very upset by this decision.

“‘You’ll get used to it. Everyone will wear them,’ his colleagues consoled him.

“‘That’s not the point,’ he replied. ‘How can I wear a rabbinical coat when I am not a talmid chacham?’

“His humility,” Rav Mutzafi continued, “was even more apparent one Purim when, with every sip of wine, secrets seep out. What was the secret he revealed as he fulfilled the mitzva of the day? In front of his guests, he said, ‘Pray for me, my friends. Pray that I merit to know at least one halacha perfectly.’

“The same unassuming, self-effacing manner was evident one evening when someone accidentally locked the doors to the yeshiva’s kitchen,” Rav Mutzafi added. “A hundred and twenty students were destined to go hungry that night, and the bitul Torah would have been great.

“‘What do you suggest we do?’ I asked him.

“Taking some money out of his pocket, Reb Ben Tziyon said, ‘Send a student to the bakery for pitas, and another one to buy falafel balls and some tomatoes.’ A short while later, Reb Ben Tziyon could be seen in one of the rooms, rapidly cutting the pitas and filling them with falafel balls and tomato slices. How stunned the students were when he personally served each a portion, along with wishes to ‘enjoy it.’ With breakneck speed, he finished his work and returned to his studies. That evening, the students studied with added enthusiasm.

“When he recovered from a serious stroke,” Rav Mutzafi concluded, “he nonetheless came to the weddings of his students. At one wedding, his arrival aroused much excitement. Forming circles, the students began to sing ‘Yamim al yemai melech tosif, ‘Add days to the life span of the king.’

“Reb Ben Tziyon felt uncomfortable being honored in that manner. Pointing to the groom, he said, ‘Chosson domeh l’melech-A groom is like a king. They are singing in his honor.'”


When Reb Ben Tziyon spoke about love of Hashem, his eyes would glisten and his face would glow.

In his talks, he would advise his students how to strengthen their fear of Hashem. “Sometimes, a person searches for mitzvos, but doesn’t know that there are hundreds at his fingertips,” he once said. “If he avoids forbidden sights, he can earn hundreds of mitzvos at one time.”

After he recovered from a serious stroke, he told his brother-in-law Rav Reuven Sharbani, “When I was ill, what worried me wasn’t how long I would live, but whether I would be able to stand before the Heavenly Court and account for my deeds.”


Reb Ben Tziyon went to great lengths to honor his parents. During the War of Independence he lived in the Katamon neighborhood. Yet every Friday afternoon he would visit his parents in order to kiss their hands. His parents lived on the other side of town, near the Jordanian border. Later on in the evening, he would walk home in the dark, when it was extremely dangerous to be outside.

This practice was in line with the Arizal’s teaching in Shaar Hakavanos (71b) that one should kiss his parents’ hands every Shabbos.

In addition, on Shabbos mornings, he would walk back to his parents’ neighborhood and pray in the Ohel Rachel shul founded by his father.

The honor he showed his wife, Rebbetzin Hadassah, was also legendary.

He would tell his students, “If a man and woman are deserving, the Shechina rests amidst them. When the Shechina rests in your home, the satan can’t enter it, nor can poverty or illness. Honor your wife with your deeds, your thoughts, your speech. Buy her jewelry and items she likes, speak pleasantly and don’t upset her, think well of her and judge her favorably.”

Reb Ben Tziyon practiced what he preached.


Reb Ben Zion served Hashem with a joy and enthusiasm that was infectious, and that penetrated his halachic rulings and his advice to others.

He once explained the halacha that states that it is forbidden to ask a non-Jew to put out a fire, even if all of one’s possessions are likely to be burned. A student was so enthused by the discussion that he actually envisioned himself in such a situation.

“Kevod Harav,” he called out. “I don’t understand. Am I supposed to sit back and watch while everything I own goes up in smoke?”

“That’s not what I said,” Reb Ben Tziyon replied. “I meant that one should dance, sing and rejoice at having merited to fulfill the verse, “You should love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might (me’odecha). According to our sages ‘me’odecha’ means one’s possessions.”

A newcomer to Torah once feared that the mitzvos would be too burdensome for him. Reb Ben Tziyon encouraged him, saying: “There’s no reason to feel pressured. Every morning, volunteer to serve Hashem. Don’t obligate yourself, but volunteer. Volunteer to put on tefillin. It’s not so hard. Here, let me show you how. Volunteer to pray, adding on more and more prayers each day. It’s a privilege to serve as a volunteer in Hashem’s corps.”


Rav Ben Tziyon Mutzafi describes his experiences as Reb Ben Tziyon’s student:

“Every day, a different student would be called upon to explain the sugya being studied. He had to explain the entire pshat, from its beginning in a very precise and comprehensive manner, paying attention to each Talmudic shakla and tarya. He also had to explain the reasoning of the one who asked the question and that of the one who provided the solution, as well as why it was impossible to resolve it otherwise.

“He also had to know the Rashi, and not to skip a word, because there are no extra words in Rashi. He had to understand Tosfos, as well as why Tosfos differed from Rashi, and how Rashi would stand up to Tosfos’ challenges. ‘Every question has an answer,’ he would say. ‘You must find it.

“Studying Maharsha was a central and important part of the lesson. Sometimes, Reb Ben Tziyon wouldn’t state his opinion on the sugya until we had studied the Maharsha.

“He taught us to probe the pshat and its many ramifications. During one lesson, he asked an explosive question. We sat there, our mouths agape. Suddenly, he stated two brilliant answers, and then a straightforward one. He remained silent for a few moments and then said, ‘Know that the third answer is the only true one The two others have external luster. I told them to you only in order to teach you not to be dazzled by glitter, but only by the pshat. It must be absolutely true.'”

Although Reb Ben Tziyon was well known for his brilliance and clarity of thought, he tried to remain unobtrusive and did not rush forward to issue halachic rulings. Until the passing of Rav Ezra Attia, he refused to issue halachic rulings even to his students or close acquaintances, out of respect for his mentor.

After Rav Attia’s passing, he would discuss his halachic  opinions with his students, but only on a private basis. One day, Rav Yehuda Tzadka, the Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, decided to put an end to all that, and began to refer people to Reb Ben Tziyon, telling them that he was a great halachic authority whose rulings they should heed. He would say, “Reb Ben Tziyon will refuse to issue a ruling. But don’t give in.”

Reb Ben Tziyon, who was a bit stymied by all this, asked Rav Tzadka how he should relate to people who asked him halachic questions. Rav Tzakda urged him, “You are well versed in halacha. Why shouldn’t you issue rulings?”

It was in this way that Rav Ben Tziyon’s ability to become a great halachic authority was brought to light.


Reb Ben Tziyon was careful not to waste a moment of precious Torah study time. One morning on his way to yeshiva, he saw a student examining a billboard poster. Suddenly, Rav Ben Tziyon cried out: “SOS!  SOS!” and continued on his way. The student ran after him and breathlessly asked, “What happened? Who needs help?”

“The entire world,” Reb Ben Tziyon replied. “If you don’t study Torah the world will be destroyed. If you were an ambulance driver or a paramedic, and were summoned to save a life, would you stop to read the latest announcements? As a ben Torah your job is far more vital, because the world is maintained only in the merit of Torah study.”


Even though Reb Ben Tziyon was humble and preferred spending his time within the four cubits of the halacha, he did not hesitate to involve himself in communal affairs, especially in battles over religious matters.

He was one of the leaders in the battle over the preservation of the sanctity of Shabbos, and he bravely protested mixed swimming pools and post-mortem operations.

In 5732, he was at the forefront of the battle against mandatory army service for girls. Along with Rav Yehuda Tzadka, he drafted a halachic ruling declaring that mandatory army service for girls was in the category of “be killed and do not transgress.” The text of his ruling was sent to all of the Torah sages in the country, and was signed by 400 Gedolei Yisroel.

Reb Ben Tziyon was also a leader of Sephardi Jewry not just in Eretz Yisroel, but also in countries around the world. He traveled to Iran, England, Italy, France, South America, Mexico, Panama, Columbia and the United States, strengthening the Sephardic Jews of those countries. He founded rabbinical courts for them and provided them with shochtim, mohalim and rabbanim, thwarting assimilation and the influence of heretical streams.

In 5743, while delivering a eulogy at the funeral of Rav Yaakov Mutzafi, he suddenly felt ill. A short while later, he suffered a stroke. (He had previously suffered a heart attack.) Although he recovered, part of his body remained non-functional. But this situation did not prevent him from spreading Torah and from involving himself in public affairs.

Above all, Reb Ben Tziyon devoted his energies to the education of Jewish children, personally founding scores of talmud Torahs throughout Eretz Yisroel. He regarded strengthening the education of the younger generation as his primary goal.

Reb Ben Tziyon, together with Rav Yehuda Tzadka and Rav Ovadia Yosef, founded the Maayan Hachinuch HaTorani, a federation for hundreds of Sephardi talmud Torahs throughout Eretz Yisroel. He considered this enterprise his life’s work, and in its early stages, subsidized it himself.

One time, he saw a school bus stopping beside a talmud Torah. As the children gleefully poured out of the bus, he said to the person accompanying him, “Did you see how the doors of that bus opened? It reminds me of the opening of the Aron Kodesh, upon the removal of a Torah scroll. I’ m jealous of that driver. Those children are heading toward Har Sinai now, where they will receive the Torah.”


After he had suffered his stroke and was confined to his home, the Hanhallah of Lev L’Achim paid him a visit before their annual asifa in Bnei Brak. They explained to the Rav that they realized that he would be unable to come and speak, since he could barely get around and speech was also very difficult for him. The rabbonim suggested that he send his son in his stead to say a few words of greeting in his name.

He refused. Slowly and with great difficulty he said to them that, “if the organization which does so much for hatzolas Yaldei Yisroel is holding an asifa, I can not stay home. I must be there.” And with extreme mesiras nefesh, he came. He was carried into a car, and from the car, and entered the large hall in a wheelchair.

Rav Aron Leib Shteinman had already left the dais of the gathering to return home when he was told that Rav Abba Shaul was on his way from Yerushalayim. He returned to the dais, saying ‘how can I leave if Rav Ben Tziyon is coming? I must stay and wait for him to be mechabed him.’


On the last night of Reb Ben Tziyon’s life, one of the great roshei yeshiva of our times phoned and asked him a very important question. The following day, the rosh yeshiva called back for a reply. From the weeping of Reb Eliyahu, Reb Ben Tziyon’s only son, the rosh yeshiva understood what had occurred.

The funeral of Rav Ben Tziyon Abba Shaul, which took place on 19 Tammuz, 5758, was attended by masses of Jews from all circles and sects. A brief glance at the list of rabbis who delivered eulogies at the funeral and during the shiva week indicates that they represented the entire spectrum of chareidi Jewry. At the funeral, everyone bemoaned the great loss to the Klal Yisroel.

Reb Eliyahu, his son, was one of those who delivered a eulogy.

“My father,” said Reb Eliyahu, “did not belong to a particular circle. He was linked to Klal Yisroel. He drew everyone closer and loved all. He shared the suffering of the community, grieved over its pain, participated in its sorrow and rejoiced on its happy occasions. Everyone who encountered him felt a close kinship with him, and Klal Yisroel’s love for him was complete and genuine. Everyone loved him and Jews from all circles came to pay him final respect.”

On the last day of shiva, a miracle occurred. A car loaded with explosives was placed in the center of Yerushalayim. Suddenly, the car went up in flames. People rushed over to save the driver, not realizing that the car had been full of explosives-or that the driver had been a terrorist.

Had the bomb exploded in the town’s center as the terrorist had intended, an enormous disaster would have occurred.

We don’t know what happened to all those patients in the ambulances that sped past the Porat Yosef Yeshiva and received Reb Ben Tziyon’s blessings. We also don’t know what went on in Heaven at the end of the shiva after his passing. But we can surmise.

{This article originally appeared in Yated Ne’eman}

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  1. Thank you. I have not been fortunate to learn about many of the great sefardi Rabbanim that graced Eretz Yisroel.

  2. To ey yid: If you have not be fortunate to learn enough about Sephardi Rabbanim I was once at a house in Queens and I was introduced to 3 books written by a young author – Yehuda Azoulay and currently writes on Sephardic Rabbanim very well. see his website to buy the book – Hatzlacha!

  3. It is wonderful to see Matzav highlighting the legacies of outstanding Sephardic Hakhamim. However, it seems incongruous to sing the praises of how a Sephardic Rav conducted himself on “Shabbos” rather than “Shabbat”, or to describe him as saying “a chosson” rather than “a chatan”.


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