Chaim Nahum

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Chaim Nahum with President Muhammad Naguib in 1953

Chaim (Haim) Nahum Effendi (Hebrew: חיים נחום‎; Arabic: حاييم ناحوم‎) (1872–1960) was a Jewish scholar, jurist, and linguist of the early 20th century. He was born in 1872 in Manisa. He was sent by his parents to a yeshiva in Tiberias, after which he studied at a French lycée for his secondary education and obtained a degree in Islamic law in Istanbul. Thereafter, he attended a rabbinical academy in Paris, from which he received his semicha. At the same time, he studied linguistics, history, and philosophy at the Sorbonne's school of oriental languages.

Upon his return to Istanbul, Nahum occupied various teaching positions, including at the Turkish military academy. While there, he became acquainted with many of the leaders of the Young Turk movement, who gained power in 1908.

In 1909 Nahum succeeded Moses Levi as Hakham Bashi, or chief rabbi, of the Ottoman Empire. During the peace negotiations following Turkish War of Independence that followed World War I, Nahum was a member of the Turkish delegation that signed the Lausanne Treaty. For his services to the Turkish government he was given the title of efendi.

In 1923 he received an invitation from Moise Cattaoui Pasha, head of the Jewish community of Cairo, to become chief rabbi of Egypt. He was appointed a Senator of Egypt's Legislative Assembly and was a founding member of the Royal Academy of the Arabic Language. Among his many scholarly works was a translation into French of all Ottoman firmans, or edicts, sent to the governors and rulers of Egypt by the Sublime Porte from the Turkish conquest of Egypt in 1517 until the late 19th century.

As Chief rabby of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Postcard.

His works on the history of the Egyptian community are of particular import. In 1944 he helped to reconstitute the Société d'Etudes Historiques Juives d'Egypte (Society for the Historical Study of the Jews of Egypt) and served as its honorary head. Rabbi Nahum was also active in international affairs, assisting in the establishment of contacts between Jews throughout the world. He visited Ethiopia and arranged for several Ethiopian Jews to study in Egypt. Until the German occupation of Rhodes, he was a great supporter of the Sephardic yeshiva on the island and sent many young men to study there.

The creation of Israel in the late 1940s led to increased economic and political hardship for Egypt's Jewish community. Hundreds were arrested and interned for "Zionist activity". Jewish businesses were confiscated, Jewish bank accounts frozen, and exit visas could be approved only by a special government agency for Jewish affairs. Nahum attempted to ameliorate the effect of these developments for his community with mixed success.

In 1947 Nahum was ordered by the Egyptian government to publicly denounce the Zionist movement. His denunciations, such as they were, were so vague and short as to be meaningless. He utterly refused to have prayers recited in Egyptian synagogues for the victory of Egyptian forces over the fledgling State of Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Around 1950, at age 78, Nahum became totally blind, but continued to carry on his duties as best he could. He continued to officiate at the Shaar Ha Shamayim synagogue, and could give long quotations from the Hebrew Bible and rabbinical texts from memory. However, he became greatly depressed by what he realized was the inevitable decline of Egyptian Jewry. Suffering from increasingly severe medical ailments, he finally succumbed in 1960 at the age of 88. He was buried at the Bassatin cemetery outside Cairo. Nahum's funeral was attended by thousands, including many Muslims and Christians.

In the decades that followed, much of the cemetery was vandalized and desecrated. Rabbi Nahum's tomb is now inhabited by squatters.

Publications[edit]

  • La vie Juive en Babylonie entre les 3eme et 8eme siecles (1900)
  • Sept mois en Abyssinie, etude historique sur les Falachas (1909)
  • La Litterature Karaite en Turquie (1912)
  • Traduction Francaise Commentee de 1064 firmans imperiaux ottomans concernant L'Egypte de 1517 (1932)

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Jewish titles
Preceded by
Moses Levi
Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire
1909–1920
Succeeded by
Shabbetai Levi
Preceded by
Masoud Haim Ben Shimon
Chief Rabbi of Egypt
1925–1960
Succeeded by
Haim Douek