Solomon Gaon was born in Travnik, Yugoslavia in 1912 and studied at the yeshiva in Sarajevo. Both his parents died in the Holocaust. He received his rabbinic ordination from Jews' College in London. In 1949 he became Haham (Chief Rabbi) of the Sephardic congregations of the British Commonwealth. With Alan Mocatta, he is credited with revivifying a declining community. Beginning in 1963 he became involved (initially on a part-time basis) with Yeshiva University in New York, and was integral in the founding of its Sephardic Studies Program.
Dr Gaon's overseas activities were controversial with some members of his London congregation, and he left under difficult circumstances. A 1977 ballot on his retirement as spiritual leader drew 75-75 and was only carried by the deciding vote of the president of the Mahamad (council). His departure deepened the rift within the community. No successor as Haham has yet been elected. Rabbi Abraham Levy (allegedly associated with the faction that removed Gaon) served as "Spiritual Head" until his early retirement in 2012.
After moving to New York, he was also connected with the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation Shearith Israel. In 1968 Dr Gaon delivered the main address at the dedication of the first synagogue consecrated in Spain since the Expulsion of the Jews in 1492. He became a professor at Yeshiva University in 1976, and founded and directed the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies. He served as president of the Union of Sephardic Congregations of the United States and Canada. He received Spain's Prince of Asturias Award for 'Concord' in 1990.
In addition to numerous articles and sermons, Gaon authored:
- Prayer Book for Boys and Girls, 1969
- Haggadah or Order of Services for Domestic Use on the First Two Nights of Passover According to the Rite of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London, 1975
- Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London, (ed) 1980
- Del Fuego: Sephardim and the Holocaust. (ed) with Mitchell Serels, 1987 (978-0872031432)
- The Influence of the Catholic Theologian Alfonso Tostado on the Pentateuch Commentary of Isaac Abravanel Ktav, 1993 (ISBN 978-0881254389)
- Minhath Shelomo: A Commentary on the Book of Prayer of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews Union of Sephardic Congregations, 1990 (ISBN 978-0881253511)
- Jewish Chronicle, 22 December 2011. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/60848/sephardim-hold-crisis-talks-over-rabbi-election
- Jewish Chronicle, 19 April 2012. http://www.thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/66625/abraham-levy-ive-no-resentment-over-decision-retire-early
- Haham Gaon Memorial Volume Ed. Marc Angel, Hermon Press, 1994.