The Jewish Eye
Rav Chaim Chizkiya Medini
"If I didn't happen to know that he is alive today I would have thought he was a Rishon!" This is what Rav Betzalel HaKohen had to say about the Sdei Chemed who was niftar just over one hundred years ago in 1904.
The Sdei Chemed was born in 5592/1832 in Yerushalayim. His father was a prominent Talmid Chochom holding the position of a "Shlucha D'Rabbanan"; a fundraiser sent abroad on to collect on behalf of the people of Yerushalyim. After showing great promise in his childhood, at the age of 18 he got married and planned on continuing his learning. However shortly after his marriage his father, who agreed to support him, passed away.
Left with no choice he accepted an offer to take his family to Turkey where his wealthy cousins in Constantinople agreed to support him. The city quickly realized the greatness in their midst and appointed the Sdei Chemed a Dayan to the Bais Din. After spending 13 years in Constantinople financial hardships forced him to accept another job. He took up the position of Rav in Crimea in the city of Karasubazar home to a Jewish community dating back to the second Bais HaMikdash. There he greatly influenced the noble but unlearned population of Jews. He particularly enjoyed the opportunity to spiritually elevate his constituency as he wrote in his sefer.
Aside from writing the Sdei Chemed, one of the highlights of his 33 year tenure in Crimea was the controversy that ensued after the leader of the Karaite community in Crimea claimed that all the Jews of the community were actually Karaites. The Sdei Chemed was able to disprove this theory and save the community from this threat.
Wanting to fulfill his dream of returning to his native homeland of Eretz Yisroel in 1899 the Sdei Chemed parted from his beloved community in Crimea. In Eretz Yisroel after receiving a warm welcome upon his arrival he settled in Yerushalayim with the intention of devoting all his time to learning without distractions. Unfortunately he felt the need to move after only two years after hearing about a plan to appoint him Chief Rabbi. He arrived to Chevron only to share the same fate he ran away from. He was appointed Chief Rabbi after the death of the two leading Rabbonim of the community, Rav Eliyahu Mani and Rav Yosef Franco.
In Chevron he had a tremendous impact in the areas of setting up Yeshivos and chesed operations. His popularity was great among both the Jewish and Arab populations that held him in high esteem, helping relieve much tension from the community. He served as the Rav of Chevron until his petira on 24 Kislev 5665/1904.
The Sdei Chemed wrote his famous 18 volume encyclopedia of Halacha which attributed its widespread acclaim to an incident that happened to him when he was young. In the Kollel he learned there was another fellow who was extremely jealous of the Sdei Chemed's "Hasmada" and his success in his learning. This fellow bribed the young woman, who cleaned the premises, to spread rumors about a relationship she had with the Sdei Chemed. An uproar ensued in the community and the Sdei Chemed remained silent not even answering the charges. Even after the young woman admitted to the Sdei Chemed how his rival set him up he never uttered a word about it even to the fellow who set him up. The Sdei Chemed said that from that day on his mind was opened up to the wellspings of torah like never before and with this divine help he was able to produce his landmark work.
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