- Avraham Shlomo Zalman Zoref

RASHAZ, Zalman Tsoref ("Zalman the Silversmith")

 

On the morning of Hoshana Rabbah [the seventh day of Sukkot] 1811, a small ship arrived at the port of Acre; a tall, handsome, bearded man debarked, accompanied by his wife and their three small children.  This was Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman, known as Zalman Tsoref. 

In years to come, Zalman Tsoref would become the founder of one of the largest Ashkenazi families in Israel. Today his descendents number more than 20,000.

Zalman Tsoref was born in 1789 in the town of Keyden in Lithuania.  Inspired by Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (HaGra), who called upon his disciples to make aliya to the Holy Land, the twenty-year-old Zalman Tsoref decided to go to Jerusalem and make a fresh start.  But unlike most olim to the Holy Land, who wanted to study the Torah only, Zalman was determined to combine Torah studies with craftsmanship. 

And so the family's journey began, in a single-horse wagon.  After a perilous and exhausting journey of five months, they reached Istanbul, where they had to suspend their journey for a few months until the right ship was made available to take them to Eretz Yisrael.  During that time, Zalman learned gold crafting, a skill that would later provide him with his livelihood.  This is how he earned the name Zalman Tsoref ("the goldsmith"). 

Around eight months after their arrival in Istanbul, the right ship was found, and Zalman and his family sailed to the port of Acre.  Upon their arrival, they were informed by the local Jews that they would not be able to settle in Jerusalem; at that time no Jews of Ashkenazi descent were allowed to enter the Holy City. This was because Muslim creditors demanded that the debts left behind by the Ashkenazi community in former years be paid off by any arriving Ashkenazi. 

Left with little choice, Zalman and his family travelled to Zephat and settled there for a short while.

In 1813 a large-scale epidemic spread in the north of the country and many residents fled the region.  Zalman regarded this as an opportunity to make his way to Jerusalem and he convinced around ten families from Zephat to join him.

Dressed as Sephardic Jews, the group stole into the Old City late at night. 

Now settled in Jerusalem, Zalman pursued his Torah studies but also opened a Goldsmith workshop and store. 

Thanks to his talents as an artisan, many clients--Jewish and Arab alike--attended the store; thanks to his pleasant manner, he managed to build personal ties with representatives of all communities, and became known as a peacemaker and a conciliator.

Some time has elapsed, the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem grew rapidly, and disputes began to arise with the Sephardic community over the allocation of donations received from communities in the Diaspora.

Both sides embraced Zalman as their representative, and he travelled to Europe to collect donations to support Jews in both communities, and to ask the great Rabbis of Europe to decide how the money should be divided up.

During this trip Zalman began to raise money also for the purpose of renovating the Ashkenazi synagogue complex "HaKhurba" ("The Ruin") which has burnt down, a cause that was to become the focus of his life.

Zalman Tsoref traveled to Europe many additional times and earned success and the respect of all.  He became one of the leaders of the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem, but was also respected by the Sephardic community.

In the course of his most important trip, Zalman Tsoref reached Egypt and visited its ruler Mohammad Ali.  He managed to obtain from him the firman (royal mandate) he longed for, which would allow him to renovate the HaKhurbah complex and build synagogues there.  He also received an official document annulling the debts of the Ashkenazi community from previous generations.

In 1836 Zalman Tsoref devoted himself to the erection of the Menahem Zion synagogue in HaKhurbah's lot.  Upon its completion Zalman began to prepare the blueprints for a large synagogue near by, despite the objections of Muslim creditors who were hostile to him, and also of Rabbi Bardaki and his followers who wanted to build this synagogue elsewhere.

During that same year Zalman and a group of friends volunteered to help the casualties of a large earthquake in Zephat.  They gave physical assistance, which involved also the rescuing of survivors at great personal risk, and also offered financial aid.  In the next few years Zalman continued to raise money for the needy of various communities, as well as for building institutions and hospitals (especially Bikur Kholim hospital).  Yet he still found time to work as a goldsmith for his livelihood.  His determination to renovate HaKhurbah kindled the hatred of the local Arabs, and it cost him his life.  In 1851 he was murdered near HaKhurbah, and never got the privilege to see the construction of the synagogue.  It was his son Mordecai-- who continued his father's efforts to raise funds and plead for the consent of the Ottoman regime--who in 1864 got to celebrate the inauguration of the Bet Yaakov synagogue, known as HaKhurbah synagogue.

 

Zalman Tsoref's Personality

He was a visionary, but also a practical man.  He achieved many things due to his energy, his many talents, his willingness to pay a personal price, his courage, and his pleasing manner.  During his lifetime, many even attributed to him supernatural qualities. Zalman Tsoref was a leader who put himself in the service of the public.  He was a proud man, without being condescending.  He was proud of his deeds but humble in his relations with others.  He was loved by all who knew him, but he also knew how to be insistent and forceful with his enemies when the situation called for it.