Education and Representation: haSepharadi’s Mission
In some respects, the genesis of this journal dates back to my childhood. Attending synagogue with my father, the rabbi’s weekly sermon invariably elicited a response from him: “Poland this, Poland that, this Rov, that Rov… don’t get me wrong I’m sure these are all great rabbis – but maybe we should learn a little about our ḥakhamim?” noting the complete absence of any Sepharadi ḥakhamim in the rabbi’s speech. I am sure the first few times I heard my father’s response I brushed it off. It was not because I did not find it valid, but I did not yet fully internalize the significance of his statement.
I began to understand it the more I began interacting with Ashkenazim and realized how little I knew about my own culture. In many ways, we have been reduced to merely superficial music and food. The significant cultural values and intellectual achievements of the Sephardic world are ignored, many of which are more applicable today than ever. At the time, I myself could not even tell you about Ḥakham Ben-Ṣiyon Meʿir Ḥai ʿUziel, the first Sepharadi Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, but I had the realization:
We learn more about Ashkenazi rabbanim than our own ḥakhamim.
In my teen years and early 20s, I began to devote a lot of time and effort to learning about Sepharadim. However, I wasn’t the only one who did not know about our own culture, it is a pervasive, community wide issue. I would ask my friends who were privileged to attend Sepharadi yeshiḇot growing up- “can you name at least 12 Sepharadi ḥakhamim (with a focus on halakha) from the last 300 years?” Many could not even name five. Though I know this is not the case for everyone, I encourage you to list a few to yourself and even quiz your friends. It is an unfortunate fact, but this is the reality for many Sepharadi children and adults today.
I completely missed what my father was trying to teach me back then, that there needs to be an education reform. A platform to reclaim the Sepharadi outlook of our predecessors and illustrate that we are so much more than a food and music culture.
Some publications are strictly targeted to academics, others seek to provide weekly Tora insights but lack rigorous halakhic analysis, and there is a great need for so much more. Readers are totally unaware of the rich, balanced, and deeply textured literature in Jewish-Arab history that exists for both the scholarly reader and the educated public. How many mass publications celebrate our ḥakhamim and their outlook and interpretation of halakha? Our many varied cultures and histories? Our music traditions and arts? In the years since my childhood, awareness of Sephardic issues has increased significantly. On social media, groups abound on topics ranging from Judeo-Arabic dialects, Western Sephardic traditions, to halakha, piyyuṭim, and more. There is an obvious thirst for a glimpse into the intellectual life of our ancestors.
Here at haSepharadi, we hope to quench that thirst with a dynamic and diverse collection of works on our rich histories and traditions, to both celebrate and preserve our fantastic culture. By providing biographies of Sephardic ḥakhamim and their ideas, analysis of Sephardic books and responsa, and articles discussing the Sephardic tradition, we will restore the Sephardic perspective and highlight the relevance it has for us in the modern world. “Sephardic culture and leadership has reached a critical point,” where we are “losing our sense of self” and our “rich cultural heritage.” We need return to our “roots and from them create an old-new Sepharadi paradigm.”1 This journal aims to be the resource my father never had – the resource I wish I had growing up.
Due to the variable nature of our posts and the wide spectrum of ideas exchanged, we feel it is important to clarify that the thoughts and opinions shared in posts and articles reflect the opinions of the author and are not representative of our contributors as a whole.