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Lot 209

Discovery! Emotional Letter from Rabbi Yeshayah Bardaki to British Consul James Finn

Rabbi Yeshayah was a Pinsk native; he was Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin's primary disciple. He moved to the Land of Israel in 1810 and settled in Safed. He then moved to Jerusalem, and was one of the first Ashkenazim, headed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Sklow, to revitalize the Jerusalem community. He married Rabbi Yisrael of Sklow's daughter in 1823, and inherited the Jerusalem community leadership after his father-in-law's passing in 1839. The consuls appointed him their representative in the city, which granted him much power. As a representative of the consuls, R' Yeshayah was privileged to work alongside the Ottoman government, and he led the community courageously.

When the Crimean War broke out and the yishuv was disconnected from its European sources of support, a crisis developed, as many families were in danger of starvation. Astonishingly, Finn assisted the yishuv and called for friends abroad to send donations. When the funds were found to be insufficient, they were even willing to take loans with high rates of interest! The situation got even worse in the harsh winter of 1854, when the economic situation was compounded by the freezing cold and snowstorm. Finn distributed bread twice a week and he also distributed coal. Hundreds of people streamed to his house to receive bread. Astoundingly, his charity met with the opposition of Rabbi Yeshayah Bardaki. He appealed to the community not to need this assistance as he was concerned that it was fueled by missionary intentions. Finn wrote in his diary (manuscript): March 1, 1854: "Last Shabbat, R' Yeshayah spoke in the synagogue and claimed: due to the sin of taking charity like this from Christians, the coming of messiah is being delayed".

This letter contains the first disclosure of a direct appeal by Reb Yeshayah to Finn in 1860, asking for help "for the dear ... Reb Chaim HaLevi Shapiro ... whom I have known since his arrival here ..."

[1] leaf. 21x14 cm. Scribal script with a handwritten addition in his own hand: מאיתי ידי כסאו, and his Hebrew and English signatures. Fine condition.