The death of a Karaite Hacham

The Death of a Karaite Hacham

In Memory of Mordecai Avraham Alfandari

Mordecai Avraham Alfandari, the restorer of Karaism and a great teacher to the nations, may he find rest in Eden, died on September 1, 1999. He was 69 years old when he died and he lived in Jerusalem for 49 of those years. Born Marc Alfandari, in New York City to a Greek Jewish mother and a Turkish Jewish father who had fled from the Turkish draft. His parents had immigrated to New York, the city where he grew up and discovered YHWH, the Tanach and his mission in life. At the age of 9 he read a Historical novel set in the reign of King David. He asked his father about the god named "Jehovah" which the characters in the book kept talking about. His parents told him that Jehovah was the god of a Christian cult in Brooklyn (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and that Jews didn’t believe in him. He soon discovered that what they said was not true and from that day forward he searched for YHWH’s truth. After studying in a Rabbinical Yeshivah and reading Karaite books in the New York Public Library he arrived at the simple truth that the only true religion was the religion of the Hebrew Scriptures. While still in New York he began to publish pamphlets calling on Gentiles to abandon their false gods and return to YHWH. At first, he preached that Gentiles should keep the 7 Commandments of Noah but he soon learned that these were a Rabbinical invention and that the Commandments of the Tanach were for all mankind. He believed Israel should be a «Light unto the Nations» and he began to publish tracts to the nations under the title «The Light of Israel».

In 1950 Mordecai immigrated to Israel and settled in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he studied at the famous Porat Yosef Yeshivah for several years. After a government training course he got a job at a factory as a diamond polisher and he worked in that profession until 1993. Every night after a full days work he would come home and spend hours reading scholarly books, corresponding with people in all parts of the world, and sending out his tracts.

When he first arrived in Israel he met the handful of Karaites then in Jerusalem including the Sinani family native to Jerusalem and a Karaite immigrant from Halicz named Mordecai (Marc) Abramovitch. When the first big wave of Karaites came from Egypt in 1954 he went to Moshav Masliah to great them and welcome them to their new country. At first they treated him with suspicion. Yet still he persisted and taught Torah to the Karaites. He introduced the Hachamim to many ancient Karaite books which they had not been aware of including Hizzuk Emunah (which Harav Hayyim Levy republished on Mordecai’s advice), Sefer Milhamot Hashem, and others.

When Mordecai saw the Egyptian Karaites eating the non-Kosher ‘Alyah (sheep’s fat-tail) he showed them where this was forbidden in the Torah and explained how historically the Karaite Hachamim always noted this as one of the commandments which the Karaites keep and the Rabbanites do not. At first this was met with resistance and his life was even threatened but eventually the Egyptian Karaites realized that Mordecai was right and stopped eating the non-Kosher ‘Alyah. In the years 1956-1958 Mordecai also published a Karaite Newsletter in Hebrew called «Ha’Or» («The Light») in which he called upon the Karaites and other Jews to keep the commandments of the Tanach and to live up to their obligation to be a «Light unto the Nations».

After the Egyptian Karaites settled in Israel, Mordecai began spending every holiday with them. Since there was no Karaite synagogue in Jerusalem at the time he would stay with a Karaite family, usually in Moshav Masliah. He became very good friends with the Karaite Chief Hacham, Emanuel Mass’oudah, and he used to spend every holiday at the Mass’oudah home.

After the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated from the Jordanians in 1967 Mordecai went to the Jewish Quarter to find the ancient Karaite Synagogue in ruins with the roof caved in and full of rubble. He watched as the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt and wondered when the Karaite Community would rebuild the ancient Karaite synagogue. After several years he saw nothing was being done so he borrowed a camera from a friend and took pictures of the mound of rubble where the synagogue had once stood. He then published a letter with a picture of the ruined synagogue and circulated it among the Karaites who were moved at seeing the ancient synagogue in such a state. Eventually, his efforts had an effect and the Synagogue was rebuilt. After the Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem was rebuilt Mordecai attended regularly. At the Synagogue he met visitors from all over the world who came asking about Karaism and for many years he served as the only guide to those seeking to become Karaites.

Throughout the years Mordecai traveled to many distant lands and spent much time in his father’s native Istanbul. He learned several languages including English, Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, French, and others. All these he spoke and read fluently in addition to his mother tongue, Judeo-Spanish, which was the only language his Greek mother and Turkish father had in common. He was a great man and a great friend and the world will be empty without him.

In Memory of Mordecai Avraham Alfandari, The Light of Israel

Oh how the might have fallen;

The glory of Israel lies slain on the highlands!

The winding alleys wail at their bereavement;

No more shall the wise man walk through them.

The Jewish Quarter is desolate and the Shuk has fallen silent;

Geulah, Zephaniah St., and Bukharim all mourn their loss.

No longer shall wisdom be taught in Kikar Davidka;

No more shall Torah be heard on Navon Street.

The sky is gloomy and the sun hides in shame;

for The Light of Israel has been extinguished.

Mordecai was a just man

and perfect in his generations,

and Mordecai walked with God.

May His Memory be Blessed.

by Nehemia Gordon