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Jewish pilgrimage in Morocco #3 : Raphael Encaoua, the Kingdom’s first Chief Rabbi

Born in Sale, Raphael Encaoua is a Jewish saint who was the President of the High Rabbinical Court of Rabat. Encaoua is known for being the first Chief Rabbi of Morocco during the protectorate.

Rabbi Raphael Encaoua. / Ph. DR
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On August 4, Jews from Morocco and from around the world visit Sale to celebrate the Hiloula of Rabbi Raphael Encaoua. Appointed as Morocco’s Chief Rabbi during the protectorate, Encaoua was President of the Rabbinical Court or Beit Din in Sale.

Raphael Encaoua was born in Sale in 1848 to an «Algerian Jewish» father, Mardochée Encaoua, who became French in 1865, wrote Alcide Darrace, Albert Gephyr de Lapradelle, Jean Paulin Niboyet and Henri Batiffol in their book «Revue Critique de Droit International Privé» (Librairie du Recueil Sirey, 1959).

The book recalls the story of Raphael Encaoua’s grandson who was denied French citizenship because his grandfather «decided to settle down in Morocco and gave up on his French citizenship».

The father of modern Jewish education

The Morocco-born Rabbi dedicated his entire life to the learning of Jewish religious laws, teaching and writing. In 1880, Raphael Encaoua was appointed a «Av Beth-Din of Sale», as to say «President of the Rabbinical Court of the city, replacing his father-in-law who moved to Yeroushalaim to lead the Sephardic community there», according to a blog dedicated to the Rabbi.

«Rabbi Rephael Enkaoua during all these years, will never accept to receive any salary», the same source said. The Rabbi founded a Yeshiva in the city with his own savings. During this time, he became the most celebrated Rabbi of Morocco, as described by Michael M. Laskier in his book «The Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco, 1862-1962» (SUNY Press, 2012).

«He encouraged comprehensive vocational education, and together with the community council, decided to establish a special scholarship fund intended to place young apprentices in vocational centers in Sale».

Michael M. Laskier

In 1912, Morocco was placed under French protectorate. In an attempt to divide Amazigh Moroccans and others of Arab descent, the French asked the Moroccan Jewish community to appoint a representative committee. Rabbi Raphael Encaoua was then named Chief Rabbi of Morocco, a position that he refused several times.

The one who refused to be appointed Chief Rabbi of Morocco

According to Hervat Pinto Foundation, French Resident-General of Morocco Hubert Lyautey was angered by Encaoua’s refusal. «And who made me the Chief Rabbi of Morocco, since there is Rabbi Shlomo ben Danan in Fez, and in there is a Gaon in Marrakech, and there is the Chief Rabbi of Meknes, and in Sefrou there is…! How could you have even thought to choose me instead of one of these Torah greats ?», Encaoua wondered.

Lyautey reportedly insisted that Encaoua «alone would make the best Chief Rabbi of Morocco», adding that «if he absolutely refused to take the position, Morocco would have no Chief Rabbinate».

Rabbi Raphael Encaoua's rabbinical and legal stature, his righteousness, his phenomenal erudition, his strong ties with the protectorate leaders, the royal house and Muslim scholars of his time all contributed to further enhance his fame.

Rabbi Raphael Encaoua died in 1934, leaving behind a large number of works on jurisprudence in addition to several writings on the Talmud. His grave in Rabat is visited by members of the Jewish community in Morocco, as well as Muslims.

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