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The name Farhi is associated with a family of financiers in Damascus of Sephardi origin during the 18th and 19th centuries. The family arrived at Damascus from Aleppo in mid-18th century. Members of this family held the position of ṣarrāf (“banker”) in the province of Damascus during the 1740s and possibly even earlier. It appears that members of this family also served as officials in the financial administration of the province and during the 1790s the bookkeeping of the provincial treasury was entrusted to them. The status and power of this family reached its climax during the 19th century, when the responsibility for the affairs of the treasury of the provinces of Damascus and Sidon – the center of which was in Acre – was handed over to one of its members. The family could then undertake the financing of large-scale projects, including participation in the financing of the ḥajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) expenses, which was within the domain of the governor of the Damascus Province as the organizer of the ḥajj caravan.

The first member of this family to consolidate his position in Damascus was SAUL (Shihada) FARḤI who lived there in the second half of the 18th century. His position in the financial administration of the province enabled him to intervene with the governor of Damascus in favor of the Christians. In 1770 he was a very wealthy man and had good connections with prominent people in Istanbul. Solomon Farḥi, probably the father of Saul, died after torture in 1794.

The sons of Saul were RAPHAEL (died in Damascus, 1845), MOSES (died in Damascus, c. 1830), MENAḤEM (died in Damascus, c. 1830), JOSEPH (died in Damascus, c. 1830), and ḤAYYIM (died in Acre, 1820). RAPHAEL and JOSEPH inherited his position in Damascus and their cousin SOLOMON (Salmon) FARḤI also shared their importance. The third son, ḤAYYIM, entered the service of Aḥmad al-Jazzār Pasha, the governor of the province of Sidon who had fixed his residence in Acre in about 1790. He held the position of ṣarrāf and was responsible for the treasury affairs during most of al-Jazzār’s rule (until 1804). He distinguished himself during the stand of Acre against Napoleon’s armies in 1799. His brother MOSES was his assistant. In 1804 Ḥayyim was imprisoned, but on the death of al-Jazzār he was set free. He immediately joined in the struggle for al-Jazzār’s succession as a supporter of Suleiman Pasha. Suleiman achieved the position of governor in 1805 due to the assistance of Ḥayyim who intervened in his favor in Constantinople. Suleiman had complete confidence in Ḥayyim, and he gave him a free hand in the administration and its finances. The Suleiman period (until 1818) was one of consolidation for Ḥayyim and the family in general, especially after Suleiman was also appointed governor of Damascus. Ḥayyim Farḥi also chose Suleiman Pasha’s successor, ʿAbdallah Pasha, whom he had helped rise to the position of ketkhudā (or kaḥya; administrative director) under Suleiman from 1814. In practice, Ḥayyim was the governor of the province from 1818. However, the thirst for power of ʿAbdallah and the presence of men who slandered Ḥayyim before ʿAbdallah brought about his downfall and he was executed (1820) at the height of his glory. This was the first blow to strike the family. Ḥayyim’s brothers attempted to avenge him and they participated in the war waged against ʿAbdallah by the governor of Damascus. Because of its financial power, the family nevertheless continued to hold on to its firm position in Damascus, and Raphael Farḥi was the chief sherif in Damascus. Raphael’s children were David (died in Damascus, 1907), Aslan (born in 1828), Polica, and Meir. Meir had three sons: Moses, Solomon, and Jacob. The son of Aslan was Joseph Farḥi who died in Beirut in 1840. There is a letter from the Farḥi family to Moses Montefiore from 1849 signed by Menaḥem Farhi; Judah, Meir, and David, the sons of Raphael Farḥi; Ezekiel, Nathaniel, and Aaron, the sons of Joseph Farḥi; and Solomon, the son of Joseph Farḥi. In that year Montefiore lodged in the house of Isaac Ḥayyim Farḥi. The Egyptian conquest of Syria at the beginning of the 1830s struck a decisive blow at the family, both in relation to its financial matters and its influence in the town. In 1834 the family lost its positions in the financial administration and that of ṣarrāf, and only a few of its members remained on the staff of the treasury and in the leadership of the Jewish millet. However, with the return of Ottoman rule in Syria in 1840, one of the members was again appointed to the direction of the treasury administration, even though the family could not regain its former financial power. During the 18th and 19th centuries the family members were the rivals and opponents of powerful Christian families and sometimes found themselves in a perilous situation because Muslim governors wanted to dismiss them from their positions. The new rivals of the Farḥi family in Damascus were the members of Albaḥri family. At the time of the Damascus Affair the family lost its political influence and some of its members were imprisoned. Aslan Farḥi confessed because he was afraid of torture.

As was the case with other wealthy Jewish families, the Farḥis also played a role in fostering spiritual life and financial support of the needy. Ḥayyim Farḥi was a particularly generous donor to synagogues both in Damascus and in Acre. He owned the magnificent Farḥi Bible, which was named after him. After his execution it came into the possession of the British consul in Damascus, and it was only restored to the family nearly a century later. They established family religious trusts for the benefit of yeshivot and kolelim, supported scholars, assisted the needy, and arranged for employment in their offices. They also initiated relations between the Jews of Damascus and Palestine and those of Constantinople. As for the relations between the Jews and the government, there is no definite evidence of their intervention, except for some vague evidence concerning a tax exemption for the Jews of Safed. After the death of Ḥayyim, there was a quarrel over his estate in the Farḥi family, which began in 1833 and continued for many years. The struggle was between the sons of Raphael and their cousins Joseph Hai and Nissim Farḥi, the sons of Menaḥem. Rabbi Jacob Antebi, the chief rabbi of Damascus, wrote a decision in 1833, but Moses, the brother of Hayyim Farhi, and, after the death of Moses, who lived in Acre, his sons Mordecai and Menaḥem rejected the decision. They were supported by Rabbi Ḥayyim Nissim Abulafia of Tiberias. Rabbi Abraham Ḥayyim Gagin, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, defended the decision of Rabbi Antebi. Moses Montefiore and Ẓevi Hirsch Lehren also intervened. In 1847 the rabbis of Damascus wrote about the activity of Judah and David, the sons of Raphael Farḥi, against Isaac Ḥayyim Farḥi, the son of Solomon, who was the translator of the French consul in Damascus. His relative David Farḥi became the Turkish scribe of the French consul, and Nathaniel Farḥi was the treasurer of the consulate. Meir, the brother of Ḥayyim Farḥi, was murdered in 1822. He had married his second wife in 1818 and she bore him his only son, Isaac Ḥayyim. The interior of the house of the Farḥi family in Damascus was very elegant. In later generations the Farḥi family settled in Beirut, Paris, Italy, South America, and Israel. In 1854 Meir Farḥi was appointed sherif in Damascus, but was later dismissed. Also in 1854 Nissan Farḥi was appointed the representative of the Jews in the Mejlis of Damascus.


Ben Zvi, Ereẓ Yisrael, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: F. Librecht, in: Magazin fuer die Literatur des Auslandes (1850), 461–63, 503–4; T. Philipp, in: Cathedra, 34 (1985), 97–114; E. Shochetman, in: Asufot, 6 (1993), 161–209; idem, in: Asufot 11 (1998), 281–308; Y. Harel, Bisfinot shel Esh la-Ma’arav, Temurot be-Yahadut Surya bi-Tekufat ha-Reformot ha-Ottomaniot 1840 – 1880 (2003), index; J.M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1969), 101, 338.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.