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Rav Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel

(1880 - 1953)

Born in Jerusalem, Ben-Zion Ouziel was the son of Rav Yosef Raphael Ouziel, who was president of the Sephardi community's rabbinical court. At age 20, Rav Ben-Zion Ouziel became a yeshiva teacher. In 1911, he became a leader of the Sephardi community in Jaffa, working to raise the status of oriental Jews there. Because of his activity on behalf of persecuted Jews with the Turkish government, he was exiled to Damascus during World War I, but was permitted to return before the arrival of the British army.

In 1921, he was appointed chief rabbi of Salonika for three years, and returned to become chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1923. He became chief rabbi of Israel in 1939.

A leader of the Jerusalem-born Sephardi community and contemporary of Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jaffa, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Rav Ouziel worked unceasingly to raise the status and educational level of Sephardi Jews, while also bringing about better relations with the Ashkenazi community. His motto was “Love, truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19).

When he became the [italics] Rishon Le-Zion or Sephardi Chief Rabbi in 1939, he also became a member of the temporary committee of Jews in Eretz Yisrael, the Va'ad Leumi [National Council] and was present at the meeting which founded the Jewish Agency for Israel. During the British Mandate, he was frequently called upon to represent the Jewish community, impressing even the staunchest critics with his bearing and dignity.

He helped establish two yeshivot: Mahazikei Torah early in his career and Sha'ar Zion later. He wrote extensively for various newspapers and periodicals on religious, community and national topics, as well as Jewish philosophy.

Two days before his death he dictated his last testament: “I have kept in the forefront of my thoughts . . . to disseminate Torah among students, to love the Torah . . . [and] Eretz Yisrael. I have emphasized love for every man and woman of Israel and for the Jewish people as a whole, love for the Lord God of Israel, the bringing of peace between every man and woman of Israel . . . to bring genuine peace into the home of the Jews, into the whole assembly of Israel . . . and between Israel and its Father in Heaven.” He died in 1953.

Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente