RENASSIA, YOSSEF (1879–1962), Algerian rabbi. Renassia was a dayyan (rabbinical judge) in *Constantine, *Algeria, the chief rabbi of the community, and a primary force behind all types of Jewish education in that community. He was a significant figure in the entire Algerian Jewish community.
He wrote some 130 works covering the entire spectrum of Torah literature. His major efforts were devoted to translating into Judeo-Arabic and writing biblical commentaries.
Among his translations were the entire Mishnah (Nishmat Kol Ḥai), *Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (Orah ve-Simḥah – Sefer ha-Rambam, for which he received the Zadok Kahn award in 1961), and Isaac *Alfasi's commentary on the Talmud (Sefer ha-Rif).
Renassia also wrote works on history and belles lettres and edited the legends of the Talmud (Ben-David, 1923), translating them into Judeo-Arabic. He was the author of commentaries on biblical topics and responsa literature. He edited dictionaries as learning aids for students of Talmud and Arabic, French, and Hebrew and popularized basic works from the realm of Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah.
His educational approach was non-elitist seeking to reach everyone, from the uneducated to the advanced scholar. With that in mind he translated into the most commonly used dialect and into the derush, which was the sermonic style used in most synagogues.
Renassia's educational philosophy was based on the idea that one must develop students who become familiar with a wide range of subjects at an elementary level so that they continue on to specialization in those to which they are attracted. A direct result of this was that the Eẓ Ḥayyim yeshivah which he headed was home to a large number of students.
He had a unique attitude to modernity, not rejecting it but applying a selective openness. Renassia knew French very well, served in the French army, and was well acquainted with the basics of French culture, even though he absorbed only those elements he considered positive or worthy of being adopted. His main thrust was on Jewish cultural content which he felt was necessary for the maintenance of Jewish life in the Diaspora.
Upon Algeria's independence in 1962 he emigrated to Israel and at no time linked his destiny to the French people or to Jewish bodies loyal to France, such as the Consistoire or the Alliance, although he did not dissociate or alienate himself from them.
His approach to family, conversion, and observance of the commandments is rooted in his general attitude towards modernity. He felt that the solution to the processes of erosion wearing away the Algerian Jewish communities was in proper Jewish education which should be aimed at emigration to Israel. He acted tolerantly towards the problems of Jewish society as he understood – but did not condone – that it was going through gradual processes of secularization and abandonment of traditional values.
He favored a streamlined, convenient process of conversion, more so than the other Algerian rabbis, particularly after World War II. He thought that the phenomenon of conversion after the Holocaust was akin to a miracle and should be encouraged.
Renassia's correspondence with President Izhak Ben-Zvi was crucial to the saving of his works, since he used to send a dedicated copy of each to the president. If it had not been for that, it is doubtful whether it would have been possible to collect his writings, which were in threat of being lost after 1962.
All of his works are available in Jerusalem at the Jewish National and University Library, the Yad Izhak *Ben-Zvi Institute, and the Gei Yinnasei Institute, established in Jerusalem in his name and memory.
J.L. Allouche and Laloum, Les Juifs d'Algérie (1968); Y. Charvit, Un Voyage sur un Rocher – Constantine (1990); idem, "Ha-Ḥinnukh ha-Yehudi be-Konstantin (Algeria) be-Idan Temurot 1837–1939," M.A. thesis (1986); J. Fraenkel, "L'Imprimerie Hébraïque à Djerba (étude bibliographiques)," Ph.D. thesis (1982); E. Tirosh Beker, "Fonologia u-Ferakim be-morfologiyyah shel tirgum le-sefer tehilim be-Aravit Yehudit mi Konstantin (Algeria)," M.A. thesis (1988).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.