Religious Life in Monastir
Across the Jewish world, Monastir was renowned for its rabbis, dayanim (religious court judges) and chachamim (wise men), only a few of which can be mentioned here.
At the end of the 15th century, David Ben Lev came to the city, and in 1500 his son Joseph was born – the Maharival (Rabbi Joseph Ben David Even Lev, 1505-1580) – one of the greatest rabbis and poskim (religious arbitrators) of his generation. He left the city by 1534 and moved to Saloniki, where he headed the religious courts. Many religious questions were directed to him, and the Maharival’s Responsa was printed in 1726 in Amsterdam. He died in 1580.
In the 1520s, Diego Pires, an immigrant from Portugal, known by his Hebrew name Shlomo Molcho, settled in Monastir for a while. His book Sefer Hamefo’ar contains messianic sermons as well as his “prophecy” that the year 1540 would be the year of redemption and herald the end of days. Molcho attached himself to the false messiah David Reuveni, and eventually they both fell victim to the Spanish Inquisition.
Among the notable rabbis of Monastir was Rabbi Shlomo Ben Avraham Hacohen, known by the acronym Maharshach (c.1420-1602). On arrival in the city he was already well versed in Jewish law, and much of his responsa influenced the Jews of the city. Also presiding in the city were Rabbi Joseph Arueti and Rabbi David Luca, (d. 1577).
In the 1580s, Rabbi Benjamin Gascon presided in Monastir. He passed many edicts, including forbidding the Jews of the city and of Belgrade to trade at fairs during Jewish holidays.
In 1643, Rabbi Abraham Falcon presided in the city.
In the 1730s, Rabbi Benjamin Medina is mentioned as the rabbi of Monastir, and in 1794 the title was held by Rabbi David De Buton.
In the 1830s, Rabbi Dan "Mircado" Kamhi and Rabbi Abraham Peso are mentioned.
The figure of Rabbi Abraham Ger Tzedek is the most colorful. Born in 1800 to a devout Greek Orthodox family, he was sent in 1815 to the theological seminary in Izmir. The boat he was on sank, but he was miraculously saved. On his return to Saloniki, he felt a strong pull towards Judaism, and went about searching for ways to convert. He claimed he was descended from a Romantiotic Jewish family from one of the Greek islands, but as he did not speak Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), his falsehood was soon revealed. After his request to leave the Greek Orthodox Church was denied by its leader, he went to the townlet of Duyaren, where he was circumcised. Following his wedding, Avraham Ger Zedek moved to Monastir, where he served as a dayan (religious court judge), and was soon appointed chief rabbi of the community. He spent the majority of his life in this position; at the age of 70 he returned to Saloniki, where he died.
At the end of the 19th century, Rabbi Yaakov Ben Yosef Israel presided in Monastir before he emigrated to Eretz Israel. He died in Jerusalem. At the beginning of the 20th century, Rabbi David Ben Shlomo Papo presided in Monastir. He was appointed chief rabbi of the town in 1902, serving for two years.