Yehuda Benasouli, former Madrid chief rabbi, dies

(JTA) — Rabbi Yehuda Benasouli, the former chief rabbi of Madrid who presided over the Spanish quincentennial reconciliation visit of King Juan Carlos I to a synagogue in his city, has died.

The Morocco-born Benasouli died May 31 in Madrid at the age of 77, according to a relative.

Benasouli served as chief rabbi of Madrid from 1978 until his retirement in 2000. The highlight of his tenure took place on March 31, 1992, when Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia came to the Beth Yaakov Synagogue in Madrid on the quincentennial of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s Alhambra Decree ordering the expulsion of Jews from Spain.

The expulsion order, which forced out hundreds of thousands of Jews and the conversion of many others, was not formally revoked until 1968, when the first official synagogue was built. The rabbi presided over the proceedings.

Born in Alcazarquivir, Spanish Morocco in 1933, Benasouli was a descendant of  survivors of the 1492 expulsion from Spain. A fluent linguist, Benasouli mastered Hebrew, French, Arabic, Ladino and Hakita, and spoke some English.

After his father died when Benasouli was still a boy, he was enrolled in the prestigious yeshiva in Meknes, where he learned under Rabbi Baruch Toledano. Considered an intellectual light of the community, Benasouli received rabbinic ordination from Toledano at age 18.

“Even as a child, Yehuda was considered special," said his cousin Luna Nissenbaum. "He always had a sefer and was constantly studying Torah.”

Benasouli arrived in Madrid in 1968 as part of a wave of Jewish emigration from Morocco following Israel’s 1967 victory in the Six-Day War. He began working as a community ritual slaughterer, mohel and head of kashrut for the community.

"My father worked tirelessly to build the institutions of Jewish life and help keep the Madrid Jews a part of the Jewish fold," said Benasouli’s son, Yamin, of Brooklyn, N.Y.  "As a trip to Madrid and Spain shows, he was successful. Over the years, with a lot of perseverance and patience, the community has increased its observance and maintains a strong connection to the religious world.”

 

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