Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref
from the Encyclopedia of the Builders and Pioneers of the Yishuv
Yizkor Book pp 198-199. Translated by Miriam Erez
Born in Keidan, Lithuania on 1 Kislev, 1785 — or as he himself wrote, in the year “TaKuM”, thereby hinting at his life’s purpose — the son of Reb Yaakov. He learned Torah diligently, as all good Jews in Lithuania did at the time. He married, engaged in trade, and continued to study Torah.
On 8 Iyar, 1810, a convoy of emigrants left Lithuania for the Land of Israel, among them Tzoref, his wife Chasya, his young sons Mordechai, Moshe, and Yitzhak; and two brothers-in-law, Reb Tzvi Hirsch and Rabbi Yosef the Preacher. They made the journey on horse-drawn carts and sailing ships, and on Hoshána Raba 1811, they reached Akko. Following the end of the [Succot] holiday, made their way to Tzfat.
During the journey, Tzoref learned silver- and goldsmithing, and when he arrived in Tzfat, he bought a house, began engaging in his craft, and learned Arabic quickly. He was beloved by his customers and all who knew him, Jews and Arabs alike, made a good living, made sure to study Torah regularly, and joined in the leadership of the community.
When a virus spread across the Galilee in 1811, many of the Jews of Tzfat fled to the villages. About 10 Ashkenazi families left for toJerusalem, among them Tzoref and his family. They snuck into the city in the middle of the night, dressed like Sephardim. After the virus subsided, while a few returned to Tzfat, Tzoref remained in Jerusalem, opened a shop, and engaged in his craft. Here also, he was beloved among the rich Arabs.
At first, the Ashkenazim in Jerusalem were not able to establish their own synagogue, as they did not want their identities as Ashkenazim discovered. In the annex allotted to them in the Sephardi synagogue, whenever they couldn’t form a minyan, they added a [pre-Bar Mitzva] boy carrying a Torah scroll. Over the next few years, more Ashkenazim arrived from Tzfat, particularly following the Druse and peasants’ revolt and the earthquake that laid waste to Tzfat. After that the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem grew and flourished.
With no small effort, the veteran Ashkenazim were able to rent the “right of use” of the courtyard, which until then had housed the yeshiva of Rabbi Chayim Ben Attar, also called the Or Chayìm [“light of life”]. There they established a place for worship, but during prayer they had to station young men as guards to warn them whenever Muslims neared, so that worshippers would have time to quickly put away the Torah scroll and disappear from sight. Real anusìm!
The Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem also faced difficulties from the Sephardi establishment, who feared that donations from European Jews to Jerusalem — if there were such — would now be diverted to the Ashkenazim. With heavy lobbying, they resolved the dispute using the laws of Torah, together with Ashkenazi representatives, and agreed on a way to divide money from Europe; thus this internecine quarrel ceased to be an obstacle to the aliya of European Jews to Jerusalem.
Tzoref was held in high esteem by the Sephardi establishment, and in 1810 was sent as an emissary to Europe on behalf of both communities, after he influenced both sides to make peace and be judged by neutral parties (rabbis from abroad) for the benefit of them all under the terms of the day: The rabbis’ representative pays a flat sum to his “senders,” and [any] income belongs to him.
From 1818 to 1822, Tzoref was again an emissary to Germany, the Netherlands and England; and again in 1828 he went to Europe on behalf of the kollelot [yeshivas for full-time, married scholars], as well as to press for redemption of the ruined building of Rabbi Yehuda HaChasìd — which the Arabs had seized against “the known debt” — so that they could rebuild the synagogue and other buildings for the Ashkenazi community.
In Germany, Tzoref received Prussian citizenship, and thereafter was close to the Prussian consul in Alexandria, and was appointed the latter’s proxy in Jerusalem and granted the authority to issue protection documents to Jews. A few years later, he was also appointed a representative of the Jews to the council of the governor.
When Muhammad Ali, governor of Egypt, conquered Palestine and Syria, his stepson, Ibrahim Pásha, was made commissioner ofJerusalem. Pasha was afraid to eat a Muslim dish in the city for fear of being poisoned, so the Jews brought him his meals: One day his dish would be prepared by one of the prominent Sephardim, the next day [a meal was brought] from Tzoref’s house, and so on. Tzoref’s son Mordechai would bring Pasha his meal on a special copper tray, which served as a sort of entry permit. One day Tzoref himself went to bring Pasha his meal, in order to ask him to rescue the Jews of Hebron, whom the revolting Arabs were plotting to destroy, and Pasha sent an army to restrain the insurgents.
During the same period, Tzoref asked Pasha to issue a royal decree forgiving the Ashkenazim the debts of the students of Rabbi Yehuda haChasìd, and restoring to them the ruin known as Dir Shachnan. Toward that end, Tzoref also went to Egypt and with the help of the Austrian and Prussian consuls, obtained the requested decree from Muhammad Ali. In a legal hearing before the mufti and the kadi, the right of the Jews to the ruin was recognized, and the Arabs who had built shops there were forced to restore the site to the Jews in return for compensation, after which the Jews of Jerusalem hurried to purify the site from all the garbage that had accumulated thereon for generations, and established there the Beit Midrash [house of study] Menachem Zion.
The Arabs who were forced to abandon the “ruin” bore animosity toward Tzoref on account of his victory. As he sat in his house one evening studying Torah, a young Arab tried to shoot him. The bullet missed its mark, and the shooter fell into a vat of sesame oil and drowned. A year later, another Arab attempted to kill him as he was on his way to sunrise prayers by sneaking up behind him and hitting him on the head with a sword. For months Tzoref was bedridden and lost his memory. Only on his last day on earth did his memory return, whereupon he asked all his family and friends to gather so he could bid them farewell.
Tzoref died in Jerusalem on 19 Elul, 1851, and was buried on the slopes of the Mount of Olives next to the prophet Zachariah. The heads of the Sephardi community sought to delay his burial (there was still no Ashkenazi cemetery at the time) until his heirs paid off the debt that they said he owed them. Only owing to the resolute intervention of Rabbi Shmuel Salant did the Ottoman Chief Rabbi concede, and order the burial to proceed.
Tzoref’s wife, Chasya, died on 4 of Heshvan, 1865, and was buried beside her husband.
His son Mordechai was one of the yishuv’s agricultural and industrial pioneers, and Mordechai’s son, Rabbi Yoel Moshe Solomon, was one of the founders of Petach Tikva as well as various Jerusalem neighborhoods. Tzoref’s son Moshe died in Baghdad on his way back from an emissary mission in eastern Asia; his son YItzhak became caretaker of the Hurva Synagogue; and his daughter Miriam was the wife of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Trachtenberg.
 The Hebrew year of his birth was תקמ”ו. He switched the letters around to form תקו”מ, spelling the Hebrew word takum, meaning “shall go up”, thereby hinting at aliya to the Land of Israel.
 Hebrew for “goldsmith”
 Jews forcibly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition, who continued to practice Judaism in secret.