Forgotten Giants

Forgotten Giants: Sephardic Rabbis before and after the Expulsion from Spain
Rabbi Yosef Bitton
Gefen Publishing House / 121 pp.


Although most of us have heard about such Sephardic greats like Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel and Rabbi Yosef Caro, and their accomplishments, the same may not be true regarding such other greats like Rabbi Avraham Saba and Rabbi Tam Ibn Yahya.

As such, Rabbi Yosef Bitton, an author and rabbi living in New York City, has done a tremendous service and Kiddush Hashem by resurrecting the memory of over two dozen Sephardic Scholars from the pre to post Spanish expulsion Era with his “Forgotten Giants”. Although brief, but inspiring, Rabbi Bitton presents the basic biographies of these rabbis, from where they were born to the works they left behind, many of which continue to shape Jewish law today.


I would like to take this opportunity to mention --not unique to the welcome addition of “Forgotten Giants”-- that today’s orthodox produced biographies can generally not be relied upon from a historical or academic perspective to present the entire person, the whole picture. Today’s rabbinic biographies, almost without exception, present their subject as being completely holy and righteous, sin free, from birth to death. This is of course untrue, and in fact, what makes most of these rabbis so great is that they were normal people just like us, facing the same challenges and yetzer haras, and yet they become the great men that they were. The entry on Rabbi Yisrael Najara in “Forgotten Giants”, for example, was interesting and inspiring, and I knew little about the Syrian community of Jobar until reading it. However, there are some very “alternative” biographies of Rabbi Najara that Rabbi Bitton makes no mention of.  While, for various reasons, I don’t fault Rabbi Bitton (or other authors of rabbinic biographies) for presenting his subjects in this matter, I feel it is important to remind readers that while such rabbinic biographies have their place, they are rarely accurate or complete.

Nevertheless, "Forgotten Giants" does a wonderful job of giving us a taste of past greatness and allows us to better appreciate what we have lost.


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