The first official victim of terror
Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref was killed trying to rebuild the Hurva Synagogue in 1851.
It is doubtful the name Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref, who was killed in Jerusalem in 1851, will ring familiar with most Israelis. Nonetheless, Tzoref was the first victim of terror recognized by the State of Israel. In two days, his name and those of over 3,000 victims of hostile acts will be read in commemoration.
Tzoref managed to obtain from Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali, and then later from Turkish authorities, the permits to rebuild the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City, which Arab creditors burned down in 1721.
Tzoref also discovered that the Turkish statute of limitations cancelled out all of the debts of Rabbi Yehuda Hahasid who purchased the land on which the synagogue was built. He managed, with the help of the court, to get back part of the land taken over by local Arabs for the Ashkenazi community, thereby sparking the Arabs' anger.
Tzoref did not live to see the synagogue rebuilt. He was murdered in 1851, five years before the reconstruction work started.
The book "Three Generations," written by Mordechai Solomon, one of Tzoref's descendants, relates the series of events surrounding the reconstruction of the Hurva Synagogue, up to Tzoref's murder.
Among other things, Solomon relates that Tzoref used to bribe the Arabs with "annual gifts" to get them to allow the synagogue to be rebuilt: "Tzoref's victories in the building and rescue of the Rabbi Yehuda Hahasid's Hurva," wrote Solomon, "provoked the jealousy and hatred of the Arabs of Jerusalem, and especially that of the members of the those families, the descendants of those same effendis who had an old claim against the Ashkenazi community from the time of Rabbi Yehuda Hahasid.
While the leadership of the community was still in the hands of Rabbi Tzoref, he would compensate them with annual gifts to silence them and so that they would not interfere with the construction. However, when the Ashkenazi community grew and their needs increased, and other leaders also arose and new people were in charge of the money, Rabbi Tzoref had to stop giving the Ishmaelites those gifts ..."
One night unknown assailants tried to kill Tzoref by gunshot, but they missed their target. "The shooter, who fled to one of the courtyards, fell into a cistern and drowned ... " writes Solomon.
The second time, his assailants struck him on the head with a sword. "One night, close to sunrise, when Tzoref was making his way to the vatikin [early morning] prayer services as was his wont, murderers attacked him from behind, and struck him on the head with a sword, until he fell wallowing in his own blood. Jews who were also heading to prayers, found him in a pool of blood and while he was still alive, brought him back to his home." As a result of that sword strike, Tzoref lost his memory. He lived for another three months and then died.
The Hurva Synagogue was dedicated 14 years later. Abraham Lunz, a writer from that time, wrote that "the day the dome was completed was a festival for the Ashkenazi community" and that "apart from the regular worker, all of the Ashkenazim who had any strength in them to carry whitewash and stones to the builders" took part in the construction work.
For some 80 years, the synagogue was the center of the religious and community life of Jerusalem's Jews until the Jordanians blew it up, along with other synagogues in the Old City, in 1948.
Several years ago, the arch memorializing the ancient synagogue was removed and reconstruction of the Hurva synagogue began. The process is now nearing completion.
The headstone-laying ceremony held several weeks ago was attended by Shimon Barmatz, a descendant of Avraham Leib Monzon, who was Tzoref's attendant.
Monzon, now around 86, who is among the pioneers of stonecutting in the land of Israel, will soon publish his book of memoirs, a chapter of which is devoted to the story of Rabbi Tzoref and the Hurva Synagogue.