Chacham Shaul’s legendary life was celebrated with stories and recollections of rabbonim and family
On Motzei Shabbat, Klall Yisroel learned of the petirah of Chacham Shaul Rahamim Kassin, zt’l, the esteemed rav of Congregation Shaare Zion and the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardi/Syrian community in Brooklyn. Chacham Kassin, who was niftar on Shabbat was 97 years of age.
As thousands of mourners gathered on Sunday morning to pay their last respects to this remarkable Gadol B’Yisroel, Chacham Shaul’s funeral procession passed the Ateret Torah yeshiva in Flatbush at 9 am, Yeshiva Derech Eretz at 9:15 am, the Shaarei Zion synagogue at 9:30 am and Magen David Yeshiva near McDonald Avenue at 9:45 am before reaching the Magen David synagogue in Bensonhurst for the hespedim at the levaya. It should be noted that Rabbi Kassin, zt’l, taught at the Magen David yeshiva for decades.
At 6:30 pm on Sunday, Chacham Shaul’s remains were flown to Israel were thousands more gathered in the holy city of Jerusalem for heartfelt hespedim from a litany of rabbis before burial.
Addressing the overflowing crowd of bereaved mourners at the Magen David Congregation in Bensonhurst was a highly distinguished litany of rabbis from the Syrian community.
Chacham Shimon Alouf said of the legendary life Chacham Shaul, zt’l: “He had an unwavering attachment with the Borei Olam–literally 24/7 and each day for close to a century. The kind of rare humility that Chacham Shaul displayed was beyond remarkable. It was not hard for him to pick up the phone and take advice from young rabbis as it pertained to helping to resolve problems in his community and all of Klall Yisroel. As one who spent hours with him and many, many occasions, I can tell you that nothing was more important to him than the welfare of the community that he so humbly served and his beloved family.”
Chacham Alouf added, “I saw Chacham Shaul under crisis and pressure and I saw him remain exceptionally strong. He had an inner strength and was an emunah shleima in every sense of the word. He was not only a highly revered rav and teacher but he was a man possessed of true and genuine bitachon in Hashem.”
Other rabbis who addressed the assemblage at the levaya were Rabbi Shlomo Diamond, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Eli Mansour, shlita, Rabbi Saul Kassin, shlita and Rabbi Nahoum, shlita.
At the conclusion of the hespedim, those gathered at Magen David followed the hearse carrying Chacham Shaul, zt’l.
Said one congregant who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “I was a student of Chacham Shaul and it was very clear to me from early on that he had a very special way of teaching Torah; a way that penetrated a person’s heart and soul. I remember his lessons to this very day. I can safely say that he positively impacted the lives of all he taught; all he came into contact with, and all who he helped. He was a genuine Baal Chessed.”
Born in Jerusalem in 1920, Chacham Shaul Kassin, zt’l arrived in New York City with his parents and two siblings in 1933, when his illustrious father, Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin became Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic/Syrian community which is the largest kehillah in the United States of Jews with Spanish or Middle Eastern ancestry. Rabbi Shaul Kassin, zt’l was editor in chief of “Nir”; the yearbook of Teachers Institute at Yeshiva University, and of the school newspaper, where he also penned scholarly articles in Hebrew and typed his own speeches in both English and Hebrew. Rabbi Kassin was renowned as a phenomenal and adroit mathematician.
Chacham Shaul was a prolific writer and published author, as well as the main assistant to his father who he also received semicha from. When his father was niftar in 1994, he was appointed as his successor along with his brother in law, Chacham Baruch Bar Haim Zt”l.
Rabbi Shaul was his father’s most trusted assistant. As Rabbi Jacob’s secretary, he wrote articles for him and was appointed as secretary of the Bet Din. Rabbi Shaul amassed an impressive list of accomplishments in learning, teaching and acts of extraordinary chesed. He is the author of “Light of the Law: Guideposts to Biblical Commandments and the Commentaries.” (Shengold Publishers, 1980), a book on Jewish law, and it many commentaries. He assisted in building mikvehs in the United States, and in Israel, as well as taking the lead in establishing Nivat Yisrael, a school for girls.
After receiving his rabbinical ordination, Rabbi Shaul Kassin taught for over 32 years at the Magen David Talmud Torah, and then the Yeshiva. Rabbi Shaul had hundreds of students during those first years in the community. His students include Rabbi Isaac Dweck, Rabbi Moshe Shamah, Rabbi Benjamin Seruya, Rabbi Diamond, Rabbi David Cohen, Dr. Robert Matalon, Dr. Eddie Sutton, Dr. Leo Sultan, and many others.
The Kassin family traces itself back to a long line of Rabbanim, harking to pre-1492 Spain, when the Sephardic community was the largest in the world.
Chacham Shaul was asked by a New York Times reporter at the time how he planned on leading the community, which was then buffeted by the arrival of thousands of new immigrants when Syrian President Hafez Assad allowed the Jews out of Syria.
“Basically, I will continue in my father’s footsteps,” Chacham Shaul said. “I was his right hand. He was my teacher and my guide.”
The Chacham is survived by his Rabanit Frieda, and children Molly Faham, Anna Kassin, Jacob Kassin, Abe Kassin, Sara Sorscher, Esther Srour, Isaac Kassin and Morris Kassin.
Hundreds of thousands of messages of condolences came pouring in from around the world, upon hearing of Chacham Shaul’s passing.
On Twitter, Image Magazine posted: “The Matsas family, and all of us at Image Magazine, mourn the passing of our esteemed Chief Rabbi Shaul Kassin A”H. He was always available to advise and consult with us on matters concerning Image Magazine and the community. He will be sorely missed.”
Also on Twitter, the Flatbush Shomrim tweeted: Our members attended the Levaya held this morning for the Chief Syrian Rabbi of #Brooklyn- Chacham Shaul Kassin ZT”L, ensuring kavod hames and #WorkingTogether with @NYPDnews for the safety of the 1000’s of attendees. May the Chacham be a meilitz yosher for all of Am Yisroel.”
By: Fern Sidman