The p’tirah of Maran Chacham Shalom HaKohen Cohen zt”l has left the worldwide Sephardic Jewish community with an incalculable loss at his passing. His l’vayah, held this past Monday, attracted tens of thousands of mourners, and was protected by 500 police officers, a helicopter, and drones; a prohibition on work was also instated during the time of the funeral. Chacham Shalom, born on November 3, 1930, was a preeminent Torah authority who, in extreme humility and modesty, stood at the helm of Yeshivat Porat Yosef on Rechov Yosef ben Matisyahu in Geulah, and led the Shas Party as its spiritual guide. In recent days, the Rav’s condition deteriorated, since being admitted to Hadassah Ein Kerem, Yerushalayim, with an infection in his leg.
Locally, Chacham Cohen made a tremendous and lasting impact. Rav Ilan Meirov, Director of the Chazaq organization, had the z’chus to become acquainted with Chacham Shalom over the past decade and a half. “Maran Chacham Cohen was m’kabeil everyone b’seiver panim yafos.” Just before this past Pesach, Rav Meirov traveled to Eretz Yisrael with a contingent from Chazaq’s morning beis midrash program. “Although Chacham Cohen was extremely weak, he still gave everyone personal attention.” Rav Meirov reported, “Chacham Cohen got a lot of nachas upon hearing about the world of kiruv flourishing in New York. Moreover, Chacham Cohen encouraged everyone to take responsibility for the people around them and be m’kareiv them to Torah and mitzvos.”
Born in 1930 in Yerushalayim to HaGaon HaRav HaMekubal Ephraim and Malka Cohen, young Shalom was one of eight children. Chacham Shalom continued in their path, eventually succeeding his father at the helm of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, where he had begun studying at the tender age of 13. In 1966, shortly after his marriage to Rabbanit Yael a”h, daughter of HaMekubal Mansour Ben-Shimon, he was appointed Rosh Yeshivah, and soon founded a new branch in Katamon with HaRav Shimon Badani. His son, HaGaon HaRav Shimon Cohen, will assume his father’s vacated position. In 1984, the Chacham, at the request of Maran Ovadia Yosef zt”l, advanced the formation of the Shas Party, and served on its Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah. Since the passing of Maran eight years ago, Chacham Shalom was Nasi of the Moetzet. Throughout his life, he was solely guided by the principles of the Torah and did not dabble in diplomacy efforts or the unstable politics that plague the Medinah.
Chacham Shalom also co-led the Vaad HaKashrus of Badatz Neve Tzion and was a sofer stam who used his own Torah to recite Sh’nayim mikra v’echad targum. He was forthright on his opposition to Modern Orthodoxy and often spoke out against the secular Jewish movement in Eretz Yisrael, going so far as to compare those who don a kippah serugah to Amalek, and poked fun at HaTikvah and the IDF. Chacham Shalom spoke out on the ill effects that drafting Sephardic youth would have when a law was proposed, he despised smartphones, and even disallowed religious women from enrolling in post-high-school schooling.
Chacham Shalom is survived by his sons HaRav Efraim (Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivas Yakirei Yerushalayim), HaRav Yaakov (Rosh Yeshivah, Nezer HaTalmud, Beitar Illit), and HaRav Shimon (currently Rosh Yeshivah, Bat Yam), as well as five daughters.
The l’vayah headed from the yeshivah for k’vurah at Sanhedria Cemetery. Hespeidim were delivered by HaRav Shmuel Betzalel, Chacham Moshe Tzadka (both roshei yeshivah at Porat Yosef), HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Amar, HaGaon HaRav Reuven Elbaz, HaGaon HaRav Yitzchak Yosef, HaGaon HaRav Shimon Badani, and brothers-in-law HaGaon HaRav Massoud Ben-Shimon and HaGaon HaRav Nissim Ben-Shimon, HaGaon HaRav Yehudah Cohen, Rosh Yeshivas Yikirei Yerushalayim and a mechutan of Chacham Cohen, HaGaon HaRav David Yosef, HaGaon HaRav David Lau, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, and the Rosh Yeshivah’s son, HaRav Yaakov.
Y’hi zichro baruch.
By Shabsie Saphirstein