In the holy city of Jerusalem, one of the pillars of the Sephardic Torah community is the famous Porat Yosef Yeshivah, which was founded close to 100 years ago (1914) to preserve Sephardic Jewry and produce outstanding Torah scholars who would perpetuate Sephardic teachings and tradition. A philanthropist from Calcutta, India, Yosef Avraham Shalom, played a major role in the founding of the yeshivah. This Jew from India had a big heart and, after learning of the diseases that were rampant in Jerusalem and its environs, he wished to build a hospital in the Holy Land to see to the people’s physical needs. He wrote a letter to the Gadol HaDor, Chacham Yosef Chayim zt”l of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai, and informed him of his plans. The Ben Ish Chai wrote back with the following response: “Open a yeshivah, not a hospital. Although it is important to build a hospital in Yerushalayim, many people will be eager to grab that mitzvah, while very few appreciate the value of Torah study, which is sorely needed.” Avraham Shalom heeded the Ben Ish Chai’s advice and contributed a vast sum of money for the founding of Porat Yosef in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Inaugurated in 1923, the yeshivah soon filled with young eager pupils. One of the early students of the yeshivah was Rav Yehudah Tzadka zt”l, who joined soon after his bar mitzvah, and remained to learn – and eventually to teach – Torah in this same institution for the next 70 years. A brilliant young mind, Rav Yehudah’s influence on the yeshivah grew year by year and, after he married, he was asked to become its Menahel Ruchani, a spiritual mentor. In that capacity, his sole concern was the welfare of his students who, in turn, loved and esteemed him. Years later, when the Rosh Yeshivah, Chacham Ezra Attia zt”l, passed away, it was unanimously agreed that Rav Yehudah Tzadka should replace him.
During the Jordanian siege of the Old City in the 1948 War of Independence, the yeshivah building was under constant attack. However, Porat Yosef’s students continued to study with valor. In the end, though, the Jordanians gained the upper hand and captured the Old City. Among those taken captive by the Jordanians was the Rosh Yeshivah’s son, Rav Yosef Attia, who was later released. Determined not to close down the yeshivah, Rav Yehudah Tzadka established groups of students and study sessions in numerous synagogues throughout Geula, Katamon, and the Bucharian quarter in the new city. But it was not a sustainable option, and a centralized building was imperative for the future of the yeshivah. Soon, a suitable plot of land was located and acquired, and plans to construct a new building in the Geula section were launched. Rav Yehudah traveled abroad to raise funds for the building, despite the fact that leaving Eretz Yisrael was very difficult for him.
Eventually, the yeshivah raised enough money to build a new facility. At last, the joyous day arrived: 26 Kislev 5715 (1954), the day on which the cornerstone of the new building would be laid. Peering at the empty plot of land, Rav Yehudah excitedly asked his nephew, Rav Narim Eliyahu, “Do you hear what I hear? The heartbeat of our fellow Jews?”
His nephew looked around. “Uncle,” he said, “I hear the pounding of hoes and hammers. That is all.”
“No, Narim,” Rav Yehudah said quietly. “These are the beats and rhythms of the pure hearts of am Yisrael.”
Upon further verification, Rav Narim learned what his uncle had only sensed deep inside his inner recesses. On the very morning of the ceremony, to which many Jerusalem rabbanim, among them Rav Zalman Sorotzkin zt”l, Rav Yitzchak Nissim zt”l, and Rav Yitzchak Herzog zt”l, had been invited, the laborers who were supposed to prepare the ground for the cornerstone ceremony did not arrive. Every moment was crucial, and the yeshivah’s administration was very upset.
Suddenly, scores of Iranian Jews were seen marching toward the plot of land, hoes and hammers in their hands. They asked Rav Narim where the ground had to be leveled. Assuming that these were the laborers who had been hired instead of those who hadn’t shown up to work, he pointed out the correct area and the men began to work.
However, it soon became clear that these “laborers” were none other than members of Rav Yehudah’s synagogue who, having heard about the dilemma, had come to the site in order to actively participate in the preparation of the land on which the yeshivah would be built.