Jerusalem – Chacham Zechariah Barashi, a Jerusalem rabbi who died today at age 117, is believed to have held longevity records in three different categories: world’s oldest living Jew, world’s oldest living Kurd and Israel’s oldest resident.
Rabbi Barashi, a resident of Baka, was born in 1900, the youngest of ten children born to Rabbi Eliyahu and Simcha Barashi.
In a 2014 interview with Kurdish news site Rudaw (http://bit.ly/2mNCLwS), Rabbi Barashi said that life in Kurdistan was extremely difficult, with six of his siblings dying as young children. The family settled in the town of Atrush where Rabbi Eliyahu Barashi became the rov for the town’s 100 Jewish residents, while also traveling from village to village to serve the spiritual needs of nearby Jewish communities, virtually none of whom could read, write or daven.
Despite their limited knowledge, Rabbi Zechariah Barashi said that Kurdish Jews were extremely careful about their observance of Shabbos, yomim tovim, kashrus and other crucial tenets of Jewish law.
Rabbi Barashi recalled warm relationships with the family’s Muslim neighbors as a young boy, with children playing happily together despite their religious differences. At age15, Rabbi Barashi convinced his father to move to Sindor, an Iraqi town whose residents were all Jewish and Rabbi Barashi met his wife on the dance floor after a Shabbos meal at age 18, as previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2mXEMU7).
“No one except G-d knows what draws a man to a certain woman and not another one,” said Rabbi Barashi. “In the village there were dozens of beautiful and good girls but I fell in love with her and good that it turned out this way. There was no bad in this woman that became my wife. Modest and quiet and determined and pretty.”
Determined to live in Israel, Rabbi Barashi began applying for passports for his family in the early 1930s, a years-long process that involved, among other things, bribery. While Rabbi Barashi ultimately received the necessary permits and approvals for himself, his wife and their children, he was unable to secure the proper paperwork for his parents.
“It was harder than the exodus from Egypt since dealing with the exodus took only one year and everyone got out,” mused Rabbi Barashi.
While work was scarce when the Barashis first arrived in Israel, World War II brought with it a surplus of jobs and Rabbi Barashi spent his days digging ditches, paving roads and building airport runways.
When an influx of Iraqi and Kurdish Jews made their way to Israel beginning in 1950 Rabbi Barashi took his life in a different direction, and he began following in his father’s footsteps, traveling from community to community to attend to the spiritual needs of the new immigrants and to preserve the long entrenched traditions of the Kurdish Jewish community.
Over time, Rabbi Barashi became a highly respected Chacham who met with presidents and prime ministers. Both Rav Ovadi Yosef and Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, former Sephardic chief rabbis of Israel, held him in high esteem and penned prefaces that appear in Rabbi Barashi’s seforim on Torah and Kabala. Rabbi Bakshi continued his writing well into his later years, authoring four seforim until his failing eyesight forced him to stop writing at the age of 111.
Yehuda Ben Yosef, chairman of the National Organization for Kurdish Jews praised Rabbi Barashi for his humility, his ever present smile and his sense of humor.
“His value to the community is greater than gold,” said Ben Yosef. “He is an example to all rabbis today. He is above the politics, does not just follow the flock and is not influenced by money. He says what he thinks.”
Rabbi Barashi, was named one of “Yakirei Yerushalayim” in 1980 and presented with a certificate of honor in 2012 by Leah Ness, deputy minister for senior citizens, as reported by Arutz Sheva (http://bit.ly/2mNXPUj).
Blessed with good health throughout his year, Rabbi Barashi was able to maintain his independence despite his advanced age, according to Kikar HaShabat (http://bit.ly/2mXNt0H). Asked for advice on how to live a long life Rabbi Barashi placed a strong emphasis on consuming a relatively sparse diet.
“Don’t eat until you are sated,” said Rabbi Barashi. “Every morning I eat a piece of bread with water, just water, even when I have no appetite. And I always try to stay optimistic.”
The funeral for Rabbi Barashi took place Monday night at the Sephardic funeral home in Givat Shaul with burial on Har Hamenuchos. He is survived by five children, 29 grandchildren, 72 great grandchildren and 24 great-great grandchildren.