Ovadia, Nissim J.

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OVADIA, NISSIM J. (1890–1942), chief Sephardi rabbi of Paris. Born in Adrianople, Turkey, the descendant of rabbis, Ovadia was educated at the Alliance Israélite Universelle school and at Yeshiva Bikur Holim. A promising student, he then went to Jerusalem to complete his rabbinical training at the Beit Midrash le-Rabbanim of the Ezra School, from which he was ordained. The Sephardi bet din awarded him the hattarat hora'ah (see *Semikhah), he then went to Vienna to be assistant rabbi to the Sephardi community. In 1918 he was elected chief rabbi. During the 1920s he attended the University of Vienna and received his Ph.D. in 1927.

An active Zionist, he used the occasion of the World Zionist Congress in Vienna to establish the World Sephardic Foundation, the presidency of which he later assumed. He published a daily and high holiday Sephardi prayerbook with Judeo-Spanish translations.

In 1929 he accepted the call of the Jewish community of Paris and became chief Sephardi rabbi. He brought together the immigrants from Salonica, Constantinople, and Smyrna into one viable community and created a magnificent synagogue in the heart of Paris. Three schools became two, he organized a youth organization, and other committees to meet the needs of the community.

When the Germans invaded in May 1940, he remained in Paris, but by June it became too dangerous for him to stay, so he sought refuge in Orléans. He found a temporary haven in the Collège Saint Croix. On August 30 he crossed the Spanish border and then immigrated to New York via Portugal in March 1941. He sought to replicate his experience in Paris in New York and established the Central Sephardic community of America and became its chief rabbi, but ill health cut short his career. He had a heart attack in May 1942 and another, fatal one, in August.


J.M. Papo, Sephardim in Twentieth Century America (1987).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]