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The Rabbi of Stolac

Pilgrims in the 1920s or 30s at the tomb of Rabbi Danon
Pilgrims in the 1920s or 30s at the tomb of Rabbi Danon

Until the Holocaust the Jews were Bosnia's fourth nation. Many came in the wake of the Spanish Inquisition of 1492. In 2005 Stephen Schwartz published a fascinating collection of his essays on the Jews of Bosnia and other parts of the Balkans. One of the stories he retells is that of Rav (or rabbi) Moshe Danon of Sarajevo whom he notes is sometimes called "the rabbi of Stolac". Danon however did not come from Stolac, was a not a rabbi there but he did die there and is buried nearby. "Rav Danon," writes Schwartz, "is a Bosnian Jewish saint, or, as Muslims would say, a wali. " The story goes that in 1817 one Dervis Ahmed of Travnik, in fact a Jewish convert to Islam, began to agitate against the Jews. He was executed by the Ottomans but then some of his followers complained to Rudzi-pasha, the next governor of Bosnia who then seized ten of Sarajevo's leading Jews including Rav Danon, demanding a ransom to save them from execution. However a respected member of the community, one Rafael Levi, now exhorted his Muslim neighbours to help. The next day some 3,000 of them freed the Jews. In 1830, Rav Danon decided to leave for the Holy Land. On his way to take a ship from Dubrovnik however he died at a coffee house in Stolac. From then on, until the Second World War, his tomb became a place of annual pilgrimage for Bosnian Sephardim. The tomb, at Krajisni, a few kilometres west of Stolac remains and this is what it says:

THIS STONE IS HERE PLACED
SO THAT IT BE A SIGN AND MONUMENT
FOR THE BURIAL OF THE SAINTLY PERSON
WHOSE WORKS WERE WONDEROUS
AND OF WHOM IT IS SAID THAT HE WAS PIOUS
AND SAINTLY
HE WAS OUR MASTER TEACHER AND GREAT
HAKHAM RAV MOSHE DANON HIS GOOD
WORKS AID US. AMEN.
HE LEFT THIS WORLD ON THE 20TH DAY OF SIVAN
5590

Sarajevo Rose: A Balkan Jewish Notebook. Stephen Schwartz. 2005.
[pp. 63-64 / Saqi/The Bosnian Institute]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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