David Latchman

The Megillah of Haham Raphael Meldola

A portrait of Rabbi Raphael Meldola. (All images, courtesy of the author)
A portrait of Rabbi Raphael Meldola. (All images, courtesy of the author)

As Purim fast approaches, my thoughts turn to Haham Raphael Meldola.

Haham Meldola was born in Leghorn, Italy, in 1754 and heralded from a long line of Sephardic rabbis. He followed in the footsteps of his ancestors, being appointed a Dayan in his home city and publishing the rabbinic guide for those entering marriage, Chupat Chatanim, in 1796 (illustrated) still in print today.

The title page of Rabbi Meldola’s work, Chuppat Chatanim, on the laws relating to marriage.

In 1805 he was appointed as Haham of the Spanish and Portuguese Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, a post he retained until his passing in 1828. As an avid historian of Anglo-Jewry, that is why, of course, he interests me. But what is his connection with Purim?

The answer lies in the auction purchase I made a few years ago, when I bought his personal Megillah Esther (illustrated).

A photo of Rabbi Meldola’s Megillah.

The Megillah was written in the Eighteenth Century on a fine parchment, produced in either London or Amsterdam. The parchment text is mounted on a wooden roller and is backed in crimson silk with a separate sheet containing the Berachot.

As we have discussed previously, one of the problems with buying items that are said to have belonged to famous rabbis is to establish that this claimed provenance is in fact true.

In the case of this Megillah, the scroll is accompanied by a note (illustrated) from Meldola’s great great-grandson, Rabbi David de Sola Pool, himself the Rabbi of She’arith Israel synagogue in New York for over 60 years. De Sola Pool records how he obtained the Megillah, recording its passing down from Rabbi Meldola to himself, through Meldola’s unmarried daughters Goodluck (Mazaltov) and Julia.

The note describing the passage of the Megillah to Rabbi David de Sola Pool, via Rabbi Meldola’s daughters.

I bought this Megillah at a time when we had moved out of our home to allow for building work to be done. A few hours before Purim, I searched our temporary accommodation looking for the Megillah I normally use but could not find it or any of my many other Megillahs I have. The only one I had to hand was Haham Meldola’s since I had recently bought it. So, that was what I used. By chance, A few months later, I opened a cupboard in my mother’s house only to find all my Megillahs stacked neatly there for safe keeping. Perhaps it was destiny that Haham Meldola’s Megillah should be used over 200 years after he himself used it for the last time!

This own personal tale of mine is a small testament to the promise that the Megillah itself makes: “These days shall be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, in every family, every province, and every city, and these days of Purim shall not be revoked from amidst the Jewish People” (Esther, 9:28)

A portrait of Rabbi Raphael Meldola
About the Author
Professor David Latchman, CBE, is a leading UK academic, author, and philanthropist, and currently holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck University of London, having led the university since 2003. Latchman holds First-class Honours in Natural Sciences, a MA, and a PhD, and has completed a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College London. He also has a DSc (higher doctorate) from the University of London.
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