Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Danan
The Ibn Danan family is among the most illustrious and ancient families of Morocco. In the Jewish quarter of Fez stood the “Ibn Danan” Beit Midrash, the property of this renowned family. The chanting of prayers and the hum of Torah study were heard in this place day and night, sounds whose echoes carried far.
The Ibn Danan dynasty of Morocco goes back all the way to Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon Ibn Danan, known by the name of Rambam Elfassi, a man who lived at the same time as the author of the Mishnah Torah, known as the Rambam HaSephardi.
Among the immigrants arriving from Spain were Rabbi Maimon Ibn Danan and his son, Rabbi Moshe. They settled in Fez, a city filled with sages and scholars. Rabbi Moshe was a Gaon in Torah, and as soon as he arrived he founded a yeshiva in the city. Many students gathered around him in order to drink from this living source of water. He quickly became famous in all of Morocco as a Gaon of great ability. Besides his great Torah scholarship, the Rambam Elfassi also had a reputation as a prodigy and worker of miracles.
Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Danan, who occupied the position of Dayan in Fez for 50 years, was a descendant of his holy man, the Rambam Elfassi.
From his earliest years, we could see in him a future star that would shine in the firmament of Moroccan Judaism. All his family and friends praised this young boy, and remained astounded by his sharp mind and intelligence that was faultless and clear. He was gifted with an incredible intellect, an unfailing memory, and a profound sense of logic. The students of the Beit Hamidrash delighted in being able to discuss Torah with the young scholar, and more than once did his apt replies and ingenuity make their jaws drop. Certainly, everyone’s hopes were placed on this adolescent who, with time, promised to be a Gaon that would be the glory of his people.
Rabbi Shlomo’s boyhood was very difficult. His father, the Tzaddik Rabbi Moshe, died well before the young Shlomo was ten years old. Despite this great tragedy and the pain that he experienced for having lost his much beloved father, the young boy did not turn away from the study of Torah. He pushed himself with even more diligence, and he felt that the spirit of his father hovered above to guide him in all his steps. His mother did everything in her power so that her gifted son could continue, without bother from any concerns, his Torah studies. The young Shlomo elevated himself day by day in the study of Torah and the fear of G-d. His behavior was full of grace, and his dignity and intelligence captivated everyone who approached him. He was very meticulous when it came to the performance of mitzvot, be they simple or more serious ones. He placed humrot (stringencies) upon himself concerning the laws of purity and asceticism. At the age of 13, he already began to learn the basics of esoteric matters. Later on, he became famous and known as a teacher of this ultimate knowledge. At 18 years of age he married and then began to give Torah courses to students. He initiated his students in the study of Shas and Halachah. The majority of the many students that he educated became, in turn, renowned Talmid Chacham and Rabbis.
In the year 5629 (1869), at the age of 21, he was admitted into the rabbinic court of Fez. The older judges recognized his immense Torah knowledge and took his opinions into account for each of the decisions that they had to deliberate. Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Danan aspired to go up to the Holy Land and settle there. In the year 5638 (1878), at the age of 30, he left Morocco with his uncle and went to the Land of Israel.
After many episodes, as many on sea as on land, they finally landed on the shores of the country. For 33 days they traveled the length and breath of the land and made pilgrimages to the tombs of the Tzaddikim.
On his return to Fez, Rabbi Shlomo was welcomed with great honor by the entire Jewish community. He was named treasurer and leader of the community, a role occupied only by great Rabbis who possessed a tremendous fear of G-d. For three years he occupied this honored position, devoting himself day and night to the study of Torah. The leaders of the community decided to name him Chief Rabbi and President of the Rabbinic Court, even though he had just reached the age of 30.
The Moroccan government, which knew of the great respect that his people had for him, confirmed his nomination as Chief Rabbi and President of the Court, conferring upon him the full powers of an official judge. It was thus that each of this young Rabbi’s legal decisions was stamped with the seal of the government. He was revered by all the people, who strictly observed all his decrees and instructions.
Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Danan held this position for 50 years. He had the custom to registering each of the legal decisions that had been taken by his court, and he had them printed and published in 5661 (1901) in a book entitled Asher LeSlomo. Since that time, numerous Poskim have used this book to make their own decisions.
Rabbi Shlomo rendered his soul to his Creator in 5629 (1929). His passing marked great mourning for the Jews of Fez and all the communities of the Diaspora. A large crowd, consisting of the majority of Jews from Fez and those from other cities, attended his burial.
Two years after Rabbi Shlomo’s death, his two sons published the book Biquesh Shlomo, which contains a compilation of his responses on Halachah, and which was written by their father near the end of his life.