Think and Thank: The Montefiore Synagogue and College, Ramsgate, 1833-1933
London: Oxford University Press, 1933. pp. 183 – 185
The authorities of the Montefiore Endowment were, in 1926, presented with a welcome opportunity of placing the College again under the direction of a Rosh Yeshibah. The appointment in 1920 of R. Shemtob Gaguine as Ab Beth Din of the Congregation suggested the obvious desirability of combining with this ecclesiastical office the function of Principal of the Montefiore College. The present occupant of this office is descended from a renowned Rabbinical dynasty that emigrated to Morocco from Castile in the great Spanish Expulsion of 1492. The head of the family was then R. Haim Gaguin, the author of Responsa entitled ‘Ets Haim’ (still in manuscript, now in the possession of R. Jacob H. Toledano, of Tiberias, to whose Ner HaMa'aravi the writer is indebted for information relating to families of Moroccan origin that have settled in London). Among his descendants was R. Haim Abraham ben Moses Gaguin (born in Constantinople in 1787; died in Jerusalem 1848), who in 1842 was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Sephardi Community and ‘Rishon le-Zion’ in the Holy Land. He was the first holder of the office to be accorded by the Ottoman Government the title of ‘Haham Bashi’, and was invested with the same official rights and dignities as the ecclesiastical heads of the other religious communities of Jerusalem. He was the leader of a remarkable circle of Sephardi mystics who met in the Synagogue Beth El, and the author of various works containing his Responsa, discourses, etc. He was particularly active in the promotion of Jewish colonization in the Holy Land, and was in frequent correspondence on this subject with Sir Moses Montefiore and other leading Jews of the time. His son Shalom Moses Hai (known by his initials as Sameah), a distinguished Talmudist and Cabbalist, was Dayan in Jerusalem.
R. Shemtob’s father was R. Isaac Gaguin, a son of R. Shalom Moses Hai, and, likewise, Dayan in Jerusalem. Born in 1884, R. Shemtob received his Talmudical training at the Yeshibah ‘Tipheret Yerushalaim”, and in 1906 was granted the Rabbinical Diploma by, among others, R. Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook, the present Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land, as well as by the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis of Cairo. He became at an early age a frequent contributor to the Jerusalem Hebrew press on scientific and historical subjects, and a number of Responsa by him appeared in various Rabbinical publications. A volume by the same hand, entitled Keter Shem Tob, dealing with the various ritual customs (Minhagim) among Sephardim in the Orient and Occident, is now in preparation and will be published shortly.
In 1911 R. Shemtob Gaguin was appointed Dayan in Cairo and in 1919 received a call from the West Didsbury Synagogue in Manchester. In 1920 he accepted the Office of Ab Beth Din which was offered to him by the London Congregation.
R. Shemtob Gaguine’s appointment as Principal of the Montefiore College has been peculiarly appropriate. His great-grandfather, as ecclesiastical head of the Sephardi Community in Jerusalem, received Sir Moses Montefiore and entertained the illustrious visitor at his house for some days. They were subsequently in correspondence on the growing interest that had been aroused by Sir Moses’ efforts in the Jewish Resettlement of Palestine. R. Shemtob’s grandfather likewise came into personal contact with Sir Moses on his seventh visit to the Holy Land in the year 1875, and composed a psalm, Shir HaMa’alot, which was chanted at the solemn reception then given at the Synagogue of R. Johanan ben Zaccai in Jerusalem to the nonagenarian philanthropist. R. Shemtob himself has manifested his interest in the land of his birth as the land of Jewish hope by his association with the endeavors of which Sir Moses Montefiore was the foremost protagonist.