Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 10th November 1972.
THE SEPHARDIM: A PROBLEM OF SURVIVAL? By Abraham Levy. London, 1972. Copies available from 4 Biddulph Road, Maida Vale, W9.
There is a story about a Lithuanian rabbi who was a dedicated student of Maimonides all his life. When the rabbi died and went to heaven he was told that as a reward for all his efforts he would have the privilege of being introduced to the great Spanish sage. The rabbi, shrugging his shoulders, demurred that there was little he could learn from a Sephardi!
It is undoubtedly true that in the famous Lithuanian Yeshivot the medieval Spanish teachers were “Ashkenazi-ised,” if the verb can be pardoned. While acknowledging the splendid achievements of Ashkenazi Torah study, Rabbi Levy, not seeking to hide his pride in being a Sephardi, believes that there was once a specific Sephardi outlook which he hopes can be rejuvenated.
His book is a frank, honest and documented study of contemporary Sephardi life, especially in the State of Israel, where he carried out his investigations when awarded the Sir Robert Waley Cohen Travelling Scholarship.
According to Rabbi Levy, the outlook developed by the Jews of Spain involved three things. First, there was a determined attempts at working out a synthesis between Jewish religious thought and secular philosophical concepts. Secondly, the Spanish Jews, in close contact with the general social patterns of their day, cultivated a more worldly approach than the Ashkenazim.
Thirdly, and as a result of the other two, the Sephardim were usually more tolerant in religious matters, more fervent admirers of the middle way. Rabbi Levy is hopeful that this Sephardi approach can be reactivated to the lasting benefit of Jewry as a whole. He may well be right.