A spiritual leader of the Baghdad Jewish community from to .
Hakham Shlomo Twena
Hakham Shlomo Twena, of blessed memory, was a native of Baghdad and lived there for at least 24 years before he came to the shores of India, already a distinguished graduate of a Yeshiva. About the year ~ he was sent to India at the request of one Ezekiel Joshua of Bombay (maternal grandfather of David Solomon Sassoon) who required the services of a Dayan and a Shohet. As a student he had made a name for himself as one of the most promising young men in the academy. The famous Hakham Yosef Hayim, a spiritual leader of the Baghdad Jewish community from to , was quoted in response to a query from India on religious observance as saying that it was not necessary for the Jewish community of India to address their questions to him as they had someone in their midst, namely, Hakham Shlomo, who was as competent and well-versed as he himself in the intricacies of the Law.
About he made Calcutta his residence, judging from the publication of his first book in that year at the press of Elias Moses Dueck Cohen. Soon he became spiritual head of Calcutta Jewry and delivered sermons in Arabic in the then newly constructed Magen David Synagogue. A dispute between himself and the elders of the Synagogue, probably on account of the unusual length of his sermons, forced him to stop his attendance there. Although there were three other Synagogues in the city at the time, the creation of an additional venue for public prayer was a clear indication that freedom of religious expression as great as Hakham Shlomo's could not be stifled.
Those who heard his sermons still recall his resonant clear-throated voice that facilitated forceful and forthright delivery. For Calcutta Jews it was the only source of Hebrew education available. Many parents and grandparents of our generation owe their knowledge of the Torah to this revered teacher. Mourners were consoled by his comforting eulogies. Religious observances were beautified and made more meaningful by his masterly interpretation and fluent expounding of the Law. He was known never to have prepared any of his addresses, but would, with natural confidence, give utterance to them.
He would earn his living by selling religious articles imported from Baghdad and Palestine. Additional income would be derived from the slaughter of animals and birds, and from the teaching of Hebrew to the children of well-to-do families. Besides, he ran a printing press chiefly to publish his own prolific writings. He edited a weekly paper Maggid Mesharim for eleven years from - . The purpose of this magazine, written in Arabic-Hebrew, outlined in the first issue, aimed at making known the deteriorating conditions of the Jews of Baghdad under the Moslems in order to gain the sympathy and material aid of English Jews. The magazine contained news items and topical articles and produced ethical and Midrashic epistles, stories and legal discussions of a very high literary and contextual standard.
Sometimes while visiting a friend, or in the middle of a conversation, he would get an inspired thought and reach out for the nearest article to set it down in writing — the table sheet, a handkerchief, and even the palms of his hands. His learned contributions in the field of homiletics and Law, Aggada and Halakha, have given Calcutta a distinguished place on the map of Jewish scholars.
In eleven years at his press he printed 71 books most of which were his own composition. The subject matters covered included ethical topics, explanations of Biblical passages, sermons, legal treatises, prayers and even translations of modern Hebrew literature like Ahavat Zion of Mapu. His most outstanding literary and scholarly masterpiece was his commentary on the first verse of the Book of Genesis,In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth, which ran into one thousand and five explanations and interpretations. Parts of this gigantic work called Hamisha Wa-Alef have been published, but the major portion has not passed the manuscript stage.
Of Hakham Shlomo's seven sons and four daughters only two took after their father. Both of them passed away without having the rest of their father's works published. These precious manuscripts are being worm-eaten gradually and thrown away in the Calcutta Genizah awaiting another Shechter todiscoverthem at some later date.
At the age of 50 he lay very ill. Doctors gave up hope. The community, however, could not bear the thought of losing its sainted teacher and preacher. Supplications were offered on his behalf and one, Hakham Eliyahoo, publicly offered seven years of his span of life to Hakham Shlomo. He recovered and lived exactly seven years longer. He passed away suddenly at the age of 57.