A Leader Among Many: Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin of Bensonhurst
Submitted by Sarina Roffe
Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin was born in 1900 in the old city of Jerusalem and is a descendant of an unbroken chain of rabbis dating back to the mid-16th Century. Of Aleppan descent, he became the first Chief Rabbi of the Syrian Jewish community in Bensonhurst in 1933. A qualified Dayan (judge), shochet, mohel and kabbalistic scholar, Rabbi Kassin published numerous books and decisions.
During his 62-year tenure as Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Jacob Kassin gained international repute as an expert on Jewish Law. He settled issues from all over the world involving business transactions, weddings and provided valuable religious guidance.
As chief rabbi of the Syrian Sephardic community, Jacob ran Magen David Congregation in Bensonhurst, the Talmud Torah, and formed the Bet Din. The community was growing quickly and Rabbi Jacob Kassin established various Jewish institutions. Rabbi Jacob Kassin and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian Community issued an edict in 1935 against marriage to converts. As the community grew and more synagogues opened, Rabbi Jacob was the leader among the its many rabbis. While each rabbi led his own flock, it was Rabbi Jacob whose word was law. As new issues arose, it was Rabbi Jacob Kassin who kept peace and maintained unity.
Rabbi Kassin maintained Sephardic heritage, culture, tradition and customs, as well as an awareness of Sephardic identity, which remains unique and authentic. He died of heart failure on December 6, 1994 at Maimonides Medical Center.