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Haim Farhi

Haim Farhi
Artistic impression.
Born 1760
Died August 21, 1820 (aged 60)
Residence Acre
Nationality Ottoman
Other names Haim El Muallim
Employer Ahmad al-Jazzar
Known for Financial vizier and de facto ruler of Acre.
Religion Judaism

Haim Farhi (Hebrew: חיים פרחי‎, Khayim Farkhiy; Arabic: حيم فارحي‎, also known as Haim "El Mu'allim" المعلم lit. "The Teacher"), (1760 - August 21, 1820) was an adviser to the governors of the Galilee in the days of the Ottoman Empire. Among the Jews he was known as Hakham Haim, because of his Talmudic learning.[1]

Farhi was chief advisor to [2]


  • Historical background 1
  • Adviser to al-Jazzar 2
  • Defeating Napoleon's siege 3
  • Murder 4
  • Retaliation 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Historical background

After the Ottoman conquest of the Levant from the Mamluks in 1516, Galilee became part of its empire. Vast areas of Turkey, Asia, North Africa and Southeastern Europe were ruled almost autonomously by local governors. The Levant in particular, split into numerous feuding power centers.[3]

Rule over 'Akko Sanjak' (roughly present-day northern Israel) was supposed to derive from the authority of the Damascus governorate and its Walis. In the 18th century, a powerful local leader, Dhaher al-Omar, effectively severed ties with the empire and initiated widespread reforms, improving road infrastructure and security, and encouraging Christian and Jewish merchants to settle in the area and revive commerce.

After the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji was signed with Russia on July 21, 1774, Sultan Abdul Hamid I sought to reassert Turkish sovereignty by attacking Dhaher and blockading the port of Acre. His troops rose in revolt and murdered their leader. In 1775 a Turkish officer, the Bosnian Mameluk Ahmad al-Jazzar took over, and the Turks regained control over the northern areas of the land.[4]

Dhaher al-Omar actively encouraged Jewish resettlement and personally invited Hayyim ben Jacob Abulafia of İzmir to settle in the Galilee. The rabbi, born in Hebron, then part of the Jerusalem Mutassariflik (Governorate/District), returned in 1740 and was received with full honours by Dhaher. He settled in Tiberias, which was restored from its ruinous state. An impressive synagogue was built, roads were constructed, and Jewish agricultural settlements were founded at Pekiin, Shefa-'Amr, and Kafr Yasif. These policies continued under Ahmad al-Jazzar.[4]

The existence of a strong local authority enforced the law and prevented Bedouin banditry on the roads. Omar was one of the most tolerant and efficient local leaders and meted out justice equally to Muslim, Christian and Jew.[4] This was the case in the days of Dahar and al-Jazzar who transformed the Galilee into a region that attracted both Arabs from Syria and Lebanon, and Jews from the east and west.

Adviser to al-Jazzar

"Jezzar Pacha Condemning a Criminal", Farhi is pictured standing with paper in hand.

Haim Farhi was born to a respected and ancient Jewish family in Damascus. His father Saul had established a banking business that flourished to the extent that it expanded to control Syria's finances, banking and foreign trade for nearly a century.[5][6] Together with other family members, Farhi worked as a financial agent in the Damascus district.[7] Contemporary sources often mention the family as being the "real rulers of Syria".[8]

They may also have mediated between the Jewish community and the authorities, trying to alleviate the tax burden placed on the Jews of Safed. Farhi succeeded his father as banker of the ruler of Damascus. He gained extensive influence with the Turkish government and became the adviser to Ahmad al-Jazzar, ruler of Acre. This was probably due to his intrigues that led to the execution of the previous advisor, Mikhail Sakruj, a Christian merchant from Shefa-'Amr.[9]

Al-Jazzar was a violent and cruel ruler, which is evidenced from his title 'al-Jazzar' meaning 'The Butcher'. He would often find pretext to lash out in savage assaults. He had Farhi's eye plucked out, cut off the tip of his nose, and severed his left ear.[10] (A famous illustration from the time shows al-Jazzar sitting in judgment in front of his Jewish adviser, who is wearing an eye patch.)

Defeating Napoleon's siege

19th-century cannon, set in the wall of Acre near a sign commemorating Farhi. The Hebrew inscription on the sign reads: Farhi vs. Napoleon. Jezzar's right hand in resisting Napoleon's harsh siege was the Jewish Haim Farhi, senior adviser and minister of finance
The remains of the internal fortification line erected by Farhi and De-Phelipoux within the walls of Acre, during Napoleon's siege, May 1799.

It was during the reign of al-Jazzar, in 1799, that the French general and future Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte tried to conquer the Damascus governorate. In February Napoleon and his army arrived from the south, captured Jaffa and massacred 2,000 Turkish prisoners. They then moved north, captured Haifa and the Jezreel Valley and laid siege to Acre. Al-Jazzar's troops, refusing to surrender, withstood the siege for one and a half months. A British naval force under the command of Admiral Sidney Smith came to the town's defense, and an artillery expert from the fleet, Antoine DePhelipoux, redeployed against Napoleon's forces artillery pieces which the British had intercepted from the French at sea.

Farhi played a key role in the city's defense. As al-Jazzar's adviser and right hand man, he directly supervised how the battle against the siege was run. At the culmination of the assault, the besieging forces managed to make a breach in the walls. After suffering many casualties to open an entry-point, Napoleon's soldiers found, on trying to penetrate the city, that Farhi and DePhelipoux had, in the meantime, built a second wall, several feet deeper within the city where al-Jazzar's garden was.

Discovery of this new construction convinced Napoleon and his men that the probability of their taking the city was minimal. The siege was raised and Napoleon withdrew to Egypt.

Some hold that a statement attributed to Napoleon during the war, according to which he promised to return the land to the Jews if he were to succeed in his conquest of Palestine (Southern Syria), was meant to capture Farhi’s attention and betray his master by switching his support to the French. However, Napoleon never showed any particular interest in winning over the Jews of Ottoman Syria during his campaign there,[11] though his account of the military campaign records that a rumour among Syrian Jews had it that after Napoleon took Acre, he would go to Jerusalem and restore Solomon's temple.[12]


After the death of al-Jazzar in 1804, his son Sulayman Pasha succeeded to the Pashalik of Akko. Under him, the Jews enjoyed, according to one traveller, 'perfect religious freedom', and were relieved of the substantial fines they were frequently compelled to pay under al-Jazzar, and were obliged to pay only the customary kharadj.[13] Sulayman continued working with Farhi and employed him much as his own father had. Sulayman held sway over the region until his death in 1819, when he bequeathed his power to Farhi's adopted son, Abdullah, the orphan of a bey who had died prematurely.[14] However, Abdullah determined to rid himself of his foster-father, Farhi. When Farhi got word of the decision, he refused to flee, believing such an action would imperil his fellow Jews in the kingdom.

On 21 August 1820, soldiers appeared at Farhi's residence in Acre, denouncing him as a traitor. They seized and strangled him to death, and ransacked his house. His family was denied permission to bury his body. The family assets were expropriated and Farhi's body was cast into the sea. The family escaped to Damascus; Farhi's wife, unable to withstand the rigours of the journey, died on the way, in Safed.

Abdullah then compelled the Jews of Acre and Safed to pay in full all the back taxes they would have owed had they not been exempted, through Farhi's good offices, from paying over the years.[14]

Farhi's murder precipitated what one recent historian of the city called "the first, serious ... existential crisis" for Acre.[15]


When word of Farhi's murder reached Damascus, his brothers, Salomon, Raphael and Moise, swore to avenge him. They hired Turkish officers in Damascus and Aleppo to that purpose, wrote to Chalabi Carmona, an influential Jew of Constantinople, to ask the Sultan for justice, and requested a firman to that effect. Carmona obtained from Grand Mufti of Constantinople Sheikh ul-Islam, the supreme religious authority of the Ottoman Empire, a firman requiring the governors of Damascus, Aleppo and two other pashas to lend their troops to the three brothers in their pursuance of justice against Abdullah.[14]

In April 1821 the Farhi brothers arrived with a large army in the Akko Sanjak. They first conquered the Galilee, defeating the armies Abdullah sent to meet them, and appointing new rulers to take away his authority in every region they conquered. When they finally reached Acre, they besieged it for 14 months. During the siege, the eldest brother, Salomon, was poisoned (according to some sources, stabbed) by Abdullah's emissaries, and the surviving brothers, despairing of the siege, withdrew with their troops to Damascus.


Farhi's residence still stands today in Acre, but it is not open to visitors. Acre also has a square in his honour in the old sector of the city.


  1. ^ Mikhayil Mishaqa, Murder, Mayhem, Pillage, and Plunder: The History of the Lebanon in the 18th and 19th Centuries, tr. W.M.Thackston, Jr. SUNY, Albany New York, 1988 p.49
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Efraim Karsh Islamic Imperialism: A History, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2007 p.95
  4. ^ a b c Isaiah Friedman, Germany, Turkey , Zionism 1897-1918, Transaction Publishers,New Brunswick, New Jersey (1977) 1998 p.26
  5. ^ Lucien Gubbay, Sunlight and Shadow:The Jewish Experience of Islam, Other Press, New York (1999) 2000 p.130
  6. ^ Thomas Philipp, The Farhi Family and the Changing Position of the Jews in Syria, 1759-1860, in Middle Eastern Studies No. 20, October, 1984, pp.37-52 passim
  7. ^ Itzhak Ben-Zvi, Eretz-Israel under Ottoman Rule, 2nd ed. Jerusalem (Heb)1966 pp.319-22,339-43, cited Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1979 p.338 n.7. [The main job of a financial agent or sarraf was to lend money or to play the role of guarantor in financial and commercial operations within the Ottoman economy. They acted as ordinary merchant bankers in any kind of economy. The position was dominated by non-Muslims, mainly Armenians, Jews, and Catholics. (Yavuz Cesar, The role of the Sarrafi in Ottoman Finance and Economy in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Colin Imber and Keiko Kiyotaki (eds.) Frontiers of Ottoman Studies: State, Province, and the West, vol. 1, 2005. I.B. Tauris, London and New York pp.61-76, p.66.)]
  8. ^ Isaiah Friedman, Germany, Turkey , Zionism 1897-1918, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey (1977) 1998 p.26.
  9. ^ Thomas Philipp, Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831, Columbia University Press, New York 2002 p. 161
  10. ^ Mikhayil Mishaqa, Murder, Mayhem, Pillage, and Plunder: The History of the Lebanon in the 18th and 19th Centuries, tr. W.M.Thackston, Jr. Suny, Albany New York, 1988 p.49
  11. ^ Henry Laurens, La Question de Palestine: L'invention de la terre sainte, 1799-1922, Fayard, Paris 1999 p.18
  12. ^ Franz Kobler, Napoleon and the Jews, Masada Press, Jerusalem,1975 p.51
  13. ^ John Lewis Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, London 1822 pp.327-8, reprinted in Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1979 pp.338-9.
  14. ^ a b c Franco, Moise (1973) [1897]. Essai Sur L'histoire Des Israélites De L'empire Ottoman Depuis Les Origines Jusqu'à Nos Jours (in French). Hildesheim: G. Olms. pp. 130–131. 
  15. ^ Thomas Philipp, Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831, Columbia University Press, New York 2002 p. 90


  • Avraham Yeari, "Memories of the land of Israel" (זכרונות ארץ ישראל), published by the department of youth matters of the Zionist Histadrut, 1947.

External links

  • FARHI Family History
  • Haim "El Muallim" Farhi
  • Les Farhi de Damas (French)
  • Portrait of Haim Farhi
  • Haim Genealogy
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