The History of the Israel-Cherezli Family



Uri Sherizly & Andrew Strum


The Israel-Cherezli family traces its history back to 1807 when the head of the family – Rabbi Isaac Israel, son of Eliahou, migrated to Jerusalem from Sherez (also known as Serres, Serrai and Shiron), a town located some 50 miles north-east of Thesaloniki (Salonica) (see map). Sherez is presently located in Greece but, at the time, was located in Turkey and geographically forms part of  Macedonia. With the arrival of the Jewish exiles from Spain and Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century, it became a home for some 600 families. The Jewish community flourished and grew. It was home to rabbinical scholars and prominent Sephardic families, including the Gatenio, Castro, Calderon, Atias and other notable families. In the 17th century the community was shaken by the Sabbatean movement (a short history of the Jews in Greece). The Jewish community remained in Sherez until World War II when most of its members were deported by the Nazis and perished in the Holocaust. Today, there are virtually no Jewish families in Serres.


Although the names may sound similar, Sherez must not be confused with Shiraz in Iran.


Rabbi Isaac Israel was born in Sherez around 1775 and arrived in Jerusalem in 1807 with two young children: Eliahou (born 1800) and Hayim-Moshe (born 1803). In Jerusalem, he was nicknamed Israel “Sherezli” (i.e. Israel from Sherez), probably in order to distinguish him from other families with the surname Israel (including members of the Israel family of Rhodes living in Jerusalem). The name was later transliterated (under French influence) as “Cherezli”. Records do not reveal the name of his wife or whether she accompanied him to Jerusalem. However, they disclose that he arrived with two young sons – Eliahou and Hayim-Moshe.


The historian M. D. Gaon in his book “Yehudei Ha-Mizrah Be-Eretz Israel” (1938) states that Isaac Israel-Cherezli’s father was named Eliahou Israel. We have seen no other documentary evidence to support this assertion and are uncertain whether Gaon did have such evidence or whether it was an educated guess. It is and was a common tradition among Sephardic Jews to name a first-born son after his paternal grandfather. Determining Isaac’s father is critical for dispelling the widespread myth that the Isaac was the son of Rabbi Moshe Israel (Jerusalem, 1670 – Alexandria, 1740), Chief Rabbi of Rhodes and later Alexandria and the author of 3 volumes of responsa entitled “Mas’at Moshe”. In fact, this Moshe Israel could not have been the father of Isaac Israel-Cherezli because he died in 1740, some 35 years before Isaac was born. The historians A.L. Frumkin and E. Rivlin in “Toldot Hakhamei Yerushalayim” (Jerusalem, 1929) and, more recently Giroa Posielov in “Hakhamei Yehudei Mitzrayim” (Jerusalem, 1998) write that Isaac Israel-Cherezli descends from a different Israel family to that of Rabbi Moshe Israel, the patriarch of the Israel family of Rhodes


A family tree was prepared in the 1970s by Michel Maurice Israel (Cairo, 1902-Paris, 1979), in conjunction with his first cousin Michel Eid Israel, great grandsons of Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli (Jerusalem, 1821-1891), Chief Rabbi Cairo and Egypt between 1866 and 1891. That family tree, which is written in French, shows Rabbi Isaac Israel-Cherezli to be a son of Rabbi Moshe Israel. In our view, this is erroneous and has contributed to a degree of confusion in the family as to its origin. Although Rabbi Moshe Israel did have a son called Isaac, he lived in Crete and not in Sherez.


There are several reasons why is it highly unlikely that Rabbi Moshe Israel was the father of Rabbi Isaac Israel-Cherezli. Firstly, it appears that Isaac’s father was called Eliahou and not Moshe. Secondly, Moshe died in 1740 and Isaac was born around 1775, some 35 years later. Thirdly, Moshe’s other sons, Hayim-Abraham and Eliahou were born in 1708 and 1710, some 65 years before Isaac was born. Fourthly, there is no record of Moshe’s son, Isaac, ever having lived in Sherez. Fifthly, Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli, in his book on the customs of the Jews of Cairo “Minhagei Mitzrayim” (Jerusalem, 1873), refers to the writings of Rabbi Moshe Israel and his rabbinic descendants but makes no reference to any relationship with them. And lastly, there is no independent documentary or historical evidence of any relationship between the Israel-Cherezli family and the Israel family of Rhodes descended from Rabbi Moshe Israel.


Eliahou Israel-Cherezli (1800-1866) and Hayim-Moshe Israel-Cherezli (1803-1863), sons of Isaac Israel-Cherezli, arrived in Jerusalem as young children and studied there. Hayim-Moshe remained in Jerusalem and his descendants established a large family in Eretz Israel. His brother, Eliahou, was invited to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Cairo in 1846 where he died 20 years later. His descendants remained in Egypt until the dispersion of the Egyptian Jewish community after 1948, after which they settled all over the world including Israel, France, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and the USA.


Therefore, the Israel-Cherezli family is divided into two main branches; the Israeli branch, descended from Rabbi Hayim-Moshe Israel-Cherezli, and the Egyptian branch, descended from Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli. The Israeli branch of the family gradually dropped the original surname Israel and retained the nickname Cherezli (in various spellings) as their surname. That branch consists of eight generations, mainly in Israel. The members of the family spell and pronounce the name in various forms such as Cherezli, Cherizli, Shirizli and Sherizly. Some have changed their surname to a more modern, “Israeli” form, including: Argaman, Shiraz, Shemer, Israeli, and Sar’el. The proliferation of surnames has made this research and the future maintenance of the family tree quite difficult. The Egyptian branch of the family gradually dropped the nickname Cherezli and retained the original surname Israel, although after the dispersion of the family from Egypt in the aftermath of the creation of the State of Israel and the overthrow of the Monarchy, individual members of the family changed their surname to Elisar and Ceresi.


Hayim-Moshe Israel-Cherezli was born in Sherez about 1803 and arrived in Jerusalem when he was four years old. He became prominent in the Jewish community and held several important positions. He was a member of the Council of the Sephardic community of Jerusalem and of the “Majlis Idara” – the advisory council to the Ottoman rulers. From 1848 until his death in 1863 he served as a representative of the Jewish community and a translator in the Ottoman Court. In addition he served as a judge – “Dayan Sheni” - on the Bet Din, the Rabbinical Court of the Sephardic community in Jerusalem. According to family tradition, his father - Isaac - is counted as the first generation in Eretz Israel and Hayim- Moshe is the second generation. In a census taken in Jerusalem in 1839 on behalf of Sir Moses Montefiore, for the purpose of charitable donations, there is an entry for Hayim-Moshe Israel-Cherezli (although he is merely listed as “Hayim son of Yitshak” at page 24). The census indicates that he came from “Shiron” (i.e., Serres) in 1809 [sic], was aged 35 (in 1839), studied Torah, and was married. In a later census held in 1855, there is more information about him. It states that he was 52 years old at the time and had immigrated from “Shiron” (i.e., Serres). He was married to two wives at the same time, as was permitted to Sephardi men who were not bound by the Ordinance of Rabbenu Gershom proscribing polygamy for Ashkenazi (but not Sephardi) men.


Hayim-Moshe had three children from his wife Sultana: Isaac the eldest (1820-1883), Rica and Rachel. From his second wife Zinbol he had three other children: Sultana (who bore the same name as his first wife), Yossef (1852-1910) and Eliahou (born 1860)


Rabbi Isaac Israel-Cherezli, son of Hayim-Moshe, followed in his father’s footsteps and held several positions in the Sephardic community, including its Bet Din (Rabbinical Court) and the “Majlis Idara”. There are several references to his important communal activities in the book “Jews in the Moslem Religious Court” (Jerusalem, 2003) where he appears in most of the cases relating to the Jewish community before the Ottoman court. His position as the Clerk of the Sephardic community was not without challenge. The newspaper of the time, “Ha-Levanon” reports (1869) that once he was asked to collect funds owing to the community from a “Shaliach” who refused  to deliver up the donations he had collected abroad. In another incident, Isaac was robbed in his home, and badly wounded, by three Arab gangsters, who thought he kept the community’s funds in his home. Another unusual story is his effort to prevent one of the elders from purchasing the “Kotel Ha’Maaravi” which Isaac thought should be bought by the congregation as a whole and not by a single person. The price was set and the seller was willing, but the conflict ended with none of the two parties buying the land.


Rabbi Isaac Israel-Cherezli had three sons; Mercado Moshe Shelomo, Rafael Eliahou, and Mordekhai.


Mercado Israel-Cherezli (1843-1883) married Oro Cornicas and had at least five children: Shemuel, Yossef, Avraham, Kadouna and Esther. It is believed that he had a sixth child, a first born, called Hayim Bechor, whose son Moshe Cherezli was deported from Paris to Auschwitz where he died in the Holocaust.


Rabbi Rafael Eliahou Israel-Cherezli (1858-1925) married Rica Luna Meyouhas and had two children; Rachel and Shelomo Israel-Cherezli.


Rabbi Mordekhai Israel-Cherezli (1853-1916) married Esther Arar and they had six children:  Moshe, Shaul, Isaac, Vida, Simcha and Leah. 


Perhaps the most notable member of  this branch of the family, who left his mark on the Jewish community in Jerusalem, was Shelomo Israel-Cherezli (1878-1938), son of Rafael. Shelomo Israel-Cherezli, also known by his Hebrew initials shin-yud-shin as “Shayish” (meaning “marble” in Hebrew), is most known for his work in reviving the Hebrew language in Israel. He started by opening a library in his home for French and Hebrew books which were rare at the time. He went on to translate many books from French to Hebrew and Ladino – the main language spoken among Sephardic Jews in those days. By some accounts, Shelomo published 52 books in Hebrew and 63 in Ladino, as well as many other publications. Shelomo started his publishing life as an employee in the printing press of the famous Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. In 1900 he and his friend Ben-Zion Tarragan purchased the press from Ben-Yehuda and he invested his time, effort and capital in improving it. Shelomo then took a bold step and published the first commercial weekly magazine called “Ha-Pardes” in three languages: Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino. World War I brought disaster upon Shelomo’s work - the Turks confiscated his press and drafted him into the Army. When the War ended, he returned to Jerusalem and opened a bookstore – remaining true to his passion. This store was also the unofficial office for “Ha-Marpeh” – the first healthcare organisation for the poor in Israel.


Shelomo Israel- Cherezli was married twice. By his first wife, Rachel Shabbetay, he had three children. Rachel passed away at a young age (circa 1910) and Shelomo remarried Hanna Muriciano (1890-1994) who bore him 13 more children. Shelomo gave all his male children names commencing with the prefix “Achi” (meaning “My Brother” in Hebrew) to emphasise their family bond.  In his honour, the City of Jerusalem, named a small street “Shirizli”, in the Nachlaot neighbourhood.


The second branch consists of the descendants of Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli (1800-1866), the eldest son of Rabbi Isaac Israel-Cherezli. Eliahou studied in the yeshivot of Jerusalem. In the 1830s he travelled to Morocco as a shaliach for the Sephardic community of Jerusalem. In 1846, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Cairo and Egypt (excluding Alexandria) and held this position until his death on Sunday, 10 Av 1866 (on which day Tisha'a Be-Av was commemorated that year). He was decorated by the Sultan in Istanbul. He befriended the Jerusalem shaliach and noted Jewish traveller, Rabbi Jacob Levy Sapir, who visited Egypt on three occasions. Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli is referred to in Sapir's travelogue "Even Sapir", which also contains a responsum by him on the permissibility of Jewish residence in Egypt after the Exodus. Like his brother Rabbi Hayim-Moshe, Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli also had two wives. His first wife, Esther, was the daughter of Rabbi Yomtov Levy of Jerusalem. She died in Jerusalem in 1887.  His second wife appears to have been called Sultana.


Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli had five children: Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli (Jerusalem, 1821-1891) who succeeded him as Chief Rabbi of Egypt;  Rabbi Isaac Israel-Cherezli, the "sofer" and "mashgiach" of the Jewish community of Cairo;  David Israel-Cherezli, who married Sol Rossi; Hayim-Vita Israel-Cherezli, who married Warda (Rose) Bogdadly; and  Bida Israel-Cherezli (Jerusalem, 1845 - Alexandria, 1922) who married Youssef Ya'aqoub Cattaui Pacha.


Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli was born in Jerusalem in 1821 and died there on 13 Ab 1891. He was the son of Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli, by his first wife, Esther Levy. He  arrived in Cairo in 1846 upon the appointment of his father as Chief Rabbi. He too is referred to by Sapir, in his travelogue "Even Sapir", who met him on his travels through Egypt in the 1850/60s. Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli was appointed Chief Rabbi of Cairo in the second half of 1866, after Rosh Ha-Shanah, a few months after the death of his father. Even prior to his appointment, he was active in the leadership and representation of the Jewish Community of Cairo. He was a member of the Maglis Shawra el Dawla (Council of State) of the Wezaret el-Dakhlieh (Ministry of the Interior). Like his father, Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli too was decorated by the Sultan in Istanbul. He was the author of Minhagei Mitsrayim (Jerusalem, 1873) on the religious customs of the Jews of Egypt. He also published Rabbi Hayim Moda'i's manuscript Tiv Gittin, with his own annotations, in Jerusalem in 1875. The manuscript had been inherited by Rabbi Moda'i's son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Yossef Algazi, Chief Rabbi of Cairo until 1846. Upon Rabbi Algazi's death, it passed to his successor, Rabbi Eliahou Israel-Cherezli and then to his son, Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli. Rabbi Yomtov’s wife, Miriam, was the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Zacuta of Jerusalem who was a great-grandson of Rabbi Hayim Modai (Safed, 1710-1794).




In 1884, Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli returned to live and die in Jerusalem, the city of his birth. His house in the Mahaneh Yehuda suburb of Jerusalem exists to this day. However, he remained the titular Chief Rabbi of Cairo and Rabbi Mercado Tarragan attended to daily matters in his absence. Upon Rabbi Tarragan's retirement to Jerusalem in 1890, Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli returned to Cairo until the appointment of his successor, Rabbi Rafael Aharon Ben-Shimeon in the month of Nissan, 1891. Rabbi Yomtov Israel-Cherezli died in Jerusalem on 13 Ab 1891 and was buried on the Mount of Olives. In 1941, on the 40th anniversary of his death, his biography Halikhot Yomtob was published in Cairo by Yomtob Levy-Tantaui, the son of his personal secretary, under the auspices of the Midrash Ribbi Shimeon Bar-Yohay. He had three sons and three daughters:  Mikhael Israel (1845? - 1892) who, in 1865, married Nazli Pinto, daughter of Moise Pinto;  Mayer Israel who married Rahel Levi, daughter of Shalom Levi, founder of the Neveh Shalom synagogue in Abbassieh, Cairo;  Moussa Israel who, in 1878, married Bida Edrei and later Rachel Witsis;  Sattout Israel who married a Mr. Dayan;  Rena Israel (1856-1926) who married Aslan Cohen; and Ricchetta Israel who married Ya'aqoub Cohen.


This branch of the family flourished in Egypt, but left the country after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the political unrest and change of regime in 1952. Most of the family moved to France, England, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Australia and the USA. This branch of the family gradually dropped the nickname Cherezli in Egypt during the course of the 19th century and retained only the original Israel surname.


Further and more detailed information, including the sub-branches of the Israeli and Egyptian branches of the Israel-Cherezli family and other references in the Hebrew version of this document can be found on this web-site.