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Rabbi Avraham Hamra, last chief rabbi of Syria, dies at 78

Rabbi Avraham Hamra, a major leader in the Syrian Jewish community and the last chief rabbi of the country, died Friday in Israel at the age of 78.

Hamra had spent most of his life in Syria where he was a one of the few remaining spiritual leaders for the remaining Jewish population following the mass exodus of Syrian Jewry in 1947.

Rabbi Hamra oversaw kashrut, marriage and education of the Jewish community in the Middle Eatsern country, and protected his community by forming a friendly relationship with the Syrian government.

He served as chief rabbi in Damascus until 1994, when then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad allowed the last Syrian Jews to leave.

Hamra, along with more than a thousand other Syrian Jews, ultimately relocated to Israel. Hamra had also worked with Mossad to smuggle Jewish artifacts – such as ancient Torah scrolls and manuscripts – out of the country, according to Haaretz.

In his later years, he was also involved in supporting other Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world.

“Rabbi Hamra was the last chief rabbi of Syria, and as such intimately knew the needs of Jews in Muslim countries,” Istanbul-based Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, Director of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States told the Forward. “Although his health was deteriorating due to his illness, he was always there to answer questions and give advice.”

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