Photo: Courtesy of Rabbi Haim Casas
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What inspired you to become a Rabbi and what do you enjoy the most about your chosen profession?
I was born in the city of Maimonides, Cordoba, in 1981. From a very young age my grandfather instilled in me a great love for the history of the Jewish quarter of Córdoba. Every weekend we walked together through its narrow streets and visited the old synagogue and the statue of Maimonides. From a very young age I was aware of the importance of the Jewish roots of Spain, of my own roots.
It was this love for Judaism that led me to dedicate my life to the recovery and enhancement of the Sephardic legacy after finishing my law studies at the University of Seville. I have never practiced law because from a very young age I dedicated myself to the foundation of cultural and community incentives. I participated in the founding of the Jewish museum in Córdoba, Casa de Sefarad, I also opened a restaurant dedicated to Jewish gastronomy, Casa Mazal, together with other friends, and finally I founded the first progressive Jewish community in Andalusia, Beit Rambam.
My path to the rabbinate began with my cultural and community activism, but what finally imposed on me was the awareness of the need to improve my education, my knowledge of Judaism, in order to help in the creation of spaces open to all, spaces where to live and share the richness of Jewish culture and spirituality. I believe that this is the most beautiful part of the rabbinate, being a servant, a facilitator that accompanies others in joy and sadness, inspiring their lives with the values of a Torah founded on love.
How does it feel to be the first Córdoba – born Rabbi since 1492 and how do we have to imagine Jewish life in Spain today?
It is a responsibility. I could have had an easier professional life in other countries or just live in a different place. After ten years studying and working abroad, I decided that I had to return to Córdoba, because my responsibility is here, helping my neighbors discover the beauty of the Jewish legacy in this city, receiving international students and visitors who come from afar seeking to reconnect with Sefarad, and supporting the community in Spain.
Spain currently has about 40,000 Jews. It is a dynamic and plural community, especially in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. I am optimistic and believe in a bright future for our community.
What part of Spanish Jewish History fascinates you the most?
Spain is one of the countries with the largest Jewish presence in history. It is difficult to choose a single historical moment. I am especially inspired by the founding period of the Caliphate of Córdoba in the 10th century, when our city became the largest and most vibrant city in the entire West. A city that was home to a diverse society and where Judaism flourished. Córdoba was part of a fascinating network of Islamic cities in which the most important Jewish communities in the world resided: Damascus, Baghdad, Alexandria, Kairowan, Fez … all the way to Andalusia. Our sages interpreted the law in the light of reason and wisdom, they were not simple rabbis such as most rabbis today: they were rabbis, poets, philosophers, doctors, scientists, mathematicians. I think we rabbis today should look for some inspiration in the Andalusian rabbis of the Golden Age.
You are working on two very interesting projects, “Alma – Exploring the Soul of Andalusia” and “La Sinagoga Abierta“– please tell us more about them.
Both projects complement each other. Alma-Exploring the Soul of Andalusia, is a cultural and educational tourism project that wants to accompany the visitor who wishes to discover the richness and diversity of the history and culture of Andalusia. In Alma we help our Jewish visitors to connect with their identity through history, gastronomy, music.
La Sinagoga Abierta-The Open Synagogue is dedicated to Jewish spirituality. Thanks to its online and face-to-face activities, it facilitates a deep, dynamic and creative experience of Jewish spirituality for Jews who live far from a physical community. We also collaborate with small and medium-sized communities with educational and religious programs. We want Judaism to be accessible to all without discrimination of any kind.
Regarding Jewish lifecycle events, how early in advance do couples or families need to get in touch with you to plan their Jewish Wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Spain? How does the entire process work?
Every event in the life cycle and every family and student is different. As far as the Bar-Bat Mitzvah is concerned, there are families who ask me to give preparatory classes of Hebrew, liturgy, history … in these cases we study a year or two before the date of the Bar-Bat Mitzvah. In other cases, the student prepares in their community of origin and I am simply in charge of organizing the ceremony in Spain in coordination with the rabbi of the community of origin and with the family. In the latter case, it is not necessary to contact me long in advance. As for weddings, it is similar. There are couples who want me to accompany them simply for the hupa but others want me to help them organize the party, the trip … For weddings I can accompany the couple for several months to prepare the ceremony, but I can also, in collaboration with my wedding planner team, prepare the whole event. It all depends on the needs and desires of the couple and the family.
What are your wishes for the future?
I dream of greater visibility and knowledge of the Jewish legacy in Spain. I also dream that the Jewish people in general discover the fundamental role that Sefarad has played in the formation of the Judaism that we have received. And my big dream is that the Jewish community in Spain continues to grow and mature and become a community that enlightens and inspires the rest of the people of Israel. An open and welcoming community for everyone.
Where can they find out more about your work?
I wait for all of you with open arms, whether for an online activity, lately I even do virtual guided tours of the Jewish quarters of Andalusia, either to walk together through the beautiful streets of Córdoba, Seville or Granada and share a pleasant chat and a glass of wine. Welcome to Sepharad!
Photos: Courtesy of Rabbi Haim Casas