Many of you are familiar with the MP3 files of the Tanakh that are available online at Mechon Mamre (if you are not aware of them, stop reading this and go to the site right now and start downloading some Hebrew to listen to!). Mechon Mamre links to the files made available at the Israeli Snunit Kodesh site. You can download individual chapters or entire books. Explore around the site for many more resources. The Academy of Ancient Languages also makes the readings available. But I digress.
Anyone who has listened to these audio files will forever be able to remember the cadence and pronunciation of the reader. But do you know who that reader is? His name is Abraham Shmueloff and he has quite a story! I found a short biography online a few years ago and I quote it below (the full bio can be accessed here). In classes, we referred to the reader as the “rabbi,” but as you can see from his story, it’s a little more complicated than that!
Abraham Shmuelof was born in 1913 in the Meah Shearim section of Jerusalem to a large Bucharan Ultraorthodox Jewish family which had migrated from Persia at the end of the 19th century. He would become a legendary figure in Jerusalem, moving from being an Ultraorthodox Jew to Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Trappist monk, Benedictine, returning to the Trappists and finally to serving in the Greek-Catholic Church in Galilee.
The youngest of sixteen children, he went to school at the “Collège des Frères,” and would become a companion of Menachem Begin in the Irgun (the military wing of Jewish Defense in Israel from 1935-1940). In World War II he joined the British army and fought in the famous Jewish legion. Captured in 1941, he became a prisoner of war. He was deeply moved by the reading of the New Testament which he had acquired in exchange for cigarettes. But only when he was released some four years later and returned to London, England, did he recognize Jesus as his Messiah and was baptized into the Anglican Faith. Back in Jerusalem, his family tried to persuade him to return to the Jewish faith, but he persisted and became a Roman Catholic and a Trappist monk. For a brief time he stayed at the Trappist Monastery in Latroun. But when it was taken by the Jordanian army in 1948, he became a Benedictine monk and studied briefly in Rome. Wanting to announce Christ as Messiah, Fr. Abraham joined the Greek Catholic Church. He was ordained priest by Archbishop Hakim in Nazareth in 1956 and served the Melkite community as a parish priest at Gush Chalav, (he spoke perfect Arabic as well as his native Hebrew) and helped the bishop as secretary for Jewish affairs. As he encountered more and more difficulties in serving the Arabic community, he found his true place at “La Maison d’Isaïe” in Jerusalem founded by the French Dominicans, where he collaborated on developing a Hebrew Liturgy with Fr. Jacques Fontaine. It was at this time that Fr. Abraham took on the task of recording the entire Tanak in Hebrew. Fr. Abraham always showed a great passion for the Hebrew language and often chided his young fellow Israelis for not speaking Hebrew well.