How Yehuda Zeitoun Became the Face of 20th-Century Tunisian Jewry

August 30, 2021 | Nati Gabbay
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In 1903, the German photographer and adventurer Rudolf Franz Lehnert came to Tunisia, where he set about documenting local life on camera, including that of the country’s ancient Jewish community. He then marketed many of his photographs as postcards. Nati Gabbay noticed that the same person shows up on many of these souvenirs, often as a rabbi but sometimes as a goldsmith or moneychanger:

After this article was originally published in Hebrew, one of our Facebook followers, Victor Cohen, told us that this mysterious man is none other than Rabbi Yehuda Zeitoun from the city of Monastir in Tunisia. Cohen, a great-grandson of Rabbi Zeitoun, says that among his many occupations, the rabbi was also a goldsmith, merchant, mohel, and a reciter of liturgical poetry. If so, it turns out, the various photographs simply document the rabbi’s varied pursuits. Cohen notes that Zeitoun’s son, Rabbi Ḥai ben Yehuda Zeitoun, was the chief rabbi of the city of Sfax and was even awarded a medal for his work from the ruler of Tunisia.

In any case, the face of this accomplished, multitalented person became a representation of the figure of the North African Jew across large parts of the world.

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