Gürçeşme (Gurcesme) Cemetery, Izmir, Turkey

The third of the three Jewish cemeteries established in Izmir, the Gürçeşme (alternate spellings: Gur Cesme, Gurcesme) Cemetery is located on a slope of the Gürçeşme hill near the Melez River.1 The most famous grave in the cemetery is the grave of Rabbi Ḥayyim (alternate spelling: Chaim) ben Jacob Palaggi (alternate spellings: Palache, Pallache), and was transferred to Gürçeşme Cemetery from Bahri Baba, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Izmir. Along with the tombs of other notables, such as Joseph Escapa, these transferred tombs have become pilgramage sites for many Sephardic Jews.2 


Visiting the cemetery: "The three main entrances are located in the west wall, on Gürçeşme Caddesi. The lower entrance is wide and accessible for vehicles. In the middle is a pedestrian entrance used both by visitors and the guard, whose home is connected to the nearby wall. The south entrance is wide enough for vehicles, and the path inside the cemetery leads close to the famous Palaggi grave. The cemetery was used from 1885 to 1934. Surrounding the graveyard is a pedestrian path that is accessible from the entrances and reaches the pergola at the east side. The path is paved between the guardhouse and the north piazza. The north part of the path is paved with gravel. Between the guardhouse and the southern path there is a narrow path between the graves. The north entrance leads to a piazza designed for ceremonies that is accessible to vehicles. Throughout the rest of the cemetery, there is no accessible path or walkway. In order to get to the graves that are further into the terrain, it is necessary to climb over other graves and walk through vegetation. The entrance compound includes the guard’s house, a vegetable patch, a shaded sitting area and the Mikveh, a purifying pool. In the middle of the complex there is a spring that flows into a small pool. In the south corner of the cemetery there are three little huts that are open to the street from the other side. Attached to the eastern path is a pergola with four benches and a spring in the center. There is an ancient underground water system running beneath the cemetery. There are two shafts connecting to underground canals: one at the north part of the site, close to the piazza, and one at the south area, which are 5-7 m. deep. Unfortunately, the cemetery has not been kept well. Many of the gravestones have been broken, by human hands or by nature, and the ruins are scattered in piles. Major parts of the cemetery are covered with thick undergrowth and debris, so it is hard to recognize the graves or even see them."3

Rabbi Palaggi (1788-1868): The bones of the famous Rabbi Ḥayyim (alternate spelling: Chaim) ben Jacob Palaggi (alternate spellings: Palache, Pallache) were moved to the Gürçeşme Cemetery in 1924.4 Ḥayyim Palaggi was born in Izmir in 1788 to the distinguished Palaggi family.5 He was educated by his father, who was a well-known rabbi and kabbalist, as well as by his grandfather Joseph Raphael ben Ḥayyim Ḥazzan, a chief rabbi of Izmir at the time, in addition to being a disciple of Joseph Gatenio (author of Beit Yiẓḥak).6 Ḥayyim Palaggi became a rabbi by age 25, and by the time he reached 40 in 1828, he had been appointed head of the Bet Yaʿaqov rabbinical seminary.7 He became av bet din in 1837, and in 1847 he was appointed as rav sheni ("second rabbi") with the title dayyan, authorized to render judgment alone, and later was awarded the rabbinical title marbiẓ Torah and rav kolel (head rabbi) by 1855.8 One year later, he was officially appointed haham başı (chief rabbi) of the Jewish community of Izmir by Sultan Abdülmecit I(r. 1839–1861). Inevitably involved in the many controversies that embroiled the Izmir community, he continued in this position until his death twelve years later in 1868.9 Palaggi was a prolific writer. Many of his manuscripts were burned and a great number were not published, but 26 works were printed, among them: Darkhei Ḥayyim (Izmir, 1821), on Pirkei Avot; Lev Ḥayyim (vol. 1, Salonika, 1823; vols. 2–3, Izmir, 1874–90), responsa, interpretations, and comments on the Shulḥan Arukh; Nishmat Kol Ḥai (2 vols., Salonika, 1832–37), responsa; Ẓedakah Ḥayyim (Izmir, 1838); Ḥikekei Lev (2 vols., Salonika, 1840–53), homilies and eulogies; Nefesh Ḥayyim (1842); Torah ve-Ḥayyim (1846); Kaf ha-Ḥayyim (1859); Mo'ed le-Khol Ḥai (1861); Ḥayyim ve-Shalom (2 vols., 1857–72); Sefer Ḥayyim (1863); and Ginzei Ḥayyim (1871).10

Izmir, Turkey

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