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Sephardic Rabbi Joshua Toledano, Dies at the Age of 69

December 3, 2009 By:
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Rabbi Joshua Toledano

Rabbi Joshua Toledano, a scion of a rabbinic family that traces its roots back to Spain before the Inquisition, spent more than 30 years in the Philadelphia region in a variety of roles, including kosher supervisor and congregational rabbi.

A major voice in the Sephardic community, the Moroccan-born Toledano -- who spoke seven languages, according to family members -- taught about the customs and practices of the Jewish communities from Islamic nations.

"He said, 'Listen, we are part of the people of Israel, but our perspective is Judeo-Muslim, not Judeo-Christian,' " said David Rabeeya, an Iraqi-born professor who, in the 1980s, teamed up with Toledano to create a program in Sephardic studies at Gratz College.

The 69-year-old rabbi died on Sept. 2; the service was held at Young Israel of Elkins Park, where he had worshipped in recent years.

Toledano came to Philadelphia about 30 years ago to become religious leader of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Center City, the region's only Sephardic shul, according to his widow, Esther Toledano, a teacher at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.

During his decade at the synagogue, Toledano also held leadership positions in the New York-based American Sephardi Federation.

He left the synagogue in 1988 in order to start the Mekor Baruch Center, named after his grandfather, Baruch Toledano, who had served as chief rabbi of Morocco.

According to Esther Toledano, the Lower Merion center focused on Jewish outreach and programming. Toledano also met with those who sought an Orthodox conversation.

"He had big dreams to really serve in the community," said his wife. "Many people who were not affiliated -- even if they were not Sephardic -- they called on him."

She also noted the languages he spoke: Arabic, Yiddish, Hebrew, French, German, English and Spanish.

Toledano became involved in kosher supervision, particularly when it came to businesses and establishments that weren't under Orthodox auspices. And he started a Sephardic minyan that met in several locations, but eventually found a home in Lower Merion Synagogue.

Toledano -- the name comes from Toledo, Spain -- was born in Mekhnes, Morocco, where his family had served as communal leaders since the 16th century. As a teenager, he left home to study at an Ashkenazi yeshiva in France before heading to New Castle, England, for rabbinical training.

Before coming to Philadelphia, he served at congregations in Great Britain and Canada, and taught at a Jewish day school in Denver.

Toledano is also survived by four daughters, one son, his parents, six siblings, 15 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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