Because of the dedication of Rabbi Ezra Attiya (1885-1969), hundreds of Sephardic Jews chose to extend their education, scores decided to dedicate their lives to Torah study and dozens of distinguished rabbis served in Sephardi communities around the world.
Rabbi Attiya was the long-awaited child of Rabbi Yitzchak and Leah Attiya, who had lost several children in infancy. During this pregnancy, the couple from Aleppo, Syria, went to the town of Tedef, where local legend believes the prophet Ezra to be buried (there is also a tomb attributed to Ezra in Iraq). They prayed there and promised that, if the child were a boy, his life would be dedicated to Torah.
Ezra and his only living sibling, a younger brother named Eliyahu, studied with their father, who was a respected teacher. Eventually, the family moved to Jerusalem. Tragically, shortly thereafter, Rabbi Yitzchak Attiya died. The family was poverty stricken, and Mrs. Attiya became a cleaning woman. Poor as they were, Ezra continued in his dedicated Torah study, surviving mostly on pita spiced with salt.
In 1907, Rabbi Attiya joined the staff of the newly established Yeshivat Ohel Moed. With the outbreak of World War I, however, Rabbi Attiya fled to Cairo to avoid conscription in to the Turkish Army. There he opened a yeshiva that grew to 100 students.
He returned to Jerusalem in 1922. After teaching at Yeshivat Ohel Moed for a year, Rabbi Attiya joined the newly formed Yeshiva Porat Yosef, which would become the leading Sephardi yeshiva.
Rabbi Attiya was dedicated to his students. He even offered to reduce his salary in order to cover the tuition of one promising but impoverished student. One story told about Rabbi Attiya describes his incredible contribution to the education of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, (who went on to become one of the world’s leading rabbis of his age), when he himself volunteered to work in Rabbi Yosef’s father’s grocery so that the bourgeoning scholar could remain in yeshiva.
After a prolonged illness, Rabbi Ezra Attiya passed away on 19 Iyar, 1969.