Rabbi Elie Abadie

Rabbi, The Edmund J. Saffra Synagogue, New York, NY; Director, Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies, Yeshiva Universitry, New York, NY

Apr 13, 2007

Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D., is the founding rabbi of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, the flagship Synagogue of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogues worldwide. There are about 450 member families of the Synagogue. Additionally, he serves as Director of the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies of Yeshiva University, where he also teaches at the Isaac Breuer College and Stern College.

Rabbi Abadie comes from a long rabbinical family lineage dating back to 15 – 16th century Spain and Provence. With the expulsion from Spain and later Provence, his family migrated (throughout the ages) through southern Europe including Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. Throughout all those generations, there was a rabbi in almost every generation; he wanted to continue this legacy. His father was a rabbi, a hazzan, a sofer, a shohet and a mohel, as is typical of a Sephardic rabbi. He wanted to follow in his footsteps and studied all of the above, although he practices only as a rabbi, hazzan and sofer.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, he grew up in Mexico City. After yeshiva high school there, he came to the U.S. to attend Yeshiva University from which he graduated in 1983. In 1986, he received Semikha from its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, and a Master’s Degree from its Bernard Revel Graduate School in Jewish Philosophy. He chose Jewish Philosophy because he believes that a rabbi should be well versed in Jewish Philosophy to enhance his understanding of Judaism and the statements of our Sages, and to be better enable him to teach his congregants and students. Afterwards, he received a M.D. degree from Downstate Medical Center. He did a residency in Internal Medicine and a subspecialty in Gastroenterology, both of which he practices.

Asked about his favorite aspect of the rabbinate, he said it’s “the opportunity to create bonds with people, individuals and families and nurture these relationships. I feel accomplished and satisfied when I see an individual or a family change for the better and become observant of our Torah due to my teaching and influence. The Rabbinate has affected me personally in a very real way. Although being a Rabbi is the continuation of my family tradition for several centuries as there was a Rabbi Abadie almost in every generation of my family, it is also my calling. I enjoy it, grow in it and derive much satisfaction from it. However, privacy and private life has been sacrificed. My time is not my own, I am practically always on call for the Rabbinate. With the dawn of the cellular phone I can be reached everywhere, anywhere and at anytime. Anywhere I travel, locally or even internationally it never fails, there is always someone who will approach and greet me, and many a times I do not recognize the person. It is something that I actually appreciate and derive much nahat from."

Rabbi Abadie feels that the greatest challenge of the rabbinate is to bring to life our Torah and its precepts and their relevance in our time. In this age of technology, individual rights and openness, he feels that it is a rabbi’s responsibility and challenge to reconcile tradition with innovation and thereby make it relevant and important to the lives of congregants and students.

He is proud of his communal leadership: “I am most proud of having taken individuals living in an area and create from them a community and a sense of belonging. In my first year of Medical School when I was in Chicago, I created a community of individuals and founded a synagogue, Shaare Mizrah, in less than 4 months of living there. I left Chicago 8 months later and put the synagogue on a path of growth. Now the synagogue after 19 years of existence has over 300 families and is growing and building."

“I have done the same thing,” he continued, “in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The Edmond J. Safra Synagogue opened its doors on Rosh Hodesh Adar 2003 as a synagogue without a congregation or a community. It was built by one person, Lily Safra as a memorial for her beloved husband Edmond Safra, hoping that people will join the synagogue, attend and become a congregation. The first Shabbat, we had 40 people. And again in less than 4 months, we developed a daily minyan. Almost 4 years later, we have a congregant list of over 450 families. We have international congregants from all over the world and we have welcomed countless international and American dignitaries, diplomats and politicians. We have become a synagogue of renown. More importantly, the amount of positive influence and change that the synagogue was able to bring to the lives of so many of its congregants in limud Torah, acts of hesed, Torah observance, Israel advocacy and civic responsibility is what really gives me such sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.”

To younger rabbis at the start of their rabbinic career, Rabbi Abadie would “give them my father’s advice. The advice that I followed and continue to do so: to maintain impeccable integrity, freedom of thought and action, to have the courage to act independently without fear or concern of reprisal and to be your own master. However, to be able to do so they need to have an independent source of income and not have to rely on the congregation, the President, the board or the Gabbay, or on any other wealthy person for that matter.

Among many memorable experiences, Rabbi Abadie recalls that, “as a representative of the Sephardic community in the USA, I was invited to a meeting with President George W. Bush and later that evening to celebrate Hanukkah at The White House. It was quite a memorable moment to see the Kavod that a President receives as is due to him and to imagine the Kavod that we must give the A-mighty and the Glory that accompanies His presence. I had the opportunity to recite the special blessing when meeting such an honorable person. At the same time I felt the great honor that the President of the most powerful nation on Earth gives to a representative of the Jewish people and to Judaism itself.”

He is active member and board member in a wide variety of organizations, including:

• The American College of Gastroenterology, the American Gastroenterological Association, and ECHO Medical Advisory Organization

• Aleppo Sephardic Heritage Center (Tel Aviv), American Sephardi Federation, Sephardic Rabbinical Council, Sephardic Community Federation, and World Sephardic Educational Center

• American Friends of Likud and American Israel Public Affairs Committee

• Rabbinical Alumni Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and the Eruv committee of the Midtown Rabbinical Board.

• Rabbinical Council of America, he serves on its Executive Board and its Health Care Proxy committee.

He is married to Estie, nee Eichler. Together, they have six children, Talia, Abraham, David, Batya, Oriel and Michael.