Rabbi Zion Rajamim Levy
Rabbi Zion Rajamim Levy was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Panama for 57 years. His tenure is thought to be the longest of any religious leader in the region. He built up a Jewish community of 6,000-7,000 Torah-observant Jews in a country of 3 million.
Rabbi Levy was born in Jerusalem shortly after his parents immigrated to Palestine from Morocco. His father was Rabbi Yaakov Levy, a noted kabbalist at Beit El Yeshiva. He studied at Porat Yosef Yeshiva.
He arrived in Panama in 1951 at the urging of the Jerusalem beth din.
Levy built the ShevetAhim Congregation and community in Panama. To prevent power struggles between community factions and himself, Rabbi Levy established himself as the sole Torah authority. He also laid down the conversion law immediately: No conversions will be performed in Panama, ruling that all converts must undergo conversions in Orthodox rabbinical courts outside Panama and then be subject to a two-year probation period in Panama, where they would have to prove their commitment to a Torah lifestyle.
In his later years, Rabbi Levy oversaw the construction of new synagogues in Panama City and worked to smooth relations with the country’s Arab and Muslim communities.
By the time of his death, the ShevetAhim community numbered 10,000 Jews, 6,000 of whom are Torah-observant. The community included several synagogues, mikvahs, three Jewish schools, a yeshiva, a kollel, and a girls’ seminary, along with several kosher butchers.
Rabbi Levy suffered from ill health for several years. In October 2008, he felt unwell and was visited by two physicians from Israel’s Tel Hashomer Hospital. The doctors found him in critical condition and recommended that he be flown to Israel to Tel Hashomer. His condition improved initially, but on the evening of 23 November 2008 he succumbed to his illness at the age of 83. He was eulogized at Porat Yosef Yeshiva.
Rabbi Levy had two sons, David and Haim Levy. His wife, Rubissa Sarah, died shortly after her husband’s death.Haim Levy, a resident of Jerusalem, took over his father’s post in Panama as Chief Rabbi. He later resigned the post, and returned to Israel.