Chacham Yedidia Shofet was born in 1909 C.E., 5669 of the Hebrew calendar, to a religious Jewish family of Kashan, Iran. According to reliable sources, Yedidia’s paternal ancestors had been among the renowned spiritual scholars of Kashan for more than five centuries, and ever since then, they undertook the religious guidance and leadership of the Jewish community. As the second child of the family, Yedidia began his education under the tutelage of his father Chacham David Shofet, who was considered a religious scholar and leader. Thus, the little Yedidia grew familiar with matters of religion from an early age. Later on, he pursued Torah studies with Mullah Mattatiah Houri and Mullah Yehazghel “Ezekiel” Nam-vardi. He further studied with Chacham Nathan Rofeh and Chacham Shemouel “Samuel” Yerushalmi, both of whom had received their higher religious education in Jerusalem before coming to Iran. Shortly afterwards, given his keen insight and intelligence, Yedidia had mastered all higher levels of religious studies. At 17, he accepted to join the Jewish Association, and immediately afterwards, he was entrusted with the management of the Agha Yeghouti-El School, i.e. the Kashan branch of Alliance Israélite Universelle. Moreover, as an official notary agent, he handled the religious affairs of the Jews of Kashan.
Chacham Yedidia Shoeft’s activities included the performance of “brith mila”, i.e. the ritual circumcision of the male newborn, which he also performed by request on the Muslims of Kashan and its nearby towns.
In 1935, Yedidia Shofet married Heshmat Esma’ilian, and the couple brought four sons and two daughters to the world. Presently, their eldest son, Rabbi David Shofet follows the path of his ancestors as the religious leader of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles.
In 1947, Chacham Yedidia Shofet moved his family to Tehran, and upon arrival, he opened his notary office near the Kourosh “Cyrus” Synagogue. Besides teaching religious subjects at Kourosh and Ettehad “Alliance” schools, he offered lectures and sermons at Kourosh and Haim Synagogues. Before long, Rabbi Yitzchak Levy, the founder of Otzar Ha-Torah “Ganj-e Danesh” institution, invited him to collaborate with that cultural organization to help train Hebrew teachers and participate in its seminars. Until 1981, as the Chief Rabbi of the Iranian community, Chacham Yedidia continued to carry on this critical responsibility for more than 30 years.
His amicable manners and wisdom allowed him to establish friendly relations with the clerics from the other religions, the scholars of Islamic laws, and Islamic referees, as well as government officials and especially the Muslim community at large. Given his rhetorical skills, he found himself an active presence at the Shiite religious gatherings. On behalf of the Iranian Jewish community, and together with some of its other trusted members, he actively attended many official state ceremonies and seminars. Alongside his leadership and invaluable services, he was a defender of Jewish women’s rights and one of the founding fathers of the “Beit Din”, i.e. the Jewish Court or religious arbitration body in Iran.
As a chief referee of the Iranian Jewish community, Chacham Yedidia Shofet was a rare personality, with more than 80 years of glorious services, and with love and loyalty toward Jewish ideals. He founded his life on the guidance of the Holy Book, and by teaching the exalted religious values, he passed on the Jewish faith to future generations. Throughout and at some of the most critical junctures of the tumultuous Jewish history, when the waves of blind and bestial prejudice reigned the air, he succeeded by persistence and selfless sacrifice to keep aflame and carry on the bright torch of Jewish culture.
In 1981, Chacham Yedidia Shofet immigrated to the United States. In spite of his age, he continued his cultural endeavors in Los Angeles. In 1989, with the support of other community philanthropists, he founded the Nessah Cultural and Religious Center. He was also granted the honorary presidency of most Iranian Jewish organizations in Los Angeles. In 2001, as the Nessah Cultural Center was moved to its new location, one of the largest religious and cultural centers of the Iranian Jewish community in the United States was formed.
Though not a political leader, Chacham Yedidia Shofet was nevertheless keenly aware of politics, and his deep insight and broad vision helped him guide many such leaders. Often, his words would prove effective and constructive at many a sensitive occasion.
Chacham Yedidia Shofet, the Iranian Jewish religious leader and scholar, died in 2005 C.E., 5765 of the Hebrew calendar, at the age of 97, in Los Angeles.