One of the oldest Jewish communities in Iran was that of Mashhad, a city in the north-east near the border with Turkmenistan (which was formerly part of the Soviet Union). Mashhad was also the location of one of the most infamous pogroms which Persian Jews suffered in recent history – the “Allahdad” of 1839. Dozens of Jews in Mashhad were killed, and most of the others were forced to convert to Islam. Many Jews continued to live as Jews underground, but outwardly lived as Muslims. It was in that community and against that backdrop where Hacham Shelomo was born in 1871 to his father Mashiach, and his mother Esther.
Like most other young Jews in Persia, Hacham Shelomo received his Jewish education at home from his father and from the local mola (Rabbi) known as “Mola Abba”. Yeshivot were rare in Iran in general, and certainly nonexistent in the post-pogrom Mashhadi community. The lack of formal Torah education did not translate into a laxity in observance – the Mashhadi Jewish community (like their brothers and sisters in other Persian cities) did not cut any corners when it came to keeping Kosher, Shabbat or family purity laws.
After Hacham Shelomo was married, he got involved in his family business, and, as was normal in those times, he would sometimes travel to nearby Russia for business. It seems that around the turn of the 20th century, when he was about 30 years old, he moved to Russia with his family, and from there they made Aliyah to Israel in 1906, together with a larger group of Mashhadi Jews. He immediately moved to Jerusalem and settled in the Bukharan neighborhood, which was already famous as a home to many Talmide Hachamim and Mekubalim. After going to a Synagogue where some of these Mekuablim prayed, and seeing how intense their prayers were, with all the accompanying Kavanot (esoteric focus), he decided that he would dedicate his life to learning more about Kabbalah.
In addition to being the leader of the Mashhadi community in Jerusalem, Hacham Shelomo Mashiach would soon become one of the leading Sephardic Mekubalim of Jerusalem. He was a student of Hacham Shaul Dweck, who was the leader of all the Mekubalim in Jerusalem at the time. As a result, he was able to later in his life publish many of Hacham Dweck’s writings, in addition to teaching other well-known Mekubalim such as Hacham Salman Mutzafi. Later in life Hacham Shelomo moved to the Geulah neighborhood in Jerusalem, where he became a regular at a Synagogue named “Zichron Shimon.” His daily schedule was like most of the other Mekubalim of his time – he got up extremely early, went to the mikveh, would arrive at the synagogue well before dawn, where he would read the Tikkun Hatzot, and start his prayers while waiting for the other congregants to arrive. After praying Shaharit at sunrise he would learn for a few hours and only get home around 9 or 10am to grab a bite to eat. His nights were spent at a different synagogue named “Haji Adoniyah” in the Bukharan neighborhood, where he would teach other members of the Mashhadi community Halachot and Mussar.
Hacham Shelomo Mashiach was known as extremely humble and soft spoken Sage. He made sure to stay as far away from any Mahloket (strife and argument) and constantly prayed and waited for the ultimate Redemption and the coming of Mashiah. When greeting or departing from others, who would often include a verse from the Navi which dealt with subjects of consolation relating to the final Geulah of the Jewish People. Hacham Shelomo Mashiach wrote a Piyut (liturgical poem) in which he beseeches G-d Almighty for forgiveness for the sins of the Jewish people and asks him to hasten the coming of Mashiah. The original Piyut (in Hebrew) can be found at this link; what follows is a translation of only one paragraph:
With a broken voice and a throat with bitter screams
With a broken heart and intestines like a violin
With kneeling knees and downcast spirit
With a fallen face, head and stature
With a tongue that licks the dust of the earth
With hands spread forth towards Heaven
With limbs which tremble with fear
With speech of appeasement and a neck of reeds
With no tears flowing to forgive iniquity
My mind, my strength, my senses, and my nerves shake and shudder with wonder
‘Take words with you and return to Hashem’ (Hoshea 14:3)
This Piyut became part of the standard Selihot liturgy for the Mashhadi Jewish community. Hacham Shelomo Mashiach passed away on June 24, 1956 (15th of Tamuz, 5716) in Jerusalem, 50 years after he came to Israel. May his Zechut protect all of Klal Yisrael.