Photograph 4

Reading prayers in a loud voice near the tomb of a venerated Rabbi, awaiting visitors.

Ubiquitously present in the cemetery were functionaries who were usually not rabbis, much less “priests”, as our photographer assumed them to be. They were known more accurately as honacis. Many of the honacis were rabbinical drop-outs though some were simply very poor members of the rabbinate who added to their livlihood by serving the needs of visitors to the cemetery. The word honaci is the Ottoman adaptation of the Persian root hon, which means “to shout” or “call out”. A honaci is thus a person who, in this context, shouts or calls out prayers. Most of the visitors to the cemetery were women and most Salonica Jewesses were illiterate. The task of the honaci was thus to read prayers proper for an occasion: a memorial, visitation to a holy rabbi’s tomb, or even the commemoration of a holiday. The honacis also served as guides through the maze of the cemetery. They were called upon to locate the tombs of relatives, or on occasion those of obscure rabbis or noted persons whose intercession was being sought. Salonica had over 32 congregations, each quite distinct in some ways and many of them could boast of long dead rabbis or kabbalists whose proximity to God ensured the efficacy of supplication to them in time of need. Some were apparently quite specialized in dealing with specific problems: run-away husbands, maledictions such as the evil eye, and even financial crises. Members of one congregation would often seek the intercession of a defunct rabbi from another congregation and the honacis were an invaluable assistance in finding such tombs.
The honaci shown here is wearing a somewhat typical, though work-worn antari (kaftan) and on top of it a short jacket. On his head he is wearing a black kavuk of a type worn by most of the members of his occupation.