The surname Azoulay (often taking on many other forms, including Azulai and Assoulin) is common among Jews of Mughrabi (North African) descent, many of whom have since dispersed to the Holy Land and across the world.

There is a famous Azoulay family, descendants of Sephardic Jews who left Spain due to the 1492 expulsion, that has gifted the Jewish world many prominent kabbalists and Torah scholars, whose works are still studied and revered.

Where did this name originate?

The most common explanation is that some Azoulays are Kohanim, members of the priestly clan, whose male members are forbidden to marry women of certain backgrounds. Thus, it is often said that the Hebrew word אזולי is an acronym for אשה זונה וחללה לא יקחו (“A woman that is a harlot (zonah), or profaned (chalalah), they shall not take”), reminding its bearers of their sacred ancestry and the responsibility it carries.

However, the great Rabbi Avraham Azoulay of Marrakech (d. 1741, and not to be confused with Rabbi Avraham Azoulay of Hebron, referenced below), protested ferociously against this interpretation, going so far as to excommunicate anyone who dared promote it.1

Others have suggested that it is connected to azul the Spanish word for “blue,” perhaps because some progenitors of this clan had blue eyes or because they were craftsmen who fashioned blue ceramic ware.

A third suggestion is that the name comes from the Berber word izil, which means “good.”

Two Prominent Azoulays

Title page of the "Chessed L'Avraham", authored by Rabbi Avraham Azoulay (1750-1643).
Title page of the "Chessed L'Avraham", authored by Rabbi Avraham Azoulay (1750-1643).

Rabbi Avraham Azoulay (1570-1643): Born to a Castilian Jewish family in Fez, Morocco, he made his way to the Holy Land due to Muslim persecution and other difficulties then sweeping through Morocco, ultimately settling in Hebron.

A noted kabbalist, he studied at the feet of Rabbi Chaim Vital, prized student and chief expositor of the Arizal. He authored many books, the most famous of which is the Chessed LeAvraham, as he is often referenced.

A story about Rabbi Avraham Azoulay: The Fallen Sword of the Sultan

Portrait of the "Chida" - Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azoulay (1724-1806)
Portrait of the "Chida" - Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azoulay (1724-1806)

Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azoulay (1724-1806): A Jerusalem-born scholar and traveler, whose copious research and extensive writings have greatly enriched the Jewish library. He is commonly known as חיד”א (“Chida”), an acronym for his name.

The great-great-grandson of Rabbi Avraham Azoulay, he was recognized as an extraordinary scholar, and entrusted with the honor and responsibility of traveling to Jewish communities around the world to collect funds for the Jews of the Holy Land.

He documented his adventures in his diaries, and used his travels as an opportunity to access rare manuscripts and little-known facts. He passed away in Livorno, Italy, where he was occupied with bringing his writings to print.

Read a biography of the Chida