NEW YORK -- Solomon Gaon, 82, the chief rabbi of congregations affiliated with the World Sephardi Federation, died of pneumonia Dec. 21 at a hospital here.

Dr. Goan was an international spokesman for Sephardic Jews -- descendants of those who fled the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 -- and an authority on their history and interpretation of Jewish law.

In 1968, he was elected president of the American Society of Sephardi Studies. He had been chief rabbi of the congregations affiliated with the World Sephardi Federation since 1978. From 1949 to 1982, he was president of the Union of Sephardic Congregations of the United States and Canada.

Dr. Gaon was born in Travnik, Yugoslavia, to parents who later died in the Holocaust. He studied at the Yeshiva of Sarajevo before moving to England in the 1930s. He received a doctorate from the University of London and was ordained a rabbi in 1948 at Jews' College in London.

He began working with Yeshiva University in New York in 1962 and became a professor in 1976. At the time of his death, he was university professor of Sephardic studies.

In 1968, he delivered the main address at the dedication of the first synagogue consecrated in Spain since King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella's expulsion of the Jews. He received Spain's equivalent of the Nobel Prize in 1990 when he was presented with the Prince of Austurias Concord Prize.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Regina, of New York; a son Isaac, of Toronto; a daughter, Raquel Goldstein of London; and four grandchildren.