Tag Archives: Kosher

Jew of the Week: Ben Ish Chai

Baghdad’s Greatest Sage

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai

Yosef Chaim ben Eliyahu (1832-1909) was born in Baghdad, the son of the city’s chief rabbi. After being miraculously saved at the age of 7, he resolved to devote his life to God and His Torah. He went to study at Baghdad’s Beit Zilka school, and spent all of his extra time absorbing his father’s extensive library of religious texts. When he was 14, a letter arrived from the chief rabbi of Turkey with a question for his father regarding a difficult case. His father was away at the time, so young Yosef Chaim answered the question himself. The chief rabbi sent a letter back: “Your son, dear to your soul, has already preceded you and decided this case. May his father rejoice in him…” Not surprisingly, when his father passed away, Yosef Chaim was immediately chosen as his replacement, and officially given the title of Hakham (the traditional Sephardic term for a rabbi). He was beloved by the entire Baghdad community, who regularly crowded into synagogues to hear his penetrating sermons, and who listened to his every word and instruction. One set of those sermons – which combined Halacha (Jewish law), with Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), organized by the weekly Torah portion – was compiled into a book called Ben Ish Chai. The book was so popular that Hakham Yosef Chaim himself became known as the “Ben Ish Chai”. (The title has further significance because the Hakham believed himself to be a reincarnation of the great Biblical figure Benayah, who was called Ben Ish Chayil.) The Ben Ish Chai was known for his incredible humility and piety. He slept very little, built a mikveh inside his house so that he can purify himself daily, and at one point spent six continuous years fasting (eating only a little bit at night). He inspired Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews alike, as well as the local Arabs. It is said that during his tenure there was no Jew in Baghdad that did not keep kosher or Shabbat. Throughout this time he never took a penny for his work, and made a living through his publications and his own wise investments. Many of his students became great rabbis in their own right, and Ben Ish Chai is still among the most popular Jewish books today, especially in the Sephardi world. Hakham Yosef Chaim also wrote a number of other works, including a book of kosher stories so that Jews wouldn’t be too drawn to secular novels. He is regarded as one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. The Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City – today one of the most famous and prestigious in the world – was founded upon his instructions and guidance. Tonight, the 13th of Elul, marks 110 years since his passing.

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Words of the Week

Just as punishment is brought upon a person because of evil speech, so is he punished if he could have spoken good words but did not.
– Zohar III, 46b 

The Porat Yosef Yeshiva near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Yeshiva was founded by Jewish-Indian philanthropist Yosef Shalom at the request of the Ben Ish Chai. The original building was destroyed by the Arabs in 1948. It was rebuilt in 1967 following Jerusalem’s reunification during the Six-Day War.

Jews of the Week: Amy Alcott and Laetitia Beck

Two Great Women in Golf

Amy Alcott (Credit: World Golf Hall of Fame)

Amy Alcott (b. 1956) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She played golf for the first time when she was nine years old, and the golf club was so impressed they give her special access to their facilities. At age 18, Alcott decided to skip college and become a professional golfer. She joined the LPGA and won her first tournament shortly after, as well as the Rookie of the Year award. Alcott went on to win a whopping 29 LPGA tour championships, 5 of them majors. In 1983 she became only the sixth golfer ever to make a million dollars in winnings. Alcott donated much of those earnings, and was awarded the Founders Cup three years later for her philanthropic work. In 1986, she became the third golfer ever to make two million dollars. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, as well as to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Since retiring from professional play, Alcott has turned to coaching girls golf, painting, and designing golf courses. Perhaps her most famous work is designing the golf course at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Laetitia Beck

Playing on that course and representing Israel in golf for the first time was Laetitia Beck (b. 1992). Beck was born in Belgium to a religious Jewish family which made aliyah to Israel when she was six years old. The family settled in Caesarea, near Israel’s only full golf course. Like Alcott, Beck first played golf at age 9. At just 12, she was the ladies champion at the Israel Open, and won again the following year. She then moved to the US for better opportunities and tougher competition. At 18, she returned to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. However, after completing all her exams she was given an exemption from service under the category of being a “sports prodigy”. She joined the LPGA Tour and became the first Israeli ever to do so. Beck always sports an Israeli flag somewhere on her uniform, and has said that “My goal is to represent Israel and the Jewish people.” She has done this extremely well, as she always keeps a kosher diet wherever in the world she plays, and never performs on Jewish holidays. When she declined an invitation to a golf tournament in October 2011 because it conflicted with Yom Kippur, she was compared to Sandy Koufax, who famously missed a game of the 1965 World Series for the same reason. Meanwhile, Beck earned an undergraduate degree from Duke University in 2014, where she had played for the school’s golf team, the Blue Devils. So far, Beck has won two golds at the Maccabiah Games, and five Israeli Opens (with the most recent ones played in the men’s division), as well as a Rookie of the Year award, and two appearances on the All-American golf team. She is teeing off tomorrow morning at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.

Words of the Week

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn…
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel