Tag Archives: Orthodox Jews

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.

10 Ladino (“Sephardic Yiddish”) Words to Use All the Time

Why Break a Glass at a Jewish Wedding?

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.

Jew of the Week: Anne Neuberger

The Hasidic Woman That Runs America’s Cybersecurity

Chani Anne Neuberger (b. 1976) was born in Brooklyn to a Hasidic Jewish family with roots in Hungary. She grew up speaking Yiddish and went to school at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park. She studied at Touro College, then earned an MBA from Columbia University. A professor suggested that she apply for the prestigious White House Fellowship, and she did a couple of years later. She was selected and – to her surprise – instead of going to the Treasury Department she was posted to the Department of Defense. From there, she got a job working for the Secretary of the Navy, and eventually became the US Navy’s deputy chief management officer. In 2009, Neuberger was posted to the new Cyber Command team of the NSA (National Security Agency). Her work was impressive, and after the Snowden leaks of 2013, she was appointed the NSA’s first chief risk officer. Neuberger also served as assistant deputy director of operations, and most recently oversaw security during the 2018 US Midterm elections. Earlier this week, Neuberger was named the NSA’s new head of the Cybersecurity Directorate. She sits on the NSA’s board of directors, and is one of its highest-ranking women. Neuberger finds inspiration for her work in her own family history: Seven of her eight great-grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, her grandparents were survivors, and in 1976 her parents were hostages on the Air France plane that was hijacked by terrorists and diverted to Entebbe. Outside of government, Neuberger runs a charity called Sister to Sister which helps single mothers in Orthodox Jewish communities across the US and Canada. The organization has over 1000 members and volunteers. Neuberger remains devoutly religious, and has said that sometimes her coworkers remind her that sunset is approaching so that she can make it home for Shabbat. Her advice to religious Jews: “learn to navigate the secular world as a frum [religious] Jew without apologizing, without abandoning your principles, but also with a sense of how and when to be flexible.”

Jews and the Founding of America

The Jewish View on Extraterrestrial Life

Words of the Week

I didn’t really have any role models of working women. I heard a lot of “a frum woman can’t do this; a frum woman doesn’t do that.” But I strongly feel that a woman should use the talents Hashem gave her, and that being frum is not a barrier to professional success.
– Anne Neuberger