Tag Archives: Shabbat

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: Aaron Rajman

In Memory of “the Matzah Brawler”

Aaron Rajman (1992-2017) was born in the Bronx to an observant Jewish family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Florida. In his teen years, Rajman got involved with a bad crowd and struggled in his personal life. However, he soon got back onto the right path by returning to his religious roots, and taking up mixed martial arts. Rajman joined the American Top Team gym, one of the premier MMA training facilities in the US. He started racking up amateur wins, and earned six different titles before turning pro. His overall record was an impressive 21 wins to 4 losses. Despite his success in the ring, Rajman did not abandon his faith, making sure to keep the Sabbath and stay kosher. He was nicknamed “the Matzah Brawler”. Rajman was also an avid cook, and regularly hosted friends and family for Shabbat meals. In his spare time, he taught self defense in his community, and instructed local police officers in Krav Maga. After his father passed away from cancer, Rajman fought a number of charity bouts, donating the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. Earlier this week, Rajman was recovering from a leg injury when a group of thugs broke in to his home and fatally shot him. It was just a week after his twenty-fifth birthday. His community in West Boca Raton remembers him as a “sensitive, caring and kindhearted soul.” Donations to his burial fund can be made here.

Words of the Week

Our mission on earth is to recognize the void – inside and outside of us – and fill it.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe