Last evening, the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation held a dinner for the Hilula of Rabbenu Hakham Ribbi Yoseph Chaim ‘a”h, also known as Ben Ish Chai (the title of his best known sefer).
Who was the Ben Ish Chai? He was born in 1834 and was niftar in 1909. In 1859, at the age of 25 he became Chief Rabbi of Baghdad when succeeding his late father the Hakham Rav Elyahu. Rav Yoseph Chayim became one of the greatest of the modern-day Sephardic poskim. With his encyclopedic knowledge of all facets of Judaism (from the hidden and from the revealed), his approach was all encompassing; he considered the opinion of Ashkenazic scholars as well as Sephardic ones, and insisted that the opinions of “Acharonim” (Torah scholars from the 16th century onward) be considered along with the Talmud, of course, and the “Rishonim” (Torah scholars from North Africa, Egypt, Europe and Palestine between ca. 1000 C.E. and ca. 1500 C.E.) These included such great authorities as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the “Chayei Adam,” and many others.
On the 8th of Elul 5669, he went on a pilgrimage to he tomb of Yechezkel Hanavi. He became sick and on the 13th of Elul he passed away. The number present at his levaya was huge, and consisted of Jews and non-Jews alike who came to give honor to this great man.
During a festive repast of authentic Iraqi dishes, Rabbi Raphael Benchimol (Rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation), spoke and made a siyum Mishnayiot, culminating the study of the whole Seder Mo’ed. He ended with the last Mishnah in Chagigah, “Keitzad ma’avirin al taharat azarah? – How did they remove [the utensils] for the purpose of cleansing the Forecourt?” He explained it by bringing down some of the Ben Ish Chai‘s commentaries. The siyum was done during the year of passing of Rabbi Benchimol‘s father – Aharon ben Avraham, as well as in memory of the other sponsors’ parents: Eliyahu ben Reuven, Victor Gourji ben Lulu vChoua and David ben Avraham alehem hashalom. As part of his explanations on the Mishna, the Rabbi connected it with the theme and importance of the mitzvah of kibud av va’em – honoring one’s father and mother.
Rabbi Matatia Chetrit spoke next about the lasting relevance of the Ben Ish Chai teachings, 103 years after his petirah.
Rabbi Shalom Sibony, head of MSC‘s Kollel teaching staff, spoke next.
There were almost a 100 people in attendance though the shot above gives only a partial view of the crowd. The food was prepared at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s 18 Restaurant. The sponsors of the Hilula were the Benchimol, Iny, Moche and Mukamal families.
It was an inspiring, informative, delicious evening. What more can one ask?