Hacham Haim Benvenisti

5363 - 17 Elul 5433      

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Hacham Haim Benvenisti

A Short Tribute

Hacham Haim Benvenisti, known as Knesset HaGedola, son of Israel, was born in 1603 in Kushta (Constantinople). He studied with his grandfather, Hacham Moshe Benvenisti, and with Hacham Yosef Mitrani, Hacham Yosah Samiga and Hacham Tzemach Narbuni. In 1624, at the age of 21, he was appointed to the Kushta Council of Elders. In 1643 he began to officiate as Rabbi of the city of Tire, near Izmir, and in 1666 began to officiate as Rabbi of Izmir.

In 1665, Shabbetai Tzvi, the false messiah, returned to Izmir from exile and many people were drawn to him. Hacham Haim Benvenisti and Hacham Aaron Lapfa led his opponents. At a later point, Hacham Haim Benvenisti began to support Shabbetai Tzvi. He withdrew his support when Shabbetai Tzvi converted to Islam and led the group of rabbis who fought against his followers. Hacham Haim Benvenisti's status in the halakhic world remained untarnished by the period of his support of Shabbetai Tzvi, and he is considered one of the greatest adjudicators in Jewish history.

Hacham Haim Benvenisti passed away on 17 Elul, 5433 (1673) and was buried in Izmir. Among his works is the Knesset HaGedola, Be'i Hai - Responsa, Hamra VeHayay - innovations on the Talmud, a book of Passover Halakhot entitled Pesach Me'ubin, and a commentary on the Sefer HaMitzvot HaGadol entitled Dina Dhayay.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he annuls the custom of not raising the Torah scroll on the 9th of Av morning Shacharit prayer
It is a widespread custom not to raise the Torah scroll during the Shacharit prayer as is usually done, when the Torah scroll is lifted and its writing shown to the people standing to its left and to its right, and turned frontward and back, and then VeZot HaTorah is recited, as written in Sefer HaSofrim.
I did not find this written in any book. Where has the custom not to raise the Torah scroll on the 9th of Av during the Shacharit prayer originated? It may be that this custom developed because lifting the Torah scroll and showing it to the congregation, from side to side, in all four directions to show its writing, seems to be a joyous sight. Had I not seen that this is custom is commonplace, I would say that it is an error and that the custom should be annulled, for this lifting is required according to Tractate Sofrim Chapter 13, brought by the Rabbi, Beit Yosef, may he rest in peace, in Orah Haim, section 134. And by Nachmanides in his commentary on the Ki Tavoh Torah reading portion. And the Beit Yosef shows the reference in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sotah, where it says, "Cursed be he who does not raise it: Why, can the Torah descend? Rabbi Simon bar Yochai says: This refers to the cantor. The Sages explain that a cantor who does not lift the Torah scroll in public must show its writing to the public, as it says in Tractate Sofrim.
If the cantor who does not raise the Torah scroll is considered to be cursed, why not raise the Torah scroll on the 9th of Av during Shacharit as usual? It is hardly plausible to say that Nachmanides was referring to all other days. Who disagreed with him, and on what basis? Since on the 9th of Av the Torah is taken out and read, I have decreed that here, in Izmir, may God protect it, in the Portuguese community, may God protect it, the Torah scroll is to be raised on the 9th of Av during Shacharit. We are not to abandon Nachmanides' explicit words based on the Jerusalem Talmud on the basis of a custom for which we have found no basis in any books, and to cause a curse, heaven forbid. I have written what is, in my modest opinion, apparent.
Be'i Hayay, Orah Haim, Part b, section 37, p. 79 – 80, Machon HaKetav Publishing, Jerusalem, 1984