I recall learning as far back as elementary school that if one forgot to recite HaMelech HaMishpat during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, one need not repeat the Amidah. The well-known ruling of the Rama is based on the idea that since one anyways mentions the word “Melech” when reciting Melech ohev tzedaka u’mishpat, the formula of HaMelech HaMishpat is not an absolute necessity. This contrasts with HaMelech HaKadosh, where during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva one must repeat the Amidah if he forgot and recited HaKel HaKadosh.
This well-known ruling, though, is based on the Rama, the major halachic authority for Ashkenazic Jews. May Sephardic Jews rely on this approach? Hacham Ovadia (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 1:57) responds with an emphatic no! He begins by listing the overwhelming majority of Rishonim who reject this approach. These include the Rambam, Ohr Zarua, Rosh, Machzor Vitry and Ritz Gai’at.
He cites Rabbeinu Manoach who notes that there is a world of difference between “HaMelech HaMishpat,” the King of Justice, and “Melech ohev tzedaka u’mishpat” the King Who loves when His creations act with justice and fairness. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah are the sole Rishonim who rule that Melech ohev tzedaka u’mishpat is an adequate substitution for HaMelech HaMishpat.
Hacham Ovadia acknowledges that the Ashkenazic Acharonim such as the Bach, Shelah, and Magen Avraham support the Rama’s approach, but notes that the Sephardic Acharonim do not. Rav Yosef presents a list of Sephardic “all-stars” who uphold the ruling of Maran HaBeit Yosef. These include the Pri Chadash, Nehar Shalom, Ma’amar Mordechai, Maran HaChida, Rav Chayim Palagi and the Sedei Chemed.
It would seem to be a “slam dunk” that a Sephardic Jew should follow the ruling of Maran in this instance, but a 19th-century Sephardic superstar, the Ben Ish Chai (year one Nitzavim, paragraph 19), does not subscribe to this approach. He argues that although Maran requires even one who said Melech ohev tzedaka u’mishpat to repeat the Amidah, since the Rama does not require this it is a situation of safek brachot (uncertainty as to whether a bracha should be recited) and thus even a Sephardic Jew should not repeat the Amidah, lest one recite an unnecessary bracha. Ben Ish Chai insists that this rule applies even when it runs counter to an explicit ruling of Maran!
Rav Ovadia Yosef most definitely considers the principle of safek brachot l’hakel in his ruling. In fact, it is a dominant theme in his rulings. However, he insists that in our situation it does not apply. He notes that this ruling cannot apply in our case since if one continues the Amidah after saying Melech ohev tzedaka u’mishpat he will be reciting an entire string of unnecessary brachot, according to the majority of Rishonim and Maran Rav Yosef Karo.
Moreover, the rule of safek brachot l’hakel does not apply when there is a minhag, a prevailing custom. Hacham Ovadia presents a most dramatic incident that he heard from an eyewitness. The eyewitness was present when the Ben Ish Chai presented this ruling. He relates that upon hearing the Ben Ish Chai state this ruling, the av beit din (chief justice of the Baghdad rabbinical court) of Baghdad leaped to his feet and proclaimed that this runs counter to the prevalent minhag in Baghdad!
Accordingly, the principle of safek brachot l’hakel does not apply in our case, since it does not apply in case there is a minhag to recite the bracha. The story about the Baghdad av beit din confirms the existence of a minhag to follow the ruling of Maran in our situation.
I was recently consulted by a young rabbi as to whether he should advise his congregants, who usually follow the Ben Ish Chai, to follow the Ben Ish Chai’s approach to HaMelech HaMishpat. I counseled that since Hacham Ovadia’s approach to our issue is so overwhelmingly persuasive, even those who usually follow the Ben Ish Chai in this case should follow Hacham Ovadia. Thus, what I was taught in elementary that the Amidah need not be repeated if one forgot to say HaMelech HaMishpat—as long as the word Melech was said—is appropriate for Ashkenazim. Sephardim and Yemenites should unquestionably follow the ruling of Maran Rav Yosef Karo and Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.