Friday, December 09, 2022

Serving as the rabbi and halachic authority of a heterogeneous Sephardic kehila such as Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, is a most challenging yet enthralling task. Not only must one be thoroughly familiar with the minhag-Yerushalayim-based approach of Rav Ovadia Yosef and his sons (which serves as the “official” guide for Shaarei Orah), one must also master the practices of other Sephardic communities and halachic authorities (in order to properly respond to questions posed by individual members). Among the most challenging tasks is learning how to swim in the sea of Moroccan minhagim and psak halacha.

The Moroccan approach varies significantly from the approach articulated by Chacham Ovadia. Moreover, there are a myriad of varieties of approaches and styles within Moroccan sub-communities. However, the challenge of tracking Moroccan practice has become dramatically easier with the recent publication of the two volumes of Darke Abotenou.

Certainly a game changer, Darke Abotenou is co-authored by Ariel Picillo and Dr. Adam Ohayon. Dr. Ohayon needs no introduction to Shaarei Orah, as he was a treasured member for the two years he spent in Teaneck for his residency in dentistry. Adam and his family made quite an impression with his chazanut and divrei Torah. He and I remain in regular communication. These two lay authors are guided mainly by Rav Mordechai Lebhar of Montreal, an emerging leader in the Moroccan rabbinate, and the authors’ rabbi, Rav Amram Assayag of Toronto.

The formidable task of cataloging Moroccan halachic practice is eloquently described by Jerusalem Sephardic Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Amar in his letter of approbation to Darke Abotenou:

“It should be known that the customs of Morocco are numerous and diverse. [A community consisting of] hundreds of cities and villages, each one different from the other. What was the custom in Fes was not so in Marrakech. And both of these are different from Meknes and Sefrou. And these are different from Rabat and Sale. We still have not even spoken about the great city of Casablanca and the hundreds of villages in the Atlas Mountains, as well as the great and important cities of Mogador and Agadir. [All of these together] are further different from the Spanish region of Morocco—Tangier, Tetouan, etc.”

Despite these many differences, Rav Lebhar writes that the dean of the 20th-century Moroccan rabbinate, Ribi Shalom Massas, insists that the majority of Moroccan practices are the same. Mr. Picillo and Dr. Ohayon do a magnificent job of delineating practices regarding which a Moroccan consensus has emerged and issues where differences persist. The authors specifically note which communities observe the varied approaches.

Let us share two examples—first, a consensus custom. It is the practice of all Moroccan Jews to observe their unique practice of reciting Yigdal before Baruch She’amar on Shabbat and Yom Tov. The reason for this practice is that Yigdal summarizes the 13 principles of faith, and the word “baruch” appears 13 times in Baruch She’amar.

Now a matter of debate: Minhag Yerushalayim follows the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 676:1) that the text of the first bracha recited before Chanukah lighting is “l’hadlik ner Chanuka.” This stands in stark contrast to the Ashkenazic and Yemenite practice to follow the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:4) and recite “l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.” Maran HaChida (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chaim 676) explains that the lights of Shabbat are described as shel Shabbat since we may benefit from them. The ner of Chanuka, by contrast, may not be utilized for one’s own benefit and thus may hardly be described as shel Chanukah.

What is the Moroccan practice? Darke Abotenou charts the path. The authors begin by noting that some Moroccan rabbanim and communities say “l’hadlik ner Chanukah,” just as minhag Yerushalayim. This is endorsed by two great Moroccan lights, Rav Amram Assayag and Rav Baruch Toledano. However, Darke Abotenou records “it is likely that the original custom of Morocco was to say l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.” He notes that this approach is recommended by Rav Yosef Messas in accordance with the text that appears in the Talmud Bavli (Shabbat 23a) and many Rishonim including the Rif, Rashi and (as mentioned) the Rambam. Rav Raphael Ohayon is recorded as confirming that this is the minhag of the Jews of Marrakech.

Darke Abotenou is enthralling as it is invaluable. I could hardly put down this long-awaited sefer. In our next issue, we will present the four basic foundations of Moroccan halachic decision-making set forth in the introduction to Darke Abotenou.

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.


Sign up now!