July 12, 2024
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Simana Tava: A Wonderful Way to Begin Sefer Bereishit

What a beautiful way to begin Sefer Bereishit! Many Sephardic Jews, before beginning the reading of Sefer Bereishit on Simchat Torah, proclaim “b’simana tava,” in a good sign. This minhag is recorded and endorsed by the venerated Ben Ish Chai, Rav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, in his Teshuvot Rav Pa’olim (3: Orach Chaim 42).

Many have raised the issue, though, regarding the problem of hefsek, an unwarranted interruption. The fact that the Chatan Bereishit proclaims “b’simana tava” after he recited his bracha and before the commencement of the Torah reading certainly appears to constitute a hefsek. The Ben Ish Chai defends the practice in two manners: First, two words do not constitute a hefsek, as only a minimum of four words create this problem, such as when greeting his rav with the traditional salutation “Shalom alecha, Rabi u’Mori.” Second, b’simana tava is a form of tefillah, which the Ben Ish Chai contends is not a hefsek.

The Ben Ish Chai cites as a precedent a stunning ruling from the venerated work Pe’at HaShulchan (Hilchot Eretz Yisrael number three). This sefer surprisingly reports that shochtim (ritual slaughterers) were compelled by the Moslem owners of animals to recite “Allahu akbar” after reciting the bracha on the shechita, in order for the animal to be acceptable to Moslem purchasers. The Pe’at HaShulchan rules that this is acceptable since it is less than two words.

Indeed, the work Ateret Rosh infers this ruling from the Gemara (Berachot 40a), which states that the words “tol broch, tol broch” do not constitute a hefsek between the recital of a bracha and eating. The term tol broch is repeated, explains Ateret Rosh, since less than four words do not create a hefsek.

Chacham Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 10: Orah Haim 55:3:33), however, notes that the same Gemara teaches that the two words “g’vil l’tori” could potentially create a hefsek, even though it is only two words. Chacham Ovadia cites a slew of Rishonim who imply this as well. These Rishonim include the Sefer HaEshkol, Meiri and Ra’avyah.

Moreover, Chacham Ovadia cites many great Acharonim who rule that even one irrelevant word constitutes a hefsek. These include none other than the Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halacha 25:9), Chayei Adam (5:11), Pri Megadim (Orach Chaim 206:4) and Tevu’ot Shor (Yoreh Deah 19:13).

Most important, Chacham Ovadia notes that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 167:6) seems to indicate that even saying the two words “bring salt” could constitute a hefsek if it is not necessary. Thus, Maran Rav Yosef Karo seems to reject the position set forth by the Ben Ish Chai and the Pe’at HaShulchan!

Finally, in regard to the Ben Ish Chai’s idea of b’simana tava constituting a relevant tefillah, Chacham Ovadia is not comfortable with the insertion of a discretionary prayer between a bracha and the performance of the mitzvah. He refers to a discussion he presents in Teshuvot Yabia Omer (7: Yoreh Deah 23:4) rejecting the idea of inserting recital of kaparot between the bracha and the shechita of the chicken used for kaparot.

To top off Rav Yosef’s argument, he cites Rav Chaim Palagi, a major 19th-century Sephardic authority, who views the words b’simana tava as a hefsek.

Chacham Ovadia concludes his responsum on a dramatic note, saying that when he serves as a shaliach tzibur (i.e., Torah reader) for Chatan Bereishit he proclaims b’simana tava before the Chatan Bereishit recites the bracha, thereby avoiding the issue of hefsek altogether. Rav Ovadia’s son Chacham Yitzchak codifies this approach in his Yalkut Yosef, and this is the practice at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. However, many Sephardic congregations continue to recite b’simana tava after the Chatan Bereishit recites the bracha, in accordance with the view of the Ben Ish Chai. Time will tell what will emerge as the prevailing practice in the Sephardic community in the years and decades to come.

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.

 

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