July 15, 2024
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The Controversial Sephardic Piyut for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, ‘Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti’

A young rabbi called before Rosh Hashanah with an inquiry regarding the Sephardic piyut for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti.” It is a stirring poem that is included in the many Sephardic machzorim after the silent Amida, to be recited immediately before the chazan begins the chazara. The haunting tune combined with the powerful poetics makes for an inspirational moment that sets an appropriate tone for the Yamim Noraim. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtiGStBd380 for a sampling of the power of this piyut.)

The young rabbi told me that the chazan who was visiting his kehilla for the Yamim Noraim did not want to say it due to concern for an inappropriate hefsek (interruption) between the silent Amida and the chazara. Indeed, two pillars of Sephardic Halacha, the Ben Ish Chai (Parshat Terumah, year one number 10) and the Kaf HaChaim (Orach Chaim 124:1), object to interjecting piyutim at this point. However, Hacham Ovadia Yosef authored a responsum that is overwhelmingly persuasive in arguing for the recital of this magnificent piece.

For Ashkenazic Jews, this hardly poses an issue since they add many and manifold piyutim to the chazara on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They certainly do not regard a relevant piyut as an unwarranted hefsek. Sephardim, though, do not add piyutim to the chazara even on the Yamim Noraim. Thus, the addition of a piyut even before beginning the chazara poses an issue for Sephardic Jews.

Rav Ovadia begins by citing the ruling of the Mishna Berura (111:10) that the shaliach tzibbur should refrain from idle conversation between the silent Amida and the chazara. However, citing Pri Megadim, he rules that the chazan may make an interruption for the sake of a mitzvah. Hacham Ovadia cites Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 124:7 as evidence that Maran HaBeit Yosef (Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Beit Yosef commentary on the Tur) agrees with the Mishna Berura. Maran ad. loc. strongly criticizes those who engage in idle chatter during the chazara. Hacham Ovadia infers, in turn, that chatting poses a problem only during the actual chazara. While great Sephardic poskim such as Maran haChida (Kesher Gadol 18:21) and Rav Chaim Palagi (in his Kaf HaChaim 15:52) write that it is forbidden to talk between the silent Amida and the Chazara, Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef argues that this applies only to idle chatter and not to divrei Torah such as piyutim.

On this basis, Hacham Ovadia believes it is permissible to recite “Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti,” especially since it has emerged as the minhag Yerushalayim, the custom of the Sephardic Jews of Jerusalem. Moreover, Hacham Ovadia cites as precedent that accepted Sephardic practice to recite on Yom Kippur the Seder Kedushot composed by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi. These beautiful poems complement the kedusha of Yom Kippur and do not constitute a hefsek, explains the Shiyurei Kenesset HaGedolah, since they parallel the kedusha. He compares this to the addition of “Hashem Sefatai Tiftach” to the beginning of the Amida, which the Gemara (Brachot 9b) justifies as an extension of the Amida.

“Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti,” explains Hacham Ovadia, fits with the theme of the Rosh Hashanah Amida since “its powerful content and haunting melody stirs one’s heart to teshuva.” Thus, even if one were to be concerned with a hefsek between the silent Amida and chazara, the recital of “Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti” is completely justified.

Finally, Hacham Ovadia cites a plethora of great Sephardic authorities (including the Ben Ish Chai and Rav Chaim Palagi) who endorse the Rama’s exhortation (Orach Chaim 621:1) against deviating from the accepted practices regarding tefillah. This constitutes yet another compelling reason not to omit “Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti.”

Although Hacham Ovadia prefers that this piyut be recited by members of the congregation to avoid any question of hefsek, common practice among Sephardim is for the chazzan to recite portions of this piyut. The power of this compelling piyut is appreciated best when it is recited by a professional chazzan.

Accordingly, I urged the young rav to instruct the visiting chazan to recite “Hashem Shamati Shim’acha Yareiti” despite the dissent of some authorities. Hacham Ovadia’s arguments and evidence is most compelling and is in harmony with accepted Sephardic practice. As Rav Ovadia Yosef concludes, if the Jewish people themselves are not prophets they are descendants of prophets, and thus we must make every effort to conform to common practices for which there is a solid halachic basis.

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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