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Beit Midrash: Rav Binyamin Levy of Smyrna: Adding Words to the Liturgy Print E-mail

ResponsaThe 10th of Tammuz is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Binyamin Levy of Smyrna (1721): Rav Yosef Ergas, author of Shomer Emunim on Kabbalah, consulted with Rav Binyamin Levy of Smyrna over an issue in Leghorn in 1742 (Divrei Yosef #1-5):


The custom in Leghorn on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was to add the phrase, “Keil Chai,” “Living Power,” after the words, “Elokim Chaim.” The ordinary people insisted on retaining the practice of reciting this extra phrase, which had been printed in their Machzorim, but the scholars of the community objected to it. Rav Ergas first addressed the question in 1715.

Eventually Rav Ergas considered that since the matter concerned the practice in Leghorn it might be argued that the sages of Leghorn, who did not add this phrase, were biased in their ruling. He decided to consult the rabbis of Smyrna, Aleppo, and Egypt.

Rav Binyamin Levy agreed with Rav Ergas’ reasoning that the practice should be stopped (Note: Rav Ergas’s arguments are a fascinating discussion). However, he quotes the Maharshdam (Shmuel da Modena, Orach Chaim #34) that a custom without a sound religious basis should not be followed. The custom of saying, “Keil Chai,” was introduced before the teachings of the Ari haKadosh had been revealed. “But now that we do have the Ari, who dares disagree with the Great Lion?” “True, the ruling is that where the Talmud differs from Kabbalah one must follow the Talmud, but here the Talmud is silent. Even if all the Halachah writings ruled one way, and the Ari, another, one should follow the Ari. The Ari should have the decisive voice, and the practice should continue.

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