- Kabbala and Halacha
- Rabbi Yosef Azuz
- Shalom Uvracha. I have read your newsletter regarding the Lighting
of Shabbat Candles with great interest. In addition to discussing this
important halakhic issue, you attempt to impart to your readers
information about the relationship between Sephardic Halakha and
Qabbala. Furthermore you propose a thesis that suggests a bias of Rav
Ovadiah Yosef against the Ben Ish Hai in specific, and minhagim based
upon Qabbala in general.
- I do not by any means consider myself an expert in Halakha. I do not
wish to reiterate arguments that have already been presented in Yabia
Omer (2, O.H 16, and 9, O.H.108) and Yehave Da'at (2, 33).
Nevertheless, I felt it necessary to take issue with some points made
in your article.
- You state:
- " As we have seen above HaRav Ovadiah's peers and elders
do not accept his position on this matter. However, many Sephardic
Rabbis who were educated under HaRav Ovadiah directly or indirectly
all hold by his view.
- It is clear that with regards to lighting and blessing or
blessing and then lighting that the majority of Sephardic opinions
do not follow HaRav Ovadiah. Indeed, all those who do follow his
opinion are his students, or those who align themselves with him
politically through Shas."
- You make it seem as though the idea among Sepharadim to bless first
then light is an innovation of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, and that no other
Sephardic Poseqim before him rule as such.
- Firstly, we need look no further than the Rambam and Maran Yosef
Karo themselves to find basis for this position. Who among our great
Sephardic sages can claim to be greater than these two giants?
- As for authorities that came after the Shulhan Aroukh, Rav Ovadiah
himself quotes many Sephardic gedolim who are in accordance with
Maran. (See Rav Ovadia's aforementioned teshuvot where many sources
are quoted. Interestingly, Rav Eliaou Mani himself, who was notably
well learned in hochmat hanistar, and was a contemporary of the Ben
Ish Hai, held in accordance with Maran.)
- You State:
- "A Rabbis' disciples are expected to follow in his
footsteps and opinions. However, we do not count the opinions of the
students as being separate from the opinions of their Rabbi.
Therefore, the number of Rabbis who support blessing first and then
lighting are few indeed."
- This argument is exceedingly fallacious. I have yet to hear anyone
say, for example, that the Rashba is expected to follow in the
footsteps of his teacher, the Ramban, and therefore we do not count
the opinion of the Rashba as being separate from the opinions of the
Ramban. The opinions of disciples can and should count in deciding
Halakha. Our sages, who are endowed with clarity of thought, have
always been free to form their own views separate from those of their
teachers. Examples of such instances are too numerous to mention. If
they should happen to side with their teacher, then it demonstrates
their independent approval of that opinion. To say that a student's
opinion doesn't count because he is expected to side with his Rabbi is
essentially a denigration of our holy sages and the process of
transmission of our holy Torah.
- You invoke the principle "Minhag b'Yisrael Torah He" (the
accepted minhag has the authority of Torah law)", to support
lighting then saying the Berakha.
- Clearly, the parameters of a Minhag Yisrael are only applicable
where the vast majority of Torah Jewry adopts the custom. In our case,
however, there is no conclusive minhag among Sepharadim, one way or
another. This was certainly the case in the time of Maran as he uses
the term "qetzat nashim' to describe those who light then say the
berakha, and it is even true today as Rav Ovadia himself points out.
(See Yad Nissim of Rishon LeTzion Rav Yitzhak Nissim who says that the
custom in Baghdad was inconclusive one way or the other before the Ben
Ish Hai issued his pesaq).
- Your reference to the siddur of Harav Shalom Messas is inconclusive
as we generally do not decide Halakha based upon what is written in
siddurim, as the laws found in siddurim are not necessarily presented
for pesaq purposes. Furthermore, Rav Shalom Messas himself in
Shu"t Tevuoth Shemesh (Y.D. 96) in fact endorsed the opinion of
Rav Ovadiah Yosef.
- Toward the end of your article you posit that, "The minhagim
of the Ari'zal and the Kabbalah take precedence over the Halakha of
the master Maran Yosef Karo" (Beit Yosef O.H. 141).
- Before addressing factual inaccuracy of this statement, I must first
point out the following, as a result of the confusion that exists
regarding the relationship between Halakha and Qabbala.
- We have a universal principle based upon the Passsuq, "Lo
Bashamayim Hee". The import of this principle is that, with
reference to Halakha, nobody has an inside track to Heaven. Haqadosh
Baruch Hu gave the Torah to man and with it, the tools necessary to
decide Halakha. Among those tools is man's clear and analytical mind.
No longer would our sages be allowed to make recourse to divinely
inspired prophecies, or revelations, to render legal decisions. This
has been the universally accepted Derekh of our rabbis from time
immemorial. What greater illustration of this point is there than the
remarkable story in Bava Metsiah 59b? Despite the aid of a Bat Kol,
the Gemara there rejects the opinion of Rav Eliezer.
- The Rambam in his introduction to his Perush Hamishnayot also
stresses this point. There he by states that even if a group of
Nevi'im should argue against an opinion accepted by the majority of
Rabbanim, one may not listen to the Nevi'im. If this passage was said
with reference to an actual prophecy, how much more so does it apply
to a Qabbala someone received "al pi sod'.
- I have a friend who recently attended a wedding at a supposed center
for Qabbala here in New York City. He related to me some of the
bizarre rituals he witnessed while there (people shouting out strange
chants in the middle of the Qedusha and other like practices), all in
the name of Qabbala, and clearly against normative Halakha. Someone
related to me about a well-known Hassidic group that prays shakharit
(and reads the Sefer Torah) at two-a-clock in the morning because of
their belief that such a time is Qabbalistically considered an et
ratzon. Proponents of these practices would argue that since their
minhagim are based on Qabbala, they require no rationalization. Herein
lies the evident problem with the approach that Qabbalistic practices
should override Halakha in the event of a conflict. If this were true,
there would be no end to the level of deviation to the Torah, has
- To be sure, there is nothing wrong, per se, with customs based upon
Qabbala. There are many true and profound ideas contained within these
customs. But their treatment and analysis must be within the realm of
the "arba amot shel Halakha'.
- And it isn't a matter of a Sephardic versus an Ashkenazic approach
to Halakha. There is only one approach to Halakha - that of hochma,
and in the realm of hochma, there is no distinction between Sephardic
and Ashkenazic. When it comes to the investigation of truth, the
ethnicity of the investigator never comes into play. In fact, a most
eminent Sephardic poseq, the Radvaz, says clearly (Siman 80) that if a
law stated in the Gemara or "by one of the Poseqim" goes
against that which is mentioned in works of Qabbala, he decides
against the Qabbala.
- The Ari'zal and Ben Ish Hai were indeed remarkable scholars. Yet
when it comes to Halakha and hochmat hanigleh they are on the same
playing field as Maran and all of our other great gedolim.
- As for contemporary Sephardic Halakha, there is widespread consensus
among Sephardic Poseqim that the opinions of Maran Yosef Karo are
Halakhically binding. This applies whether Maran is stringent or
lenient. (Hida himself is among those who view Maran as the ultimate
authority on Halakhic matters). See Rav Ovadia Yosef's introduction to
Sefer Halichot Olam for a comprehensive list of Poseqim and ensuing
- Regarding your reference to the statement of Maran Yosef Karo in Bet
Yosef (O.H. 141), "M'ahar Sh'lo Nizkar Zeh B'Talmud B'hedia Lo
Shi'vaki'nan Divrei Zohar Mip'nei Divrei HaPoskim." (Any law not
specifically stated in the Talmud is to be observed in accordance to
the directives of the "Kabbalah', even if all the Rabbis disagree
with what the "Kabbalah' says).
- With all due respect, Maran was referring to that which is written
openly in the Sefer Hazohar, and not by any means, any Qabbalistic
practice mentioned among the Poseqim. Maran apparently held that the
Sefer Hazohar carried the weight of a Tannaic work, and would
therefore take precedence over the Poseqim. Maran quotes there, at
length, the passage found in the Zohar pertaining to the issue
discussed there. (I wonder why you translated the term Divrei Zohar
into a generic term "directives of the Kabbalah'? This, no doubt,
would cause great confusion among your English speaking readers.)
Harav Moshe Feinstein makes this distinction in Iggroth Moshe (O.H. 4,
3). He states that the dictum that Qabbala is makhria in the event of
an argument among the Posekim is only applicable where the law is
explicitly stated in the Zohar. But, "the Ari and Sefer Peri Etz
Haim, though his honor is exceedingly great, is but one of the
Poseqim, where it is permitted to argue against him."
- As for the Berakha of Hanoten La'yaef Koakh there are a number of
reasons which render it's recital incomparable to our case of lighting
- Though Hanoten La'yaef Koakh was not mentioned in the Talmud, it is
brought down among the Geonim which makes it quite likely that the
Berakha did exist in the era of the Talmud. The problem of innovating
Berakhoth that are not mentioned in the Talmud is therefore not
applicable here. (See Taz in siman 47). The Ari'zal was merely one of
many gedolim who preceded him who was in favor of saying this berakha.
- Rav Haim Benveniste in Kenesset Hagedola notes testimony that Maran
himself later retracted his position about Hanoten La'yaef Koakh.
- Parenthetically, your references to Birke Yosef (46:31) and Kaf
Hakhayim (O.H. 46:47) in support of your assertion that
"Sephardim follow the minhag of the Ari'zal even over Maran' are
also erroneous. Hida himself rules that we must adhere to the words of
Maran (except in areas of issur ve'heter). This seems to contradict
Hida's own statement here that, had Maran seen the words of the
Ari'zal (concerning Hanoten La'yaef Koakh), he would have decided
- But the answer to this contradiction is clear. Sefer Petakh Hadavir
(siman 25) points out that Hida made that statement not as a general
rule but only with reference to this issue - the reason being that, in
fact, Maran retracted his position when he was advanced in age. In
general, however, Hida concedes to the supremacy of the conclusions of
Maran even over the Ari'zal. Kaf Hakhaim merely reiterated the
position of Birke Yosef, and therefore, the same can be said about
- In conclusion, although there are important Sephardic poseqim who
agree with the Rama regarding making the berakha for lighting Shabbat
candles, lema'ase the Halakha is clear. The bottom line is that we
follow the words of Maran through and through.
I look forward to your reply.
- Hag Purim Kasher Vesameakh,
- Yosef Azuz