The custom in Aram Soba (Aleppo, Syria) – which is still observed by the Syrian Jewish community today – is to begin the Friday night prayer service with the chapter of Tehillim “Mizmor Le’David Havu L’Hashem Beneh Elim,” and then to proceed directly to Lecha Dodi, without reciting the Ana Be’cho’ah prayer. Lecha Dodi is followed by Mizmor Shir Le’Yom Ha’Shabbat and Hashem Malach, after which we proceed directly to Kol Yisrael and Bameh Madlikin; we do not recite Kaddish after Hashem Malach at this point in the service. After Bameh Madlikin, we recite the paragraph of “Rabbi Hananya Ben Akashya,” and not “Amar Rabbi Elazar Amar Rabbi Hanina.” We then recite Kaddish Al Yisrael, followed by another recitation of Mizmor Shir and Hasham Malach, which is recited this time while seated. We remain seated during the Kaddish following “Hashem Malach,” but the custom is then to stand for “Barechu” after the Kaddish, when we receive the extra Neshama (soul) of Shabbat.
The Lecha Dodi hymn was composed by the great Kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, and he embedded his name in the first letters of the stanzas: “Shamor Ve’zachor” (Shin), “Likrat Shabbat” (“Lamed”), “Mikdash Melech” (Mem), “Hit’oreri Hit’oreri” (Heh). Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz was a Levi, and he actually composed an additional four stanzas whose first letters spell “Halevi”: “Hitna’ari,” “Lo Teboshi,” “Ve’hayu Li’mshisa,” “Yamin U’smol.” However, the custom in Syria was to omit these four stanzas, and this is the custom we follow, as well. The reason for this practice has to do with the Messianist movement of Shabtai Tzvi, who claimed that he was the Mashiah and attracted many followers throughout the Jewish world who believed that he was the Messiah sent to redeem the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the Sabbatean movement made inroads in Syria, where many Jews were misled into accepting Shabtai Tzvi’s messiahship. In response to this episode, the Hachamim decided to minimize the references to Mashiah in the prayer service, in an effort to draw people’s attention away from the concept of the Messiah, a concept that was corrupted by Shabtai Tzvi and his followers. It was therefore decided to omit the four “Halevi” stanzas of Lecha Dodi, which contain several clear references to Mashiah, such as “Al Yad Ben Yishai Bet Ha’lahmi” (“through the son of Yishai, from Bet Lehem”), “Ve’nibneta Ir Al Tilah” (“the city [of Jerusalem] shall be rebuilt on its foundations”), and “Al Yad Ish Ben Parsi” (“through the man who descends from the house of Peretz [Mashiah]”). For this reason, we omit these four stanzas, and recite only the stanzas that spell the name “Shlomo.”