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Learning From Our Ancestors in Halab

Several generations ago, there was a Torah journal published in Halab (Aleppo, Syria) called "Ha’me’asef." On Rosh Hodesh Kislev (November 6), 1896, an article was published in the journal that had been written by one of the young Rabbis in the city, Rabbi Menahem Choueka. In the article he addressed the question of whether one should interrupt his recitation of Pesukeh De’zimra to join the congregation’s recitation of "Kadosh Kadosh" in the Beracha of "Yoser" or in "U’ba Le’sion." Meaning, if he hears the congregation reciting the Kedusha in "Yoser" or "U’ba Le’sion" while he is reciting Pesukeh De’zimra, should he join in their recitation of Kedusha, or should he remain silent? It is clear that one interrupts Pesukeh De’zimra to join the congregation’s recitation of Nakdishach, but it is questionable whether this extends to the other recitations of "Kadosh Kadosh." Rabbi Choueka concluded that we should not equate the different recitations of "Kadosh Kadosh," and thus one should not interrupt Pesukeh De’zimra for this recitation in "Yoser" or "U’ba Le’sion."

At the time he wrote this article, Rabbi Choueka had not the faintest idea that this would spur a tempest that would rage among the Rabbinic community of the Middle East. Another Rabbi in Halab, Rabbi Shalom Hedaya, wrote a response opposing Rabbi Choueka’s conclusion, and it was published in the journal two months later. Two other local Rabbis, Rabbi David Sit’hon and Rabbi Eliyahu Hamoui, agreed with Rabbi Hedaya’s position. These two Rabbis decided to consult on the matter with Rabbi Yitzhak Abulafia of Damascus, but he sided with Rabbi Choueka. Rabbi Abulafia, in turn, brought the matter to his colleague in Damascus, Rabbi Yaakov Taraf, who agreed with his ruling. In nine lengthy letters, these Rabbis brought numerous proofs and counterproofs to their position. They also consulted with Rabbi Eliyahu Yiloz of Teverya, and Rabbi Rahamim Frankel of Hebron, both of whom sided with the ruling of Rabbi Choueka. The issue would eventually be brought before the Chief Rabbi in Eretz Yisrael, the Rishon Le’sion Rav Yaakob Eliashar, who also agreed with Rabbi Choueka’s position.

This controversy raged for four years, and is documented in great detail in the book Kedushat Eretz, which was recently published by the Sephardic Heritage Museum. The book is over 180 pages long, and is devoted entirely to this single halachic detail – whether one interrupts Pesukeh De’zimra to join in the congregation’s recitation of "Kadosh Kadosh" in "Yoser" and "U’ba Le’sion."

The significance of this episode extends far beyond mere historical intrigue. It is a testament to our ancestor’s love of Torah, passionate commitment to halachic minutiae, and great reverence for Tefila. Most people today, even those who are committed to halachic observance, would not likely pay too much attention to this detail, and yet this question sparked a controversy that raged for four years and yielded dozens upon dozens of pages of scholarship. And, whereas many of us today do not think twice about engaging in idle chatter in the synagogue, interrupting the prayers for unnecessary and at times even inappropriate conversation, our ancestors in Halab were concerned about interrupting prayers to recite "Kadosh Kadosh." This is a very valuable piece of history that shows us that Aleppo Jewry was not just about nice songs and fine oriental cuisine. We have a rich, glorious tradition of remarkable Torah scholarship and passionate commitment to strict Halachic observance. This is the tradition and legacy that we have received and which we are obliged to preserve, perpetuate and transmit to the next generation.

 


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