This Day in History – 13 Elul/September 13

13 Elul

In 5455/1695, Jews of New York petitioned the governor for permission to exercise their religion in public. Permission was denied because freedom of religion applied to Christians only.

Yahrtzeiten

5515/1755, Harav Yaakov Yokel Halevi Horowitz of Glona, zt”l

5636/1876, Harav Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkass, zt”l, son of the Maggid of Chernobyl and author of Emek Tefilla

5652/1892, Harav Avraham Yissochor Dov Rabinowitz, the Chesed L’Avraham of Radomsk, zt”l

5666/1906, Harav Yehoshua Tzvi Michel Shapiro, zt”l, author of Tzitz Hakodesh


5669/1909

Harav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai, zt”l

The Ben Ish Chai was born in Baghdad on 27 Av (or 13 Av) 5594/1834, to Harav Eliyahu, zt”l, the Rav of Baghdad.

As a boy, when he would return home from the beis medrash, he would hide in the study and quietly immerse himself in his learning for hours on end. Sometimes his family had no idea he’d come home. They’d go to the beis medrash to bring him food, only to find he was not there. Instead, he was surrounded by mountains of sefarim in their home library.

He was a talmid of his uncle, Harav Dovid Chai Nissim, who later ascended to Yerushalayim and founded Yeshiva Shoshanim L’Dovid.

When he was fifteen he went to learn in the yeshivah of Harav Ovadia Somech, zt”l, author of Zivchei Tzedek, where all the lamdanim of the time converged.

When his father, Harav Eliyahu, was niftar at the relatively young age of 52, the entire community mourned him deeply. The Shabbos afterward, Yosef Chaim ascended the bimah in place of his father and delivered an electrifying speech l’ilui nishmaso. The community was astounded as they suddenly realized that this young man was wiser and learned than they had ever dreamed, and they decided to ask him to serve as their Rav.

The Ben Ish Chai’s unique ability lay in how he deftly explained Chazal with fascinating allegories to which his audience could easily relate, even those with limited Torah knowledge. His approach was novel, and the underlying messages never failed to find their target — the hearts of his listeners.

Through his penetrating words he was able to bring many sinners to repent. He could explain his lectures even to simpletons, so that anyone who heard his lectures found in them solace and inspiration.

Among his major works are Ben Ish Chai on the parshiyos, interwoven with piskei halachah; Benayahu on the Aggados of Shas (of which only one volume was published; the rest remain in manuscript form), and Ben Yehoyada, which consists of several volumes on Aggados of Shas.

On 25 Nissan 5629/1869, the Ben Ish Chai left Iraq and journeyed to Eretz Yisrael together with his brother, Yechezkel. They traveled along unpaved roads until they reached Damascus on the twelfth of Iyar.

The Ben Ish Chai returned to Iraq by way of Syria and arrived in Baghdad on Rosh Chodesh Elul of 5629/1869.

Eight days before he was niftar he made a trip to daven at the tziun of Yechezkel Hanavi, in a village some distance from Baghdad.

On the way back, after three hours of traveling, he stopped to rest at a village called Getz, where he took ill. At dawn of his second day there, his holy neshamah departed.

This was 13 Elul 5669/1909, fifty years to the day since his father’s petira in 5619/1859.

Zechuso yagen aleinu.


Sept. 13

In 1788, the Congress of the Confederation authorized the first national election, and declared New York City the temporary national capital.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, British naval forces began bombarding Fort McHenry in Baltimore but were driven back by American defenders in a battle that lasted until the following morning.

In 1948, Republican Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was elected to the U.S. Senate; she became the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress.

In 1971, a four-day inmates’ rebellion at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York ended as police and guards stormed the prison; the ordeal claimed the lives of 32 inmates and 11 hostages.

In 2001, two days after the 9/11 terror attacks, the first few jetliners returned to the nation’s skies, but several major airports remained closed and others opened only briefly. President George W. Bush visited injured Pentagon workers and said he would carry the nation’s prayers to New York.