This Day in History – 20 Shevat/January 21

Sign outside the beis medrash of Harav Ovadyah Hadayah.
Sign outside the beis medrash of Harav Ovadyah Hadayah.

20 Shevat


2073/1688 B.C.E., Asher, the son of Yaakov Avinu. He was also born on this date in 2196/1565 B.C.E.

5572/1812, Harav Yosef of Yampoli, zt”l

5618/1858, Harav Chaim Dovid Berenhard, zt”l, known as the holy doctor of Pietrikov



Harav Ovadyah Hadayah, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Beit El, mechaber of Yaskil Avdi

Harav Ovadyah Hadayah was born in Aleppo, Syria, in Teves 5650/1890. His father, Harav Shalom, was a descendant of a famed family of Rabbanim of Aleppo.

The family moved to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Yerushalayim. Rav Ovadyah learned in Talmud Torah Doresh Tzion and later in Yeshivos Chessed L’Avraham and Tiferes Yerushalayim. He was blessed with a phenomenal memory.

When Yeshivat Porat Yosef was founded in Yerushalayim’s Old City in 5683/1923, Rav Ovadyah served as one of the Roshei Yeshivah. A part of the yeshivah was Yeshivat Oz V’hadar, for learning Kabbalah. Rav Ovadyah was shliach tzibbur in the yeshivah, leading the tefillos according to the kabbalistic lessons of the Arizal.

On Rosh Chodesh Elul 5699/1939, Rav Ovadyah was appointed Chief Sephardic Rabbi; later he sat on Yerushalayim’s Beit Din Hagadol.

He was Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Beit El (kabbalah) for 30 years.

Rav Ovadyah is best known for his eight-volume She’eilos U’teshuvos Yaskil Avdi. Seven volumes were published in his lifetime, the eighth volume posthumously.

He also wrote She’eilos U’Teshuvos Deah V’Haskel, responsa on Kabbalah; Vayikach Ovadyahu, a collection of his drashos; Eved HaMelech on the Rambam; and Avda D’Rabbanan, chiddushim on Shas.

Rav Ovadyah was niftar on Shabbos afternoon, 20 Shevat 5769/1929, while learning at home, after having received the aliyah of the Aseres Hadibros. His life ended as he grasped a sefer.

Zecher tzaddik livrachah.


January 21

In 1793, France’s King Louis XVI, condemned for treason, was executed by guillotine.

In 1861, the future president of the U.S. Confederacy, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and four other Southerners resigned from the U.S. Senate.

In 1908, New York City women were prohibited from smoking in public.

In 1919, Sinn Fein Congress in Dublin, Ireland, adopted Declaration of Independence.

In 1924, First Nationalist Chinese Congress at Canton admitted Communists and welcomed Russian advisers.

In 1942, German forces launched a new offensive in the western African desert in World War II.

In 1945, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force led an allied attack on Monte Castelo in Italy; this constituted the only participation of South American troops in World War II.

In 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek resigned from China’s presidency following Nationalist Party reversals.

In 1954, the first atomic submarine, the USS Nautilus, was launched at Groton, Connecticut.

In 1968, 31 North Korean commandos attempted to attack South Korea’s presidential palace. All but one died in gunfights; 34 South Koreans were killed.

In 1970, France’s sale of Mirage jets to Libya was announced.

Iraq’s government foiled a coup and promptly executed 12 men.

In 1976, the supersonic Concorde jet was put into service by Britain and France.

In 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardoned almost all Vietnam War draft evaders.

In 1986, a car packed with explosives blew up near the office of President Amin Gemayel’s Phalange Party in east Beirut, Lebanon, killing 22 people and wounding 102.

In 1990, East Germany’s Communist Party expelled Egon Krenz, the leader who oversaw the opening of the Berlin Wall.

In 1991, Latvia’s parliament formed a volunteer home guard and authorities bolstered defenses at public buildings hours after Soviet commandos staged a pre-dawn assault on the republic’s police headquarters.

In 1992, the U.N. Security Council urged Libya to surrender two agents indicted by the United States in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

In 1993, a supertanker carrying 296 million liters (78 million gallons) of crude oil burned and leaked oil after slamming into another ship off Indonesia’s northern tip.