Monday, April 30, 2007

Rabbi Leone Da Modena and the custom of Yom Kippur Katan

Yom Kippur Katan,literally, "Minor Yom Kippur" is the name given to the day before Rosh Chodesh ("New Moon"), in that this day is treated as one of fasting, repentance, and supplication similar to Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur Katan originated among the Safed Kabbalists in the 16th century and is referred to by a disciple of Moses Cordovero, Abraham Galante, who states that it was a local custom in Safed for men, women, and schoolchildren to fast on this day and to spend the whole day in penitential prayer, confession of sin, and flagellation.

There is no reference to Yom Kippur Katan in the standard Code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Arukh, but a later Halakhist, Joel Sirkes, in his commentary to Jacob ben Asher's Tur, mentions it and as a result the day acquired something of a Halakhic footing and came to be observed in communities with little connection to the Kabbalah. A number of small booklets were published containing the prayers and customs of the day. Nowadays, Yom Kippur Katan has largely fallen into disuse, yet the rite itself is of interest for its amalgam of Talmudic and Kabbalistic themes.

Yom Kippur Katan is very interesting for a number of reasons.

Its main piyut (liturgical poem) yom ze yehi mishkal kol chatotai, was composed by a vociferous opponent of Kabballa, namely the 17th century Italian Rabbi, Leone(Yehuda Aryeh)Da Modena (1571-1648). Rabbi Da Modena was a fascinating and highly colorful figure, one of the few early Rabbis who wrote an autobiography (and a fascinating one at that, highly candid and often emotional, which I urge everyone to read, particularly the annotated english translation by Mark Cohen).

Rabbi Da Modena also authored a classic anti-Kabbalistic tract called Ari Noham and is considered to be one of the most outspoken opponents of Lurianic Kabballah and Zohar. It is interesting and highly ironic that he is so tied in with a custom that has its origins in Kabballah. I often wonder what the people who say this poem would think, if they knew who the author was.

There is an additional interesting paradoxical twist to this ritual. A friend pointed out to me that this is one of two customs-clearly based on the Kabballah- that was universally accepted and held in high regard by the true Ashkenazic kehilot (Germany, Bohemia, Moravia and Hungary) which were generally wary (to say the least) of practices based on Kabballah. The other one is saying the Tikkun Leil Shavuot as established by the Kabbalists.

He also pointed out that apparently there were indeed several Charedi Rabbis who felt that the aforementioned piyut (yom zeh) should not be said, due to the controversies surrounding its author. The most prominent of these was Rabbi Dovid Jungreis, of the Edah Hacharedit of Jerusalem [1].

More on Rabbi Da Modena in upcoming posts. (why did Shadal dislike him? Why was he bareheaded? is it true that he changed his views on gilgul toward the end of his life, and what prompted him to do so? and more).


[1] see Minhogei haKehilot, Volume 1 under the customs of Rosh Chodesh.


At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 11:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fine post and blog.

Thanks !

At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Ha-historion said...

Thanks so much, please comment on the other articles as well.



At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 6:27:00 PM, Anonymous andy said...

Looking forward to your upcoming posts. Btw, The editor of MY's edition of Sefer HaTerumot denies that the autobiography is genuine (of course we have the autograph so there is no room for legitimate doubt).

At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 7:59:00 PM, Blogger Ha-historion said...

Can you provide me with more details on who MY is and which sefer haterumot you are referring to?

Thanks for the comment!

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 2:45:00 PM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>why did Shadal dislike him? Why was he bareheaded?

Shadal believed that he wrote Kol Sakhal. If there is one thing Shadal hated in people was their being two faced, speaking with a forked tongue.

As for his being bareheaded in this image, allow me to quote Dan Rabinowitz:

>One example [of rabbis who interpreted the sources on covering the head leniently] is R.Yehuda Aryeh of Modena (1571-1648). R. Modena served on the Bet Din of Venice and authored many important works, including his commentary on Ein Yaakov entitled Beit Lehem Yehuda. As a respected rabbi and a member of the Bet Din, R. Modena responded to many inquiries about his rulings on various halakhic questions. However, one response of R. Modena dealt not only with a halakhic question, but also with an event which seems to have occurred frequently. R. Modena wrote that, “a Rabbi Yitzhak Gershon would not once or twice, but every week berate [R. Modena] for standing with his hat in his hand [bareheaded].” R. Modena would stand outside of the local synagogue speaking with people, all the while without a yarmulke, and R. Yitzhak Gershon would chastise him for doing so. R. Modena justified his practice and commented that, “the majority of Jews in Italy [do not wear a yarmulke],” as well. He also noted that Italian Jews, “dress differently [than other Jews], grow their hair long, and their custom is to remove their hats when greeting important people, as this honors them.” Indeed, when R. Modena’s Historia de Riti Hebraici, History of Jewish Rites, was published in 1637, the portrait of R. Modena on the cover displayed him bareheaded.

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 6:48:00 PM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

Interesting note about his Ari Nohem. His son in law was a Mekubal and died at a very early age. R. Leone and his son in law however had a vey close relationship and he mourned him greatly considering him a brilliant man. I am trying to find the source for this but it escapes me.

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 7:43:00 PM, Anonymous andy said...

Sorry. MY is Machon Yerushalayim and the Sefer Haterumot is by R' Shmuel Hasardi.

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 3:34:00 AM, Blogger Ha-historion said...


You jumped the gun but you are my Rebbe as far as Jewish history is concerned:)

I'll add more in a coming post.

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 5:39:00 AM, Blogger Ha-historion said...


I think you are referring to his grandson. I will look into it.

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