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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Kaf Hahayim, Rav Ovadia, and the Earthquake

From the Shas website (also found similarly here and here and elsewhere):

מסופר עוד, כי באותם הימים, היה הרב לומד בבית המדרש "שושנים לדוד" בירושלים בספר תורה תמימה. ובעליית הגג של בית המדרש היה יושב הגאון המקובל רבי יעקב חיים סופר, בעל ספר "כף החיים", יושב ועורך את ספרו הגדול. ובאותו היום, היתה רעידת אדמה קשה ביותר בירושלים, ומבנים רבים קרסו מחמתה. וגם בנין ישיבת שושנים לדוד נפגע קשות מחמת רעידת האדמה. ומרן שליט"א, שהיה רק ילד רך, נבהל מאד כאשר נפלה עליו תקרת הישיבה, ולא היתה לו שום אפשרות לחלץ את עצמו. או אז, ירד הגאון רבי יעקב חיים סופר, וחילץ בעצמו את מרן שליט"א, ולקחו בידיו ומסרו לאביו, וכה אמר לו: הזהר על בנך זה, כי הוא עתיד להיות גדול בישראל.

This past week's [U.S. version of the] Yated had a very nice and very large article on Rav Ovadia, where it also mentions the story in English. Unfortunately, they got a whole bunch of things wrong regarding this story. Corrections in footnotes and links have been added below.  Here's what they wrote:
In 19261, at the age of five-and-a-half2, he was almost killed by a huge earthquake that hit Yerushalayim, destroying about 300 houses and leaving over 130 people dead.  As was his custom, young Ovadiah was reading Tanach3 in the Shoshanim L'Dovid bais medrash near his home when the earthquake struck.  Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer, the famous author of Kaf Hachaim, was learning on a top floor.  The earthquake damaged the building and Rav Ovadiah and Rav Yaakov Chaim were extricated from the ruins by passersby who heard Rav Sofer's calls for help.4

The earthquake is mentioned in Kaf Hachaim (1916:26)5, where Rav Yaakov Chaim discusses the obligation to recite the bracha of Hatov Vehameitiv after being saved from a dangerous situation.6

1Should be "1927".
2Should be "six-and-a-half".
3More specifically, he was reading the book "Torah Temimah".
4Every other version I've seen says that the Kaf Hahayim himself extricated Rav Ovadia, took him by his hands and gave him to his father, telling him, "Be careful with this son of yours. He is destined to be a Gadol in Israel."
5This reference is invalid. It should read "(576:26)".
6This has nothing to do with Hatov Vehameitiv, but rather, has to do with declaring a fast for an earthquake and for buildings and walls falling.


At Tue Oct 15, 02:00:00 PM 2013, Blogger Jacob said...

Interesting story. An account of the collapse of the Bet Midrash Shoshanim LeDavid in the press can be found on the front page of the 7/13/27 Palestine Bulletin.

The reference can also be found here, from a JTA dispach on 7/14/27 -

(The beth hamidrash or Baghdad Synagogue of the Beth Israel Quarter in the above article is referring to Shoshanim Ledavid, as can be seen in this 10/2/33 Doar Hayom article below, explaining that the bet midrash was a gift of the Sephardic (Iraqi) philanthropist from Singapore, Sir Manasseh Mayer, who provided funds to have it rebuilt after it was destroyed in the earthquake. The yeshiva, at 46 Harav Sonnenfeld, still exists in the same spot in the Bukhari district with a plaque on the outer wall in tribute to Sir Manasseh Mayer).

Also, I'm baffled as to why Wikipedia and other present day sources put the death toll in J'lem at 130, when, as far as I could tell, newspaper accounts of the day claimed that only 1 person died in J'lem proper. The Kaf Hahayim's claim that there were no Jewish casualties in J'lem is corroborated by the JTA artice referenced above.

At Tue Oct 15, 02:58:00 PM 2013, Blogger yaak said...


Thanks for your research.

Perhaps, the casualty count includes the villages that surrounded Jerusalem, but in Jerusalem itself there were no Jewish casualties, and only 1 non-Jewish casualty.

Another discrepancy I found was whom "Shoshanim Ledavid" was named after. According to the last article you linked to, it's named after David Hamelech, while according to this (p. 1, left column), it was named for the Ben Ish Hai's uncle.


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