Issue 70 Download Archive Links Search Contact Us


The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







From: Chief Rabbi Dr. Alberto Mosheh Somekh, Turin, Italy

I was happy to find the genealogical tree of my family on your issue number 69 of last April. I am enclosing a little up to date addition of my branch, based on my knowledge about my branch of the family, at your disposal for publication.

I also enclose a Debar Torah connected to my family name and to Yom Kippur as well, for the High Holidays issue.

The Two Somekhim on Yom Kippur

It seems that the origin of Somekh as a family name goes back to Rabbi Yechezqel who used to sign his writings as Yechezqel ha-Somekh, because he had been honoured with the title of Somekh (Assistant) in the Synagogue of Baghdad. The Somekh used to be the Assistant Minister, specially during the long Yom Kippur Service: according to the Babylonian and Sephardic tradition, two Somekhim stand on the Tebah at both sides of the Hazzan, reciting the Piyutim (special liturgical poems) together with him (Shulman 'Arukh, O.H. 619,4). Apparently, the name Somekh with this "technical" meaning is used for the first time only in Mahzor Bet Din, printed by Rabbi Eliahu Benamozegh in Leghorn, 5613-1853, but of course its origins have to be traced back to the famous verse in Ps. 145, 14, where it is referred to G-d as "upholding all that fall."

Following Midrash Pirqe de-Rabbi Eli'ezer, the source of Shulhan 'arukh has to be found in the biblical account of the battle against 'Amaleq (Ex. 17). Israel prevailed because Mosheh infused courage and trust into his people by holding up his hands throughout the fight "until sunset." But being himself an old man, he could only be helped by his brother Aharon and his brother-in-law Hur who stood on both his sides and sustained him.

But according to another interpretation it was not only a matter of age. Mosheh needed some help because he was fasting: otherwise, we canĂt understand how he could hold up his hands unbrokenly until sunset. "Israel is in troubles - he thought -: I wall accompany them in troubles, too" (Rashi). Even if his age couldn't allow him to join his brethren in war, he never took himself apart: "blessed be a man who takes part in the troubles of his Community!" Hence the rule that on a day of fast and, notably on Yom Kippur, the Hazzan, who is praying on behalf of his congregation exactly as Mosheh did, has to be supported by two assistants in his appeal against our implacable enemy, our "spiritual 'Amaleq," the Yetzer ha-Ra' (Evil Instinct)!

There are several other reasons behind the institution of the two Somekhim on Yom Kippur:

1. They assist the Hazzan even physically, taking turns in reciting aloud parts of the service, as already mentioned.

2. They recite those Piyyutim (special liturgical poems) which can't be said by the Hazzan himself, in order to prevent a brake in the service.

3. It reminds us of the Beth ha-Miqdash in Yerushalaim, where the Kohen Gadol was always accompanied by the Segan on his right and the Av Beth Din on his left throughout the Holy Service of Yom Kippur. According to 2Chron. 7, 8-9 the inauguration of the First Temple took place on that Holy Day.

4. According to Gematriya, the Somekhim remind us of the ShekhinahĂs Presence. The numerical value of echad.... Echad in Ex. 17,10 is 13 + 13 = 26, ultimately the same of the Tetragrammaton.

5. On Yom Kippur Jews are as pure as Angels, and according to our sources Angels used to move in groups of three, as we find with Abraham Abinu at the announcement of Itzhaq's birth (Gen. 18,1; Yoma 37a).

6. Finally, the two Somekhim remind us of the two goats presented to G-d on Yom Kippur in atonement of our sins. Once more according to Gematriya, the numerical value of the word Somekh (126) when doubled (252) corresponds to the expression goral echad related to the lots of the two goats in Lev. 16,8!

I wish to extend my best regards and blessings for the upcoming year 5759 (Ta-shna-t) to all Babylonian Jewry: Tehe' Shanah Tobah for everybody.



If you would like to make any comments or contribute to The Scribe please contact us.