A Story of Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Great Diligence and Wisdom

In the year 5755 (1995), Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Bar Shalom printed his 2 volume work Mishpat HaKitubah on the subject of the Kitubah (wedding contract). This masterful and comprehensive work quickly became an indispensable Rabbinic handbook on this topic, especially for Sephardim because Rabbi Bar Shalom addresses particularly Sephardic practice. Over the years, Rabbi Bar Shalom has been expanding the work as a result of the letters and questions he received. This year Rav Bar Shalom reissued the work in an eight volume new edition!

In volume 5, Rabbi Bar Shalom analyzes the practice of including a Shivuah (oath) in the Kitubah. In that analysis, Rabbi Bar Shalom records an amazing anecdote (page 261) which took place in the year 5754 (1994). Rav Bar Shalom had approached numerous Sephardic Rabbis to inquire whether an effort should be made to return the Shivuah (oath) to the Kitubah and wedding since it had somewhat fallen out of practice. The Rabbis rebuffed the idea. However, he made an appointment to discuss the matter with Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef שליט”א. Rav Yosef’s opinion was very firm that the Shivuah (oath) custom must not be curtailed at all. He bemoaned the situation that people felt that they could change customs which had been in practice for generations. Rabbi Bar Shalom was moved by Rav Yosef’s pain relating to this matter. With that, Rav Yosef cited a book called Tov LiYisrael in which the author complains about the state of affairs in his time, and how the Shivuah was not administered as it should be and that the matter should be strengthened.

Rav Bar Shalom notes that he searched for this volume in numerous libraries, but could find not a Torah work with this title. With this he turned to one of Rav Yosef’s sons to ask his father maybe there was some mistake and the intended book had a different name. Rav Yosef’s response was: “I already told him that the book is called Tov LiYisrael.” Rabbi Bar Shalom resumed his search in different libraries. Finally, in the Rare Books section of the Hebrew University Library he discovered a slim volume consisting of no more than 18 pages of very crowded type. The volume was a treatment of the laws of Tirefot, and didn’t appear to deal at all with the laws of marriage at all. Being so short, Rabbi Bar Shalom sat down and read the book page after page. Yet, there was no discussion of the desired topic. Finally, on the last page, without any indication and in the middle of a line, the author noted that in order to not leave the balance of the page empty he would print a piece which he had written about a Shivuah (oath) in the Kitubah. In this piece he decried the common situation in his time that the Shivuah was not always administered as it had in the past. He explains the importance of the custom and emphasizes the need for the custom to be strengthened. Rabbi Bar Shalom remarks that this episode further reinforced in his mind the vastness of Rav Yosef’s amazing mastery of Torah achieved by dint of his extraordinary diligence and dedication to leaning.

However, Rabbi Bar Shalom’s amazement expanded exponentially as he prepared the second edition of his book. At the time, he reviewed hundreds of sources on this subject. These sources were gathered and collected with great effort and diligence over a long period of time. After having completed his analysis of all of the sources, Rabbi Bar Shalom realized that the most emphatic proponent of maintaining and strengthening the custom of administering a Shivuah (oath) was none other than the Tov LiYisrael. This was the volume which Rav Yosef had immediately cited to Rabbi Bar Shalom on this topic. Essentially what that means is that Rav Yosef had already done all of the accumulation of sources, the analysis of their opinions and views, and extracted the one view which was most forceful on this subject. Rav Yosef had the information ready and prepared in his mind when he was questioned about this subject by Rabbi Bar Shalom. Rabbi Bar Shalom concludes by writing that till today he remains astounded by this experience.

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