The Ben Ish Chai

The Ben Ish Chai (4)

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The Ben Ish Chai

Chacham Yosef Chaim, known as the Ben Ish Chai, became the Rav of Baghdad at the age of twenty-five, in the year 5619/1859, the year following the death of his father, Chacham Rav Eliyahu. He became one of the greatest of the modern-day Sephardic poskim (individuals who receive and respond to halachic inquiries, questions regarding Jewish Law). His approach was eclectic; he considered the opinion of Ashkenazic scholars as well as Sephardic, and insisted that the opinions of Acharonim (Torah scholars from the 16th century onward) be considered along with the Talmud, of course, and the Rishonim (Torah scholars from North Africa, Egypt, Europe and Palestine between ca. 1000 C.E. and ca. 1500 C.E.) These included such great authorities as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi AkivaEiger and the Chayei Adam, among many others.

The Ben Ish Chai delivered a drasha every morning, consisting of halachic (legal) and aggadic (non-legal, historical and anecdotal Talmudic material), and on Shabbat delivered a three-hour sermon every week, for fifty years. He was a very holy person; some said that he had ruach ha-kodesh (Divine inspiration) though he himself denied it.

The Chacham’s Shabbat sermons served as the basis for his most famous work, the Ben Ish Chai, (also the name that he has become identified with). Each sermon contains an explanation of the weekly Parashah using Kabbalistic ideas, followed by halachic discussion of various topics. The work Ben Ish Chai can be found in the majority of Sephardic households, and it is their classic halachic reference manual.

The Chacham married Rachel, the daughter of Rav YehudahSomeich, in 1851, and was a good husband and father to his children, a daughter and two sons. He spent time with them, discussing matters of Torah, as well as matters of interest to the children, depending on their ages.

He wrote religious poetry for many occasions, including his most famous in this genre, VaamartemKoL’Chai, in praise of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. On Lag BaOmer, at Meiron in Eretz Yisrael, the burial site of the G-dlyTanna, this chant is sung and danced to by thousands of visitors, by the dazzling light of torches.

He was known for his love of Eretz Yisrael, and supported messengers who came to collect money for the poor there. In 1909, he visited the Holy Land, and was received warmly. On the eighth of Elul, 5669, he visited the tomb of the Prophet Yechezkel, and became sick shortly thereafter, and died. His body was returned to Baghdad, and was buried that very night. The number present at his levaya (funeral) was huge, and consisted of Jews and non-Jews alike, who came to give honor to this great man.

Mikhail ChapiroBorn in 1938 in Belorussia, he was captivated by painting since his early childhood. Thanks to his teachers, Peter Chernyshevsky and Boris Zvenigorodsky, the artists of great experience and talent, this endowment became his predilection, the raison d’être of his life. After 6 years of studies, he graduated from the Mukhina Institute of Arts and Industrial Design. He worked as a stylist for 7 years in the capital of Siberia, city of Novosibirsk.

He moved to Moscow in 1974 and since 1977 till 1987 he regularly exhibited in the Russia’s famous underground avant-garde centre at Malaya Gruzinskaya 28, which in 1981 became the home of his solo exhibition. Only with Perestroyka he was widely recognized in Russia. From 1988 to 1990 his paintings were exhibited at the Muscovite Modern Art Gallery MARS.

He was recognized by the intellectual elite. Great Russian ballerina Maya Plesetskaya, 3-times Olympic Champion in figure ice-skating Irina Rodnina, Nobel Prize Laureates Academicians Sakharov, Frank, Prokhorov – those are just few of the most prominent people who knew Chapiro and whose portraits he did.

In 1990 Mikhail Chapiro immigrated to Canada. He settled in Toronto and immediately joined the city’s artistic life. The “Hittite Gallery” held his solo exhibition in 1992. In 1993, he moved to Montreal, being fascinated by the singular charm of this metropolis and its people. Being highly productive, Chapiro has constantly enriched his collection with fresh subjects. In 1996 he had a solo exhibition at the Elgar community center in Verdun (a Montreal district).

While Chapiro’s themes always remained portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, animals, and flowers, his style has gradually evolved from a merely realistic formalist expression towards an unique painting technique allowing to express at best the softness and subtlety that forms the bottom line of the artist’s philosophy. Mikhail Chapiro is, by his substance, perception of the world, and even training, is a figurative, objective, realistic painter. What characterizes his painting is softness, subtlety, implicitly.

However, in some works from different periods, he had come close- and still does so today- to abstraction: mostly with his nudes and flowers, sometimes in portraiture and landscapes. Abstract painting has always fascinated him: during his Moscovite period in the Eighties, he created series of abstract compositions, which he continued once in Canada, in both Toronto and Montreal.

The rationale behind his work, what triggered him is as it has always been, asking the “What?” question-that is, he needs unequivocally an idea fuelling his creativity.
What he tells with one or another abstract work may be philosophical reflections about life, death, the good, the bad, the passage of our soul from the material world (the life on Earth) into the thin world (the soul’s life in the Cosmos); the return of our soul into material world- a sort of an infinite transfiguration-, and so on. It’s only then that he would care about the composition, texture, color, etc.

Abstract painting is for him the most interesting experiment, one of his art’s facets. Whether his paintings are realistic or abstract, his approach is equally sincere.