Rabbi Yiḥye Ṣāliḥ (alternative spellings: Yichyah Tzalach; Yehiya Saleh) and who is also known by the acronym of Maharitz (Heb. מהרי"ץ) = Moreinu HaRav Yichyah Tzalach, was no doubt the greatest exponent of Jewish law known to Yemen. He is to be remembered mostly for his ardent work for the preservation of Yemenite Jewish customs and traditions, which he articulated so well in his many writings. Initially, Rabbi Yiḥye Ṣāliḥ worked as a blacksmith until the age of thirty, after which he worked as a scrivener of sacred texts (Heb. "sofer").
Yiḥye was born c. 1713 to Joseph b. Ṣāliḥ. Ṣāliḥ, his grandfather, was a survivor of the infamous Mawza Exile.
Rabbi Yiḥye Ṣāliḥ, who was the greatest 18th-century Yemenite rabbi, was contemporary with Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai, the great rabbinic teacher and scholar with whom he exchanged responsum while the latter lived in Egypt. Rabbi Yiḥye Ṣāliḥ (henceforth: Maharitz) is the author of the Questions and Responsa, "Pe'ūlath Ṣadīq," and has also written a brief but comprehensive commentary on the Yemenite Baladi-rite Prayer Book, entitled ‘Eṣ Ḥayyim in which appears the responsum addressed to him from Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai. Maharitz also compiled a work on Bible orthography (Hebrew vowels and trope symbols used in biblical texts) known as "Ḥeleq Hadiqdūq", among other writings (see: infra).
Maharitz is said to have been born in the lunar month of Cheshvan, in the year 5474 anno mundi, a year corresponding to 1713 CE, and he died in 1805. During his lifetime, he served as chief judge (Av Beit-Din) and President of the court at Ṣanʻā’. Little is known about Maharitz's father, Yosef Ṣāliḥ, except that he studied under his wife's father, Rabbi David Qafih. Maharitz's family is reported to have traced their lineage back to Oved, one of the progeny of Peretz, the son of Judah.
Maharitz was gifted at an early age with a good memory and quickly developed his learning skills. As a young man, he learned under his grandfather, Ṣāliḥ Ṣāliḥ, and at one point served under the great rabbinic teacher and scholar of his day, Rabbi David Mishreqi, who is the author of the commentary, "Shtilei Zeitim," on the Shulhan Arukh. His influence over the young Maharitz must have been astounding, for Maharitz mentions him in his Questions & Responsa:
- "…This practice [of not shaving one's head during the first thirty-three days of the counting of the 'Omer] has spread in several places. But in this, our place, the land of Yemen, they did not have this practice, while it has only been recent (approximately forty years) that a certain wise man from the isles of the sea did come forth, and while he was passing through our city, he did compel the public to practise the same from the argument that it is a prohibition [rather than a custom], and actually forbade them against their will! And, lo! The great Rabbi, Rabbi David Ben-Zimra, and Rabbi Menahem Lunzano, wrote that several communities shave their heads each Sabbath eve (Friday) out of respect for the Sabbath…
- …It has now been about twelve years since we re-enacted this practice of shaving one's head [during the counting of the `Omer], that is, a few of the more zealous ones amongst us, in accordance with the instruction of our teacher and Rabbi, even the honorable teacher and Rabbi, David Mishreqi, whose inheritance is in the Garden of Eden, who was the most able Rabbi of the city, and who did practice the same, by himself, and so did I practice the same, and many others with me. Now the proper rule of conduct is thus, to be inclined after the Rabbi of one's generation, as it is written: 'and unto the judge' (Deut. 17:9), even if it were a thing which stood contrary to the first custom, the Law has given him authority to decide in such matters as his eyes shall see fit, in order to put the matter in question in its rightful place, and by his mouth shall they encamp, and by his mouth shall they journey, just as RASHDAM (R. Shemuel Di Medina) has written, in Yoreh De'ah, Section 40."
He at first decided Halacha according to the position of the Shulchan Aruch, but later changed his mind in order to uphold Yemenite Jewish traditions and which were more aligned with the Halachic rulings of Maimonides (Rambam). In this decision, he was influenced by Rabbi Yehudah al-Ṣa'adi and Rabbi Pinḥas Aragi HaKohen, men of the previous generation who fought to maintain and to preserve the old Yemenite Jewish prayer rite amidst trends to change over to the Spanish-rite. Concerning these troublesome time, Amram Qorah writes:
- "Then were those Rabbis awakened who had always prayed in the Baladi-rite (Tiklāl), the head of whom was Rabbi Yehudah b. Shelomo al-Ṣa'adi, and the Judge, Rabbi Pinḥas b. Shelomo HaKohen al-Aragi, of blessed memory, and they wrote proclamations in the form of rabbinic decrees saying that it is forbidden to change the customs of one's fathers which were established according to the words of the Geonim of old, and [according to] the 'Composition' left to us by Maimonides who came after them."
A reference is made of these two great Rabbis by Maharitz, in the introduction to his Commentary ‘Eṣ Ḥayyim, where he wrote:
- "…I have in my possession a responsum concerning the matter of changing our prayer custom which is in the Tikālil (Baladi-rite Prayer Books) for the version found in the Spanish-rite Prayer Books, from the Rabbi, [even] our teacher the Rabbi, Rabbi Pinḥas HaKohen Aragi, whose memory goes before him into the life of the world to come, and he has been most vociferous in his language against those who would change [their custom], with reproofs and [harsh] decrees in a language which isn't very cajoling. May his soul be laid up in paradise, to behold the pleasantness of the Lo-rd, [even from] the valley of blessing. And he sent the same unto my distinguished grandfather, [even] our teacher the Rabbi, Rabbi Ṣāliḥ, whose inheritance is in Eden. Now behold, it is sealed and stored-up for safe-keeping as a sign [unto our people]. Now he who desires to go down into the garden of nuts to see [it], lo, he may enquire after it from me, in which he shall see glorious things, [even] with the sightings of [G-d's] hosts! Such gracious words are spoken of by that mouth, and shouts of elation unto the glory of the G-d of Israel, who dwells amidst the host [on high]."
He died on Saturday, the 28th day of the lunar month Nisan, 5565 anno mundi (1805 CE), in Ṣanʻā’, Yemen, and was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Abraham, in the post of chief judge (Av Beit-Din) and President of the court.
Among his books were:
- Pe'ūlath Ṣadiq (Questions & Responsa)
- ‘Eṣ Ḥayyim (Commentary on the tiklal (Yemenite Baladi-rite Siddur)
- Ḥeleq Hadiqduq (Orthography of biblical texts)
- Me'il Qaṭan (Commentary on a work written by Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horowitz)
- Sha'arei Ṭaharah (laws of Niddah = the Menstruate Woman), in Arabic)
- Zevaḥ Todah (Concerning the laws of Ritual Slaughter, known as shechitah)
- Sha'arei Qedushah (A condensed work on Ritual Slaughter and the laws governing defects in the animal)
- Oraḥ LaḤayyim (Commentary on the Five Megillot).
- Virtual library at Maharitz.co.il including many of the Maharitz's books
- , Sa'arath Teiman, pp. 19-24
- The responsum appears in Tiklal ‘Eṣ Ḥayyim Hashalem, Shimon Tzalach (ed.), vol. 1, pp. 192a-192b, Jerusalem 1971, an excerpt of which reads as follows: "Now I, the younger, sent unto the Rabbis of Egypt (may G-d protect them), a query concerning those who practice concluding [the Amidah], both, in Hashkiveinu and in the benediction, Yir'ou 'Eineinu, etc., [with a blessing that employs G-d's name], and I reprimanded [them] over this matter, telling them that they tend to make innovations in the ancient custom of our forefathers which was not to conclude [there with a blessing that employs G-d's name], just as it is presented [here] before you. And that reply which came from them (their Preserver is uplifted and high) was this: 'Our eyes have seen what your Excellency, the glory of the divine Law, has asked concerning the custom which a few communities practise, [even] new things [which have come] of late, to conclude with the benediction Hashkiveinu. And afterwards, they [once again] conclude [with a blessing employing G-d's name] in the verses, Yir'ou 'Eineinu, [etc.] …We searched the matter in the books of the righteous that are found with us, [both] former and latter, and what we were able to find [was this]: Surely the custom [in] the land of the gazelle (i.e. the land of Israel), and [in] all the cities of Turkey is that they do not say [anything], except the benediction of Hashkiveinu and its concluding [blessing]. Yet, no more [will they say]. It is the correct [version], indeed, whether [in those versions which are] revealed or hidden. Nevertheless, those who practice saying, Yir'ou 'Eineinu, etc., the proper order in this is to say exactly as it is now practiced anew, for this third blessing was enacted in the days of the Geonim… Now may the peace of the Rabbi be multiplied, as the soul of those who are signed [in this letter], here, in Egypt. Chaim Joseph David Azulai (mire and clay ), Chaim Abraham Turnaga (mire and clay)'."
- Amram Qorah, Sa'arath Teiman, pp. 19-23; 173, Jerusalem 1988.
- Tiklal ‘Eṣ Ḥayyim Hashalem, Shimon Tzalach (ed.), vol. 1, p. 73b, Jerusalem 1971
- Yosef Ṣadok, "Sefer Wehaṣdīqu eth haṣaddīq," p. 26, Bnei Brak 2010.
- Questions & Responsa "Pe'ulath Ṣadiq," vol. 2, responsum # 76.
- Amram Qorah, Sa'arath Teiman, pp. 17-18, Jerusalem 1988.
- Tiklal ‘Eṣ Ḥayyim Hashalem, Shimon Tzalach (ed.), Jerusalem 1971.
- , D'var Mordechai: Eulogies p. 67; Arichat Shulchan p. 6
- Amram Qorah, "Sa'arath Teiman," p. 23, Jerusalem 1988.