Hacham Menini Bitan

A Short Tribute

Hacham Menini Bitan was born to Garcona and Hacham Alush in 1886, in Zarzis, Tunisia. He began his Torah studies with Hacham Shalom Hacohen, Hacham Moshe Kalfon Hacohen's father. He initially studied with other children but his significant talent led to his joining the older pupils. After completing his studies, he joined his father in the jewelry craft but when he noted the distress of the children left on their own with no guidance or instruction, he stopped working with his father and began teaching. Hacham Menini Bitan, anxious about the children's idleness, would assemble them in the synagogue even on Hol Hamo'ed, when they were customarily on holiday, to sing piyuttim, in keeping with Tunisian Jewish tradition.

In 1956, Hacham Menini Bitan was privileged to immigrate to Israel with his wife Bakhla and settled in the Massua moshav near Beit Shemesh. After a short while, he was asked to move to the city of Safed to replace Hacham Homani Alush, who had just died. Hacham Menini Bitan accepted the request and went on to lead his community in Safed with warm devotion. He undertook all the religious tasks, as did many sages before him, and served as shochet and mohel. He was a learned yet modest scholar, who comported himself in a simple and unassuming manner. He would set up a matzah bakery before Passover to supply the hand-made matzoth that were customarily used by Tunisian Jews.

Hacham Menini Bitan passed away on 23 Kislev, 1986, and was buried in Safed. Most of his writing and original commentary were kept in manuscript form in the Alush Homani synagogue in Safed; damaged by moisture to the point that they could no longer be deciphered, they were stored in the genizah. Some of his original commentary, recounted by his students, appears in the book published in his memory.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he teaches about the custom of reading Hallel psalms while baking matzah
The women in room knead the dough, and so that they not tarry, request help from the boys, who pour water for them on the dough in order to speed up the kneading. Immediately after, they pass the dough to the men leaning over the tables and the person standing at the head of the table distributes the dough to them. The kneading by the men begins immediately, and they break out in jubilant song, reading the Hallel with great joy and outstanding devotion. Once the matzah takes its form, the boys make holes in them and those standing bring the matzoth to the bakery as quickly as possible, to prevent its leavening, to observe "and they could not tarry". The singing of Hallel echoes between the bakery walls during the entire time the matzoth are being prepared and can be heard from afar.
Ish Eshkolot, p. 59, Yaacov Sabban. From Rabbi Menini, published by R. Cohen and M. Haddad at Yated Teshuva Printing, Safed, 1987