Yosef Hayim (1 September 1835 - 30 August 1909) (Iraqi Hebrew: Yoseph ?ayyim; Hebrew: ? ? ) was a leading Baghdadi hakham (Sephardi rabbi), authority on halakha (Jewish law), and Master Kabbalist. He is best known as author of the work on halakha Ben Ish ?ai ( ) ("Son of Man (who) Lives"), a collection of the laws of everyday life interspersed with mystical insights and customs, addressed to the masses and arranged by the weekly Torah portion.
Hayim initially studied in his father's library, and, at the age of 10, he left midrash ("school room") and began to study with his uncle, David Hai Ben Meir, who later founded the Shoshanim LeDavid Yeshiva in Jerusalem. In 1851, he married Rachel, the niece of Abdallah Somekh, his prime mentor, with whom he had a daughter and two sons.
When Hayim was only twenty-five years old, his father died. Despite his youth, the Jews of Baghdad accepted him to fill his father's place as the leading rabbinic scholar of Baghdad, though he never filled the official position of Hakham Bashi. The Sephardic Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was founded on his advice by Joseph Shalom, of Calcutta, India--one of Hayim's patrons.
Hayim clashed with the reformist Bavarian Jewish scholar Jacob Obermeyer who lived in Baghdad from 1869 to 1880, and excommunicated him. Part of the contention was due to Obermeyer and Hayim's conflicting views on promotion of the Zohar.
The Ben Ish Hai ( ) is a standard reference in some Sephardi homes (functioning as "a Sephardi Kitzur Shulchan Aruch") and is widely studied in Sephardi yeshivot. Due to the popularity of this book, Hakham Yosef Hayim came to be known as "Ben Ish Hai", by which he is referred to by many today. The book is a collection of homilies he gave over two years discussing the weekly Torah portion. Each chapter begins with a mystical discussion, usually explaining how a Kabbalistic interpretation of a certain verse relates to a particular halakha, and then continuing to expound on that halakha with definitive rulings.
Hakham Yosef Hayim authored over thirty other works, and there are many published Iraqi rite siddurim (prayer books) based on his rulings, which are widely used by Sephardi Jews. Amongst the best known of his works are:
The names Ben Ish Hai, Me-Kabtziel, Rav Pe'alim and Ben Yehoyada derive from 2 Samuel 23:20. He chose these names because he claimed to have been a reincarnation of Benayahu ben Yehoyada (described as Ben Ish Hayil, the son of a valiant man); the man in whose merit, it is said, both the first and second Holy Temples stood.
Hakham Yosef Hayim was also noted for his stories and parables. Some are scattered through his halakhic works, but have since been collected and published separately; others were published as separate works in his lifetime, as an alternative to the European-inspired secular literature that was becoming popular at the time. His Qânûn-un-Nisâ ( ) is a book filled with parables concerning self-improvement. The book, directed towards, but not limited to women, is rare since it was composed in Judeo-Arabic. It was last published in Israel in the 1940s.