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Chair of Elijah

The Chair of Elijah (Heb. כִּסֵּא שֶׁל אֵלִיָּהוּ, kisse shel Eliyyahu) is a special chair placed at the right of the sandak (godfather) at the circumcision ceremony and left unoccupied. The chair is symbolically meant for Elijah the prophet, called "The Angel of Covenant" (Mal. 3:1; covenant = berit = circumcision). It is usually richly carved and ornamented with embroideries. The Shulhan Arukh (YD 265:11) prescribes the reservation of a special chair or seat for Elijah, and the mohel (circumciser) refers to it in the opening prayer preceding the circumcision: "This is the chair of Elijah, blessed be his memory." The chair is also mentioned in the special piyyut for circumcision when the rite is performed on a Sabbath. Midrashic literature links the custom to Elijah's plaint to God that "the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant" (I Kings 19:10, 14). According to the homiletic interpretations of this verse, Elijah had complained that the Jewish people had disregarded the commandment of circumcision and God is said to have replied: "Because of excessive zeal for Me you have brought charges against Israel that they have forsaken My covenant; therefore you shall have to be present at every circumcision ceremony" (PdRE 29; Zohar, Gen. 93a). Since "the messenger [angel] of the Covenant," spoken of in Malachi 3:1, was identified with the prophet Elijah, it was only proper that the Angel of the Covenant should be present whenever a Jewish child entered the Covenant of Abraham (i.e., circumcision). Scholars have suggested that the custom is rooted in the belief in guardian angels for the newborn; Elijah is identified as the guardian angel of the Jewish child. Most probably, the biblical story (I Kings 17:17–24) in which Elijah revived the child of the widow was instrumental in creating this concept. Elijah is also the child protector in the inscription on *amulets against *Lilith. These were placed above the bed of the mother and the newborn child.



H. Schauss, The Lifetime of a Jew (1950), 34–37; Eisenstein, Dinim, 182.

Sources Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.