Caro, Joseph ben Ephraim
CARO, JOSEPH BEN EPHRAIM
CARO, JOSEPH BEN EPHRAIM (1488–1575), author of the *Shulḥan Arukh.
Caro was apparently born in Toledo, Castile. It seems that after the expulsion from Spain (1492) his family left for Turkey or Portugal, but it is possible that they left for Portugal even before the expulsion and that Caro was born there. It is certain that after the expulsion from Portugal in 1497 the family left for Turkey where Caro lived for about 40 years. At first he lived with his family in Istanbul, but subsequently, not later than 1522, he lived in Adrianople, *Nikopol, and Salonika. He first studied under his father Ephraim, himself a distinguished talmudist. After the death of his father, which occurred while Joseph was still young, he was brought up by his uncle Isaac *Caro. In Turkey he apparently met with Solomon *Molcho, whose martyrdom at the stake in 1532 made a deep impression on Caro, with the result that he too yearned to meet a martyr's death. He was also influenced by Joseph *Taitaẓak, whom he met in Salonika, and by Solomon *Alkabeẓ, whom he met both there and in Nikopol. In Salonika and in Adrianople there were groups of pietists and kabbalists led by these scholars. In 1522 at the age of 34 he began writing his great work, the Beit Yosef, and in 1536 he left Turkey for Safed. He apparently stayed for some time in Egypt, before going to Safed, and possibly studied there under Jacob *Berab, but it is also not unlikely that he studied under him in Safed. He was one of the four scholars ordained by Berab in 1538 (see *Semikhah). However, he did not consider his ordination as sufficiently authoritative and in his works he laid it down that "nowadays we have no ordained dayyanim." The bet din of Safed which he headed based its authority on the fact that it was "recognized by the public and was great in wisdom and numbers" and not as an ordained bet din.
After the departure of Berab from Safed in 1538, about three months after the renewal of semikhah, Caro was regarded as the leader of the scholars of Safed. His name almost invariably appears first on all documents issued by the bet din and on the rulings and decisions emanating from the scholars of Safed and its battei din. He also apparently served as the head of the communal council of Safed. There were many halakhic differences between him and Moses di *Trani. Caro headed a large yeshivah; according to the testimony of one traveler, 200 pupils attended his lectures at the yeshivah. He wrote hundreds of responsa to halakhic queries addressed to him from the whole of the Diaspora, besides devoting himself to the needs of the community. A few days before his death he ordered a ban to be issued against the Me'or Einayim of Azariah dei *Rossi, but died before he could sign it. Caro's pupils included Moses *Cordovero and Moses *Alsheikh, who was ordained by him.
Caro married at least three times. In his works he cites traditions in the names of his three fathers-in-law, Ḥayyim Albalag, Isaac Saba, and Zechariah Zaksel Ashkenazi, referring to each of them as "mori" ("my teacher"). While he was in Turkey two of his sons and a daughter died. He was survived by three sons, Solomon, Judah, and another (possibly Isaac), who died several years after him. According to one tradition a son of Caro was betrothed to the daughter of Isaac *Luria. His son Judah was born four or five years before his father's death. In Caro's responsa Avkat Rokhel (no. 134) there is a note, "Here the master, of blessed memory, left the paper blank. He should have added to the responsum, but was called to the Academy on High." He died in Safed on the 13th of Nisan at the age of 87; as a mnemonic Song of Songs 5:11 was quoted: "His head is as the most fine gold" (paz, "fine gold": numerical value 87). He was buried in Safed where his grave is still to be seen in the old cemetery.
As a Halakhist
Although Joseph Caro has been immortalized by his most famous work, the Shulḥan *Arukh, which has become the authoritative code of Jewish law for Orthodox Jewry throughout the world, it is the least important of his works from the point of view of talmudic scholarship. It was, as he himself says, a digest of his magnum opus the Beit Yosef designed inter alia for "young students" (introd.) and he himself set no great store by it. He never quotes it in his responsa, quoting instead the Beit Yosef.
the beit yosef
Caro began writing the Beit Yosef in 1522 in Adrianople, and worked on it unceasingly for 20 years, completing it in Safed in 1542, although the first volume was not published until 1555. In his admirable, brief introduction Caro sets out the aim and purpose of his work. The multiplicity of codes, and their tendency to give halakhic rulings without going thoroughly into the sources or giving opposing views, together with the reliance of different communities on different codes, had brought about a bewildering variety of local customs. His aim was to make order out of this chaos and – by thoroughly investigating every single law, beginning with its source in the Talmud, discussing each stage of its development, and bringing in every possible divergent view – arrive finally at the decisive ruling (see *codification of the law). He decided against writing an independent work, "in order to avoid having to repeat what my predecessors have already written," but to write it in the form of a commentary on an existing code. He first thought of Maimonides' classic code, "since he is the most famous posek in the world," but rejected the idea because Maimonides posits the halakhah without giving divergent opinions; he finally decided on the Arba'ah Turim of *Jacob b. Asher "who gives the opinions of most of the posekim."
There is little doubt that this resolution had a decisive influence on the whole development of Jewish law. It enhanced the importance of the Arba'ah Turim, already an authoritative code, to an even greater extent and established for all time the division of that portion of Jewish law which is of practical application into four sections which Jacob b. Asher had evolved (see *Shulḥan Arukh). There was probably another reason which Caro does not mention. Jacob b. Asher, although brought up in Spain, was the son of *Asher b. Jehiel, one of the greatest figures in the Franco-German school, and had thus given due weight in his code to the views of the Ashkenazi scholars which Maimonides had virtually disregarded. During the two centuries which had elapsed since the composition of Jacob b. Asher's work, however, talmudic scholarship had continued and flourished in Central and Eastern Europe while it had declined in Spain. Caro gives an impressive list of no less than 32 works which he consulted, from Rashi to Joseph Colon, mentioning those who belonged to the Franco-German school and those of the Spanish tradition. He adds that he uses the Zohar sparingly, and in point of fact only rarely does he give a ruling based on the Zohar which conflicts with Jacob b. Asher. His sense of unease at so doing is seen in the fact that in two such cases (Tur and Sh. Ar. oḤ 111 and 288) the maggid (see below) comes to him in a vision and confirms his ruling (Maggid Mesharim, Mishlei 23 and portion Va-Yakhel).
There was another reason to give preference to Jacob b. Asher's Tur over the code of Maimonides about which Caro is strangely silent. Whereas the latter is a comprehensive code, embracing the whole of Jewish law whether it was in force and applicable in contemporary circumstances or not, Jacob b. Asher in his code confines himself severely to those laws only which are of practical application in his time. Caro's approach coincided with the latter and it is difficult to see how, despite his statement, he could have based himself on Maimonides. Nevertheless, he shows his admiration for and dependence upon Maimonides, in that to a considerable extent he adapts Maimonides' language. It has been estimated that no less than a third of the text is copied verbatim from him. In a responsum (Avkat Rokhel no. 32) in answer to a question whether a community which followed Maimonides' code might be obliged to accept Caro's rulings, he vigorously forbids it, speaking in the most glowing terms of Maimonides, and firmly insists that they continue to adhere to his rulings.
Caro carefully collated the existing text of the Turim, comparing it with manuscripts and correcting the scribal errors which had crept into it. But his work had a practical purpose: to finally lay down the definitive halakhah so that there should be "one law and one Torah." Here he was faced with a difficulty. He felt that his own authority was insufficient to decide between conflicting opinions, and he therefore adopted an empiric method. Taking as his basis the works of the three giants of halakhah – Isaac *Alfasi, Maimonides, and Asher b. Jehiel – he decided to accept the ruling of a majority of these three. He explicitly retained, however, a certain elasticity, of which he took full advantage. When a majority of the other codes which he consulted followed the single opinion of one of three or where a custom had been accepted in practice, or where no clear decision was given, he would depart from this rule, and with a refreshing liberality, laying it down that if his decision ran counter to the established custom in any country they were free to disregard his ruling, especially when the custom followed the more stringent interpretation.
For encyclopedic knowledge and complete mastery of the subject, for thoroughness of research, and for keen critical insight this work is unmatched in the whole of rabbinic literature. To this day it is an indispensable guide for anyone desirous of following the development of any individual law of the Talmud from its source to the stage of its development in the 16th century.
the shulḤan arukh
It was the acknowledgment and appreciation of the perfection of this work which ultimately gave the Shulḥan Arukh its unchallenged place as the code par excellence of the halakhah. The fact that it was a digest of the Beit Yosef, in which a detailed examination of the source and development of every law is given, made it impossible to level against Caro the vehement criticism which had been leveled against Maimonides' code, that it lays down the law without giving sources or divergent opinions. The massive folios into which subsequent commentaries and supercommentaries have swelled the original text mask the fact that it was originally very brief. In the third edition (Venice, 1567) the text is divided into 30 sections, to be read consecutively, one section daily, so that the whole work could be gone over in 30 days, a task which is by no means impossible if it is read merely to refresh the memory. Even a pocket edition appeared, and the title page of the sixth edition (Venice, 1574) states specifically that it was designed in this format, "so that it could be carried in one's bosom so that it may be referred to at any time and any place, while resting or traveling."
Constant reference is made to the statement of Caro that it was designed for the "young students" (talmidim ketannim). It is true that he employs this phrase, but he says more than that. In the short introduction he makes three almost contradictory statements. It was written, he says, "in a succinct manner and with clarity of language" (he uses the identical phrase to describe the code of Maimonides: see below), in order that "a scholar may give the halakhah, and not hesitate to give the answer clearly and unambiguously, since he will know this work fully." He then adds, "In addition the young students, by meditating on it regularly and learning it by heart, will learn the halakhah from their very youth." But there is no doubt that at the back of his mind was the hope that this book would be the instrument which realized his passionate desire, constantly reiterated in the Maggid Mesharim, that he would be vouchsafed to write a code which would be accepted as authoritative by world Jewry, and he concludes, "I am confident that through Divine Grace, as a result of this work the world will be filled with knowledge of the Lord and will be utilized by small as well as great scholars in addition to decisors."
The Shulḥan Arukh is devoid of any aggadic material which Jacob b. Asher's Tur uses to illustrate and emphasize halakhic rules, and unlike Maimonides' Mishneh Torah it contains no ideological or metaphysical discussions. One looks in vain in it for statements on the attributes of God, or ethical discussions. Comprehensive though the Shulḥan Arukh is, it fails to mention some laws. For example, there is a surprising omission of the law against wanton destruction of property (bal tashḥit) which is detailed at length in the Talmud, as well as the laws of teshuvah, which are included in Maimonides' code. The first edition was published in Venice, 1564–65. (For a list of later editions see Koveẓ R. Yosef Caro (1969), 89–120.)
The second in importance of Caro's rabbinic works (if the Beit Yosef and the Shulḥan Arukh are regarded as one) is his Kesef Mishneh (Venice, 1574–75), a commentary on part of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. It was written as a complement to the Maggid Mishneh of *Vidal of Tolosa, a 14th-century Spanish scholar. His work had covered the whole Mishneh Torah, but only the commentary to six of the fourteen books, which Caro enumerates, were extant. Caro's work consisted of a commentary on the other eight with additions to the commentary of Vidal. In the introduction to Kesef Mishneh he pays tribute to Maimonides who taught "in a succinct manner and with the clarity of the Mishnah," and his work served to remove the one failing in that monumental code, the failure of Maimonides to give his sources or alternative opinions. It has become, with the Maggid Mishneh, the standard and indispensable commentary to the Mishneh Torah.
Caro's responsa are not nearly as important as his other works. It is noteworthy that although his son Judah, following one of the last requests of his father, assembled and arranged them for publication, only the first volume, on Even ha-Ezer, was published shortly after his death (Salonika, 1598). His responsa on the other three sections of the Shulḥan Arukh, entitled Avkat Rokhel (cf. Song 3:6), were not published until 1791 in Salonika.
Both volumes include responsa written in Nikopol and in Safed; those written in the latter town reveal a continuing dispute with Moses di Trani, his colleague, along with *David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, on the bet din of Safed. Caro generally inclined to a more stringent view than did Trani. They disagreed on the laws appertaining to shemittah, which fell in 1574 (Avkat Rokhel, nos. 22–25) and in a case involving the inheritance of the ketubbah of a widow (Responsa Beit Yosef, Ketubbot, no. 2ff.). In order to give a complete picture, there are included on certain topics the responsa of the contemporary rabbis on the question under discussion with the result that the Avkat Rokhel contains responsa of Moses di Trani, Jacob Berab, Joseph Taitaẓak, and Elijah *Capsali, as well as of rabbis in Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. Caro stoutly defended his point of view against that of those who differed with him, and though usually they refer to one another in terms of the highest respect, they sometimes indulge in strong language in refuting opposing views. On the other hand in one of his responsa (ibid., no. 66) on the question of the permissibility of the use of a curtain (parokhet) in the synagogue, embroidered with figures of hinds, he states emphatically that it is completely permissible, though he forbids three-dimensional figures, especially of lions (ibid., no. 63). Nevertheless he insists that since there is an ordained rabbi in the city from which the question came, his decision is subject to that rabbi's approval, and should he forbid it his ruling must be accepted. Some of his responsa (e.g., ibid., nos. 31, 157) consist of only one sentence, in which he gives his decision without any discussion, and in one responsum he specifically states that "it is not my purpose to bring all the proofs and fill the pages with mere quantity." Caro's other halakhic works are Kelalei ha-Talmud, a methodology of the Talmud (with Joshua b. Joseph, Halikhot Olam, Salonika, 1598) and Bedek ha-Bayit (ibid., 1605) consisting of supplements and corrections to his Beit Yosef, both published posthumously.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
As a Kabbalist
Like all leading rabbinic scholars of his time, Caro was also a kabbalist, profoundly concerned with kabbalistic doctrine and committed to the kabbalistic ideals of ascetic and spiritual perfection, even though the main focus of his activity as a writer and teacher was in the halakhic field. He belonged to a circle of scholars and ascetics that included the leading kabbalists of the age, many of whom were known to have had extraordinary visionary, auditory, and other mystical experiences. These kabbalistic circles flourished already in the Balkans (Salonika, Adrianople) even before Safed developed into the leading center of kabbalist teaching and piety. Among Caro's acquaintances and associates mention should be made of Moses *Cordovero (who considered Caro his "master"), of Cordovero's teacher, friend, and brother-in-law Solomon *Alkabeẓ (who was also Caro's close friend), and of other leading kabbalists of Safed. In Caro's circle Kabbalah was not merely a matter of mystical theology and theosophical speculation, and several members experienced mystical revelations of diverse kinds (Solomon *Molcho, Joseph Taitaẓak, and others). Caro believed himself to be regularly visited – generally at night – by a heavenly mentor ("maggid") who revealed to him kabbalistic doctrines, as well as rules and predictions for his private ascetic life. This heavenly mentor (see *Maggid) identified himself as the heavenly archetype of the Mishnah and the Shekhinah, and manifested himself in the form of "automatic speech," i.e., as a voice coming out of Caro's mouth which could be heard by others. The best-known account of this phenomenon is that contained in a letter by Solomon Alkabeẓ, recounting such a "maggidic" manifestation during a *Shavuot-night vigil in Caro's house, probably in Nikopolis. These visitations, which continued for about 50 years, were not experienced in a state of trance, for Caro subsequently remembered the messages and wrote them down in a kind of mystical diary. A small part of this diary has survived in manuscript and was subsequently printed under the title Maggid Mesharim (1st, incomplete, ed. Lublin, 1646; 2nd, supplementary, ed., Venice, 1649; 1st complete ed., Amsterdam, 1708). Attempts to deny Caro's authorship of the Maggid Mesharim were mainly inspired by the prejudice that this lucid halakhist could not possibly have exhibited such mystical states (seen as irrational, trance-like, or even pathological); the authenticity of the book is, however, beyond doubt.
Caro's mystical diary was recast by the editors before it was published in the form of a kabbalistic-homiletical commentary on the Pentateuch. While it lacks the scope, depth, and synthetic sweep of, e.g., Cordovero's writings, it is a major source for a better knowledge of the state of the Kabbalah in the period after the expulsion from Spain and before the great revival in Safed of the new Kabbalah associated with the name of Isaac *Luria. While not creating a new kabbalistic system or synthesizing earlier doctrines, Caro's diary throws much light on contemporary pre-Lurianic kabbalistic discussions, and on several points (especially the doctrine of the Shekhinah and of the intermediary realms of being between the world of Aẓilut and the lower worlds) it shows considerable originality.
[R. J. Zwi Werblowsky]
According to new evidence, Caro played a leading role in the earliest known case of exorcism in Safed. The phenomenon of the maggid, though found earlier in kabbalistic sources, also reflects developments related to magic. R. Elior pointed out the possibility that some aspects of Caro's mysticism had an impact on Ḥasidism in the 18th century.
[Moshe Idel (2nd ed.)]
R.J.Z. Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, Lawyer and Mystic (1962), contains bibl.; Koveẓ R. Yosef Caro (1969); J.J. (L.) Greenwald (Grunwald), Ha-Rav Yoseph Caro u-Zemanno (1954); Dimitrovsky, in: Sefunot, 6 (1962), 71ff.; 7 (1963), 58–62; Tamar, in: ks 40 (1964/65), 65–71. halakhist: H. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 3 (1947), 1–36; B. Landau, in: J. Caro, She'elot u-Teshuvot Avkat Rokhel (1960), introd.; A. David, in: Sinai, 66 (1969–70), 370–71; D. Tamar, Meḥkarim be-Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Ereẓ Yisrael u-ve-Italyah (1970). add. bibliography: R.J.Z. Werblowsky, in: Moreshet Sepharad,ii (1992), 179–91; Y. Tobi, in: Jewish Law Annual 15 (2004), 189–215; A.D. Corre, at: www.uwm.edu. kabbalist: M. Benayahu, Yosef Behiri (1991); R. Elior, "R. Joseph Karo, and R. Israel Ba'al Shem Tov – Mystical Metamorphosis, Kabbalistic Inspiration and Spiritual Internalization," in: Tarbiz, 65 (1996), 671–709 (Heb.); M. Idel, "Inquiries in the Doctrine of Sefer Ha-Meshiv," in: J. Hacker (ed.) Sefunot; vol. 17 (1983), 220–26 (Heb.); S. Pines, "Le Sefer ha-Tamar et les Maggidim des Kabbalists," in: G. Nahon and C. Touati (eds.), Hommage a Georges Vajda (1980), 333–63.
Caro, Joseph Ben Ephraim
CARO, JOSEPH BEN EPHRAIM
Talmudic authority and codifier of Jewish law; b. Spain, 1488; d. Safed, Palestine, 1575. His family, after being exiled from Spain by the 1492 expulsion of the Jews, migrated to Turkey, where, for a time, Caro headed the Rabbinical Academy in Nicopolis. He finally settled in Safed in 1536. Even before his arrival at this center of Cabalistic activity (see cabala), he was already strongly influenced by Jewish mystical speculation. His tendencies to martyrdom and asceticism, and his dreams in which his Maggid (the spiritual mentor believed by him to be the Mishnah personified) appeared and instructed him, were major obsessions of his life. Although he was a strong supporter of the efforts of Jacob Berab (c. 1475–1546) to reinstitute the Semikhah (traditional ordination) and was among the first to enjoy its revival, he himself succumbed to the opposition created by this attempt to centralize Rabbinical authority after he conferred the honor on one disciple.
Caro's best-known work is his code of Jewish law, the Shulhan 'Arukh (Prepared Table), published from 1564 to 1565, an abridgement of an earlier massive undertaking, the Beth Yoseph (1550–59). While the former presents the simple statement of the law without exposition, the latter is a thorough analysis and critique of the Talmudic and post-Talmudic sources that serve to provide an authoritative basis for his conclusions. Intended to establish standards of legal interpretation and procedure in order to obviate the chaotic multi-authority method then prevalent, the Beth Yoseph was originally conceived as a commentary to the Arba’ah Turim of Jacob ben Asher (c. 1270–c. 1343), retaining its outline but surpassing the model in comprehensiveness and decisiveness. Although he often tended to impose his own opinion in areas of dispute, he relied mainly on Alfasi (1013–1103), Maimonides, and Asher ben Yehiel (c. 1250–1327) as his standards, deciding the law in accordance with any two of the three in agreement. While these three were representative of the Ashkenazic (Franco-German-Polish) and Sephardic (Spanish-Near Eastern) currents in Jewish religious practice, the frequent agreement of Alfasi and Maimonides tended to favor the Sephardim. Much Ashkenazic opposition to Caro's code centered in the concern of the Askenazim for the priority of local custom, a matter ignored by him. But, unlike their rejection of Maimonides's Mishneh Torah for its failure to cite the sources of its decisions, his achievement gradually gained acceptance for its success in this regard. However, approval was assured only after the rules of the Shulhan 'Arukh were interpolated with the comments of Rabbi Moses Isserles (c. 1525–72) of Poland, who vigorously upheld the authority of Ashkenazic practice.
Among Caro's other works are Maggid Mesharim (uncertainly ascribed to him), an account of his discussions with the personified Mishnah; Keseph Mishnah, a commentary on Maimonides's code defending the author's compilation; Bedek ha-Bayit, a supplement to the Beth Yoseph and a rejoinder to its critics; and Kelale ha-Talmud, a methodology of the talmud.
Bibliography: The Jewish Encyclopedia 3:583–588. s. ganz-fried, Code of Jewish Law (Kitzur Schulchan Aruch): A Compilation of Jewish Laws and Customs, tr. h. e. goldin (New York 1928), tr. of an abridgment of the Shulhan 'Arukh. h. l. gordon, The Maggid of Caro (New York 1949). r. werblowsky, Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic (New York 1962).
Joseph ben Ephraim Caro
Joseph ben Ephraim Caro
The Jewish codifier Joseph ben Ephraim Caro (1488-1575) is the most universally recognized authority on Jewish law and practice.
Joseph Caro was born in Spain or Portugal. His family was expelled from Spain in 1492 and then continued eastward with sojourns in Greece and Turkey before settling in Safed (now in Israel) about 1535. Caro received his early training from his father, Ephraim, an eminent Talmudist, and later added Cabala, or Jewish mysticism, to his basic interests. He aspired to become the highest authority in Judaism, and during the last 3 decades of his life he enjoyed a greater prestige than any rabbi since Maimonides. His opinions were accepted everywhere, and queries were addressed to him from both the Sephardi (Levantine and western European) communities and the Ashkenazi (eastern European) communities.
Although an eminent authority in the field of Jewish mysticism, Caro's abiding fame was engendered by his two major works. He wrote the Bet Yosef (The House of Joseph), an exhaustive commentary to the 14th-century code, Arba Turim (The Four Rows), of Jacob ben Asher. Caro's work also included all Talmudic and Gaonic sources in order to establish a legal regimen acceptable to all groups. The frequent migrations of Jews to all parts of the world and the diversity of minhagim, or local practices, emphasized the need for an all-embracing work.
The Bet Yosef was designed for scholars, but there were many who lacked the intellectual acumen to study it. For these people Caro compiled his other great work, the Shulhan Aruk (The Prepared Table). It has remained until the present time the official guide of rabbinical Judaism and is without a peer as the arbiter of all ritual and legal problems. The writings of Caro did not, however, replace the Talmud as the ultimate authority in Jewish law.
The Shulhan Aruk is divided into four parts, each bearing the titles provided by the Arba Turim. The Orah Hayyim (path of Life) covers the topics of prayer, synagogue ritual, Sabbath, and festivals. The Yoreh Deah (Teacher of Knowledge) deals with matters permitted and prohibited, and more especially with dietary regulations and the purity of women. The Eben ha-Ezer (Stone of Help) provides guidance for family relations, domestic affairs, marriage, and divorce. The Hoshen ha-Mishpat (Breastplate of Justice) is concerned with civil and procedural law.
A greatly simplified and popular condensation of the Shulhan Aruk known as the Kitzur (Abbreviated) Shulhan Aruk was compiled by the Hungarian scholar Solomon Ganzfried, and it has taken its place on the bookshelf of the Jewish home together with the Bible and the Prayer Book.
Caro's Code of Hebrew Law was translated into English with a commentary by Chaim N. Denburg (2 vols., 1954-1955). Studies in English of Caro and his work include Hirsch Loeb Gordon, The Maggid of Caro: The Mystic Life of the Eminent Codifier Joseph Caro as Revealed in His Secret Diary (1949), and Raphael Jehudah Zwi Werblowsky, Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic (1962). □