Capsali, Moses ben Elijah

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CAPSALI, MOSES BEN ELIJAH (1420?–1500?), Turkish rabbi and communal leader. Capsali was born in Crete; he studied with his father and later in Italy and Germany. He served as a rabbi in Constantinople under Byzantine rule, from 1445? and after the conquest of the city by the Turks in 1453 was the most important rabbi in the Ottoman Empire. Fulfilling the role of both spiritual and communal leader of Constantinople until his death, Capsali discharged his duties with conscientiousness and was known for his piety and asceticism. According to *Sambari, he was greatly esteemed by the sultan Mehmet ii ("the Conqueror"), who appointed Capsali to the divan, the imperial council, together with the mufti and the Christian patriarch; this, however, is incorrect, for even the mufti was not a member of the divan. Capsali forbade teaching the Talmud to Karaites, thus ending a protracted dispute on the subject. His relative Elijah *Capsali told Joseph *Taitaẓak that four jealous rabbis of Constantinople accused Capsali of misinstructing the public in matters of family law, thereby causing many to commit incest. R. *Moses "Esrim ve-Arba", an emissary from Jerusalem, was angered at Capsali's refusal to consent to his collecting funds in Turkey, as a result of a ban by the authorities on the export of currency. He carried the indictment of the four rabbis to Joseph *Colon who, without investigating the facts, wrote that Capsali should be excommunicated. When Capsali heard of this, he called a meeting of the scholars in his city and denied the accusation in their presence; he then sent a written denial to Joseph Colon. Convinced of his error, Colon sent his son Perez to seek Capsali's forgiveness; Capsali received him warmly and showed him great respect. Capsali worked toward absorbing the Spanish exiles. His only known responsa were published by S. Assaf.


Graetz, Hist, 4 (1927), 268–71; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 6 (1898), 302–8, 432–38; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (1930), 23–25, 44–47; A.H. Freimann, Seder Kiddushin ve-Nissu'in (1945), 95–97; idem, in: Zion, 1 (1936), 188–192; Assaf, in: Sinai, 5 (1939), 149–58, 485f.; Obadiah, ibid., 410–13; H. Rabinowicz, in: jqr, 47 (1956/57), 336–44. add. bibliography: Elijah Capsali, Seder Eliyahu Zuta,i (1975), 81, 129–30, 219, ii (1977), 245, 253; J. Sambari, Divrei Yosef (1984), 248–49, 385–88; M. Benayahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Capsali (1983), 20–70.

[Abraham David]