Culi, Jacob

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CULI, JACOB (c. 1685–1732), rabbi, editor, and initiator of an important series of *Ladino Bible commentaries known as *Me-Am Lo'ez. Born either in Jerusalem or Safed, Culi was descended on both sides from illustrious rabbinical families. His father was the son of a Cretan rabbi of Spanish origin and his mother the daughter of R. Moses ibn *Ḥabib. Culi left Safed for Constantinople in order to publish his grandfather's writings. He completed his studies under R. Judah *Rosanes (d. 1727), the chief rabbi of Constantinople, who appointed him dayyan as well as teacher of the community. After the death of Rosanes, Culi, who had by now published his grandfather's Shammot ba-Areẓ (Constantinople, 1727) and Ezrat Nashim (ibid., 1731), the latter with two of his own responsa, was entrusted with the publication of the late chief rabbi's works. Adding introductions and notes he edited Parashat Derakhim (ibid., 1728) and Mishneh la-Melekh (ibid., 1731).

As the author of the Me-Am Lo'ez on Genesis and a portion of Exodus, Culi was one of the founding fathers of Judeo-Spanish (i.e., Ladino) literature. In this work, which he began in 1730 and in which he hoped to cover the entire Bible, Culi sought to provide the Ladino-speaking layman with translations of appropriate traditional texts. The result was an elaborate encyclopedic commentary on the Bible in the Ladino language. It dealt with all aspects of Jewish life, and cited a host of important rabbinic sources.

The success of Culi's Me-Am Lo'ez among the Jews of Turkey and the Balkans was unparalleled and the whole series was republished many times. Culi left, in addition to the printed commentaries on Genesis and Exodus (as far as the portion Terumah; ibid., 1730–33), unpublished manuscripts of his work on other biblical books. The publication of the Me-Am Lo'ez continued after his death perhaps in part on the basis of his manuscript material. There were at least six editions of Genesis and eight of Exodus. New editions in Hebrew and Ladino were being prepared and published in the 1960s (see *Me-am Lo'ez).

The subsequent increase of translations from Hebrew into Ladino testifies to the great success of Culi's works and to the demand which they created. His halakhic work, Simanim li-Oraita, was never published.


M.D. Gaon, Maskiyyot Levav (1933); idem, in: Mizraḥ u-Ma'arav, 2 (1928), 191–201; idem, Yehudei ha-Mizraḥ be-Ereẓ Yisrael, 2 (1938), 305–08; A. Yerushalmi, Yalkut Me-Am Lo'ez, 1 (1967), introd.; Molho, in: Oẓar Yehudei Sefarad, 5 (1962), 80–94; Yaari, Sheluḥei, index; Rosanes, Togarmah, 5 (1938), 13–16; Azulai, 2 (1852), 96, no. 34.