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Jewish History

The Great Rabbis

Rabbi Yosef Caro

Can you give me a brief biography on Yosef Caro?

Rabbi Yosef Caro was born in Toledo, Spain in 1488 and died in Safed, Israel in 1575. As a child he fled with his family to Constantinople, Turkey, due to the Spanish inquisition and expulsion of 1492. From Constantinople he moved to Adrianople, (Erdine), Turkey, then it seems he spent some time in Egypt before finally moving to Safed in Israel about 1535. His early Talmudic instruction came from his father Rabbi Ephraim, his Uncle Rabbi Yitzchak and while in Egypt from the famous Rabbi Yaacov bei Rav whose Bet Din (Judicial Court) he joined upon arriving in Safed and later took over as its leader at Rabbi Yaacov’s death. This was the most prominent Bet Din in the world at the time and its opinion was sought from all over.

While still residing in Turkey, Rabbi Yosef began his commentary to the Turim of Rabbi Yaacov ben Asher and he worked on it for approximately 20 years. The Turim was a codification of Jewish Law written in the early 14th century and Rabbi Yosef’s commentary traces each ruling in the Turim to its Talmudic source, cites all other opinions relevant to each ruling and concludes with a legal decision on the matter. This commentary, completed in 1542, he called the Bais Yosef and it was published in Italy between 1550 and 1559. Rabbi Yosef then compiled a synopsis and index for it entitled Shulchan Aruch (Venice 1565), wherein only the Halachic (legal) decisions are cited, broken down into simple paragraphs, without reference to the source and reasons behind the decisions. The Shulchan Aruch became accepted throughout the Jewish World as the official code of Jewish law.

Aside from his expertise in Jewish Law, he also devoted his time to understanding the Kabbalah, the mystical side of Judaism. He was an intimate companion and student of the famed Kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz. There is a tradition that Rabbi Yosef also had a heavenly instructor called a Maggid – an angel who would make himself known only by his voice. This Maggid apparently taught Rabbi Yosef Kabbalistic interpretation, and encouraged him in his righteous endeavors.

Yours Sincerely,
Ari Lobel

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