Josef Karo

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Joseph ben Ephraim Karo (born 1488 ; died March 24, 1575 in Safed ), also Yosef Caro, or Qaro, was a rabbi and Kabbalist . He is the author of Shulchan Aruch, which is still significant in Orthodox Judaism today .


The birthplace of Karos has not been established beyond doubt. He was probably born in Toledo , but it is also possible that his family moved to Portugal and he was born there before the Jews were expelled from Spain . It is certain that after the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497 the family fled to the Ottoman Empire , where Karo lived for the next 40 years, first in Istanbul and then in Adrianople , Nikopol and Saloniki . He first studied with his father Ephraim, who was himself a learned Talmudic expert . In 1522 he began to write his main work Bet Josef and in 1536 he moved to Safed in the Holy Land , after having probably stayed in Egypt for some time before. He now studied with Jakob Berab and after his departure in 1538 he became head of the Jewish community and of the Beth Din of Safed. Karo was also the head of a large yeshiva here . A contemporary traveler reports that his lectures there were attended by over 200 students. He wrote hundreds of responsa to halachic questions brought to him from across the diaspora , and also attended to the needs of the community. He was married at least three times and referred to his three fathers-in-law as mori ("my teacher"). His grave in Safed can still be seen. One of his most important students was Moses Cordovero .

Halachic works

Karo is famous as the author of the Shulchan Aruch , which is of worldwide importance in Orthodox Judaism to this day , but in his own words this work is only a summary of the Bet Josef ("House of Joseph"), which he wrote down in 1522 in Adrianople began and on which he worked incessantly for 20 years. He finished "Bet Josef" in Safed in 1542, but the first volume was not published until 1555. In its introduction, the author explains the purpose of his work: The variety of halachic sources of law and the different rites in different communities had led to chaos over the centuries. Karo resolved to examine every single law for its origin in the Talmud, to bring in different views and finally to arrive at a final decision. He decided not to write an independent work "so as not to have to repeat what my predecessors had already written", but to add a comment to an existing code. He first thought of Mishne Torah by Maimonides , but then rejected the idea that Maimonides lays down halachic rules without mentioning contrary opinions. Ultimately, he decided on the Arba'a Turim by Jakob ben Ascher , "which reflects the opinions of most of the Poskim (authorities)".

The Schulchan Aruch , the summary of the Bet Josef , has grown into a multi-volume work over the course of time due to numerous commentaries, but was originally kept very short. The title page of the sixth pocket-sized edition (Venice 1574) contained the note that this format had been chosen “so that it could be carried with you, so that it could be consulted at any time and place, even while resting or on Travel. ”The Schulchan Aruch consists exclusively of legal material and does not contain any aggadic , i. H. Legendary insertions or moral or metayphic discussions, such as about God's properties or Jewish ethics .

Another halachic work by Karo is Kesef Mischne (Venice, 1574–75), a commentary on the 14-volume work Mischne Torah by Maimonides , the commentary on which Josef von Vidal, a Spanish scholar from the 14th century, started but not finished Had led. Karo's Commentary includes the eight volumes that were not edited by Vidal.

Karo as a Kabbalist

Like other leading rabbis of his day, Karo was a Kabbalist . Kabbalistic circles existed in Salonika and Adrianople before Safed became the center of Kabbalistic teaching and piety. Karo's kabbalistic circle of acquaintances included Moses Cordovero, who called Karo his "master", and Schlomo Alkabez . In this circle, Kabbalah was not just speculative theology; many members had personal mystical experiences. Karo himself believed that he was visited - generally at night - by a heavenly mentor, a Maggid , who revealed to him Kabbalistic teachings as well as rules and prophecies for his personal ascetic life. This Maggid manifested itself in the form of "automatic speech" i.e. H. a voice from Karo's mouth that could be heard by others. Solomon Alkabez reports such a phenomenon in a letter describing a learning event on the night of Shavuot in Karo's house, probably in Nikopol. There was no trance involved in these nocturnal experiences , because Karo later remembered the messages and wrote them down in a kind of mystical diary. A small part of this diary has survived as a manuscript and was printed under the title Maggid Mescharim (first complete edition: Amsterdam, 1708). Attempts to question the authorship of this work by Karo were based primarily on the prejudice that an author whose halachic works are shaped by legal reason could not possibly have experienced such mystical states. However, the authenticity of this book cannot be doubted.


Individual evidence

  1. Hanna Liss : Tanach - Textbook of the Jewish Bible , University Press C. Winter, 3rd edition, 2011, ISBN 978-3-8253-5904-1 , pp. 395 and 396

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