Karo, Joseph Ben-ephraim

Karo, Joseph Ben-Ephraim, a Jewish Rabbi, one of the most celebrated characters in Rabbinic literature, was born in Spain in 1488, of a family of note.' Amid the great persecutions which the Spanish Jews suffered in the early part of the 16th century, the Karo family were exiled, and settled finally at Nicopolis, in European Turkey. His early Talmudical education Joseph received under the instruction of his own father, and the youth quickly evinced, in the ready acquisition of Talmudic lore, a particular liking for tradition. The Mishna text, it is said, he had learned by heart, and before he had reached the age of twenty-five he was accepted as a Talmudical authority. From Nicopolis Joseph removed successively to Adrianople and Salonica. While a resident of these places (about 1522-35) he became acquainted with the great cabalistic fanatic Salomo Molebo of Portugal. and he was finally induced to remove to Safet (q.v.), in Palestine, the great cabalistic centre in the East in the 16th century. In Safet he studied much with the Rabbinical authorities of Palestine, and during the controversy on the Jewish gaonate, SEE JACOB BERAB, Joseph Karo was one of the four disciples whom Jacob Berab ordained when forced by Levi ben-Chabib to quit the country. SEE ORDINATION, JEWISH. Previously infatuated with the Cabalists' Messianic notions, and now (Jacob Berab died January, 1541, shortly after quitting Palestine) one of the four Rabbis ordained by the only authority competent to perform the sacred rite, he became satisfied that he was divinely chosen for some important mission, perhaps even the Messiahship itself. (He believed, says Gratz [see below], that he would die and be again raised up to become the leader of his nation.) Ever since 1522 he had been engaged in writing an extensive religious and ritual codex, entitled בֵּית יוֹסֵŠ (Beth Yoseph, first published at Sablonets, 1553, 4 vols. folio), a revision, correction, and enlargement of a like work by Jacob ben Asher; he now hastened the completion of this gigantic undertaking in the hope that its publication would lead his people to assign him at once the place to which he believed himself divinely called. He completed the work in 1542, but it gained for him only the recognition of being one of the ablest rabbis of Safet. Unremittingly he continued his labors, determined to bring about the result which he believed to be his mission the union of Israel-and with it hasten the days of the Messiah. In the 16th century the Talmud was extensively studied among the Jews. Every important congregation sustained not only a rabbi, but a college. Thus many lucrative positions were open to men inclined to study, and there resulted a general interest in the study of the Talmud. But many students imply many interpreters, and thus it came that, after a time, each congregation, and sometimes even each member of a college, had their own interpretation of the Talmudical precepts, and Jewish orthodoxy was at a loss how to judge rightly. Joseph, comprehending the danger of a general division and a loose interpretation, determined to meet the case by a compilation of rabbinical law and' usage, i.e.by the publication of the interpretations which the Talmud had received at the hands of the most distinguished teachers in Israel. At first he simply subjected his former work to a general supervision, which he completed after twelve years of hard labor. Finding, however, that this did not quite accomplish the desired result, he set about writing a new work, and after nine years of intense application presented his people with a compendium of rabbinical law and usage, entitled שֻׁלחָן עָרוּך (Shulchan Aruk, first published at Venice, 1565), which to this day remains a rabbinical authority. His name now became celebrated in all lands where Jews made their abode, and at Safet itself (which really meant all Palestine) he was cheerfully accorded the place of first authority, as a worthy successor of Jacob Berab. See, however, the article SEE MOSES DE TRANI. He died in 1575. One result Karo's labors had at least effected-the harmony of all Israelites in expounding the law through the Talmud-the establishment of Rabbinic Judaism-after all, a very different religion from that revealed through Moses at Mount Sinai, foretold by the prophets, and taught .by Moses Maimonides. For a long time the Shulchan Aruk was the text-book in all the Jewish schools, the accepted interpretation among all that people, and many are the editions that have been published of it, legions the scholars who have commented upon it. Karo's other work of note which deserves mention here is Cheseph Mishne, a commentary on Maimonides's Jad Hachazaka, which has frequently been published with the latter work. See Gratz, Geschichte der Juden, 9:319 sq.; Zunz, Zur Geschichte u. Literatur, p. 230 sq.; Jost, Gesch. d. Judenthums, 3:129; Furst, Biblioth. Jud. ii, 172 sq. (J. H.W.)

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