Karo, Rabbi Joseph

June 14, 2006

Rabbi Joseph ben Ephraim Karo was born in Toledo, Spain and he died in Safed, Israel. He is also called Maran [“our master”] or Ha-Mechaber [“the Author,” i.e. the halachic author par excellence].

Rabbi Joseph Karo left Spain in 1492 as a result of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews, and settled with his family in Turkey. In 1536, he emigrated to Israel and became the chief rabbi of Safed, an important center of Jewish learning and industry.

His principal teacher in Safed was Rabbi Jacob Berab.

Karo’s magnum opus is his Beit Yosef [“House of Joseph”], an encyclopedic commentary on Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s Tur, a halachic code. Bet Yosef presents an extensive survey of relevant halachic literature, from the Talmud down to works of Karo’s contemporaries.

Karo’s halachic decisions were codified in his Shulchan Aruch (which was actually a digest of Bet Yosef). This work quickly became accepted throughout the Jewish world as halachically authoritative. Likewise, Karo’s commentary on Maimonides’ code, the Kesef Mishneh, is one of the standard commentaries on Maimonides’ work.