Joseph Ben Ephraim Karo - Authority Recognized

Authority Recognized

After his first wife died at a young age, he married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Sabba. For a short while he lived in Nikopol, the Ottoman Empire, but decided to make his way to the Palestine so that he could immerse himself in its sanctity and complete his written works. Passing through Salonica, he met the great kabbalist Joseph Taitazak. He continued his journey to Palestine via Egypt and eventually settled in Safed.

At Safed he met Jacob Berab and was soon appointed a member of his rabbinical court. Berab exerted a great influence upon him, and Karo became an enthusiastic supporter of Berab's plans for the restitution of semicha (rabbinical ordination) which had been in abeyance for over 11 centuries. Karo was one of the first he ordained and after Berab's death, Karo tried to purpetuate the scheme by ordaining his pupil Moses Alshech, but he finally gave up his endeavors, convinced that he could not overcome the opposition to ordination. Karo also established a yeshiva where he taught Torah to over 200 students.

When Jacob Berab died, Karo was regarded as his successor, and together with Rabbi Moshe of Trani he headed the Rabbinical Court of Safed. In fact, by this time, the Rabbinical Court of Safed had become the central rabbinical court in all of Palestine, and indeed of the diaspora as well. Thus there was not a single matter of national or global importance that did not come to the attention and ruling of the Safed Beth Din. Its rulings were accepted as final and conclusive, and Karo's halachic decisions and clarifications were sought by sages from every corner of the diaspora. He came to be regarded as the leader of the entire generation

In a dramatic testimonial, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz testified that in Salonica, Karo had become one of the rare individuals who merited to be instructed by a maggid - a private angelic teacher who revealed to him many kabbalistic teachings. The maggid exhorted Karo to sanctify and purify himself, and he revealed to him events that would take place in the future. In Shaarei Kedusha, Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that visitation by a maggid is a form of Divine Inspiration (ruach hakodesh). The teachings of the maggid are recorded in his published work titled Maggid Meisharim, although Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai notes that only about one fiftieth of the manuscript was ever published, (see Works). However, in numerous places in Maggid Meisharim it is stated that, "I am the Mishna that speaks in your mouth," indicating that the Oral Torah itself (of which the Mishna is the fundamental part) spoke within him. (However, these two explanations are not necessarily contradictory—in the merit of the Mishna Karo constantly reviewed, he was worthy of an angelic teacher).

The Maggid promised him that he would have the merit of settling in the Land of Israel, and this promise was fulfilled. Another promise, that he would merit to die a martyr's death sanctifying God's Name like Rabbi Shlomo Molcho had merited, did not transpire for an unspecified reason.

His reputation during the last thirty years of his life was greater than that of almost any other rabbi since Maimonides. The Italian Azariah dei Rossi, though his views differed widely from Karo's, collected money among the rich Italian Jews for the purpose of having a work of Karo's printed; and Moses Isserles compelled the recognition of one of Karo's decisions at Kraków, although he thought Karo was wrong.

When some members of the community of Carpentras, France, believed themselves to have been unjustly treated by the majority in a matter relating to taxes, they appealed to Karo, whose letter was sufficient to restore to them their rights (Rev. Etudes Juives 18:133-136). In the East, Karo's authority was, if possible, even greater. His name heads the decree of excommunication directed against Daud, Joseph Nasi's agent; and it was Karo who condemned Dei Rossi's Me'or Enayim to be burned. Several funeral orations delivered on that occasion have been preserved (Moses Albelda, Darash Mosheh; Samuel Katzenellenbogen, Derashot), as well as some elegies from Karo's passing.

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