Page 153 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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ence o f the
Shulhan Arukh
and all that this implies. The constant
confinement of the Jewish mind to the study o f the Talmud and
the casuists resulted in the fantastic ingenuities o f pilpulism, and
the rigid observance of the enactments codified in the
made o f the religion a legalistic system. Pilpulism and
shulchan-arukhism were the logical accompaniments o f
ghettoism. . . .
And emblematic of the position of the early Conservative
movement is the opinion of the
Shulhan Arukh
given by Solomon
Schechter (1847-1915), an early leader of that movement in the
United States:
. . . it is still consulted with profit by Rabbis engaged in giving
ritual decisions according to the law of Moses and the Talmud,
even at this day representing the great bulk of the Jews — eleven
millions and nine hundred thousand out of twelve millions. The
Shulhan Arukh
is disfigured by a few paragraphs expressing views
incompatible with our present notions o f tolerance. But there the
discretion o f the Rabbi comes in. By tacit consent these are consid­
ered obsolete by all Jewish students.6
The central problem in studying the life of Caro is that much of
it is shrouded in obscurity. It is impossible to establish with cer­
tainty such basic information as his ancestry, his birthplace, his
birth date, his childhood home, his teachers, his places of resi­
dence, his employment, his wives (he may have had as many as
five), and his children. It is also extremely difficult to date his
writings reliably.
Caro’s ancestry may have gone back to Joseph Kara of Toledo,
a contemporary of Rashi’s (1035-1103). Caro himself was proba­
bly born in 1488. This date is nowhere stated explicitly. It is
arrived at by working backwards from information provided in
the postscript to a book giving a family tradition that Caro was
eighty-seven years old when he died. Since the year of his death is
usually given as 1575, although this, too, is not totally certain, the
year of his birth is considered to have been 1488.
Caro may have been born in Toledo, Spain, or his family could
have left Spain for Portugal before he was born. If Spain was his
6 Solomon Schechter, “Safed,”
Studies inJudaism,
2 (Philadelphia, 1908), p. 212.