Page 154 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
birthplace, some writers claim that by 1492, the year of the expul­
sion of the Spanish Jews, Caro’s family left for Turkey while oth­
ers assert that the family only went as far as Portugal. Of those
writers who believe that his family had already been living in
Portugal at the time ofJoseph’s birth, some propose that in 1497,
with the mass conversion of the Jews there, the family left
Portugal for Turkey. The problem with these views, which
assume that the Caro family would not have submitted to conver­
sion to Christianity, is that the next trace of Caro and his family is
found in Egypt in 1509, when his father’s name appears on a
communal enactment there. Thus, not only did Caro and his
family not go immediately to Turkey in 1492 or 1497, but it is
likely that they remained either in Spain or in Portugal after
being converted to Catholicism under duress. This possibility will
help explain many features of Caro’s later attitudes and writings.
In Egypt, according to some scholars, Caro may have studied
with Rabbi Jacob Berab (c. 1474-1546), a Spanish refugee and a
disciple of Isaac Aboab (1430-1493). Berab would later ordain
Caro in Safed, and Caro would refer to him as his master. Since
Berab had never been in Turkey, if Caro studied with him it must
have been either in Egypt or in Safed. It is also possible that he
never studied with Berab at all and simply used expressions of
discipleship to honor the man. From clues in his writing concern­
ing sabbatical years, there may be grounds for establishing that
Caro was in Egypt in 1511 and 1518.
Eventually Caro and his family settled in Turkey. At various
times — and it is unclear for how long and in what order —Caro
and his family lived in Nikopol (on the border of Romania and
Bulgaria), Adrianople (Edirne, near where the borders of
Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria meet), and Salonika (Thes-
salonika).
Caro studied with his father, Ephraim, a distinguished tal­
mudist who died when Joseph was still young. At an early age
Caro knew by heart the Mishnah — the basic code of Jewish law.
This was a text which, after a long period of neglect, was becom­
ing increasingly important for Jews due to changing patterns of
study developed in Safed. The study of Mishnah had also had an
important influence on Maimonides (1135-1204), an exile from
Spain in an earlier time. Maimonides, who had stayed briefly in
the Land of Israel before settling permanently in Egypt, wrote an