Page 156 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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the talmudic sources or the names of the later authorities upon
whom he relied. Often in connection with a law he quoted many
conflicting authorities without establishing which one was to be
followed. First published in 1475, the
as the second Hebrew
book to be printed. It is divided into four parts, an order that was
preserved by Caro:
1. Orakh Hayyim — “the way o f life,” dealing with day to day
conduct, prayer, blessings, Sabbath, festivals, fast days, and other
2. Yoreh De’ah — “the teacher o f knowledge,” treating diet, rit­
ual purity, circumcision, visiting the sick, mourning, interest, agri­
culture, tithes, and charity.
3. Even ha-Ezer — “the stone o f help,” concerned with family,
marriage, and divorce.
4. Hoshen Mishpat — “the shield o f judgment,” covering civil
law, criminal law, courts, judges, evidence, loans, partnership,
property, theft, and robbery.
Caro’s commentary took twenty years to complete and another
twelve to edit; it was finally published between 1550 and 1558.
The purpose of
Beit Yosef
was to investigate thoroughly the
sources of every practical law, beginning with its talmudic origins,
proceeding through every stage of its development, mentioning
every divergent view, and, finally, trying to establish what the
practice should be.
Caro often reached these decisions by following two out of the
three major figures inJewish law: Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi from Fez
(Rif, 1013-1103), Maimonides, and Asher ben Yehiel (Rabbenu
Asher, d. 1328), the father of the author of the
However, he
also regularly consulted later authorities as well as local Jewish
customs. Thus he seems to have controverted his original inten­
tion of establishing one decisive law for all Jews to overcome the
problems he felt were created by a multiplicity of practices which
reflected the customs of different communities. On occasion and
with some discomfort, Caro ruled according to the Zohar, even
when it did not conform to the
sometimes looking to his
maggid for confirmation of such decisions.
As the work of a Sephardic rabbi, it is somewhat surprising that
Beit Yosef
was not based exclusively on the
Mishneh Torah
Maimonides. The
written by a son of Asher ben Yehiel, who
hailed from the Ashkenazic communities of medieval Germany,