Page 163 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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separate congregations founded byJews from places like Lisbon,
Catalonia, Aragon, and Castile. Hence a new code of Jewish law
was needed, and many tried to formulate one which would help
sort out questions of law and custom and serve as part of a plan
for halakhic unity under the banner of a renewed rabbinate in
the Land of Israel. Caro hoped, as had Maimonides, to create a
final halakhic constitution for the Jews of the diaspora in order to
prepare the way for the messianic end of days. In the words of
Isaiah, “I will restore thy judges as at first, . . . afterward thou
shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”(1:26)
This messianic formulation, therefore, explains the relationship
between Caro’s mystical and legal activities. And while this inter­
pretation may be applicable to many representatives of Caro’s
generation, it does not fit all his contemporaries. Levi ben Habib
(Ralbah, c. 1483-1545), the leading rabbi ofJerusalem, for exam­
ple, who had been converted to Catholicism in his youth, was one
of the main opponents of the reestablshment of ordination.15He
based his opposition on another statement of Maimonides
(Mishneh Torah,
Sanhedrin 4:2) and on his concern for the pri­
macy of the Jerusalem rabbinate. Other kabbalists, such as Yehiel
ben Moses Saks da Castellanzzo of Jerusalem, opposed Caro’s
assertion that the rabbinic court of Safed was a “great court” and
had authority over that of Jerusalem.
The second view, which places Caro in the context of the devel­
opment of rabbinic literature, focuses on the appearance of a
major code of rabbinic law every century or two throughout Jew­
ish history. In this view a dialectical movement in the history of
rabbinic lterature is characterized by attempts to codify halakhah
followed by returns to the study of the halakhah in its fullest and
richest form of explanantion, interpretation, and criticism.16
Thus, in the eighth and ninth centuries the Geonim produced
collections of halakhot, such as the
of Ahai of Shabha, the
Halakhot Pesukot
of Yehudah ben Nahman, and the
of Simeon Kiyyara. These were either simple digests of
15 Hayyim Tchernowitz (Rav Tzair),
Toledot ha-Posekim,
3 (New York,
1946-1947), pp. 1-36.
16 Twersky,
“Shulhan Aruk,"
pp, 141-158.