Page 171 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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Middle East and Europe. Serving the spiritual needs of these
Jews, then, was a matter of great urgency and significance.
While Sephardic rabbinic scholars continued to produce
works of outstanding erudition, their books — mostly written
in Hebrew — were aimed at other scholars. The one rabbi who
most successfully directed his talents towards educating the
masses was Rabbi Yaacov Huli (1689-1732). Born and raised
in Jerusalem, he went to Istanbul in 1714. His profound and
expansive rabbinic knowledge won him the respect of the great
scholars of that city. Rabbi Yehudah Rosanes, Chief Rabbi of
the community, appointed Rabbi Huli to his Beth Din (rabbin­
ical court). It was Rabbi Huli who compiled and edited Rabbi
Rosanes’ classic commentary on Maimonides’
Mishneh Torah,
known as
Mishneh le-Melekh.
Rabbi Huli conceived the idea of producing a comprehensive
work in Judeo-Spanish for the benefit of the Sephardic public.
In 1730, the first volume of this work was published in Istanbul.
Meam Loez,
it was framed as a commentary on the book
of Genesis. Rabbi Huli provided classic rabbinic interpretations
for the biblical verses; but he also included sections of laws and
customs; rabbinic homilies; ethical lessons. By studying the
Meam Loez,
readers would become well-versed in a wide range
of Jewish law and lore. The book was written in a popular,
engaging style. Serious commentaries and discussions were in­
terspersed with wonderful stories and midrashim. Rabbi Huli’s
goal was to publish similar volumes for all the books of the
Torah. He completed Genesis and much of Exodus. With his
untimely death at the age of 43, other rabbis continued the
work in the spirit of Rabbi Huli, completing the Five Books
of Moses and other biblical books as well.
Meam Loez
was an immediate success. It went into nu­
merous editions and was read enthusiastically by a large audi­
ence. Rabbi Huli had constructed his work so that people should
study the weekly Torah portion from it. The book was indeed
studied this way by families, by study groups, and in synagogues.
Meam Loez
maintained its popularity among Judeo-Spanish-
speaking Jews throughout the generations. In recent years, it
has been translated into Hebrew and English. Several Spanish
scholars have issued the
Meam Loez
on Genesis in Latin letters.
(The original was printed in “Rashi” letters, typical of most
Judeo-Spanish literature before the 20th century.)