Yosef Karo

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Karo published during his lifetime:

After his death there appeared:

  • Bedek ha-Bayit (בדק הבית) (Salonica, 1605), supplements and corrections to Beth Yosef;
  • Kelalei ha-Talmud (כללי התלמוד) (Salonica, 1598), on the methodology of the Talmud;
  • Avkath Rochel (אבקת רוכל) (Salonica, 1791), Responsa
  • Maggid Meisharim (מגיד מישרים) (Lublin, 1646), and supplements (Venice, 1646)
  • Derashot (דרשות) (Salonica, 1799), speeches, in the collection 'Oz Tzaddikim'.

Karo also left a commentary upon the Mishnah, as well as supercommentaries to Rashi's and Nahmanides' commentaries on the Torah, which have, apparently, not been preserved.

Maggid Meisharim

Karo's literary works are considered among the masterpieces of rabbinic literature. The Maggid Meisharim (1646; “Preacher of Righteousness”), another major work, a strange and mystical diary, is a kind of diary in which Karo during a period of fifty years recorded the nocturnal visits of an angelic being, his heavenly mentor, the personified Mishna (the authoritative collection of Jewish Oral Law). His visitor spurred him to acts of righteousness and even asceticism, exhorted him to study the Kabbala, and reproved him for moral laxities.

The discussions treat of various subjects. The maggid enjoins Karo to be modest in the extreme, to say his prayers with the utmost devotion, to be gentle and patient always. Especial stress is laid on asceticism; and Karo is often severely rebuked for taking more than one glass of wine, or for eating meat. Whenever Karo did not follow the severe instructions of his maggid, he suddenly heard its warning voice. His mentor also advised him in family affairs, told him what reputation he enjoyed in heaven, and praised or criticized his decisions in religious questions. Karo received new ideas from his maggid in regard to the Kabbala only; such information was in the nature of sundry cabalistic interpretations of the Pentateuch, that in content, though not in form, remind one of the theories of Karo's pupil, Moses ben Jacob Cordovero.

The present form of the Maggid Meisharim shows plainly that it was never intended for publication, being merely a collection of stray notes; nor does Karo's son Judah mention the book among his father's works (Introduction to the Responsa). It is known, on the other hand, that during Karo's lifetime the kabalists believed his Maggid to be actually existent (compare Vital-Calabrese, Sefer ha-Gilgulim, pp. 119, 142, Vilna, 1885). The Maggid Meisharim, furthermore, shows a knowledge of Karo's public and private life that no one could have possessed after his death; and the fact that the maggid promises things to its favorite that were never fulfilled — e.g., a martyr's death — proves that it is not the work of a forger, composed for Karo's glorification.

Karo's characteristics

Karo's mysticism was not speculative in nature; and he devoted time to the Kabbalah, his maggid often exhorted him not to neglect the study of it (Maggid Mesharim, p. 57b). The catastrophe that came upon the Pyrenean Jews made such an impression upon the minds of the best among them that many saw therein the signs of Messianic travail, (compare Jacob Berab); and Karo, according to a contemporary, took this dark view throughout his life. While men like Molkho and David Reubeni were led to commit extravagant and foolish deeds under the influence of this idea. Berab's and Karo's nobility of nature came to the fore. If Karo indulged in mystical visions, and, half dreaming, thought he heard heavenly voices in his soul, they served always as reminders to him that his life, his actions, and his accomplishments must surpass those of other people (ib. Toledot, p. 9; Azharot, p. 3b, and passim).

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