One Amazing Rabbi of Safed

One way to learn more about the history of Safed is to study the famous Rabbis from this holy city. One such Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Karo, is a well known figure from Safed and one who contributed to life there a great deal in the 16th century.

Rabbi Yosef Karo's Beginnings

Rabbi Karo was born in the town of Toledo, Spain in 1488 to a well known rabbinical family. They were descendents of Rabbi Shimon Karo, who wrote the "Yalkut Shimoni" and whose son, Yosef, was a student of the world renowned Talmud commentator, Rashi. Rabbi Karo's family moved from Spain to Portugal when he was four and then, a few years later, to Kushta. In Kushta, Rabbi Karo learned from both his father and his uncle for nineteen years. He was quickly recognized as a genius who could dig into the intricacies of Torah learning and solve Torah and Jewish law problems. He was often posed with Jewish law questions and his insights and advice became well known throughout the Jewish community.

Age 30 and Beyond

He was briefly married at the age of 30 to Rabbi Chaim Ben Albegag's daughter. Unfortunately, his wife soon passed away from a disease. He then married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Sabba, and had a son named Shlomo. He moved to Nikopol where he was the Chief Rabbi of the town and the head teacher at the Yeshiva.

Moving to Safed

In 1537 Rabbi Karo moved to Safed where he started a large Yeshiva. Students from all over came to learn with him and to ask him questions about Jewish law. He decided to move to a nearby village, Biriya, for awhile so that he could learn with less distraction and write quietly. His second wife, unfortunately, also died when a plague struck the area. Rabbi Karo was also very sick at this time, but he recovered and moved back to Safed to become the Chief Rabbi of Safed. He eventually married for a third time with Rabbi Zecharya Askenazi's daughter.

His Writing

He decided to undertake to create one unifying Jewish Code of Law that would help people know answers to many of their religious questions. This work, "Beit Yosef," was a tremendous undertaking. He completed both "Beit Yosef" and "Shulchan Aruch" and these works became very important to the Jewish people. These works include all of the laws and customs of Judaism and they help to show what a genius Rabbi Karo was. In addition to these works, he also wrote Maggid Mesharim (on his meetings with the Angel HaMaggid), Kesef Mishnah, Bedek HaBayit, and a number of other books that weren't preserved.

Rabbi Karo's Personality

Rabbi Karo was thought to be extremely humble and righteous. He loved his fellow people and his house was the spiritual center of Safed. His door was always open to those who needed spiritual guidance, money, advice and more. Rabbi Karo's teachings have worked to unify the Jewish people in their understanding of Jewish law, and his personality served to unify the people of his time.

At the End...and Beyond

Rabbi Karo died at the age of 87 in 1575 and was buried in Safed. Interestingly enough, during the earthquake in 1837 that destroyed much of the town, the House of Rabbi Yosef Karo, called Beit Karo, was not damaged at all. It was one of the few houses that remained intact after this event!

Rabbi Karo's life was certainly an important one, and one of the many pieces to the overall picture of the history of Safed.