How the Dislocation and Ferment of the 15th Century Shaped Judaism’s Greatest Legal Code

Born in Spain in 1488, Joseph Karo was taken by his family to nearby Portugal during the expulsion of 1492—before they fled again five years later to avoid forced conversation. Karo would go on to write magisterial commentaries on the seminal halakhic compendia of Moses Maimonides and Jacob ben Asher, before codifying his own scholarship in the Shulḥan Arukh—a Jewish legal handbook invested with an authority given to no work since the Babylonian Talmud. He was also one of the leading kabbalists of his day. Tamar Marvin describes his early life and intellectual formation:

Following . . . the route of so many Iberian exiles, [Karo’s] family found its way to the newly minted and bustling Ottoman empire, settling first at Constantinople (now Istanbul, or, as Jews called it, Custa). When Joseph’s father, Ephraim, died at a young age, his uncle took over his education. By 1522 Joseph sought his own fortune, moving to Adrianople (today’s Edirne), Nikopol, and then Salonika (something like, we might say, the Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles of Turkey in those days).

Along the way, Karo met compatriots and brushed shoulders with the colorful messianic figure Solomon Molcho. Molcho, born Diogo Pires in Portugal, was a Marrano—the pejorative descriptor of forcibly converted Portuguese Jews. He returned to Judaism; was circumcised by another messianic pretender, David Reuveni; studied Kabbalah; and eventually made overtures to the pope and Holy Roman Emperor. The latter did not take kindly to Molcho’s messianic pretensions and had him tried, whereupon he was burned at the stake as a Christian heretic in 1532. This public martyrdom impressed itself upon Karo’s consciousness.

While still in Adrianople, at the age of thirty-four, Karo began work on his masterpiece, which would take him twenty years to complete. His goal was ambitious and born in worry: concern that the exigencies of the time—especially the traumatic dislocation of Iberian Jewry—were leading to a multiplicity of halachic rulings. This sense of unruly diversity was certainly informed by a key feature of early modernity, which, due to expulsions from Western Europe, brought together disparate Jewish communities.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Halakhah, Joseph Karo, Judaism, Shulhan Arukh, Spanish Expulsion

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan