Yosef Qafi? was born 27 November 1917 in Sana'a in Yemen. His father was Rabbi David Qafi?, who died after being assaulted by an Arab, when his son Yosef was less than one year old. At the age of five, Yosef also lost his mother and was raised by his grandfather Rabbi Yi?yah Qafi?, under whom he studied Torah. In 1927, Yosef helped his grandfather retrieve the oldest complete Mishnah commentary from the Jewish community's genizah in Sana'a, containing Rabbi Nathan ben Abraham's elucidation of difficult words and passages in the Mishnah. The commentary was later published in Israel. (Young children in Yemen were often employed as copyists of ancient manuscripts.) At the age of thirteen, Yosef wrote out a complete copy of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed in Judeo-Arabic.
When Yosef was 14, his grandfather died and he inherited his grandfather's position as rabbinic authority and teacher of the Sana'a community. When he and two of his acquaintances went to visit the burial-site of Yosef's grandfather, and then his father, they were accused of having burnt the grave of his grandfather's chief disputant, and were arrested and held in bonds. Because of the rift in the community between those who adhered to kabbalah and the rationalists, the two informers told the Arab authority about the young Yosef being a Jewish orphan, and that under the laws of the state's Orphans' Decree he was required to be taken under the arms of the Islamic State and converted to Islam. The child was questioned about his father and upon the realization that his forced conversion to Islam was the informants' intent-with the arson accusation being a means to render him vulnerable to Muslim authority and attention-he did not answer his interrogator, and was released by the prison authority for no explained reason. The Imam, Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din, urgently requested that they find him a bride to bypass forced conversion to Islam as an orphaned child. Rabbi Yihye al-Abyadh (the king's physician) arranged for Yosef's marriage to Bracha Saleh (Tzadok) in the same year of his grandfather's passing. In his early years, he worked as a silversmith.
Rabbi Yosef Qafi? was a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel and president of the Yemenite community in Jerusalem. He died on 21 July 2000 at the age of 82, and is buried in Jerusalem's Har HaMenuchot cemetery.
As a Rabbi and rabbinic judge (Dayan) of the first order, serving in the Rabbinic Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, Qafi?'s contribution in the field of academics puts him on a level above many other rabbis. He wrote extensively about the heritage of Yemenite Jews, describing in a book, "Halichot Teman", the Jewish life in Yemen, eclipsing even the renowned works of Amram Qorah and ethnographer, Yaakov Sapir. He published several works of Yemenite Jewish provenance, such as Meor ha-Afelah by Nethanel ben Isaiah (14th-century), and Garden of the Intellects by Natan'el al-Fayyumi (12th-century). He also published a book under the title of "Shivat Tzion" Tiklal, a Yemenite prayer book reflecting the views of Maimonides in three volumes. In 1993 he published a new version under the title of "Sia? Yerushalayim" in four volumes (posthumously edited to six). Qafi?'s seminal work, however, was his commentary on Maimonides' Mishne Torah, where he highlighted textual variations based on the Yemenite handwritten manuscripts of Maimonides' Code of Jewish law. Qafi? identified with the Dor Dai tendency, except that he did not publicly express opposition to the Zohar beyond saying that it was preferable to draw sustenance from the teachings of Maimonides. In his leadership of the Yemenite community in Israel he endeavored to maintain peace between the main factions in the community and worked to preserve Yemenite customs. In matters pertaining to Yemenite customs, even where later customs conflict with the earlier custom, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu regarded the opinion of Rabbi Qafi?, who he called Mori Yusef (Hebrew ?), to be decisive.
The fruit of Rabbi Qafi?'s scholarship remains, for the most part, untranslated and as such largely inaccessible to the English-speaking public. Examples of English translations based on his bilingual (Hebrew/Arabic) editions include Saadia on Job by Dr. Lenn E. Goodman, Professor of Philosophy and Jewish Studies, and Maimonides' Sefer Hamitzvot by Rabbi Berel Bell, Dayan of Kehilas Lubavitch on the Beth Din of Montreal and the founding dean of Chaya Mushka Seminary.
Halakhic responsa of Rabbi Yosef Qafih
Rabbi Qafih's followers observe halakhah as codified in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah with Qafih's commentary. Halakhic literature stemming from the rulings of Maimonides and Qafih has been published, often as essays. Although Rabbi Qafih had serious reservations about learning halakhah from halakhic compendiums and abridgments, for the benefit of the general public his students have published books to aid in following the rulings of Maimonides and Qafih. Among these works, the following has been published:
Of note is an index volume of sorts, Lanhotam (Hebrew title: '? ?'), by Yosi Seri which is a reference guide for learners of the Mishneh Torah with Rabbi Qafih's commentary.
Written responsa of Rabbi Qafih have been printed (listed below in Published Works) and continue to be publicized on a monthly basis in Allon Or Hahalichot. Responsa drawn from Rabbi Qafih in oral conversations have been put to writing in ? ? ? ? ? (edited by Rabbi Itamar Cohen) and "? ?: ? ? of Rabbi Shmuel Tal.
Alongside the written works, shiurim rooted in Maimonidean doctrine and the exposition of Rabbi Qafih's teachings are given on a regular basis by a number of Rabbis in Israel such as Rabbis Ratzon Arusi, Uri Melammed, and Elyaqim Tzadoq. Shiurim of Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, Qafih's foremost student, are made freely available on the Net-Sah website.
Close to 10 volumes of the Masorah L'Yosef journal have been published which include essays by authors of various persuasions that deal with Maimonides' and Rabbi Yosef Qafih's teachings. Other publications of note, with essays relating to Qafih's teachings, include ? ?,From Yemen to Israel (Hebrew? ), and ? ? ?.
Of special note among Rabbi Yosef Qafih's expounders is Rabbi Aharon Qafih who in addition to giving many weekly shiurim has published, among numerous essays, the books ? and ? ? devoted to Maimonidean doctrine and the teachings of Rabbi Yosef Qafih.
Sefer Yetzira, with Saadia Gaon's version of the text itself along with his Arabic commentary with facing Hebrew translation.
Translations into Hebrew of Saadya Gaon's Arabic translation and commentary on Tanakh have included volumes on the Torah, Megillot, Tehillim, Iyyov (translated to English by Dr. L. E. Goodman), Mishlei, and Daniel. (Although, on its own, Saadia on Isaiah was not translated by Kafih, he sometimes translated portions that he quoted, while at other times he referred readers to Derenbourg's edition.)
Megillath Antiyuchas (Hebrew ) with Saadya Gaon's Arabic translation and the extant portion of his introduction with facing Hebrew translation.
Beiur M'lekhet HaHiggayon, the first compilation of Maimonides, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation as well as various commentaries.
Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation (later editions have Hebrew only, in three volumes).
A selection from Pereq ?eleq (Maimonides' commentary on the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin) was translated to English per Rabbi Kafih's edition by Charles E. Butterworth and Raymond L. Weiss in Ethical Writings of Maimonides (New York, 1975).
Eight Chapters (Maimonides' Introduction to Tractate Avoth) was translated to English, primarily per Rabbi Kafih's edition, by Charles E. Butterworth and Raymond L. Weiss in Ethical Writings of Maimonides (New York, 1975), p. 60-104.
Sefer Hamitzvot, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation (5731). This edition succeeded the Rambam L'Am edition of Sefer HaMitzvot (5718) that featured Rabbi Qafih's translation and notes, which Rabbi Qafih repeatedly called out for its printing of errors against his agreement and without his knowledge, emphasizing that it should not be relied upon.
Iggeroth haRambam, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation.
T'shuvot haRambam (with either Rabbi Qafih's translations or summarizations), printed in Qafih's notes throughout the Mishneh Torah. These translations were posthumously collected and appended to the end of the reprint (Rubin Mass and Makhon Moshe, Jerusalem, 2014) of Blau's four-volume edition of Maimonides' Responsa.
Ba'alei ha-Nefesh by Ra'avad with Sela' ha-Ma?lo?ot of the "?.
Responsa and Rulings of Ra'avad (Hebrew: ?"?).
Questions and Responsa of the Ritva (Hebrew?"? "?), Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook, 1978, edited with an introduction and notes.
Portions of three unknown early Judeo-Arabic commentaries to the Bible and a Judeo-Arabic commentary to Sefer Yetzira.
?"? (index to the verses of the Bible in the Rambam).
Halikhoth Teiman: Jewish Life in Sanà (first edition published in 1961; second edition in 1963; third edition in 1987 ISBN965-17-0137-4). Posthumously, a repaginated and newly typeset edition has been published.
In 1969, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish studies. His wife, RabbanitBracha Qafih, was also awarded the Israel Prize for her special contributions to society and the State in 1999, in recognition of her extensive charitable work (this was the only occasion on which a married couple have both been awarded the Israel Prize).
Qafi? has also won the Rabbi Kook Prize, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bar Ilan University.
Avivit Levi, ? ?: , ? ? ? (Hebrew; Holekh Tamim: The Legacy, Life and Work of Rabbi Yosef Qafih), 2003.
Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, The Contribution of Rabbi Yosef Q?fi? to the Knowledge of Yemenite Material Culture: A Personal Account in Tema (Journal of Judeo-Yemenite Studies), #8 (Netanya, 2004), p. 15-24.
^Rabbi Yosef Qafih, recalling the event, describes it as follows: "There is a custom had among most of the people who assume oversight over the synagogues in Yemen that any book that has become worn-out or become very old they'd store it away in the vault situated beneath the hekhal (Ark) and this is its genizah. From time to time, when a sufficient quantity of books, fragments of books, pages and worn-out leaves [of books] has been amassed there, they collect them, place them inside earthenware jars and bury them in the cemetery, near one of the righteous men, and occasionally there are buried books, pages and leaves of valuable worth, which the same person who is meant to oversee [the affairs of the synagogue] has not fully appreciated their worth. To our happiness, many times the grave diggers are too lazy to dig deep, well beneath the earth. Wherefore, occasionally, after the rainy season, especially in the years that are blessed with plenty of rain, the heads of these jars are exposed because of rain erosion, where it eroded and made thin the upper layer of earth. My grandfather who is now deceased, the Rabbi Yihya Qafih, of blessed memory, would complain about the overseers of the synagogues and reprimand them over burying in the genizah things which contain pearls of great beneficial use, and of invaluable worth, without allowing for a man who is more adept [than he] and who knows how to examine them first and to determine what is worthy of being buried and what is still worthy of being used by the coming generations, so as to give some merit to the congregation. He commanded one of the caretakers of the cemetery that, in the event that the heads of the jars such as these should ever be exposed, he was to inform him, before he proceeded to dig deeper in order to bury them once more. I remember when I was about ten years old, the man came to inform my grandfather, of blessed memory, that such [a jar] that had been buried was now exposed. I remember that it was on a Thursday, before nightfall. On the next day, on Friday morning, my grandfather took me with him, and we went out together to the place of the genizah, according to where the informant had directed us. Now since my grandfather, of blessed memory, was already old, above eighty years in age, and it was difficult for him to bend down, I was the one who took out books and fragments of books, and ordinary pages that were wet and moldy, dusty and muddy, both hand-written manuscripts and printed texts; my grandfather, of blessed memory, sitting throughout all this time upon a stone, examining them and sorting them, one by one, until the early afternoon, and then we returned the rest inside the jar and covered it up. We took with us what we had sorted and returned to the city. At the departing of the Sabbath, my grandfather sat down to sort through his spoils, to take-apart the pages [of books] that had already stuck together because of the wetness from the rains that had penetrated within the jar. In this genizah we found hand-written pages from the Babylonian Talmud, and also fragments from Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, from Mishnah commentaries, from the commentaries of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, from the Midrash Hagadol, and many more. Whatsoever our hook brought up on that blessed day is today in my possession. Some of them still show upon them the vestiges of the soil and clay to this very day. Among the spoils, we found an old hand-written book, the majority of whose pages were already sticking together, clumps upon clumps. My grandfather sat a long time, slowly soaking them in water and with great patience, after he had checked and saw to his satisfaction that the letters were not being erased by soaking them in water. I still remember how the pages were strewn across the entire room of my grandfather's workshop, of blessed memory, so that they could dry. After drying and arranging the pages, it was clear that this was the very Mishnah commentary which we now present before our readers. This book was the only surviving sort of its kind in the world, which, had it not been for this action, it would have been lost to the world. The book was missing a few pages, in the Order known as Moed, at the introduction to Tractate Shabbat, it was missing perhaps one page, and in Tractate Pesahim it was again missing perhaps one page, as also in Tractate Yoma it was missing perhaps one page, but the remainder of the book, to our delight, was found altogether complete, from beginning to end" (Six Orders of the Mishnah - Commentaries of the Rishonim, vol. 1, pub. El ha-Meqorot: Jerusalem 1955, s.v. Appendix: Perush Shishah Sidrei Mishnah [Introduction], p. 6).
^Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed (ed. Yosef Qafih), Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1977, Introduction (p. 23)[Hebrew]; the year given for this was 5690 anno mundi, corresponding to 1930 CE.
^Avivit Levi, Holekh Tamim: the Legacy, Life and Work of Rabbi Yosef Qafih, Netanya 2015, pp. 89-95.
^The Life and Scholarship of Hacham Ovadia Yosef, Yehuda Azoulay, chapter 17, by footnote 6.
^The Life and Scholarship of Hacham Ovadia Yosef, Yehuda Azoulay, chapter 17, by footnote 23.
^ ? ?: "? ?"? ? (Hebrew) in Or Hahalichot periodical, Tammuz 5770 issue.
^ abPublished in the Yale Judaica Series as The Book of Theodicy (1988). Goodman writes that his edition "would have been impossible without the careful Arabic edition of Saadiah's translation and commentary that we owe to the indefatigable industry of fi?, whose notes and glosses are frequently acknowledged in my own" (p. xiv).
^Albeit lacking Maimonides' Introduction and Principles.
^15 years after its publication, owing to an additional manuscript with material that was missing from the manuscripts previously used, a supplement was published--reprinted in Collected Papers, Volume 3, pages 1183-1195 (available at https://www.otzar.org/wotzar/book.aspx?64129&lang=eng).
^Save for a portion of commentary to Chapter 43 (translated to Hebrew from the Judeo-Arabic by Kafih) published in Tsohar le-Hasifat Ginze Teman (Hebrew: ? ? ?), Yehuda Levy Nahum, Tel Aviv, 1986, Hebrew page numbers -.
^E.g., in his edition of Iyyov, p. 12, footnote 35; Collected Papers, Volume 1, p. 477, footnote 7; ? (revised new edition, 1984), p. 48 (Genesis 27:28), end of footnote 4.
^I.e. Joseph Derenbourg and Hartwig Derenbourg, Version Arabe d'Isaïe de R. Saadia ben Iosef al-Fayyoûmî (Paris, 1896). An incomplete and poor quality scan thereof is available from Google Books (missing pages 18-19, 79, 88, 91, 110, 113, and 120-121 in the Hebrew pagination, with blurred text in several other pages). Not to be confused with J. Derenbourg's Version d'Isaïe de R. Saadia in Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, volumes 9-10 (1889-1890), which does not include a Hebrew section.
^In a different context Kafih referred to Dr. N. [Naftali Joseph] Derenbourg as having satisfactory translated and published, from and with the Judeo-Arabic, Maimonides' commentary to Taharot (Kafih edition of the Mishnah with Maimonides' commentary, Seder Zera'im, p. 10).
^Fred Rosner published an English translation of Maimonides' entire commentary on Tractate Sanhedrin (published as Maimonides Commentary on the Mishnah: Tractate Sanhedrin [New York, 1981]) for which Rabbi Kafa?'s Hebrew translation was one of two major source works used, his second major source work being "the annotated Hebrew translation of Gottlieb (Hanover. 1906)" (p. xvi-xvii).
In an earlier translation of his Rosner published Moses Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah: Introduction to Seder Zeraim and Commentary on Tractate Berachoth (New York, 1975), but Kapach's translation was not central to this with Al Harizi's Hebrew translation being the major source work used, although Rosner noted that "[c]onsultation with the new Hebrew translation of Kapach was very valuable in many instances" (p. 32-33).
^As also noted on p. ix, their English translation made supplemental use of M. Wolff, Acht Capitel (Leipzig: H. Hunger, 1863). As referenced in their endnotes, variants from Wolff are at times accompanied by readings from Ibn Tibbon published in Gorfinkle's edition (available for download in PDF format).
^Based on Rabbi Qafih's edition with the original Arabic, Rabbi Berel Bell produced an English translation (Maimonides' Seminal Work Receives New Translation) of the mitzvot in two volumes (the first volume contains the Translator's Introduction, most of which can be freely accessed online; the second volume is available online); the complete 613 mitzvot are available online. His English translation lacks Maimonides' Introduction and Principles.
^Note that Fred Rosner published an English translation of Moses Maimonides' Treatise On Resurrection (1982) for which Rabbi Qafi?'s Hebrew translation was one of three primary source works used (p. 14).
^The reprint being three volumes only, with the original volumes 3 and 4 combined into a single "?-?" volume. Also appended to the last volume of this new edition is ?"? (p. 57-82) and ? ?' ? "? ?"? (p. 83-84) which were, respectively, referenced (Hilkoth T'shuvah, chapter 3, note 4) and taught by Rabbi Qafih (Yosef Farchi, in vol. 3-4, p. 87, footnote 2-3).
^Published in Tehuda, issue no. 14 (1994), pages 67-73. (Compare with Collected Papers, volume 3, pages 1399-1406.)
^The following is not intended to be an all-inclusive listing of those papers listed in Collected Papers Bibliography of Rabbi Yosef Kafih's Writings (at the end of volume 2, pages 1125-1139) that were not actually reprinted in Collected Papers. Rather, only material accessible online is listed here.
^Published in Mi-Yetzirot Sifrutiyyot Mi-Teman (Hebrew: ? ), Yehuda Levy Nahum, Holon, 1981, Hebrew page numbers ?- (of which the first 20 pages are viewable for free, beginning from p. 21 of linked Otzar HaHochma pagination).
Specifically, included is commentary to Shir Hashirim (Hebrew page numbers ?-), Torah (Hebrew page numbers -), Nakh (Hebrew page numbers -), and Sefer Yetzira (Hebrew page numbers -).