RABBI YOSEF KAPACH 82


Picture featured at jpost.com

The following is a collection of articles that appeared in the world press during the month of Rabbi Yoseph's passing. 

Thousands attended the funeral today of Rabbi Yosef Kapach, a leader of Israel's Yemenite community and one of the foremost experts on Maimonides (the RMb"M), who passed away in Jerusalem last night at the age of 82. 

Jerusalem lost one of its most learned and important rabbis last week, yet Rabbi Yosef Kapach was little known outside the world of Jewish scholarship and his particular Yemenite community.

Rav Kapach is renown for his vast publishing undertakings, his 38 years as a religious judge, his spiritual leadership as a neighborhood rabbi and "posek" (halachic authority), and as a remnant of a generation that is no more.

Simplicity and modesty marked the man, from the plain wooden furniture in his study to his sparse personal habits. He went to sleep at 9 pm and rose daily at 4 am. He used to say: "In Yemen no one bothered you with a pelephone or a fax." But then he corrected himself and admitted, "There's a certain advantage in asking halachic questions over the telephone - that you don't see the person who's asking, like in women's questions."

RAV KAPACH, born in Sa'ana in l917, lost his father when he was 5 months and his mother when he was 6 years old. An only child, his grandparents raised him. As a youngster, Rav Kapach studied in a traditional "heder" but was also exposed to secular studies such as astronomy and math. His grandfather, Rabbi Yehiah Kapach, was a leading spiritual but controversial Yemenite rabbi. He founded the Dardaim Movement (from the words "Dor Deah" - The Knowledgeable Generation) which took an unpopular stand against mysticism and reliance on the Kabbalah. Rabbi Yehiah corresponded with the leading rabbinic leaders of his time, including Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel. Their letters explored such subjects as secular education - Rabbi Yehiah approved teaching natural sciences and the Hebrew language, among other subjects. The main opponents to the Dardaim in Yemen were the Igashim, who banned Kapach and his disciples.

Throughout his life Rabbi Yosef Kapach kept silent about the fierce schism which existed in his community 80 years ago, but which left deep marks on his own life. As a young man he was imprisoned on false charges by the Igashim, and almost forced to convert to Islam. Immediately after his release at the age of l9, he married and shortly thereafter emigrated to Israel.

Throughout his life Rav Kapach remained nostalgic for the Yemen of his childhood. He had a large and rare photo collection of life there, which he guarded carefully. Although never one to engage in small talk - and generally very reticent about his personal life - Rav Kapach would talk at length about the ways of Yemenite Jewry. He declared, for instance, that the status of women in Yemen was better than anywhere else in the world, including modern Israel. He was convinced that the Yemenite brand of Judaism was the most authentic form of Judaism, closest to that practiced in Biblical times.

In Yemen, the young scholar became a silversmith, as did many Yemenite Jews. He also worked as a tanner of hides and a blacksmith.As he grew up, Rav Kapach was often called upon to give "drashot" (religious talks) and teach Halakha instead of his grandfather. Once he arrived in Israel in l943 Rabbi Yosef worked as a silversmith with his uncle, but when he was 25 he became the rabbi of a synagogue in Tel Aviv on Rehov Hillel HaZakein.

In l946, the young Kapach family - now with two children - moved to Jerusalem. Bracha Kapach, his dynamic wife and a personality in her own right, supported the family doing embroidery work while Rabbi Yosef went to study at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. As he told an interviewer years later, "I felt that things I used to know faultlessly were being forgotten." Rav Kapach had a difficult time being accepted into the Ashkenazi stronghold. Back then the Yeshiva accepted only bachelors. But when Rabbi Harlap, then the Rosh Yeshiva, heard who his grandfather was - and that he had corresponded frequently with Rav Kook - he relented. Eventually Yosef Kapach became very close with Rav Kook's son, Rabbi Yehuda Zvi Kook, and the two spoke almost daily.

Rav Kapach's grandfather, Rabbi Yehiah, had had an extraordinary library which contained volumes 600-700 years old. Many of these rare manuscripts were brought to Israel by Rav Kapach himself. Indeed his early association with old parchments and single pages collected by his grandfather instilled in the young Yosef a lifelong avocation for rare works. Many of the scraps of manuscripts that Rav Kapach brought to Israel and eventually published became a source of previously lost and unknown commentaries.

These ancient manuscripts were collected from travelers or found in the graveyards of Sa'ana. It had been common to place torn books and pages of holy works in ceramic jars and bury them in the cemetery. Whenever there were heavy rains, the young Kapach would go exploring in the graveyard, often returning with the contents of broken jugs - singular remains of forgotten halachic works.

WHILE RAV KAPACH attended the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva he worked on manuscripts for Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan and other leaders of Mizrachi. He was appointed to the Beit Din HaRabbani (the religious court) first in Tel Aviv and then in Jerusalem, serving 38 years as a Dayan. He taught in the Harry Fischel Talmudic Research Institute. At one point Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted him to become Minister of Religious Affairs, and three times he was offered the position of Chief Sephardi Rabbi, but he consistently declined the positions to concentrate on publishing books. Rabbi Kapach never worked with a research team. He did everything himself, including proofreading his manuscripts, sometimes four or five times.

"He doesn't rely on anyone," explains his son, David. "He learned the danger of leaving mistakes and their repercussions for generations thereafter." Year after year he would sit cross-legged in his book-lined study in the Nachalaot neighborhood, happily working on his manuscripts. He was so exact that he used a pen knife to erase mistakes. "He'd never dream of using tipex," says David in mock horror. All his works were first handwritten in tiny RaShY script which an assistant would transcribe for the publisher.

His most monumental undertaking was reissuing Maimonides' Mishnah Torah, consisting of 24 volumes. Previous issues existed, but Rabbi Kapach, who was well versed in both Torah and Arabic, found they were riddled with mistranslations and mistakes. Some of the errors altered Maimonides' intentions entirely. "They (earlier translators) either left out words, changed letters, muddled whole sentences and made the whole meaning topsy turvey," David explains. Kapach's edition presented a clear and concise translation of Maimonide's work, along with more than 300 commentaries, many of which had never before been published.

In l969 he received the Israel Prize for his monumental work on the Mishneh Torah. He had previously received the Rabbi Kook Prize in l958 for his translation of "Meor Ha'afelah" and in l963, the Bialik Prize for "Halichot Teman". This latter book, a compilation of folklore, was his personal favorite.

In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Rav Kapach was the loving father of of a large family. Of his three children, Naomi Zachi is a nurse, David works in alternative medicine and Aryeh works in business. Rav Kapach had a close relationship with his l5 grandchildren and visited them weekly. When they would ask him for help with homework, he would send them to the sources rather than giving them the answers.

"He doesn't make it easy for us," said granddaughter Tzofia Zachi. "He never wastes time, but he can call up just to ask how we are, and get us to laugh with some nonsense." Today the Kapach household is blessed with a number of great grandchildren in which the Rabbi took great pride.

The Kapach home was always open - for charity undertakings, people with questions, or neighbors who just dropped in. Rabbi Kapach served for more than 50 years as the spiritual leader of a tiny synagogue in his neighborhood, the Avi David Synagogue on Rehov Even Sapir. There he would give lectures daily and hold court every evening for private consultations.

In recent years, a visitor asked Rabbi Kapach: "Who will continue your tremendous project when you're gone?" The answer was simple. "No one. Those who know classical Arabic well enough today don't know Torah and those who know Torah aren't versed in Arabic."

His daughter, Naomi, who used to visit daily, said that in his later years her father became more and more impatient. He felt as if the years were slipping away from him when he still had so much work to do. Before his demise, Rabbi Kapach was working on an ancient manuscript that the father of singer Boaz Sharabi brought him. "That was his life, his whole world," says Naomi. "The world of scholarship and religious volumes."

Rabbi Kapach translated the RMb"M's Guide to the Perplexed, as well as Rav Saadia Gaon's works, and published a scientific and scholarly edition of the RMb"M's 14-volume Halakhic classic Yad HaChazakah - for which he won the Israel Prize. Rabbi Kapach, who also wrote works on Jewish life in Yemen, turned down an offer to become Chief Rabbi. His wife, Rabbanit Brachah Kapach, was awarded the Israel Prize for lifeworks last year for her acts of kindness and charity on behalf of Jerusalem's poor and large families for many decades. Rabbis Eliyahu, Bakshi-Doron, Arusi, Nachum Rabinowitz, and others eulogized Rabbi Kapach this afternoon.

"He was very strong on Eretz Yisrael. He was not a public figure, but said that we should institute a fast over this process of giving away the Land just as that of the 17th of Tammuz or Tisha B'Av... Mori [Teacher] Yosef Gafech, as he was known by the Yemenite community that he led, was a unique personality - he lived in the modern world, but carried with him the tradition of thousands of years. His customs were those of Yemenite Jewry from hundreds and thousands of years ago - especially his tzni'ut [modesty]. He would sit on a bench for hours a day, without shoes, just like they did in Yemen, and write. He awoke at 4 AM every day, and gave a class in the synagogue from 4:30 until 6:30 every day, just as a 'warm-up.' He was very modest and simple. He was also very 'original,' something which he liked to emphasize - because he felt that many of the customs of the other Jewish communities were new, not directly from the Talmud. He wished to rely directly on the RMb"M and Rabbi Saadiah Gaon. He preserved his old customs, but at the same time maintained his connection with the modern world and modern scholarship. His loss will not be forgotten."

"Rav Kapach opened a new period in the study of Maimonides (RMb"M) in that he went to the original Arabic source - he spoke Arabic, as is known - and since his childhood he studied RMb"M in this way. He translated the writings anew, mostly the commentary on the Mishnah. This was a most important contribution, because up until this generation, the [translation of the] commentary on the Mishnah reached us only in a damaged and inaccurate fashion. He therefore re-translated it, based on a handwritten manuscript [of five of the six Orders] by the RMb"M himself, which survived and reached us in a miraculous manner after 800 years. His republication of the Arabic text together with the Hebrew translation opened a new period in the study of the commentary of the Mishnah - including on Halakhic [Jewish legal] matters, which for the Yemenite community [which rules almost solely in accordance with the RMb"M] has practical consequences. He then published a new edition of the Yad HaChazakah [the RMb"M's Halakhic code, written in Hebrew] based on old Yemenite manuscripts, which are better in many ways than what we have. He published it as a monumental 23-volume work, with the original text and an entire compendium of commentaries on the RMb"M. In short, he opened a new world in the study of RMb"M..."

Rabbi Yosef Kapach, zt"l by Rafael Hodgbi Rabbi Yosef Kapach, leader of the
Yemenite community in Eretz Yisroel and a brilliant Torah scholar, passed
away last Thursday, in Yerushalayim. He was 82. Rabbi Kapach was born in
Yemen in 1917 to a distinguished family. His grandfather, Rabbi Yichye
Kapach, was considered to be one of the leading scholars of his generation.
Concerned about the inroads that kabalistic works were making in the
Yemenite community, Rabbi Yichye Kapach founded Dor Deah, a beis midrash
that instead emphasized the study of the works of the RMb"M. When Rabbi
Yosef Kapach came to Eretz Yisroel, he brought with him his grandfather's
great admiration for the RMb"M, and today there are many Dor Deah shuls
located throughout Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Kapach devoted the greater part of
his life to translating and annotating the works of the RMb"M, and he was
considered one of the foremost experts on the RMb"M's works. His major
achievements include a translation of Moreh Nevuchim and a monumental
translation of the RMb"M's 14-volume halachic classic, Yad Hachazaka, which
incorporates commentaries based on never-before published Yemenite
manuscripts. Rabbi Kapach was also recognized as an authority on the works
of Rav Sa'adya Gaon.

He produced a translation with new sources of Hanivchar B'emunos
Vedeos, as well as translations that incorporated new commentaries on Rabbi
Sa'adya Gaon's commentaries on the books of Iyov, Mishlei, Tehillim and
Daniel. Other sefarim by Rabbi Kapach include an annotated translation of
the Ramban's commentary on the Torah and Halichot Taiman, which describes
the culture and beliefs of the Yemenite Jewish community. His outstanding
contribution to Jewish scholarship was recognized by Jews from across the
religious spectrum. He was the recipient of many prestigious awards and
honorary degrees. Rabbi Kapach served as a dayan in the Yerushalayim
Rabbinical Courts until his retirement. He declined an offer to serve as the
Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Kapach and his wife, Bracha, opened their home to all in
need. Rabbi Kapach personally received countless individuals who sought his
advice on religious or personal matters. Rebbetzin Kapach is well known in
her own right for the many acts of kindness and charity she performs for the
poor of Yerushalayim. Through the keren, Segulat Naomi, she distributes more
than 4,500 food packages at Pesach, and she manages a large clothing Gemach
that includes wedding gowns for needy brides (She lives at 12 Lod Street, Jerusalem Phone: 011-972-2-6249296. She incorporated her work as "Keren Segulat Naomi," Tax-deductible contributions (minimum of $25) through PEF-Israel Endowments, Inc., 317 Madison Ave., #607, NY, NY 10017, 212-599-1260.)

Thousands attended Friday's
funeral for Rabbi Kapach. He was eulogized by a number of rabbis from the
Sefardi community, including former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Chief
Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

July 26, 2000 - Tammuz 23, 5760 / Commentary taken from Arutz Sheva, Jpost.com,  www.a7.org , and Yated Numen

.

 

return to the home page