Hacham Yosef Kapach

A Short Tribute

Mori Yoseph Kapakh, son of Mori David Kapakh, was born on 12 Kislev, 5768 (1917) in Sana'a, Yemen. His grandfather, Mori Yihya Kapakh, was one of Yemen's great sages in his time and one of the founders of Dor De'ah movement, whose members were known as the "Darda'im". They sought to revive the halachic rulings by Maimonides and Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon, which preceded those of the Shulchan Aruch, in their communities; they opposed the study of Kabbala and Zohar and encouraged a broad secular education. The grandfather's activities provoked opposition within the Jewish community, and made the local authorities fear for the regime's stability. The group of scholars was imprisoned and their activities prohibited, but they continued to meet and study Torah. His father, Mori David Kapach, died when Mori Yoseph Kapakh was barely a year old, after being severely beaten by gendarmes at the time of their arrest for studying Torah.

In 1922 Mori Yoseph Kapakh's mother died. The five-year old child was raised by his aunt, Saada Vatshi, and learned Torah from his grandfather, Mori Yihya Kapakh. When his grandfather died in 1931, Mori Yoseph Kapakh took his place and began to give classes at the study house. He continued his studies with Mori Ratsha Tsarum, who had been one of his grandfather's students.

At the age of 16, in 1933, Mori Yoseph Kapakh was also arrested by the authorities. After his release he married Beracha, his young cousin, and the couple had their first son, David, three years later.

In 1943 Mori Yoseph Kapakh immigrated to the Land of Israel. He initially studied at the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, and then went on to train as a dayan at the Harry Fischel Institute. He was appointed to the Jerusalem Regional Rabbinic Court in 1950 and, in 1970, to the Great Rabbinic Court. Mori Yoseph Kapakh, a member of Israel's Chief Rabbinic Council and President of the Jerusalem Yemenite community, was awarded the Israel Prize for Torah Literature in 1969.

His work in Torah was directed primarily at translating scores of manuscripts by early Sephardi sages to Hebrew, including Amanut VeDe'ot by Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy's Kuzari, Hovot Halevavot by Rabbenu Bahia Even Pekuda, Rabbi Nathan's commentary on the Six Books of Mishnah, and many other works written in Judeo-Arabic. Maimonides' work holds a unique place in his work: He translated Iggrot HaRambam, the Guide to the Perplexed, the Commentary on the Mishnah, Sepher HaMitzvot and Milot HaHegaion, and wrote an annotated edition of Mishneh Torah, in 24 volumes. The numerous articles he wrote have been collected in his Writings, published in three volumes.

Mori Yoseph Kapakh was deeply involved in Jewish Yemenite heritage and he describes the lives and customs of Yemenite Jewry in his book, Halichot Teiman. He edited the Shivat Tzion Tachlal, the Yemenite siddur prayer book that follows Maimonides' original rite, as well as the Si'akh Yerushalaim siddur.

Mori Yoseph Kapakh passed away on 18 Tammuz, 5770 (2000), and was buried in Jerusalem's Har Hamenukhot cemetery.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he recounts the amendment to support street cleaners during the periods when they have no income.

The town's founding fathers long ago amended that whenever a bull, sheep or goat is slaughtered in town and its flesh is publicly sold by butchers, the fat and skin are to be appropriated by the public treasury for the needy, and butchers have no right to them… This fund was also designated for shrouds and other burial needs for the poor. And during the rainy season, they would take funds to support the street cleaners who cannot, during this period, earn a livelihood from their profession.

Halichot Teiman, Chapter on Israel Yishayahu, pp. 146 – 147, Ben Zvi Institute Press, Jerusalem, 2002
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he replies that the learning of a craft is to be valued as much as is Torah study

We consider it essential to teach a young person a craft from which to earn a livelihood, as our Sages said concerning a father's obligations towards his son: "Where do we find the father's obligation to teach his son a craft? Hizkiyah said that it says in Scripture, 'Enjoy happiness with a woman you love'. If we are to take the text's meaning as actually referring to a woman, one should say as follows: Just as one is obligated to have him wed, so is one obligated to teach him a craft." We see the extent to which our Sages, of blessed memory, valued the teaching of a trade to a young person - to the point that the study of a craft was equivalent in their eyes to Torah study, and equivalent to marrying. Just as the first determines the world – birth perpetuating the human species – thus does craft sustain the existence of the human species.

Writings, Volume 1, Second Section: On Educating Street Youth, edited by Yoseph Toubi, p.110, Jerusalem 1989