Hacham Yaakov Kuli

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yaakov Kuli, son of Hacham Meir Kuli, was born in Jerusalem, in 1685. His father had immigrated to the Land of Israel from Crete; his mother was the daughter of Rishon LeZion Hacham Moshe Ben Haviv, who had immigrated from Salonica. Hacham Yaakov Kuli moved to Safed, where he studied with the sages of Safed and worked on copying his grandfather’s writings.

In 1714 Hacham Yaakov Kuli traveled to Kushta (Constantinople) to have his grandfather’s books published. There he became acquainted with Hacham Yehuda Rosanis who, noting his stature as a scholar, appointed him dayan in the Kushta Rabbinic Court. Hacham Yaakov Kuli succeeded in having his grandfather’s books published and, after Hacham Yehuda Rosanis’ demise, had his own published as well.

Hacham Yehuda Kuli was proficient in all domains of Torah, as can be seen from his book Me’Am Lo’ez, in which he integrates literal commentary and Midrash, and summarizes the Halakhic rulings that preceded his. His book highlighted social mitzvoth and inspired his reading public. He had his book printed after coming to an agreement with one of Kushta’s wealthy patrons, Hacham Yehuda Mizrachi, who had a deep love for Torah. The latter agreed to finance its publication, on the basis that the proceeds would be divided between the author and charitable causes.

Hacham Yaakov Kuli had the custom of fasting but avoided publicizing the fact, out of humbleness. He is said to have once been undergoing a three-day fast when, towards the end of the third day, he was offered a cup of coffee. He accepted the coffee to avoid making his righteous behavior public.

Hacham Yaakov Kuli passed away on 19 Av, 5492 (1732).

His book, Me'Am Lo'ez, was received in Sephardi communities with great love and appreciation. Originally written in Ladino, the book was widely read and became very popular among simple folk. It was translated to Hebrew, Arabic and English and has been published in several editions. Hacham Yaakov Kuli wrote the volumes on Genesis and Exodus on his own, while the remaining volumes, based in part on his notes, were written by Hacham Yitzhak Magrisso, Hacham Yitzhak Arguitti, Hacham Rahamim Menahem Mitrani and Hacham Raphael Haim Pontremoli. The completion of additional volumes and the translation to Hebrew were prepared by Hacham Samuel Yerushalmi.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he teaches about the commandment to sweep and clean the house of a sick person, which is an act of great loving kindness

"…while you, who held fast to the LORD your God, are all alive today." One cannot, of course, hold fast to the Shechina; the verse's meaning is that we adhere to His commandments, fulfill His commandments and learn from the light and goodness of His ways. Thus, we find that the Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick Himself, as we see when He came to visit our father Abraham. From this we learn that great people must also visit less important people, and that stringency about rank is not pertinent to fulfilling commandments. This is particularly so in the case of this commandment, in that the heart rises at the sight of another's distress; when one asks for compassion and the prayers are accepted it as though one had revived the ill person. And upon the sight of such distress, one seeks out those things that are necessary, and is obligated to sweep and clean their house, for a place full of litter causes an illness to become worse, as does sleeping in a filthy and dusty place. Whoever cleans does an act of great loving kindness. And one who visits the sick yet does not pray for their recovery has not fulfilled the commandment. Happy are those who treat the poor when they are ill, and make efforts to visit the sick, and have people who inform them about who might be ill so that they may send flower nectar, fowl and all they might need.

Me'Am Lo'ez, Genesis Chapter 1, p. 345, New Edition, 1967