About Rabbi Yaakov Beirav
Jacob Berab, Berav or Bei-Rav, (b. Moqueda, nr. Toledo, Castilian Spain, 1474 - d. Safed, Ottoman sanjak of Safed, April 3, 1546), was an influential rabbi and talmudist best known for his attempt to reintroduce rabbinic ordination.
As a young man Rabbi Yaakov Beirav studied with Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav. Subsequently, he wrote commentaries on the four sections of the Rambam and on Talmudic subjects and published a volume of responsa. After serving as a rabbinical leader in Fez, Morocco, and Cairo, Egypt, he became the chief rabbi of Tsfat.
Chosen rabbi at eighteen
Berab was born at born at Moqueda near Toledo, Castilian Spain in 1474. He later became a pupil of Isaac Aboab. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain, he fled to Tlemçen, then the chief town of the Barbary states. There, the Jewish community consisting of 5,000 families, chose him for their rabbi, though he was but a youth of eighteen. Evidence of the great respect there paid him is afforded by the following lines of Abraham Gavison: "Say not that the lamp of the Law no longer in Israel burneth! Jacob Berab hath come back—once more among us he sojourneth!"
It is not known how long Berab remained in Algeria; but before 1522 he was in Jerusalem. There, however, the social conditions were so oppressive that he did not stay long, but went with his pupils to Egypt (Palestine letter, dated 1522, in Luncz, "Jerusalem," iii. 98).
Some years later (1527) Berab, now fairly well-to-do, resided in Damascus (Levi ibn Habib, "Responsa," p. 117a); in 1533 he became rabbi at Cairo (ib. 33a); and several years after he seems to have finally settled in Safed, which then contained the largest Jewish community in Palestine. It was there that Berab conceived the bold idea which made him famous, that of establishing a central spiritual Jewish power.
Plan for Semichah - ordination
Berab had a plan for the reintroduction of the old "Semichah" (rabbinic ordination). It likely that his further plans included the reestablishment of Sanhedrin, or Synedrium. Berab's model was the Sanhedrin of Tannatic times which consisted of men who could trace their ordination back to Moses; yet for more than a thousand years no such men had existed, and the rabbinic ordination (Semichah) was lost.
Berab's plan was a resolution of certain halachic difficulties. In particular, there was a problem of Marranos returning to Jewish faith, and in order to free them from divine punishment some Rabbis of the Land of Israel considered applying to them the punishment of makkot, which can only be assigned by Sanhedrin. Jacob Berab writes about this problem in his Responsa.
Maimonides taught that if the sages in Palestine would agree to ordain one of themselves, they could do so, and that the man of their choice could then ordain others. Although Maimonides' opinion had been opposed by Nahmanides and others, the scholars at Safed had confidence in him, and had no doubt that, from a rabbinical standpoint, no objection to his plan could be raised. Ordination of 1538
In 1538 twenty-five rabbis met in assembly at Safed and ordained Berab, giving him the right to ordain any number of others, who would then form a Sanhedrin. In a discourse in the synagogue at Safed, Berab defended the legality of his ordination from a Talmudic standpoint, and showed the nature of the rights conferred upon him. On hearing of this event most of the other Palestinian scholars expressed their agreement, and the few who discountenanced the innovation had not the courage to oppose Berab and his following.
Berab then ordained a few other rabbis, including
- chief Rabbi of Jerusalem ibn Habib,
- rabbi Joseph Caro,
- rabbi Moses of Trani,
- rabbi Yosef Sagis.
Joseph Caro later ordained rabbi Moshe Alshich. Alshich ordained rabbi Hayim Vital around 1590.
Dispute with Ibn Habib
To obtain the good-will of the Jews of the Holy City, the first use that Berab made of his new dignity was to ordain the chief rabbi at Jerusalem, Levi ibn Habib. Since the latter had for many years been a personal opponent of Berab, and the two had had many disputes in regard to rabbinical decisions and approbations, Berab's ordination of Ibn Habib shows that he placed general above personal interests. Moreover, the terms in which Berab officially announced Ibn Habib's ordination were kindly ones.
Berab, therefore, expected no opposition from that quarter; but he was mistaken. Ibn Habib's personal animus was not appeased, but rather stimulated, by his ordination. He considered it an insult to his dignity and to the dignity of Jerusalem that so important a change should be effected without consultation of the Jerusalem scholars. He did not content himself with an oral protest, but sent a communication to the scholars of Safed, in which he set forth the illegality of their proceeding and declared that the innovation involved a risk to rabbinical Judaism, since the Sanhedrin might use its sovereign authority to tamper with the calendar.
Although Levi ibn Habib's tone was moderate, every one could read between the lines that he opposed the man Berab as well as his work. An illustration of this is afforded by the remarks made by Ibn Habib when he maintained at length that the scholars of Safed were not qualified to ordain, since they were not unprejudiced in the matter, and when he hinted that Berab was not worthy to transmit ordination.
Berab was surprised by the peril in which his undertaking was now placed; and, embittered by Ibn Habib's personal attacks, he could not adhere to a merely objective refutation, but indulged in personalities. In answer to Ibn Habib's observation, that a sacred ordination must not proceed from learning alone, but from holiness also, Berab replied: "I never changed my name: in the midst of want and despair I went in God's way" (Ibn Habib, "Responsa," p. 298b); thereby alluding to the fact that, when a youth, Ibn Habib had lived for a year in Portugal as a Christian under an assumed name.
The strife between Berab and Ibn Habib now became wholly personal, and this had a bad effect on the plan; for Berab had many admirers but few friends. Moreover, Berab's life was endangered. The ordination had been represented to the Turkish authorities as the first step toward the restoration of the Jewish state, and, since Berab was rich, the Turkish officials would have showed him scant mercy in order to lay hands on his wealth.
Berab was forced to go to Egypt for a while, but though each moment's delay might have cost him his life, he tarried long enough to ordain four rabbis, so that during his absence they might continue to exercise the function of ordination. In the mean time Ibn Habib's following increased; and when Berab returned, he found his plan to be hopeless. His death some years later put an end to the dispute which had gradually arrayed most of the Palestinian scholars in hostile lines on the question of ordination.
Ordination / Four Generations
It is known positively that Joseph Caro and Moses of Trani were two of the four men ordained by Berab. If the other two were Abraham Shalom and Israel ben Meir di Curiel, then Caro was the only one who used his privilege to ordain another, Moses Alshich, who, in turn, ordained Hayim Vital. Thus ordination might be traced for four generations.
With the exception of some short contributions to the works of others, the only one of Berab's numerous works ever published was his "Sheëlot u-Teshubot" (Questions and Answers), responsa, Venice, 1663; but the Amsterdam edition of the rabbinical Tanakh (1724–28) contains notes by Berab on Isaiah and Jeremiah.
- ^ Levi ibn Habib, "Responsa," p. 298b.
- Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim, ed. Wilna, i. 86;
- David Conforte, Ḳore ha-Dorot, see Index in ed. Cassel;
- Frumkin, Eben Yerushalaim, pp. 34–40, Wilna, 1874;
- Fuenn, in Ha-Karmel, ii. 486-494, 576-580;
- idem, Keneset Yisrael, pp. 539, 540;
- Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed., ix. 12, 200-298;
- Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, iii. 128, 129;
- Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, p. 1069;
- Moritz Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 1194;
- Joseph Zedner, Cat. Hebr. Books Brit. Mus. p. 307;
- Zunz, Z. G. pp. 250, 531.
- The most important source of information for the dispute about ordination is Levi ben Jacob ibn Ḥabib, Responsa, pp. 277a, 328a, Venice, 1565;
- S. P. Rabbinowitz, Mozaëi Golah, see Index.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
Jacob Berab, also spelled Berav or Bei-Rav, (b. Moqueda, nr. Toledo, Castilian Spain, 1474 - d. Safed, Ottoman sanjak of Safed, April 3, 1546), was an influential rabbi and talmudist best known for his attempt to reintroduce rabbinic ordination.
Berab was born at born at Moqueda near Toledo, Castilian Spain in 1474. He later became a pupil of Isaac Aboab. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain, he fled to Tlemçen, then the chief town of the Barbary states. There, the Jewish community consisting of 5,000 families, chose him for their rabbi, though he was but a youth of eighteen. Evidence of the great respect there paid him is afforded by the following lines of Abraham Gavison:
"Say not that the lamp of the Law no longer in Israel burneth! Jacob Berab hath come back—once more among us he sojourneth!"
Rabbi Jacob ben Rabbi Moshe Berab was one of the greatest Torah scholars of his time, over 400 years ago. He is particularly famous for his attempt to renew the "Semicha" (special Rabbinical ordination)-but about that a little later.
"Berab" is an added name, an honorary title bestowed on select Torah scholars. His family name was Marmaran, and he originated from Spain. He was born in the city of Moceda, near Toledo, about eighteen years before the infamous Expulsion from Spain, which took place in 5252 (1492).
In the year 5293, Rabbi Jacob was a wanderer together with thousands of other Jews who were driven out of Spain. After much wandering, suffering and encountering many dangers, Rabbi Jacob Berab arrived at the town of Tlemsen in Algeria, North Africa. He delivered a Torah lecture there on Shabbos, which made a profound impression on his audience. It was quite evident to all that he was a great Torah scholar. The community of Fez accepted him as their Rabbi.
The city of Fez, where the world renown Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (Rif) had lived, then comprised about 5,000 Jewish families. The provinces of Tunis, Algiers and Fez in North Africa were, however, too near to Spain, and the Jews could not feel secure there. Many of them, therefore, wandered further, as far as Egypt, and even Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Jacob Berab was one of, those who left Fez and went to Cairo, Egypt, where he found many famous refugees from Spain.
Cairo, at that time, was an important Torah center, and amongst its scholars were to be found such luminaries as Rabbi David ben Zimra (Radbaz), the greatest Codifier of his time, and Rabbi Moshe Alashkar, who was a Gaon (Torah giant) and a Mekubal (Mystic) and was a Dayan (Judge) in the Radbaz's Court in Cairo. Both of them came from Spain, and underwent similar sufferings as Rabbi Jacob Berab. In Cairo, Rabbi Jacob became friendly with the Jewish Finance Minister, Avrohom de Castra, also a Spanish refugee whom the Turkish Sultan appointed as Finance Minister of Egypt. In Avrohom's house, Rabbi Jacob Berab was a welcome guest. Rabbi Jacob, however, did not stay long in Egypt; he went to Jerusalem. Here he found the famous Rabbi Levi Ibn Habib as the Chief Rabbi and Head of the Court. Rabbi Levi was a son of Rabbi Jacob Ibn Habib, the author of the Ein Yaakov.
Rabbi Levi also was one of the Jews who had been driven out of Spain, and he came to Jerusalem together with his father. (The above-mentioned prominent refugees from Spain who took over such important Rabbinical positions, prove to us how great was the influence of the Spanish Jews who were uprooted from their land.)
Between Rabbi Jacob Berab and Rabbi Levi Ibn Habib (who was only a few years older than he) there arose a difference of opinion, and so Rabbi Jacob Berab took to his wanderings once more. He went to Damascus in the year 5288 where he was appointed as Rabbi and Head of the Court. He entered the business field and became very wealthy.
But here, also, he felt he could not stay; he felt drawn to the Holy Land, and five years later, we find him in Ghaza, on his way to Jerusalem once more. He did not stay long, as he received a "call" to serve as Rabbi and Dayan in Cairo. A few years later, he again left for Eretz Yisroel, and settled in the holy city of Tzefas (Safed).
Tzefas was the largest and most important community in Eretz Yisroel at that time, with over 1,000 Jewish families and many Rabbis and Mystics. Rabbi Jacob was appointed as the Chief Rabbi over all the Rabbis and scholars of Tzefas, and he spread Torah and Kabbalah learning there. Amongst his disciples were the famous Rabbi Joseph Karo (author of "Beth Joseph" and "Shulchan Aruch") and Rabbi Moshe de Trani (the "Mabit").
As aforementioned, Tzefas was the center of the Kabbalists who occupied themselves with the study of the hidden secrets of the Torah (Kabbalah), and who tried to prepare themselves and the entire Jewish world for the coming of the true Messiah, the descendant of king David.
The idea then occurred to Rabbi Jacob Berab to renew the "Semicha" in order to set up a Sanhedrin (Supreme Rabbinic Court). He thought that by this he would bring nearer the approach of the Messiah. He also hoped that this would help the numerous Marranos to become true Baale Teshuvoh (Penitents), and would in general strengthen the Jewish spirit in those difficult times.
Rabbi Jecob Berab, however, decided to renew the "Semichas Zekainim" (Semicha of Elders) as in the days of old. In this matter he relied on the decision of the Rambam (Laws of Sanhedrin, Ch.4, Section II; and in his Explanation of the Mishna on Sanhedrin, Ch.I), where the Rambam expresses the idea that when a suitable time will arrive before the coming of the Messiah, with the necessary spiritual revival and preparation, and the Jews will return to the ways of the Almighty, and when all the Torah scholars of Eretz Yisroel will be in accord and agree to renew the "Semicha" of old, then they will have the power to give "Semicha" to one of their group and he in turn will then be able to give "Semicha" to other scholars, and the prophecy of Isaiah (1:26) "And I will restore your judges as at first, and your advisers as at the beginning", will be fulfilled.
Rabbi Jacob Berab was of the opinion that time had arrived and the other Rabbis in Tzefas. were in agreement. They did not deem it necessary to ask the opinion of the Rabbis in Jerusalem or the great scholars in other lands, as Tzefas was then the main center of Torah and Kabbalah not only in Eretz Yisroel, but in the whole world.
This took place in the year 5298, when 25 Rabbis and Mystics assembled in Tzefas, and they gave "Semicha" to the greatest one amongst them, Rabbi Jacob Berab. Rabbi Jacob then gave "Semicha" to a few select Torah scholars: Rabbi Joseph Karo, Rabbi Moshe of Cordevera (the famous Kabbalist, the Ramak) and others.
The Ramak gave "Semicha" to Rabbi Moshe Alschich and Rabbi Moshe Alschich gave "Semicha" to Rabbi Chaim Vital.
Rabbi Jacob Berab sent a special messenger with "Semicha" for Rabbi Levi Ibn Habib in Jerusalem. But Rabbi Levi refused to accept it, and he came out strongly against the whole idea. He wrote a "Pamphlet about Semicha" to show that Rabbi Jacob Berab had no right to renew the "Semicha of the Elders".
There broke out a scholarly dispute between the supporters of the "Semicha" Rabbi Jacob Berab, his disciples, and colleagues, on the one hand, and the opponents of the "Semicha", with Rabbi Levi Ibn Habib at their head, on the other. The dispute lasted several years until Rabbi Jacob Berab died. The "Semicha" came to an end, as Rabbi Chaim Vital did not ordain anyone else after him.
Rabbi Jacob Berab was very distressed that his great accomplishment (in his opinion) was not universally recognized, and that it caused the strong opposition of Rabbi Levi Ibn Habib. There were also wagging tongues who made an accusation before the Turkish government that Rabbi Jacob's idea was to free Eretz Yisroel from the Turks. Rabbi Jacob Berab was forced to flee from Tzefas. He returned there later, however, and died during the night of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh Adar in the year 5301 (1541) .
Rabbi Jacob Berab left Responsa. The Responsa "Mahari Berab" comprise 56 Responsa, and many more of his Responsa are mentioned in the Responsa " of the Mabit and others.
Besides his Responsa, Rabbi Jacob Berab wrote a commentary on the Rambam, and other works. He was regarded as one of the greatest Torah scholars of his time, and he received legal questions from all parts of the world. His stormy life ended before reaching 70 years of age. His great desire to see the "Semicha" renewed was not realized.
- • ^ Levi ibn Habib, "Responsa," p. 298b.
- • Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim, ed. Wilna, i. 86;
- • David Conforte, Ḳore ha-Dorot, see Index in ed. Cassel;
- • Frumkin, Eben Yerushalaim, pp. 34–40, Wilna, 1874;
- • Fuenn, in Ha-Karmel, ii. 486-494, 576-580;
- • idem, Keneset Yisrael, pp. 539, 540;
- • Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed., ix. 12, 200-298;
- • Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, iii. 128, 129;
- • Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, p. 1069;
- • Moritz Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 1194;
- • Joseph Zedner, Cat. Hebr. Books Brit. Mus. p. 307;
- • Zunz, Z. G. pp. 250, 531.
- The most important source of information for the dispute about ordination is Levi ben Jacob ibn Ḥabib, Responsa, pp. 277a, 328a, Venice, 1565;
- • S. P. Rabbinowitz, Mozaëi Golah, see Index.
- • ￼ This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.