R. Yosef Kara's Commentaries on Esther


This topic is still being developed and updated


R. Yosef Kara, a student/colleague of Rashi, was one of the intellectual giants of Biblical exegesis in Northern France in the 11th-12th centuries,1 and his scholarly efforts spanned also the fields of liturgy and Midrash. He authored commentaries on most of the books of Tanakh, and perhaps on all of them. In recent years, portions of several of his commentaries have been rediscovered and recovered,2 and this has led to a greater appreciation of the centrality of the role he played in the development of the plain sense (peshat) Biblical exegesis in Northern France.

Multiple Commentaries on Esther

On a few books of Tanakh, multiple commentaries of R. Yosef Kara have survived.  Megillat Esther is one of these books, and we possess textual witnesses for three different commentaries of R. Yosef Kara on Esther.

It should be emphasized that it is unclear that the two parts of the "3rd Commentary" derive from the same commentary (they are presented as one in the Mikraot Gedolot simply for technical reasons), and it is possible that, in sum total, we have texts or portions of texts deriving from four separate commentaries of R. Yosef Kara.

Origin and Relationship Between Commentaries

The existence of multiple commentaries raises the question of the relationship between these texts. Are these merely different recensions or transmissions of a single original commentary,7 or did R. Yosef Kara, in fact, author multiple commentaries?  If the former, were these commentaries produced by different students of R. Yosef Kara who were all working off of the same set of oral lectures,8 or do the differences result simply from copyists exhibiting free license to edit, modify, and abridge at will.  On the other hand, if the commentaries were all authored by R. Yosef Kara himself, can we determine the order in which the commentaries were produced and what factors may have influenced the distinctions between them?

While arriving at definitive answers to these questions necessitates a more in depth study of not only the Esther commentaries but all of R. Yosef Kara's works,9 an examination of the Esther commentaries does not reveal any blatant signs of major student or scribal input. Each of the commentaries is plagued by standard scribal errors, but there are neither obvious glosses nor citations of R. Yosef Kara in the third person. The commentaries share a very high percentage of interpretations, but they also offer differing and conflicting approaches in a minority of cases. Moreover, while there are many similar phrasings (of the type which one would also expect from an author writing multiple commentaries on the same work), the linguistic differences between the commentaries are very significant and would have required wholesale student or scribal rewriting at a level not often seen in medieval commentaries.10  Given all of this, it would appear more likely than not that R. Yosef Kara himself authored multiple commentaries on Esther, and while he maintained consistency in methodology and regarding the majority of his interpretations, there was also no shortage of cases in which he changed his mind over the course of time.

Unique Interpretations of R. Yosef Kara

Unique interpretations shared by all three commentaries:

Unique interpretations shared by the 1st and 3rd commentaries:

Unique interpretations shared by the 2nd and 3rd commentaries:

Unique interpretations found only in the 2nd commentary:

Unique interpretations found only in the 3rd commentary:

Acknowledgments and Manuscript List

It is a great pleasure to thank Yael Okun and Yisrael Dubitsky of the Department of Manuscripts at the National Library of Israel for bringing the significance of MS CCC 6 to our attention, and we also gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by Joanna Snelling, Librarian of Corpus Christi College.

The following is a list of manuscripts containing material from R. Yosef Kara's commentaries on Esther (with links to their records):