R. Yosef Kara's Commentary on Neviim Rishonim1


The Kirchheim Manuscript

R. Yosef Kara's Commentary on Neviim Rishonim is one of several important Northern French Peshat commentaries2 which survived until modern times in only a single textual witness.  This work was preserved in what is known as the 'Kirchheim manuscript', which was subsequently lost during the Shoah.3  Fortunately, S. Eppenstein transcribed much of the manuscript before it was lost, thus preserving its content for posterity.4  This AlHaTorah.org edition is primarily based on Eppenstein's edition, yet it incorporates some important additions and improvements, as detailed in the following sections.

Restoring Missing Chapters from the Commentary on Yehoshua

MS Kirchheim was missing the early chapters of Sefer Yehoshua and, as a result, Eppenstein's edition of the commentary began only in the middle of Yehoshua 8:13.  Recently, though, we discovered evidence that two of the missing Yehoshua chapters of R. Yosef Kara's commentary survived by being incorporated in a commentary on the Haftarot found in MS Cincinnati JCF 1 (one of these two chapters was also preserved in four other related manuscripts5).  The text of the commentary on these two chapters can now be accessed at Yehoshua 1 and Yehoshua 5, and it contains several novel interpretations.  The evidence for the identification of R. Yosef Kara as the author of these chapters can be divided into three main categories:

A. Structure of the Cincinnati MS

There are dozens of manuscripts in which Rashi's Torah Commentary is followed by a Haftarot commentary collated from Rashi's assorted commentaries on the books of Neviim.  In MS Cincinnati JCF 1, however, Rashi's Torah Commentary is followed by a very different Haftarot Commentary.  In fact, the Cincinnati Haftarot Commentary could be more precisely described as a conflation of two disparate commentarial endeavors:

  • The initial part, which constitutes the bulk of the work, contains a commentary on 45 Haftarot, including the Haftarot for forty6 (of the fifty-four) Parshiyot followed by the Haftarot for the Shabbatot of Rosh Chodesh, Machar Chodesh, Shekalim, Zakhor, and Parah.7  The commentary on all of the Haftarot in this first section with but two exceptions8 is not derived from the known commentaries of Rashi and R. Yosef Kara but rather constitutes a new (anonymous) commentary.9
  • The second section contains a commentary on a total of 23 Haftarot, which include the Haftarot for most of the festival days of Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom HaKippurim, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah,10 the Haftarot for nine11 of the Parshiyot missing in the first section, as well as the Haftarot for Tish'a BeAv and Shabbat HaGadol.  A full twenty-one of these twenty-three Haftarot can readily be shown to be lifted almost verbatim12 from the commentaries of Rashi, R. Yosef Kara, and the Commentary attributed to R. Yosef Kara on Shemuel.13 

The remaining two Haftarot from these twenty-three are both from the beginning of Yehoshua (Chapter 1, the Haftarah for Simchat Torah, and Chapter 5, the Haftarah for the first day of Pesach), where we do not possess the commentary of R. Yosef Kara.  Thus, given that each of the other twenty-one Haftarot in this second section can be sourced to either Rashi or R. Yosef Kara,14 and that these two Yehoshua chapters of the Cincinnati MS commentary bear no resemblance to Rashi's commentary,15 it would appear that R. Yosef Kara's lost commentary on the early chapters of Yehoshua is their likely source.16  This hypothesis can be confirmed to a reasonable degree of probability by the following analysis of both the content and language of the commentary on these two chapters.

B.  Content Parallels

There are five interpretations found in the Cincinnati commentary on these chapters of Yehoshua which closely match interpretations found elsewhere in R. Yosef Kara's extant commentaries. Table 1 displays these parallels.  While one of these interpretations17 can be found also in Rashi,18 the other four parallels are distinctive interpretations of R. Yosef Kara which differ from those of his fellow Northern French commentators:

  • Yehoshua 1:7 – R. Yosef Kara's interpretation of the "חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ מְאֹד לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכׇל הַתּוֹרָה" to refer exclusively to the commandment of wiping out the Seven Nations is a radical departure from the commonplace understanding of the verse (see BavliBerakhot 32bAbout the Bavli and RashiYehoshua 1:7About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki) and is not picked up by later commentators.  MS Cincinnati enables us to see that R"Y Kara first presented this interpretation in his comments on the command in Yehoshua 1:7, and he then repeated the interpretation in his remarks on the fulfillment of the command in 11:14-15.19
  • Yehoshua 5:4 – R"Y Kara's interpretation of "זֶה הַדָּבָר" stands in contrast to the Midrashic approach of Bereshit Rabbah cited by Rashi.20  However, what truly makes his interpretation unique is his sweeping assertion that all Biblical occurrences of the phrase are to be explicated by the content which precedes or follows them.
  • Yehoshua 5:12 – Numerous commentators attempt to address the need for the doublet in Shemot 16:35 of when the Israelites ceased to eat the Manna: "עַד בֹּאָם אֶל אֶרֶץ נוֹשָׁבֶת... עַד בֹּאָם אֶל קְצֵה אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן".  However many different answers are given, and it is only R"Y Kara who explains that the second part of the verse was needed to prevent a misunderstanding which would create a difficulty when arriving at Yehoshua 5:12.21 This interpretation was known in Tosafist circles to be from R"Y Kara, and it is cited in his name in both the Oxford Marsh 225 - Munich 252 compilation and Hadar Zekenim.22
  • Yehoshua 5:15 – The interpretation of "שַׁל" as to cast down is not so unique, however R"Y Kara is unique in similarly explaining the phrase "שֹׁל תָּשֹׁלּוּ" found in Rut 2:16.23

These cases thus lend considerable support to the claim that these chapters of the Cincinnati commentary were compiled from the commentary of R. Yosef Kara.24

C.  Distinctive Linguistic Markers

Additional evidence can be adduced from an examination of the distinctive formulations used in the Cincinnati commentary, virtually all of which find parallels in the writings of R. Yosef Kara, and many of which are unique to him.  Perhaps the most blatant example may be found at the end of the interpretation of Yehoshua 5:9: "ופשוטו של דבר ויישובו כתבתי, ולא תסור ממנו ימין ושמאל".  This assertive language is indicative of a commentator of significant stature, who possesses a formidable self-confidence, enough to command the reader to adhere to his interpretation.  Almost identical formulae can, in fact, be found in at least four other places throughout R. Yosef Kara's literary oeuvre:25 Shemuel I 1:3 ("ומפתרון זה אל תט ימין ושמאל"), Yeshayahu 8:18 ("ומן הפתרון הזה לא תטה ימין ושמאל"), Yeshayahu 11:11 ("ומן הדרך הזה ומן הפתרון הזה אל תט ימין ושמאל"), Kohelet 10:10 ("ומפתרון זה לא תסור ימין ושמאל").26  The phrase is scarcely to be found in any other commentaries.27

Additional phrases found in MS Cincinnati 1 which are hallmarks of R. Yosef Kara and are only rarely used by other commentators include:

  • "פשוטו של דבר" (Yehoshua 5:4-6, 5:9) – This phrase appears twice in MS Cincinnati and another ten times in R"Y Kara.28  It almost never appears in any other commentaries.
  • "פתרונו בצדו / פתרונם בצדם" (Yehoshua 5:4-6, 5:14) – This term comes up twice in MS Cincinnati and another nine times in R"Y Kara's other commentaries,29 but almost nowhere else in medieval literature.30
  • "תדע שכן" (Yehoshua 5:11) –This common Rabbinic phrase appears only twice in Rashi31 and not at all in Rashbam or R"Y Bekhor Shor, but it comes up on seventeen occasions in R"Y Kara.32
  • "שגור בפי הכל" (Yehoshua 5:9) – This phrase is used by R"Y Kara on five occasions33  to refer to a well known Midrashic interpretation.  It is not used by other medieval commentators.
  • "אחר פשוטו" (Yehoshua 5:4-6) – This combination comes up once in MS Cincinnati and another five times in R"Y Kara.34  It appears only once in each of Rashi and Rashbam.
  • "סתומות/סתומים בתחילתם/ן" (Yehoshua 5:14) –This phrase appears another five times in R"Y Kara,35 but not in other commentators.
  • "פשוטו ויישובו" (Yehoshua 5:4-6) – This term appears once in MS Cincinnati and once more in R"Y Kara.36  It does not appear at all in other literature.
  • "כל מקום שאת/שאתה מוצא" (Yehoshua 5:4-6) – This commonplace Rabbinic formula appears only three times in Rashi and once in Rashbam, but a full twenty-one times in R"Y Kara's commentaries.
  • "אילו נאמר... הייתי אומר" (Yehoshua 1:11) – This Rabbinic formula appears four times in R"Y Kara's commentaries,37 but not at all in Rashi, Rashbam, or R"Y Bekhor Shor.

In addition to the above phrases which have a distinctive R"Y Kara flavor, virtually every phrase which appears in MS Cincinnati occurs also in other instances in R"Y Kara's commentaries.38  The cumulative weight of the linguistic analysis, thus, constitutes very strong evidence for R. Yosef Kara's authorship of the Yehoshua chapters in the Cincinnati MS.

Textual Improvements Enabled by New MSS Findings

Since Eppenstein's edition was based on a sole surviving textual witness, it had little recourse in cases where the Kirchheim MS had lacunae or was corrupted.  The Cincinnati MS and its group of related manuscripts now provide additional information and insights which allow us to improve our version of the text of R. Yosef Kara's commentary on two other Haftarot from Neviim Rishonim: Shemuel I 1 (the Haftarah read on Rosh HaShanah Day 1) and Melakhim II 10 (the Haftarah read on Parashat Shekalim).39  An analysis of Table 2 and Table 3 will IY"H be coming soon...

Acknowledgments and Manuscript List

AlHaTorah.org's edition of R. Yosef Kara's Commentary on Neviim Rishonim utilizes a number of manuscripts.40  We gratefully acknowledge the libraries which house them for preserving these texts for posterity:

We also thank Mosad Harav Kook for their gracious generosity in granting us permission to utilize their edition (Jerusalem, 1972) of R. Yosef Kara's commentary on Melakhim II.

Finally, we express our appreciation to the staff of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts for all of their assistance.