R. Yosef Kara's Torah Commentary


This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant #2711/19)

Impact of R. Yosef Kara as Exegete

R. Yosef Kara was the foremost representative of the transitional stage between Rashi and Rashbam, and he played a pivotal role in the development of the peshat school and its methods of exegesis in 12th century Northern France. R"Y Kara was a younger contemporary and student/colleague of Rashi, and the two interacted extensively. R. Yosef Kara's commentaries build upon Rashi's and incorporate copious portions of them,1 but there was significant influence exerted also in the reverse direction. We possess evidence of several cases in which R. Yosef Kara's peshat interpretations impacted Rashi, even causing him to reverse course and modify the content of his commentaries.2

Sources for Reconstruction of the Commentary

The extant Torah interpretations of R. Yosef Kara have been preserved in three types of sources:

  • Individual pages of the commentary found in the "Italian Genizah" – These include seven folios containing pieces of a running commentary on twelve chapters of Shemot and nine chapters of Devarim3 as well as an additional folio containing a collection of individual interpretations from all of Torah.4 Most of these are only partial leaves which require significant reconstruction. The identification of R"Y Kara as the author of this commentary will be discussed below.
  • Glosses in various manuscripts of Rashi's commentary – These assorted comments frequently dispute Rashi's exegesis5 while offering R. Yosef Kara's own alternatives. In a minority of manuscripts,6 these interpretations appear as marginalia and are signed with a "ר' יוסף"‎7 or "ר' יוסף קרא", making it relatively simple to distinguish these additions from Rashi's own words.8 In most manuscripts, though, R. Yosef Kara's interpretations were incorporated into the main text of Rashi. Generally, they are still readily identifiable as they are explicitly attributed to "ר' יוסף"‎, "ר' יוסף קרא", or "ר' יוסף בר' שמעון"‎.9 In some instances, however, these identifying headings or signatures were not preserved.10
  • Citations of R. Yosef Kara in Tosafist commentaries – These include Rashbam (4x), R. Yosef Bekhor Shor (8x), Sefer HaGan (6x), R. Chayyim Paltiel (8x), Peshatim UPeirushim of R. Yaakov of Vienna (3x), Paneach Raza (10x), Daat Zekeinim (12x), Hadar Zekeinim (7x), and various other works and manuscripts.11 The content of R"Y Kara's interpretations found in these citations is generally unrelated to Rashi's commentary.

The most ambitious effort until now to collate material from the second and third categories was made by Avraham Berliner almost 150 years ago.12 Fortunately, we now have access to several additional manuscripts containing numerous heretofore unpublished glosses and citations of R. Yosef Kara13 in addition to all of the folios of his freestanding commentary discovered in the Italian Genizah. Together, these provide the opportunity to significantly augment our collection of R"Y Kara's Torah interpretations and greatly enhance our understanding and appreciation of his exegetical contributions. Given the large number of manuscripts containing relevant material and the painstaking nature of the reconstruction, the accompanying online electronic edition will both facilitate collaborative work and allow for continuous updating as additional material is discovered and processed.14 This edition also includes a Neviim Glosses section with the glosses R. Yosef Kara penned on Rashi's commentaries, and an Appendix section which will be discussed below.

Discovery of the Torah Commentary

Despite R. Yosef Kara's stature, only a small portion of his Torah commentary has survived.15 In fact, until the late 20th century, all that was known from R"Y Kara's literary output on Torah was the cameo appearances in the glosses found in a few manuscripts of Rashi's commentary and the occasional Tosafist citations of his interpretations.16 Unsurprisingly, many scholars incorrectly concluded that R"Y Kara had penned only marginal glosses on Rashi's commentary, and not his own independent commentary.

The existence of a stand-alone commentary was conclusively established only with Prof. Avraham Grossman's identification17 of R. Yosef Kara as the author of several folios discovered by Prof. Mauro Perani in the "Italian Genizah".18 Most of these folios were sliced up when used in book bindings, and thus they contain only halves, thirds, or quarter columns of the original text. The fragmentary state of these folios and the resulting difficulty of reconstructing their original text have impeded their publication until now,19 and there are still parts of them whose reconstruction is incomplete or needs improvement.

The preliminary online publication of the extant material from R. Yosef Kara's Torah commentary will hopefully facilitate a better appreciation of his unique exegetical contributions and pave the way for improved readings and the reconstruction of other portions of his commentary. In addition, the analysis below briefly highlights some of the important issues which this new material illuminates.

R. Yosef Kara and His Text of Rashi

An analysis of the heretofore unpublished folios of R"Y Kara's commentary reveals that there is a fundamental difference between his commentaries on the books of Shemot and Devarim. The twelve extant chapters from the Shemot commentary (6-10, 19-25) are marked by wholesale incorporation of broad swaths of Rashi's commentary.20 Approximately one-third of the extant Shemot commentary21 was apparently lifted almost verbatim22 from Rashi, and this phenomenon parallels the similar one found in R"Y Kara's commentary on much of Neviim. In stark contrast, the nine chapters of the commentary on Devarim (12-14, 24-29) display no influence whatsoever of Rashi. It is unclear what accounts for this remarkable divergence, though it is possible that R"Y Kara's exegetical independence grew over the course of the writing of his commentary.23

It is possible that the heavy indebtedness of R. Yosef Kara's commentary to Rashi contributed to its diminished popularity, as it rendered a significant portion of the commentary basically redundant for most of its medieval audience (at least for those who already had a copy of Rashi). However, this phenomenon is a great boon for those attempting to establish the original text of Rashi, as the precise nature of the "borrowing" means that for parts of Shemot we essentially possess a text very close to the version of Rashi which was copied (presumably from Rashi's personal copy) by R. Yosef Kara.24 This makes R. Yosef Kara's commentary an extremely important textual witness for reconstructing the original text of Rashi's commentary on these chapters. Additionally, identifying the Rashi manuscripts which preserve readings in these chapters similar to those of R. Yosef Kara's text, can help provide important data for the rest of Torah. This analysis is currently ongoing as part of AlHaTorah.org's Rashi project.25

Appendix to the Commentary and Relationship to Rashbam

The seven folios discovered from R. Yosef Kara's Torah commentary were part of a larger manuscript which encompassed his commentaries also on books from Neviim and Ketuvim. Seven additional folios from this manuscript have survived, five of which contain remnants of his commentaries on Yeshayahu, Terei Asar (a bifolio), and Tehillim (a bifolio).26 The final bifolio is perhaps the most intriguing, as the folio on its right side contains (on both recto and verso sides) an assortment of interpretations of verses from all over Torah27 plus a few from Nakh,28 while the left side folio contains a commentary on Iyyov 5:1 – 6:11.29 The assorted interpretations from the right side folio can be viewed here.

This miscellaneous collection includes interpretations which are cited in other sources in the name of R. Yosef Kara,30 and it shares other characteristics of R. Yosef Kara's exegesis.31 This leaves little reason to doubt that the interpretations in this collection were also authored by R. Yosef Kara, but it raises the question of why they were recorded separately rather than in their proper places in his Torah commentary. Interestingly, this collection contains some of R"Y Kara's most creative exegesis, and numerous interpretations in this collection parallel exegesis found also in Rashbam.32 This may support the tentative suggestion that this collection constitutes a "קונטרס אחרון" or an appendix to R. Yosef Kara's commentary,33 in which he recorded additional interpretations which he had become aware of only after completing his commentary. Some of these interpretations may very well have originated in R. Yosef Kara's conversations with Rashbam,34 and they may provide us with a window into their relationship.

Chizkuni's Extensive Use of R. Yosef Kara's Commentary

A significant quantity of the interpretations from R"Y Kara's Torah commentary were later incorporated by Chizkuni in his eclectic commentary.35 In many instances, Chizkuni even preserves almost the exact language of R"Y Kara.36 In fact, it appears that Chizkuni's use of R"Y Kara is so extensive that it would be proper to include R"Y Kara (along with Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, and R"Y Bekhor Shor) on the short list of the main sources of Chizkuni's work.37 This knowledge assists us in two ways:

  • It enables the restoration of many of the fragmentary passages of R"Y Kara's commentary by judicious use of the text of Chizkuni.
  • It allows for a reconstruction of some of the non-extant portions of R"Y Kara's commentary through the mining of Chizkuni for peshat material not derived from one of Chizkuni's other major sources. In cases where this material also contains content, method, and language parallels to known interpretations of R"Y Kara, the likelihood is high that it is derived from the lost sections of R"Y Kara's Torah Commentary.38

Relationship Between Commentary, Glosses, and Citations

With the discovery of portions of R. Yosef Kara's commentary in the "Italian Genizah", in great measure, the question has now become: Did R"Y Kara write only an independent commentary or also a set of glosses on Rashi's commentary? Or, in other words: Were the interpretations cited in his name found in the glosses of Rashi manuscripts adapted by later scribes from R"Y Kara's freestanding commentary, or were they glossed by R"Y Kara himself on his personal copy of Rashi's commentary (and then recopied by many later scribes)?39 [A similar question exists regarding the glosses of Rashbam found in a very small number of Rashi manuscripts.]40

There are two factors which make it appear likely that the glosses were penned by R"Y Kara himself, as a work distinct from his commentary:41

  • In a few glosses, in the context of his offering an alternative interpretation to Rashi's, R. Yosef Kara refers to himself as "אני המעתיק, יוסף ב"ר שמעון"‎.42 This appears to indicate that at least these particular interpretations were originally written as glosses when R"Y Kara was copying Rashi's commentary.43
  • While the content of some glosses44 parallels that of the commentary, there are other glosses which are not found in the commentary.45

A slightly different question exists regarding the Tosafist citations of R"Y Kara. In some cases, these parallel content found in R"Y Kara's commentary,46 and it is likely that most of them are derived from the commentary.47 However, in one case (Shemot 20:1), the Tosafist citations of R"Y Kara are not to be found in the commentary, and it is likely taken from R"Y Kara's piyyut commentary.

Acknowledgments and Manuscript List

We thank Archivio di Stato di Bologna and Biblioteca e Archivi Storici del Comune di Pieve di Cento for granting permission to publish the texts of R. Yosef Kara's commentary found in the Italian Genizah (MSS Bologna 302.2, 469.1,2, 509.1,2, Imola 17.2, Pieve di Cento 1). We also gratefully acknowledge several other libraries for allowing us to present here the glosses from R. Yosef Kara found in their assorted manuscripts of Rashi and Tosafist commentaries. The following is a list of these additional libraries and their manuscripts:

Finally, we express our appreciation to the staff of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts for all of their assistance.49