KAFAḤ (Kafih), YIḤYE BEN SOLOMON


KAFAḤ (Kafih), YIḤYE BEN SOLOMON (1850–1932), Yemenite scholar. Kafaḥ was orphaned as a child and was brought up by his grandfather. Though a goldsmith by trade, he dedicated most of his life to study and teaching. He excelled in halakhah and many of the responsa of the bet din of San'a which were sent to inquirers from Yemen and other parts of the world were written by him. He studied the works of medieval Jewish scholars and Haskalah literature while his preoccupation with secular studies and languages (Arabic and Turkish) and his connections with scholars outside Yemen rendered him unique among his Yemenite contemporaries. Especially worthy of mention is his correspondence with A.I. *Kook and Hillel *Zeitlin concerning matters of Kabbalah. His study of philosophy and Haskalah literature and his contact and discussions with intellectuals and scholars such as Joseph Halevy and Eduard Glaser constituted a turning point in his mode of thought. The Young Turk revolution was also a factor in arousing Kafaḥ's desire for reform, and he sought to introduce reforms in the social life of the Jews in all areas: in the way of thought, methods of education, prayer and study, in customs and superstitions (occult medicine, amulets, charms, etc.). For this purpose he set up the movement of Darda'im (a combination of Dor De'ah, after the learning and intellectualism which characterize the movement, and the name of one of the four ancient sages, Darda, who is mentioned in I Kings 5:11 [4:31]). This movement, which developed before World War I, was a microcosm of the Enlightenment of 18th-century European Jewry, which it resembled in its aspiration for learning and reform in Jewish life. It led to a certain intellectual revival, but provoked a storm in the life of the community. Kafaḥ wrote Sefer Milḥamot ha-Shem (1931), which sought to prove that the Kabbalah harms the true unity of God. In his bet midrash he directed the study of Torah in a new spirit, away from the study of homiletics, allegories, and mystical interpretation and toward the simple meaning of the Torah and the study of philosophic speculation. His method of teaching developed a sense of reflection and criticism. In his time the writings of Maimonides were again fully studied. Previously Yemenite Jewry only studied the Mishneh Torah, but from this time Maimonides' other (Arabic) works were also studied, as were other classics, including the Kuzari of Judah Halevi and Ḥovot ha-Levavot of Baḥya ibn Paquda. Kafaḥ was also interested in the writings of the rishonim, both of Yemenite origin and others whose works reached Yemen. He spent considerable time searching for manuscripts, copying them, and preserving them.

[Yehuda Ratzaby]

In Jerusalem in 1914 the pamphlet Amal u-Re'ut Ruaḥ ve-Ḥaramot u-Teshuvatam was published, including the excommunication of Kafaḥ by the Jerusalem rabbis and his reply. The pamphlet characterizes the energetic struggle of the movement against the Zohar and kabbalistic literature. Defending the Kabbalah, Yemenite rabbis answered it in Emunat ha-Shem (1937).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Shevut Teiman (1945), 166–231; Yishayahu, in: Harel (1962), 255–8; S. Koraḥ, Iggeret Bokhim (1963).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.