KAFAḤ (Kafih, קאפח), YOSEF (1917–2000), Israeli rabbi and scholar, grandson of Yiḥye *Kafaḥ, who was born in *San'a, *Yemen, first became a gold-and silversmith there and also owned a textile business. In 1943 he emigrated to Palestine and worked as a gold- and silversmith in Tel Aviv. Eventually, he gave up his trade and settled in Jerusalem where he enrolled in the Merkaz ha-Rav yeshivah. In 1950 Kafaḥ was appointed a member of the bet din of Tel Aviv and a year later of that of Jerusalem.
Encouraged by M. Berlin (*Bar-Ilan), Kafaḥ began to publish research in Yemenite Jewish literature and translated important works, written in Arabic, into Hebrew, including an edition of Maimonides' commentary on the Mishnah containing the Arabic text with a new Hebrew translation and notes (1963–68), and a three-volume edition (1963–68), consisting only of the translation. His scholarly editions of Arabic texts with Hebrew translation include: the Yemenite Nethanel b. Isaiah's commentary on the Pentateuch, Me'or ha-Afelah (1957); Saadiah's translation and commentary on Psalms (n.d.); Nethanel b. (or al-) Fayyumi's Gan ha-Sekhalim (1954, "Garden of Intellects"); and a collection of various translators and commentators on the Five Scrolls (1962); Saadiah's Emunot ve-De'ot (1970); Maimonides' Book of Precepts, his Guide, and his epistles to the Yemen and on resurrection with a concordance of biblical references in all his writings (all in 1971). He also edited a commentary by Saadiah on the Pentateuch (1963)
In 1969, Kafaḥ was appointed to the Rabbinical Council of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. He became a member of the Rabbinical High Court in 1970. Throughout his life, he received numerous prizes. Aside from the 1969 Israel Prize, he received the Rav Kook Prize from the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yaffo twice, in 1964 and 1986. He received the Bialik Prize in 1973, the Katz Prize in 1986, and the Yiẓhak Ben-Zvi Prize in 1994 for his work on Yemenite Jewish communities. In 1997 he received an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University. When asked why he never entered politics, Kafaḥ answered that instead of trying to understand ministers and MKs, he would rather devote himself to understanding the commentaries on the Mishneh Torah. He retired from the Rabbinical Court in 1988 at the age of 70 and from the Rabbinical Council in 1997.
Known as a very precise person, who was always on time and never long-winded in speech or in print, Kafaḥ was a unique rabbinic figure. His legacy includes historical works alongside the traditional rabbinic commentaries and halakhic responsa. At the same time, contrary to current trends, Kafaḥ viewed the scientific and medical statements made in talmudic and medieval Jewish literature within their historical context. If these statements contradicted modern science, then they were to be discarded. Kafaḥ contended that these statements were actually the opinions of the non-Jewish scientists of those eras and therefore had no lasting authority. On the other hand, Kafaḥ is quick to point out that this proves that these ancient Jewish sages did study science, thus teaching us the great value in studying science today. Kafaḥ viewed scientific knowledge as necessary for forming firm religious convictions that are the essence of Jewish belief.
Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 725–6. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Levi-Kafaḥ, Holekh Tamim (2003); R. Cohen, Ẓafnat Pane'aḥ: Bibliografyah Mele'ah shel ha-Rav Yosef Kafaḥ (2001); Z. Amar and H. Sari (eds.), Sefer Zikaron le-Rav Yosef Kafaḥ (2001); Y.Ẓ. Langermann in: Aleph, 1 (2000) 333–40.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.