KARA, JOSEPH (before c. 1060–70), Bible commentator from the north of France. The surname "Kara" (presumably Bible commentator) is an indication of Joseph's major occupation. The assumption that his surname means "teacher" is supported by his popular style and his frequent use of words in French (*la-az), probably reflecting the fact that his commentaries are based on oral teaching.
His father, Simeon, was apparently also a scholar, but S.J. Rapoport's ascription to him of the authorship of Yalkut Shimoni has been shown by A. Epstein to be without foundation (see bibl.). Joseph studied under his paternal uncle, *Menahem b. Ḥelbo, and was also a student and colleague of Rashi. Rashi obviously knew Kara, who was about 25 years his junior, since he mentions him (cf. Rashi on Is. 10:24 and 64:3) and quotes some of his interpretations; at least in one case he states that Kara told him an explanation of Menaḥem b. Ḥelbo. Recent scholarship asserts that there is no evidence that Kara studied under Rashi. There is evidence that the latter occasionally accepted his biblical exegesis, and Samuel b. Meir calls Kara "our colleague" (Commentary on Gen. 37:13). Kara was the first to copy and edit Rashi's commentary. In the process he added his own remarks, some of which were approved by Rashi and many of them were integrated into the standard Rashi commentary. Some 100 such notes were compiled by A. *Berliner in his Pletath Soferim. Kara lived mainly in Troyes and for a period in Worms and is known to have taken part in theological discussions with Christians.
He wrote commentaries on most of the books of the Bible (possibly all), most of which remained in manuscript until recent times. Recently, fragments of his commentary on the Pentateuch have been discovered in the Italian genizah. Until recently, this commentary was only known from the many quotations in later works, some even incorporated in Rashi's commentary. The main characteristic of his biblical commentaries is the intention (cf. his remarks on I. Sam. 1:17; Judg. 5:4) of interpreting Scripture according to the peshat ("literal meaning"). Now and then, however, he deviates from this course and explains the text according to the
Kara was one of the first to participate in a unique phenomenon that occurred in French biblical exegesis at the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 12th century: The sudden appearance of biblical commentary based on strict peshat, the explicit meaning of the text. This new trend dissipated by the end of the 12th century. This new trend is seen as an attempt to refute Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. A close reading of Kara's commentaries and those of Rashbam (*Samuel ben Meir, Rashi's grandson) reveals a very strong anti-Christian polemic. Contemporary Jewish polemical works quote extensively from Kara's work to refute the Christian attempts to use the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as proof for their theology. Even Kara's occasional use of Midrash can be ascribed to this general purpose. Given heavy Christian censorship of Jewish books, Kara was careful to hide his polemical intentions.
In addition to his biblical commentary, Kara also commented extensively on the piyyutim, exerting a great influence in this field on his successors who often referred to him simply as "the commentator," by virtue of his ability to penetrate into their literal meaning and the beauty and simplicity of his style. He wrote commentaries on all piyyutim recited in his time on festivals and special Sabbaths, and on kinot and hoshanot. There is hardly a manuscript commentary on the liturgy which does not quote him. Many of his commentaries are also to be found in printed editions, in which however, they are often abridged and quoted anonymously. Kara received many of his explanations of the piyyutim from scholars in southern and northern France, Germany, and Rome, including Rashi, Menahem b. Ḥelbo, and Kalonymus b. Shabbetaiof Rome. Although the aggadah is an important source for the piyyutim, and Kara paid great attention to it in his commentaries, here too he extracted from the Midrash only what was essential to an understanding of the text, avoiding all extraneous matter. He explained the language and the literary aspects of the piyyutim, but did not concern himself with historical background. In his liturgical commentaries he made much use of his Bible commentary and laid down general principles of piyyut.
Berliner suggested that Kara was the author of the commentary on Genesis Rabbah, generally attributed to Rashi. Epstein, however, proved that it only contains additions by Kara and that the original commentary is not his.
M. Littmann, Joseph b. Simeon Kara als Schrifterklaerer (1877); S. Poznański (ed.), Perush al Yehezkel u-Terei Asar le-R. Eli'ezer mi-Belganẓi (1913), p. xxiii–xxxix; to the bibliography given on p. xxiii n. 2 there should now be added: A. Epstein, Mi-Kadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim, 2 (1957), 328–36, (= Ha-Ḥoker, 1 (1891), 29–35); Kristianpoller, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… S. Krauss (1936), 110ff., incl. editions of texts; Abraham b. Azriel, Arugat ha-Bosem, ed. by E.E. Urbach, 4 (1963), 13–23 and see 276 (index); J. Gad, Asarah Me'orot ha-Gedolim (1952), 110–47; idem, Ḥamishah Me'orot ha-Gedolim (1952), 7–38, 101–56; Joseph Bekhor Shor, Perush al ha-Torah, ed. by J. Gad, 3 (1959), 87–128; A. Berliner, Pletah Soferim (1872), Hebr. text 12–25; idem, Rashi al ha-Torah (1905 = Jerusalem 5722), x; S. Eppenstein (ed.), Perushei Rabbi Joseph Kara li-Nevi'im Rishonim (1972); idem, ibid., Introduction, 7–24; M. Ahrend, in: Sefer ha-Zikkaron le-A. Tweg (1979); M. Ahrend, Le commentaire sur Job de Rabbi Yoseph Qara (1978). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Grossman, in: Zion 51:1 (1987), 29–60; idem, in: Tarbut u-Ḥevrah be-Toldot Yisra'el be-Yemei ha-Beinayim: Koveẓ Ma'amarim le-Zikhro shel Ḥayyim Hillel Ben-Sasson (1989), 269–301; idem, in: Ha-Genizah ha-Italkit (1998), 39–51; Y. Nevo, in: Sinai, 105 (2002), 231–44; Y. Raḥman, in: Bet Mikra (1990), 272–77; H. Mack, in: Tarbiz, 63:4 (1994), 533–53; S. Jafet, in: The Midrashic Imagination (1993), 98–130; K.A. Fudeman, in: JQR, 93:3–4 (2003), 397–414; M. Ahrend, in: Le'elah, 24 (1987), 30–33; G. Brin, Mehkarim be-Ferusho shel Rav Yosef Kara (1990).