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Joseph Taitaẓak

(16th century)

Taitaẓak was a Talmudist, Bible scholar, and kabbalist of *Salonika. The dates of his birth or death are not known. The dates usually given, 1487/88–1545, are based on Rosanes (see bibl.), but *Scholem is of the opinion that he was born at least ten years earlier, and there is evidence that he died considerably before 1545. Joseph's father Solomon, himself a talmudic scholar and one of the exiles from Spain, had settled with his family in Salonika. There are no biographical details of Joseph's early life, but from the year 1520 he rose to eminence as an outstanding scholar and the halakhic authority of Salonika. Joseph Caro addressed a question to him merely to inquire as to the rulings of previous scholars of Salonika validating a mikveh which Caro considered invalid. Taitaẓak replied that he had not been in Salonika at the time, but gave his reasons for supporting their view. Caro seems to have been greatly impressed by Taitaẓak's learning, and, although he did not accept his view, in his reply refers to Taitaẓak in terms of the greatest esteem and respect, "the light and the holy one of Israel, the crown of the Diaspora," etc. Henceforth Taitaẓak was regarded as an authority, and contemporary scholars addressed their problems to him and gave full weight to his views (for the above, see Caro's responsa Avkat Rokhel, nos. 50–51). In his Maggid Meisharim Caro refers in laudatory terms not only to his "scholarship and saintliness" but to the fact that "he deserved well of the community by raising many disciples" (see below); among the many students attracted to his yeshivah were Isaac *Adarbi, Samuel de *Medina, Eliezer *Ashkenazi, Isaac *Arollia, and Solomon *Alkabeẓ. Taitaẓak can also be regarded as one of the founders of the kabbalistic circle established by his disciples in *Safed. About 1531 he was in Constantinople, where he was involved in a violent controversy (Rosanes, Togarmah, 2 (1937–38), 23f.) and where he may possibly have met Caro. He later returned to Salonika, however, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Taitaẓak's extant halakhic works are confined to his responsa which appear in the works of his contemporaries – the Avkat Rokhel of Joseph Caro (who also refers to him in his Beit Yosef to YD 65 and 201), the She'erit Yehudah of Taitaẓak's brother Judah (p. 70) – and an unpublished commentary by him on the Halakhot of Isaac Alfasi is mentioned, as well as a commentary on Avot. His main published works are his biblical commentaries Porat Yosef on Ecclesiastes (Venice, 1529) and Leḥem Setarim on Daniel and the Five *Scrolls (ibid., 1608), while others remain in manuscript.

Porat Yosef is a philosophical commentary and it is remarkable in the fact that in the philosophical views the author follows the scholastic philosophical system of Thomas Aquinas and Aegidius Romanus (sometimes referred to as Aegidius of Colonna; 1247–1316). He quotes Aquinas by name or as "the sage" and even refers to one of his interpretations as "a fine exposition" (derush na'eh). So completely does he follow him that, unlike Ḥasdai Crescas, he accepts none of the development of Aristotelianism in Christian theology by later authorities such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, or the Paris school. He accepts the doctrine of Aristotle as expounded by Aquinas. Taitaẓak's thorough familiarity with the subject gives the impression that he knew Latin and possibly studied it in Spain, but it is equally possible that he used the translation of the 14th-century translator of Aquinas, Judah *Romano, which was known particularly in Greece.

Taitaẓak's chief importance, however, is as a kabbalist. He indulged in ascetic practices and is said never to have slept in a bed for 40 years, apart from Sabbaths (Elijah de Vidas, Reshit Ḥokhmah, Sha'ar ha-Kedushah 7). He gathered around him a circle of scholars of the Kabbalah. It has hitherto been assumed that it was the visit of Solomon *Molcho to Salonika in 1529 and the messianic sermons which he delivered and published in that year (later called Sefer ha-Mefo'ar) which attracted Taitaẓak to esoteric study (cf. Werblowsky, bibl., p. 97f.) but Scholem tends to the contrary opinion that Taitaẓak was already a renowned kabbalist when Molcho arrived in Salonika and this attracted Molcho to him and his circle. Molcho corresponded with Taitaẓak after he left Salonika, informing him of his visions. His famous epistle from Monastir, later published as Ḥayyat Kaneh (Amsterdam, 1658), was sent to Taitaẓak.

To Taitaẓak is ascribed the first crystallization of the idea of the *maggid, a divine voice which spoke or dictated to scholars, the Maggid Meisharim of Joseph Caro being the best known example. That Taitaẓak had such a Maggid is attested by Joseph Sambari (Divrei Yosef, in: A. Berliner, Quellenschriften zur juedischen Geschichte und Literatur (1896), 70f.) and by Ḥ.J.D. Azulai in the name of his grandfather (Azulai, 1 (1852), 79 no. 134). However, a manuscript has been discovered which purports to be the revelation of the maggid to Taitaẓak. Although more research must be undertaken before it can definitely be ascribed to him, there are grounds for accepting its authority. Taitaẓak's maggid differs from that of Caro in that it claims to be the Divine Voice itself and not an angelic personification of the Mishnah, as was the case with Caro, and its language is Hebrew and not Aramaic. Joseph Caro's maggid, while praising Taitaẓak for his scholarship, piety, and for the fact that he gathered many disciples (see above), makes the statement that a maggid does not communicate "in this manner" with Taitaẓak because of his "love of money" and his "lust for authority" (Maggid Meisharim (Amsterdam, 1708), 34a–b). Werblowsky regards the words "in this manner" as an acknowledgment by Caro that Taitaẓak did have a maggid but that it was of an inferior order, since the communications came to him through automatic writing. Scholem, however, regards it as denying that he had a maggid and that all one can deduce from the statement is that Caro was unaware of Taitaẓak's maggid. Caro's statement regarding Taitaẓak's failings is so out of keeping with other information about him that it is not impossible that there was a personal element involved.


Rosanes, Togarmah, 2 (1937–382), 21–26; M. Benayahu, in: Scritti in Memoria di Sally Mayer (1956), Heb. pt. 34 n. 62; R.J.Z. Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, Lawyer and Mystic (1962), index.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.