Rabbi Klein & Rabbi Caro

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Isaac Klein (1905 - 1979) and Joseph Caro (1488 -   1575) 


Shortly before Rabbi Isaac Klein died, his friend Professor Selig Adler, himself a renowned scholar and historian, asked the publisher of Kleinís great book, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, to publish the book sooner than scheduled. Adler asked this because Isaac Klein was not expected to live much longer. He wanted to see his lifeís work in print but this was not to be. The publisher refused to budge from his schedule and so the Guide was introduced to the Jewish world after the death of its author.

Isaac Klein was born in the Carpathian Mountain area, which is now part of Russia. Before the Second World War it was part of Slovakia and in 1905, the year of Rabbi Kleinís birth, it was part of Hungary.

Rabbi Klein was educated in the Cheders of his native land but gained most of his education in the United States. In addition to his ordination as a rabbi he also earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was, however, not only a diploma chaser. He was a doer, a man of action. During the Second World War Rabbi Klein volunteered as an army chaplain and wrote a book about his experiences in that war. He also wrote a number of other books but made a lasting contribution to Judaism and the Jewish people by writing his Guide, which has become a permanent addition to our understanding of our religion. In the foreword of the Guide, Rabbi Klein wrote this: ďThe premise on which Torah is based is that all aspects of life, leisure no less than business, worship or rites of passage are part of the covenant or mandate under which every Jew is to serve God in everything he does.Ē

While the original intent of Rabbi Kleinís study was to aim this at rabbinical students in a series of pamphlets, the demand for these interpretations became so great that Dr. Klein collected these pamphlets into his great and lasting work. Rabbi Klein was the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-el in Buffalo, N.Y., but at the same time taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City once a week. He was offered a full time position as professor there but turned this down.

We cannot reproduce the contents of the Guide here in its entirety. However, a look at the contents reveals its extent and inclusiveness. Chapter 3, for instance, deals with the manner in which a Jew comes to the table to eat. Chapter 4 includes the rules of observing the Sabbath and Chapter 8 tells us how to observe the Passover. Chapters 10 and 11 discuss the Holy Days of Shavuot and Sukkot and Chapter 12 deals with the so called High Holy Days. Chanuka, Purim, and Tisha bíAv are the subjects of Chapters 16 and 17 and Chapters 21-26 describe the dietary laws.

There is a great deal more in the Guide. Most important are the explanations and the reasoning displaying the authorís great ability to link our ancient tradition to our present American life with a view of making the tradition available to every Jew.

It was precisely this motive which led Joseph ben Ephraim Caro to write The Set Table, or Shulchan Aruch, in the middle of the 16th Century. Caro was the leader of the Safed scholars in Israel. Here he taught over 200 students, as he interpreted the tradition and wrote responses to legal questions received from the entire Jewish world at that time. Like Klein in later years, Caro had written the Shulchan Aruch for students but the book became known to all Jews, particularly because of the criticism it encountered almost immediately after its publication. Caroís work led to numerous commentaries by other Jewish scholars such as Moshe Isserles and Alexander Falk Hakohen.

Caro was born in either Spain or Portugal. His birthplace is not known. No doubt the members of his family were expelled from their place of birth sometime between 1492 and 1497 when they moved to Turkey. In 1536 Caro left Turkey and spent some time in Egypt before moving to Safed in Israel. It is of interest that Egypt as well as Israel were at that time all part of the Turkish or Ottoman Empire.

Caro settled permanently in Safed and those of us who have visited there have seen his grave in that cemetery. He died on March 24, 1575.

If this interests you, ask if your rabbi teaches a class on the Shulchan Aruch. Buy the book by Rabbi Klein and connect to our tradition using these two great minds and their magnificent contributions to our everlasting covenant.

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2003).

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