Yosef Qafih

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Yosef Qafiḥ (Hebrew: יוסף קאפח‎), widely known as Rabbi Qafih (27 November 1917 – 21 July 2000), was a Yemenite-Israeli one of the foremost leaders of the Yemenite Jewish community, first in Yemen and later in Israel. He was the grandson of Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ, also a prominent Yemenite leader and founder of the Dor Deah (anti-Kabbalah) movement in Yemen. He is principally known for his editions and translations of the works of Maimonides and other early rabbinic authorities, primarily his restoration of the Mishneh Torah from old manuscripts.[1]


Qafiḥ was born in (27 November 1917) in Sana’a in Yemen .[2] His father was Rabbi David Qafiḥ. He died when his son was one year old. At the age of five Rabbi Yosef lost his mother, and was raised by and learned Torah with his grandfather Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ. When Yosef was 14 his grandfather died and he inherited his position as rabbinic authority and teacher of the Sana’a community. In his early years he worked as a silversmith.

In 1943 he immigrated to Palestine, studied at the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva and qualified as a dayan at the Harry Fischel Institute. In 1950 he was appointed as a dayan in the Jerusalem district court, and later was appointed as a dayan at the Supreme Rabbinical Court. He was a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel, and presided over the Yemenite community in Jerusalem, as well as spreading Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook's teachings among the Israeli Sephardi populace.[citation needed] He died on 21 July 2000 at the age of 82.


His main work in the field of Torah literature was his translation and publication of manuscripts of numerous works by Sephardic Rishonim, including the Emunot ve-Deot of Saadia Gaon, the Kuzari by Judah ha-Levi, the Duties of the Heart by Bahya ibn Pakuda and many other works in Judaeo-Arabic. The prime place in his oeuvre is reserved for the writings of Maimonides: he translated the Guide for the Perplexed, the Commentary on the Mishnah and the Sefer Hamitzvot and edited a 24-volume set of the Mishneh Torah. His works and translations received recognition from the academic world.

He wrote and studied extensively on the heritage of Yemenite Jews. He published a book under the title of “Halichot Teman”, and edited the “Shivat Tzion” tiklal, a Yemenite prayer book reflecting the views of Maimonides in three volumes. In 1993 he published a new version under the title of “Siaḥ Yerushalayim” in four volumes (most other editions now have six). Qafiḥ identified with the Dor Dai tendency, except that he did not publicly express opposition to the Zohar beyond saying that it was preferable to draw sustenance from the teachings of Maimonides.

In his leadership of the Yemenite community in Israel he endeavored to maintain peace between the main factions in the community and worked to preserve Yemenite customs.


  • In both 1962 and 1973, Qafiḥ was awarded the Bialik Prize for Jewish thought.[3]
  • In 1969, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish studies.[4] His wife, Rabbanit Bracha Qafiḥ, was also awarded the Israel Prize for her special contributions to society and the State in 1999,[5][6] in recognition of her extensive charitable work (this was the only occasion on which a married couple have both been awarded the Israel Prize).[7]
  • Qafiḥ has also won the Rabbi Kook Prize, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bar Ilan University.

Published works[edit]

  • Mishneh Torah of the Rambam, corrected according to ancient Yemenite manuscripts, with his own commentary.
  • Sefer Hamitzvot, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation.
  • Iggeroth haRambam, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation.
  • Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, in original Arabic with facing Hebrew translation (later editions have Hebrew only).
  • Biur Melekhet haHigayon, the first essay Maimonides wrote on the logic of language and grammar.
  • Halichot Teiman: Jewish Life in Sana, Jerusalem 1963[8]
  • Sefer Kuzari in original Arabic with a new translation into modern Hebrew.
  • Emunot ve-Deot in original Arabic with a new translation into modern Hebrew, as well as Saadiah's commentary to the Bible..
  • Guide for the Perplexed in original Arabic with a new translation into modern Hebrew.
  • Duties of the Heart in original Arabic with a new translation into modern Hebrew.
  • Shivat Tzion (1950s), a new edition of the Baladi Yemenite prayer book.
  • Siaḥ Yerushalayim (1993), the newest edition of the Baladi Yemenite prayer book.
  • Responsa of Rabbenu Yom Tov Ben Abraham Al-Ishbili (Ritva) Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook, 1978, edited with an introduction and notes by Qafiḥ [8]
  • Gan HaSikhlim by Rabbeinu Nethanel Beirav Fiumi which includes three essays on Philosophy and Ethics.
  • Sefer haYetzira, with Arabic commentary of Saadia Gaon and Hebrew translation.
  • Translations into Hebrew of Saadya Gaon's Arabic translation and commentary on the five Books of Moses, Tehilim, Iyov, Mishle, Daniel and the Megillot.


External links[edit]

See also[edit]