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Rabbi Yaakov Culi (a.k.a. Kuli or Chuli) was a Talmudist and Biblical commentator of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who died in Constantinople on August 9, 1732. He belonged to an exiled Spanish family, and was the grandson and pupil of Moses ibn Habib. He edited various important works. The first fruit of his literary activity was the publication of his grandfather's writings. To this end he left Safed, where he seemed to have taken up his abode, and relocated to Constantinople. While engaged on the works of his grandfather, he entered (1714) into close relations with the chief rabbi of Constantinople, Judah Rosanes (also known simply as Mishne La' Melech), at the time generally regarded the highest authority of the Orient. Rosanes appointed Culi dayan, which, together with his position as teacher, secured to him a sufficient livelihood. In 1727 Culi published his grandfather's work "Shammot ba-Arez", a book of notes on various portions of the Talmud.
In that year Rosanes died. He left voluminous literary remains in a very chaotic condition. To introduce order into this chaos a scholar of the first rank was needed. Culi was entrusted with this task. But even for him it meant a labor of several years. First, in 1728, he edited Rosanes' book "Parashat Derakim," a work both midrashic and halachic content. Three years later he finally published Rosanes' voluminous "Mishneh la-Melek", one of the most famous commentaries on Maimonides' Mishne Torah, enriched with numerous important notes of his own. To both these works Culi wrote a preface.
In the same year, he edited also his grandfather's "'Ezrat Nashim," in the beginning of which there are two responsa of his own.
His most important work is his commentary on the Torah, entitled "Me'am Loez". This work, which is held in high regard by the Jews of the East, is a very elaborate encyclopedic commentary in Ladino, dealing with Jewish life in all its relations. Its material was taken from the Talmud, the Midrash, and early rabbinic literature. However, Rabbi Culi only managed to write his work on Genesis and on two-thirds of Exodus before he died. Because of the overwhelming popularity of the Me'am Loez, other prominent rabbis of Turkey took over this endeavor and completed the remaining volumes.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Preface to the Index of Ḥabib's Geṭ Pashuṭ, and to Rosanes, Mishneh la-Melek;
- responsum No. 1, end of Ḥabib's 'Ezrat Nashim;
- Azulai. Shem ha-Gedolim, s.v., and Judah Rosanes;
- Meyer Kayserling, Bibl. Esp.-Port.-Jud. pp. 55, 66;
- Moritz Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibl. xvii. 15et seq.;
- idem, Cat. Bodl. col. 2926.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Kayserling, Meyer; Ginzberg, Louis; Grünhut, Lazarus (1901–1906). "Culi, Jacob". In Singer, Isidore; et al. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.