Joseph Karo and Shaping of Modern Jewish Law

Joseph Karo and Shaping of Modern Jewish Law

The Early Modern Ottoman and Global Settings

By Roni Weinstein

Anthem Intercultural Transfer Studies

The book provides a global perspective on the history of Jewish law during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, focusing on the codification works of R. Joseph Karo. 

Hardback, 262 Pages


July 2022

£80.00, $125.00

  • About This Book
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About This Book

The early modern period witnessed the rise of impressive empires in the Eurasian context, in Europe and not less so in the east – The Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires. The construction of large and stable empires necessitated the constructions of unprecedented power mechanisms. History of law and legality in the early modern period was playing a crucial role in these changes.

Born in Spain and joining his family as refugees from the great expulsion from the Iberian peninsula, heading east to the Ottoman Empire, Karo, as the rest of Sephardi intellectuals, was deeply acquainted with both European [Canon law, ius comune] and Ottoman [Shari'a, Kanuname] legal traditions, and their transformative processes during the early modern period.

The codes of law, in the short and long version, composed by R. Karo mark a watershed turn, and they were never superseded until the present. In composing them, Karo intended to respond to the global changes in law, and to update Jewish Halakhah to current political and cultural circumstances. The books suggest both a global reading of Jewish law, and a sociological perspective of Halakhah. It adds a further dimension on modernization of Jewish culture. 


“Roni Weinstein’s cross-denominational approach to Yossef Karo’s legal corpus is undoubtedly a turning point for scholars of Jewish and Ottoman legal traditions. This thorough book carefully maps out the Ottoman and broader Mediterranean contexts of Karo’s legal oeuvre, giving historians of Ottoman Islamic law much to consider.” – Guy Burak, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Librarian at NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, USA.

“Roni Weinstein’s thought-provoking book situates the codification of Jewish law and mystical-cum-legal thought of Rabbi Joseph Caro, the ‘Master’ of Talmudic scholars in sixteenth-century Ottoman Safed, into a global early modern Eurasian context increasingly attuned to the community-making capacity of law. By engaging closely with recent research in anthropology of law, early modern Jewish and European history, as well as Ottoman legal history, Weinstein provides a new, dialogic reading of Caro. The book points to legal history as a fertile ground on which to explore not only global early modern trends such as the search for a ‘strong center’ (legal, spatial, or otherwise) as the basis for community-building but also ways of integration of non-Muslims into Ottoman society.” – Tijana Krstic, historian of the early modern Ottoman Empire and professor at Central European University, Hungary. 

“In Joseph Karo and Shaping of Modern Jewish Law: The Early Modern Ottoman and Global Settings Roni Weinstein engages an impressive range of scholarship and source materials as he crafts a valuable comparative analysis that cuts across early modern Islamic, Jewish, and Christian history and society. This book advances our knowledge of numerous legal issues—from canonization, codification, the anthropology of law, comparative law, the role of law in the rise of the modern state, and the relationship between law and mysticism, to the impact of printing. Weinstein’s impressive scholarship deepens our understanding of the work and life of the towering figure of Joseph Karo and adds nuance to the examination of many core early modern topics.” – Dean Phillip Bell, President/CEO and Professor of Jewish History, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, USA.

Author Information

Roni Weinstein teaches at the Hebrew University, Foreign Students Program.


Anthem Intercultural Transfer Studies

Table of Contents

Introduction: Methodology, Questions, and Scope; Chapter One The Importance of Being Canonized; Chapter Two The Preamble to Beit Yosef: Manifesto of a Jurist; Chapter Three “Maran” [Our Master] Joseph Karo; Chapter Four Semikhah Polemics in Safed: Establishing a Guild of Jurists; Chapter Five R. Karo in Safed: Establishing a Dominant Status; Chapter Six Law and Mysticism: An Envitable Encounter; Chapter Seven “Provide Me with the Reasoning for your Verdict”: The Prestige and Status of Jewish Courts; Chapter Eight Establishing an International Court of Law; Chapter Nine Summary: Scope and Perspectives; Bibliographical List; Index


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