Jacob ben Asher

The author of the Arbaah Turim set the scene for the publication of Karo's Shulhan Arukh.

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Jacob's Torah Commentary

Jacob also compiled a commentary to the Torah in which, as in his Code, he draws on earlier teachers to give what he calls 'the plain meaning' of the text. In the introductions to each section of the Torah, Jacob playfully adds, partly for the reader's amusement, ingenious asides in which gematria and other plays on words are utilized in an admittedly fanciful manner.

It is ironical that while the commentary itself was largely ignored (it was not published until the nineteenth century) these playful comments were printed together with the text in many editions of the Torah, under the title Baal Ha-Turim (Author of the Turim). These became exceedingly popular among students who resorted to them for intellectual relaxation from their more arduous studies.

The following are two typical examples of Jacob's method. On the very first verse of Genesis, Jacob notes that the final letters of bara elohim et ('God created') are alef, mem, tet, forming the word emet, 'truth'. The world was created by truth. He observes that many words in the Torah have these three as their final letters to hint at the pervasiveness and importance of truth.

On the patriarch Jacob's dream of a ladder with its feet on the ground and its head reaching to the heavens (Genesis 28:10-22), Jacob notes that word for ladder, sulam, has the numerical value of 136 and the word for wealth, mamon and the word for voice, kol, also have the numerical value of 136.

This, he writes, is to teach that a man's wealth can lead him heavenwards, if he uses it properly, as can the use of his voice in prayer and supplication.

Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.