Hacham Yaakov Kuli, son of Hacham Meir Kuli, was born in Jerusalem, in 1685. His father had immigrated to the Land of Israel from Crete; his mother was the daughter of Rishon LeZion Hacham Moshe Ben Haviv, who had immigrated from Salonica. Hacham Yaakov Kuli moved to Safed, where he studied with the sages of Safed and worked on copying his grandfather’s writings.
In 1714 Hacham Yaakov Kuli traveled to Kushta (Constantinople) to have his grandfather’s books published. There he became acquainted with Hacham Yehuda Rosanis who, noting his stature as a scholar, appointed him dayan in the Kushta Rabbinic Court. Hacham Yaakov Kuli succeeded in having his grandfather’s books published and, after Hacham Yehuda Rosanis’ demise, had his own published as well.
Hacham Yehuda Kuli was proficient in all domains of Torah, as can be seen from his book Me’Am Lo’ez, in which he integrates literal commentary and Midrash, and summarizes the Halakhic rulings that preceded his. His book highlighted social mitzvoth and inspired his reading public. He had his book printed after coming to an agreement with one of Kushta’s wealthy patrons, Hacham Yehuda Mizrachi, who had a deep love for Torah. The latter agreed to finance its publication, on the basis that the proceeds would be divided between the author and charitable causes.
Hacham Yaakov Kuli had the custom of fasting but avoided publicizing the fact, out of humbleness. He is said to have once been undergoing a three-day fast when, towards the end of the third day, he was offered a cup of coffee. He accepted the coffee to avoid making his righteous behavior public.
Hacham Yaakov Kuli passed away on 19 Av, 5492 (1732).
His book, Me'Am Lo'ez, was received in Sephardi communities with great love and appreciation. Originally written in Ladino, the book was widely read and became very popular among simple folk. It was translated to Hebrew, Arabic and English and has been published in several editions. Hacham Yaakov Kuli wrote the volumes on Genesis and Exodus on his own, while the remaining volumes, based in part on his notes, were written by Hacham Yitzhak Magrisso, Hacham Yitzhak Arguitti, Hacham Rahamim Menahem Mitrani and Hacham Raphael Haim Pontremoli. The completion of additional volumes and the translation to Hebrew were prepared by Hacham Samuel Yerushalmi.