Imagining A Jew

Reviving Observance

Mishneh Torah was compiled in the 11th century, Tur in the 13th century, Shulhan Arukh in the 16th. A new code with limited authority was compiled in the 18th century. A scholarly SA commentary intended for educated but lay Jews was compiled on the early 19th century. A scholarly collection of Responsa was compiled in the 20th century, as well as two new codes – one with limited scope and vast authority, the other with vast scope and vast authority.

Qitzur Shulhan Arukh

The main handbook of Ashkenazi Jewish practice and remains a valuable source of the minhag Ashkenaz. Qitzur means “abridged.” It is highly abridged digest of SA, but its intent is much less halachic than ethical. R. Shlomo Ganzfried, a Hungarian rabbi and judge, only considered halakha useful to the layperson, and does not consider any point of view other than his own — a feature also of the SA, though the larger Bét Yosef does include other opinions.

Ben Ish Hai

Ben Ish Hai (BIH) is a compendium of halakha organised by the sedra (weekly portion). It was compiled by Hakham Yosef Ha’im of Baghdad. Like the Qitzur, the BIH is a popular digest – but it has grander scope. It is considered the standard reference in all religious Sefaradi homes which practice the minhag of the Artzot Hamizrah (Arabic-speaking Jews).

The Shulhan Arukh Harav

A compilation of halakha for the Hasidim, compiled by Shneur Zalman Liadi under authority of his rebbe, Dov Ber of Mitzrich. The SA Harav accepts Zohar as an arbiter of halakha because the Hasidim, especially of Shneur Zalman’s day, were openly mystical.

Mishna Brura

Mishna Brura, compiled by R. Israel Meir Kagan of Radin, Poland, is a commentary on OH. It is often used instead of the SA: it contains the SA text, the Mapa, the most useful commentators, and a modern compilation of relevant decisions. OH is by far the bulk of religious observance most Jews will encounter.

The Arukh Hashulchan

Arukh Hashulhan is a modern compilation of halakha by R. Yehiel Epstein. He compiled it between 1884-1907 to update the entire Shulhan Arukh by providing halakhic rulings after Karo’s day. R. Epstein combines elements of both Shulhan Arukh and Mishneh Torah to arrive at a definitive halakha.

Arukh Hashulhan Le’Atid was a second work by R. Epstein. In it he compiles halakha that were not applicable in his time and place – early 20th century Russia – but were, or would soon be, applicable in Israel. Some of the material he compiled has not regained its application: He compiled the laws of both Sanhedrin and kingship, for example, but Israel is a republic and there remains no central Rabbinic authority.

Iggeret Moshe

Iggeret Moshe is a collection of the responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the two greatest halakhic thinkers of modern America. The other was his cousin, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Rabbi Feinstein’s halakha follows the SA and comments especially on the problems of halakhic lifestyles in both repressive countries, such as the former Soviet Union, and America.