SHULḤAN ARUKH (Heb. שֻׁלְחָן עָרוּךְ; "the prepared table"), name of a code written by Joseph *Caro, similar in form to the Arba'ah Turim of *Jacob b. Asher, but more concise and without stating any sources. The book is in fact a halakhic synopsis of Caro's previous commentary on the Turim, the Beit Yosef. It is divided into the same four major sections as the former: Oraḥ Ḥayyim, concerning the daily commandments, Sabbaths, and the festivals; Yoreh De'ah, dealing with various subjects, such as dietary laws, interest, purity, and mourning; Even ha-Ezer, on marriage, divorce, and related topics; and Ḥoshen Mishpat, dealing with civil and criminal law. In his decisions Caro relied on Isaac *Alfasi, *Maimonides, and *Asher b. Jehiel, generally following any two in cases of disagreement. The book was first printed in Venice in 1565 and notwithstanding serious objections to the work, ultimately became accepted as the code of Jewish law par excellence after amendments had been added by Moses *Isserles and other commentaries of later halakhic authorities had been written on it.
The admiration of Isserles for Joseph Caro was unbounded, and he refers to him in the most glowing terms. He found, however, one serious drawback in the Shulḥan Arukh as an authoritative code. Caro had completely ignored the halakhic decisions and minhagim of Ashkenazi Jewry which had grown up in Germany and Poland since Asher b. Jehiel, who was one of Caro's major authorities. As a note on the aim of the Darkhei Moshe (see below) states: "Its purpose is to include the new laws which are found in the Or Zaru'a, the Aguddah, the Sha'arei Dura, the Issur ve-Hetter, the responsa of Israel *Bruna, of the *Maharal and R. Meir of Padua, and the regulations for divorce and ḥaliẓah of *Benjamin Ze'ev, as well as many other collections whose innovations are innumerable … as well as the decisive law according to the minhag, originally from France, which we follow."
adjustment of halakhah for ashkenazim
It was the combination of this profound respect for the author and the realization of this serious defect which dictated the approach of Isserles to the Shulḥan Arukh of Caro. He does not criticize or attack; he explains and supplements. At first he wrote his Darkhei Moshe to the Beit Yosef, for the purpose of adjusting the halakhah there to that prevalent in Ashkenazi Jewry; only then did he add to the "table" (shulḥan) his additions to which he gave the apt name Mappah, "the Tablecloth." Both these elements are prominent in the remarkably succinct addition to Caro's work. His clarification of the original work is as important as his amendments and additions, and helped considerably toward its acceptance. Where the halakhah of Caro differs from that accepted by the Ashkenazi Jews, Isserles gives the law or the custom as was prevalent in those communities, adding "our minhag is," or "thus is the minhag."
As a result of the Mappah, the Shulḥan Arukh, as supplemented by Isserles, reflected the halakhah and norms of religious practice as they had developed in Germany and Poland and was thus acceptable to the Ashkenazim, while the text of Caro was equally acceptable to the Sephardim. Between its acceptability and its complete acceptance, however, there was a long and complicated road.
Opposition to Acceptance of Shulḥan Arukh
The most strenuous opposition to the acceptance of the Shulḥan Arukh as the authoritative code of Jewish law was based on grounds of principle. Its most powerful opponent was Solomon *Luria. In his Yam shel Shelomo he expressed his vigorous opposition to all codes which laid down the law. Every code gives rise to commentaries and supercommentaries which have just the opposite effect intended by the authors of the original code. The only source for the determination of halakhah was the Talmud. A similar attitude was taken by *Ḥayyim b. Bezalel.
The acceptance of the Shulḥan Arukh was also threatened by another work, the masterly Levush of Mordecai *Jaffe. Based upon both the Beit Yosef and the Shulḥan Arukh, it aimed at combining both of them into one work, giving some of the arguments of the former and bringing into the latter, as had Isserles, the Ashkenazi halakhah and minhag.
Final Acceptance of Shulḥan Arukh
The final acceptance of the Shulḥan Arukh as the authoritative code accepted by world Jewry was due mainly to two 17th-century commentaries which have become standard, the Turei Zahav ("Taz") of *David b. Samuel ha-Levi on the whole of Shulḥan Arukh, and the Siftei Kohen ("Shakh") of *Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen on Ḥoshen Mishpat and Yoreh De'ah. David ha-Levi gave his commentary to Oraḥ Ḥayyim the title Magen David. The place of the Siftei Kohen on Oraḥ Ḥayyim was taken by the Magen Avraham of Abraham Abele *Gombiner, and the combined name Meginnei Ereẓ was given to both commentaries. Of David ha-Levi's commentaries, only those to Oraḥ Ḥayyim, Yoreh De'ah, and Even ha-Ezer, however, had the good fortune to be printed together with the text, the commentary Me'irot Einayim of Joshua *Falk being printed with Ḥoshen Mishpat.
It was not only the comprehensive nature of these commentaries and the fact that in them they effectively answered all the criticisms which had been leveled against the Shulḥan Arukh which finally established Caro's code as the authoritative code. These commentaries were the first to regard the Shulḥan Arukh as a separate halakhic work, independent of the Tur or the Beit Yosef, and as a result of their eminence, the Shulḥan Arukh became the final authority to which one turned for the definitive halakhah. It was they who were mainly responsible for the preference given to the Shulḥan Arukh over the Levush, and the halakhah was accepted to be "in accordance with the Shulḥan Arukh."
Shulḥan Arukh in the Development of Halakhah
However, the Shulḥan Arukh in this sense can be said almost to bear the same relationship to the text of Caro and Isserles as does the Talmud to the Mishnah. The text marks a stage, albeit a decisive one, in the continuous development of the halakhah. The text of Caro, even with the additions of Isserles, has been subject to a continuous process of commentary and supercommentary which has continually modified its decisions and brought in all new halakhic problems which have subsequently arisen. An important addition to Oraḥ Ḥayyim was the Sha'arei Teshuvah of Ḥayyim Mordecai Margolis and his brother Ephraim Zalman, and to the other three sections, the Pitḥei Teshuvah of Ẓevi Hirsch Eisenstadt, incorporating the new decisions given in the responsa literature from the time of Caro to that of the authors. The extent of this adjustment can be seen in the Oẓar ha-Posekim, still in process of publication. For example the third volume which treats of the first 17 paragraphs of the 17th chapter of Even ha-Ezer has no less than 167 folio pages of commentary which give a digest of all the various commentaries and modifications, mainly from the responsa, to the original text of Caro. H.J. Chajes has estimated that in one way or another, from Isserles to his own time, early in the 20th century, 60 percent of the original text of Caro has been subject to some adjustment.
Only parts of the Shulḥan Arukh have been translated into English, e.g., some sections of Ḥoshen Mishpat and Yoreh De'ah by C.N. Denburg, 2 vols. (1954–55).
Ch. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 3 (1967); J. Rothschild and I. Ta-Shema (eds.), Arba Me'ot Shanah Shulḥan Arukh-Catalog (1965), incl. bibl.; Maḥanayim, 96 (1965), ed. by M. Ha-Kohen, issue devoted to Shulḥan Arukh.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
"Shulḥan Arukh." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shulhan-arukh
"Shulḥan Arukh." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved May 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shulhan-arukh
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