First Edition of the Most Authoritative Code of Jewish Law
The magnum opus of Jewish halakha, the law code known as Shulhan Arukh, compiled in the mid-sixteenth century by Joseph Caro remains the standard legal code of the Jewish religion to this day. The Shulhan Arukh follows the order of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's Tur and is divided into the same four parts:
Orah Hayyim ("The Path of Life"; see Psalms 16:11); this section deals with worship and ritual observance in the home and synagogue, through the course of the day, the weekly Sabbath and the festival cycle. (This part is lacking in the present lot.)
Yoreh De'ah ("Teacher of Knowledge"; see Isaiah 28:9); this section deals with assorted ritual prohibitions, especially dietary laws and regulations concerning menstrual impurity.
Even ha-'Ezer ("The Rock of the Helpmate"; see 1 Samuel 5:1 and the Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 2:18); this section deals with marriage, divorce and other issues in family law.
Hoshen Mishpat ("The Breastplate of Judgment"; see Exodus 28:15); this section deals with the administration and adjudication of civil law.
The origins of the Shulhan Arukh lie in Caro's earlier work, the Beit Yosef ("House of Joseph") a detailed commentary to the Tur in which Caro carefully examined each of the laws recorded in the earlier code, showing the sources in Talmudic and medieval rabbinic literature, and comparing the interpretations and rulings of the leading medieval authorities. The Shulhan Arukh summarizes the conclusions of the Beit Yosef. In general, Caro based his decisions on three earlier pillars of Jewish codification: the eleventh-century Spanish authority Rabbi Isaac Alfasi ("Rif"), Maimonides ("Rambam") and Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel ("Rosh," or "Asheri"), the father of the Tur's compiler. In cases of disagreement among those three, Caro usually followed the majority position. Although some Rabbis initially opposed basing religious law on a summary code, rather than going back to the original legal sources, the Shulhan Arukh rapidly came to be accepted in almost all Jewish communities as the most authoritative statement of normative religious law. In recent generations, acceptance of the Shulhan Arukh has come to be regarded as a defining criterion of religious Orthodoxy and traditionalism.
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