Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Was the Shulhan arukh ever summarized?

Yesterday I got many phone calls and emails from friends and readers who reacted to my proposal of rewriting the original Shulhan 'arukh. Most of them were telling me that they already have the Shulhan 'arukh. This is a real quote: "I was always fascinated by the Shulchan Aruch and have learned very much from the English translation."   I told my friends that as far as I know the shulhan 'arukh was never translated into English or to any other language. So, they must have been reading a different book.... 

I know where this confusion comes from. If you go to Amazon and you write "shulchan aruch" you will find the following book as the first option: " KITZUR SHULCHAN ARUCH - CODE OF JEWISH LAW. COMPLETE 5 VOLUME".   We need to clarify a few things.  First, that the "Kitzur Shulchan aruch" is a very good and popular book written by rabbi Shlomo Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886).  Rabbi Ganzfried lived in Ungvar (then Hungary, today Ukraine) and he wrote his book based on the traditions and customs of Hungarian Jews. Rabbi Ganzfried followed in his rulings the three Halakhic authorities of his time and place: Rabbi Yaakob Loberbaum, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi, the first Chabad rabbi (who, by the way, wrote a book which he also called "Shulhan 'arukh" containing his own rulings and traditions. See this) and Rabbi Abraham Danzing.  
What the reader needs to know then is that the Kitzur Shulchan aruch is a distinct book,  definitely NOT a summary of rabbi Yosef Caro's Shulhan 'arukh (and it probably never claimed to be so!).  What confuses us is the name "Kitzur shulchan aruch" which seems to indicate that it is a "summary" of the Shulhan arukh ("Kitzur" means "summary"). But the truth is that the Kitzur is a book entirely different from the shulhan 'arukh. Different in its rulings, its order, its size, its purpose, etc.   
Amazon (or better said: the publishers ) also have their share in the misrepresentation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.  Because presenting the Kitzur as the "Code of Jewish law" gives the impression that they are describing "The" Code of Jewish Law, which is Yosef Caro's Shulhan 'arukh. 
I explained to my friends that a summary of the Shulhan 'arukh was never necessary. Among other things, because the shulhan 'arukh was explicitly conceived as the summary of the Bet Yosef- a practical summary to be reread every thirty days- written by the same author of the Bet Yosef,  rabbi Yosef Caro.