Arukh HaShulhan

The writings of Rabbi Yehiel Mekhel Epstein.

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Reprinted with permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

The Arukh HaShulhan was compiled and published by Yehiel Mekhel Epstein (1829-1908). Before completing his studies. Epstein married Mikhla, the daughter of Rabbi Ya'acov Berlin, from the city of Mir, and who was the brother of Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (popularly known as the Netziv).

 

In 1862, Epstein received his first Rabbinic appointment in the town of Novosybkov. This town housed both Habad hasidim and non-hasidim, who lived peacefully side by side. Here he published his first book, Or LeYesharim (Light for the Upright). Later Epstein accepted a position in the small town of Lubitz, on the outskirts of Novogrudok, Lithuania, and then became rabbi of Novogrudok itself. During the 43 years until his death in 1908, he continued to establish himself as a leading authority.

Major Writings

Seeking his adjudication, rabbis from all over Europe and America corresponded with him on halakhic issues. His major writings are Or LaYesharim (Zhitomir, 1869), a commentary on the Sefer HaYashar of Ya'acov Tam; Leil Shemurim (Warsaw, 1889), a commentary on the Passover Haggadah; Mehel Mayim, published posthumously, a two page commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, was included in the 1928 edition in Vilna by the Romm publishers; and Kol Ben Levi, a book of Epstein's sermons.

Arukh HaShulhan He'atid was published posthumously. It deals with themes relevant to messianic times. The work is based primarily on Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, the only code that addressed these issues.

Arukh HaShulhan is a nine volume code of Jewish law that consists of both novellae and halakhic rulings on the four parts of Rabbi Caro's Shulhan Arukh. In 1884 (Warsaw), Epstein published the first section, on Hoshen Mishpat. This was readily accepted in the Rabbinic community and achieved almost instant popularity, thus earning him an international reputation as a halakhic decisor. The section on Yoreh De'ah was published in 1894 (Warsaw), Even Ha'ezer in 1903 (St. Petersburg), and Orah Hayim in 1903 (St. Petersburg), and Volume 9, on sections of Yoreh De'ah, in 1991 (Hoboken).

Maimonidean Influence

Although in its external organization the work follows the chapters found in Caro's Shulhan Arukh, in its internal arrangements it conforms to Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. Such conformity is found primarily in sections that do not deal with daily rituals. The discussion of Orah Hayim is far less dependent on Maimonides than are the other sections.

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Simcha Fishbane is an Associate Professor of Judaic Studies at Touro College.

Herbert Basser

Herbert Basser is a Professor of Religious Studies at Queens University.