Kitzur Shulhan Arukh

The writings of Solomon Ganzfried.

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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.

In the nineteenth century, rabbinic authorities sought to simplify and explain in layman's terms the laws of the Shulhan Arukh, the extensive code of halakhah written by Joseph Caro. Rabbi Abraham Danzig wrote one such work called the Hayei Adam. Solomon Ganzfried's subsequent work made the Shulhan Arukh even more accessible to the average Jew of the time.

Rabbi Danzig's Hayei Adam proved too taxing for many, and its subject matter did not embrace the totality of subjects discussed in Caro's Shulhan Arukh. Its rules suited Poland and Germany but omitted the legal traditions of Hungarian Jews. Solomon Ganzfried (1804-1886), prolific as a commentator of Talmud and author of many works, accordingly produced the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh (Abridged Code of Jewish Law, 1864). Omitting the detail and halakhic rationales for each law, he offered a concise decision in rather simplified legal language. For the final 36 years of his life, Ganzfried served in Ungavar as its chief Rabbinic judge. He died in 1886.

Ganzfried's writings include Keset Sofer (Ofter, 1835), which pertains to the laws of writing Torah scrolls and the Book of Esther. It also includes comments by Moses Sofer of Pressburg, a revered leader of Hungarian Jewry, known as the Hatam Sofer, as well as approbation by him. Ganzfried saw fourteen editions of Keset Sofer through the press in his lifetime. In a later edition he included an addendum entitled Lishkat HaSofer, concerning the letters of the Torah.

He also penned a commentary to the prayer book Derekh HaHayim of Rabbi Ya'acov of Lissa (Vienna, 1838); Pnei Shlomo (Zolklev, 1846), a commentary on many tractates in the Babylonian Talmud; Torat Zevah (Levov, 1848), concerning the laws of ritual slaughter; Lehem  V'Simlah (Levov, 1861), on the laws of menstruation and the construction of ritual baths; and Ohalei Shem (Ungavar, 1878), discussing names of men and women (plus an addendum, Shem Yosef). His debates with students of the leading decisor of the time, Saul Nathanson, were recorded in his Milhemet Hovah (Werber, Jerusalem, 1882). Other works included Mikhseh LeOhel, Edut BeShoshanin, Ofel VeBohen, and Shem Shlomo (Varol, 1908), on diverse topics from the Babylonian Talmud.

A Reference for Everyone

But Ganzfried's best-known work remains the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, which has been translated into many languages, including several times into English. Although there is no introduction, the author summarized his goal in a few short sentences. His goal in this handy digest of the Shulhan Arukh: Orah Hayim, Yoreh De'ah, Even Ha'ezer, and Hoshen Mishpat was to offer a reference work that everyone could consult as the need arose. It also served as a book of instruction to introduce students to the subject matter of Jewish law.

In the course of twelve years, the author published his work thirteen times. In the last edition during his lifetime he gathered all the revisions he had made over the years and produced a fully completed and revised edition. He wrote that he based his corrections not only upon his research but also from the comments he received from other scholars. The book was accepted and acclaimed by many leading authorities of its time. The focus was practical halakhah and omitted laws and customs, which were widely known and needed no further description. He depended upon the writings of Ya'acov of Lissa, Shneur Zalman Schneerson of Liady (author of an abridged code himself, Shulhan Arukh Harav), and Abraham Danzig author of the Hayei Adam.

Although Ganzfried's work is abridged, he frequently commences its sections with brief non-halakhic introductions. These are adapted from writings such as Maimonides, Sefer Hayashar, Hayei Adam, and other works on ethical behavior (musar). For example, in the ''Laws of Hanukkah" (section 139), the text of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah provides historical background. In the "Laws of the Scroll of Esther" (section 141), the text of the Hayei Adam (Klal 154, paragraph 3) is slightly reworded and employed.

The greater part of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is concerned with almost all the themes found in Caro's Orah Hayim. Yet we also find many topics from the other three sections of the Shulhan Arukh. For example, from Yoreh De'ah he included such laws as charity, baking, salting, gentile cooking, relationships with gentiles, witchcraft, circumcision, education, forbidden foods, vows, parental honor, menstruation, the ritual bath, mourning, and agricultural issues (hadash, orlah, and kilayim). From Hoshen Mishpat he presented the laws of borrowing and lending, sabbatical loans (shmitat kesafim), thievery, damages--financial and bodily--borrowing and renting, lost and found items, cruelty to animals, and many other topics. From Even HaEzer he included the laws pertaining to marriage. But he selected only what was relevant to the lay Jew and omitted what was relevant only to Rabbinic judges.

Commentaries and Addenda

The popularity of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh encouraged scholars to write commentaries on it. Rabbi Hayim Yeshayah HaCohen published his comments in the monographs Misgeret HaShulhan (Lublin, 1889) and Lehem HaPanim (Lublin, 1888). After Rabbi Ganzfried's death, these were published together with the text of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh.

More recently, the rulings of Mishnah Berurah were published as an addendum to discuss the aspects of laws found in Ganzfried's code. Sha'arim Metzuyanim BeHalakhah, published by Solomon Braun (New York, 1951), is still very popular as it records rulings from after Ganzfried's time. Shemuel Bornstein published two works based upon the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Minhat Shabbat (Warsaw, 1905) and Madanei Shemuel (Petrikov, 1904). Newer works have appeared using the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh as their model, but the original still thrives on its own merits.

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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.