Kitzur Shulhan Arukh

The writings of Solomon Ganzfried.

Print this page Print this page

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.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

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.