Mishnah Berurah

The writings of the "Hafetz Hayyim," Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan.

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c. Ethics: Kagan is widely identified as a man of ethics (musar). His large number of ethical publications stress the search for moral and religious perfection through a stringent observance of halakhah. Kagan integrates his ethical and moral beliefs into his halakhic approaches and decisions, thus encouraging stringent adjudication. While the majority of these cases are implicit, they can also be found explicitly. For example, section 244 sub-paragraph 35 of the Shulhan Arukh concerns the accommodative maxim "in the case a loss of money is involved." After discussing the lenient possibilities related to this maxim, Kagan concludes with an ethical suggestion: "but fortunate is he who trusts in God and does not seek out various leniencies for Shabbat."

d. Contemporary issues: Although the Mishnah Berurah was structured as a commentary to Caro's code, Kagan suggests in his introduction to Volumes One and Three that his concern is also with contemporary halakhic issues. He intends to offer the reader a guide to proper halakhic behavior. In his introduction to Volume Three he states this purpose: "From the works of the Aharonim (latter authorities) I have also collected many new ideas applicable to everyday life nowadays. My aspiration is that with the help of God, whoever will now study this [body of] law will come to know each law, together with the reason and underlying thesis [for it], in both theory and practice."

In addition to the fourfold taxonomy, the analysis of content in the Mishnah Berurah subsumes Talmudic and halakhic principles. For example, in sub-paragraph 32 Kagan discusses the Talmudic principle concerning a Torah prohibition and the halakhic principle of "permitted in the case of monetary loss." This in particular covers the analysis of the Mishnah Berurah's explicit and implicit accommodative and stringent views and rulings. The terms accommodative (kulah) and stringent (humrah) in the Mishnah Berurah's text are to be understood within the context of later authorities' adjudications. Kagan's decisions are specifically dependent upon the analysis and rulings of the Aharonim. Therefore, when the Mishnah Berurah's adjudication chooses to be lenient or stringent, or when it refers to one of these terms in its text, its intention reflects the lenient or stringent view of these Aharonim.

Literary Features

The following literary features are found in the Mishnah Berurah:

1) Use of traditional Rabbinic vocabulary constructed from Mishnaic and Talmudic Hebrew and Aramaic as well as expressions and phraseology related to the theme under discussion found in post-Talmudic jargon.

2) Verbatim duplication of latter Rabbinic authorities.

3) Interpolation of the author's interpretation within the quotes found in the text.

4) Interpretation of texts, concepts, and words.

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