The Mishna Berura and its Sources
Join Rabbi David Sedley for a look at the various “kitzur” books of halakha from the 18th and 19th centuries. The amount of these kinds of sefarim that were written was remarkable when juxtaposed with the number that came before. Some which we will look at include: Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Chaye Adam, Shulhan Arukh HaRav, Arukh HaShulhan, Kaf HaChayim, Ben Ish Chai as well as the Mishna Berurah by the Chofetz Chayim.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 2
THE MISHNA BERURA AND ITS SOURCES: In this class we will look at the structure of the Mishna Berura, and try to understand the social and halakhic intentions of the Chofetz Chaim when he wrote it. We will look at how the Mishna Berura seems to “err” on the side of stringency, and introduce new customs and practices which were not the norm in Europe at the time. We will look at the type of language that the Mishna Berura uses and a few examples of halakha.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 1
THE MISHNA BERURA AND ITS SOURCES: INTRODUCTION: This is the first class in the new series. In this series we will look at the “kitzur” halakhic books that became prevalent in the 18th and 19th century. We will look at the authors, the books, their target audiences, and how they differ from (and are similar to) each other. We will also go back in time to see some of the main sources which the Mishna Berura draws upon. In this class I will introduce many of the books that we will speak about. We will try to see why these books were written. And we will begin looking at the Mishna Brura and its author, the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan). We will look at his life and briefly at some of his other works, and we will go through part of his introduction to see why and for whom he wrote this book.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 3
ARUCH HASHULHAN: Common wisdom has it that whereas the Mishna Berura was focused primarily on textual sources and the way things “should” be done, the Aruch HaShulhan was more concerned with the way things are actually practiced and justifying the minhagim. There is certainly a lot of truth in this. The flip-side is that whereas the Aruch HaShulhan was a traditionalist, who seems to be against change, the Mishna Berura was in some ways forward-looking and open to new ideas. The Aruch HaShulhan is one of only three halakha books that I know of who also wrote about the halakhot of the future – the Temple, purity and impurity, and laws of the Land of Israel (one of the others is Rambam – do you know who the third is?) Although today the Mishna Berura has become the most authoritative source for halakha, several contemporary Rabbis consider the Aruch HaShulhan to be more reliable and authoritative. One of the reasons for that is that Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein was familiar with the Mishna Berura, and mentions it several times in his Aruch HaShulhan. For all this and more, join me on this adventure of discovery.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 4
ARUCH HASHULHAN II: In this shiur we continue our discussion of the Aruch HaShulhan. We look at his introduction as to why he wrote this work. We will look at some of his rulings, including his opinion that it is permitted to use electricity on Yom Tov. We will compare the traditional, “old school” views of the Aruch HaShulhan with the forward-looking, radical, views of the Mishna Berura regarding women’s education. And finally, we’ll learn a few halakhot of the Omer and Shavuot from both the Mishna Berura and the Aruch HaShulhan to note the differences in their style (if not necessarily in their conclusions).
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 5
SHULHAN SHELOMO: The Shulhan Shelomo, by Rav Shelomo Zalman Mirkes, is possibly the earliest book of “kitzur” halakha, and influenced all those who came after him. He is cited several times by the Mishna Berura. Yet he is so little known that he doesn’t even appear in Wikipedia (which made preparing this shiur much more difficult). He was the author of several books, although only three have ever been published (to the best of my knowledge). In this shiur we will learn about his life, some of his views in halakha, and look at an excerpt from Shulhan Shelomo.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 6
RAV AVRAHAM DANZIG, CHAYEI ADAM: In this class we look at Rav Avraham Danzig, author of Chayei Adam and Chochmat Adam. These “kitzur” books are based on the laws of Orach Chayim and Yoreh De’a. In his lifetime these books gained great prominence and Chayei Adam was reprinted over 90 times. (Rav Danzig himself also wrote a “kitzur” of Chayei Adam, ruining that classic Yeshiva joke). In addition he also wrote Sha’arei Tzedek, concerning the laws which apply only in the Land of Israel, and a commentary on the Haggadah called Toledot Adam. He also wrote books of mussar; a kitzur of sefer haredim and an ethical will. In the introduction to Chochmat Adam, Rav Danzig writes that he refused to take money as the Rav of Vilna, preferring to follow in the footsteps of his saintly grandfather and earn a living through business. However at the end of his life he lost all his money and finally accepted a salary.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 7
SHULHAN ARUKH HARAV – RAV SHNEUR ZALMAN OF LIADI: In this shiur we speak about the founder of Lubavitch Chasidism, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liaid. He is most famous for his three books, the Tanya which is the philosophical basis for all subsequent Hasidut, his Siduur which formalised “nusach Ari” or nusach Sefard, used by all Hasidim, and hisShulhan Arukh HaRav which became the preferred book of halakha for many Hasidim and was also cited extensively by the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh and the Mishna Berura. We look at the ideas of Rav Shneur Zalman which are today a fundamental part of all Hasidut, as well as some of his ideas which were not adopted by subsequent generations of Rebbes and Hasidim. We look at the purpose and goals Shulhan Arukh HaRav and try to understand how to resolve contradictions between this halakhic work and the halakhic instructions in his Siddur and in modern Chabad practice.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 8
KITZUR SHULHAN ARUKH: RAV SHLOMO GANZFRIED: In this shiur we discuss the reason that Rav Shlomo Ganzfried wrote his Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, and learn the sources on which he based his halakhic rulings. We discover the many advantages of the ‘Kitzur’ over other similar books, including it size, length and the clarity of its language. We learn some of the halakhot from the ‘Kitzur’ including some of the laws of the ‘Three Weeks.’ We discuss Rav Ganzfried’s opposition to the fledgling “Neolog” version of Judaism. We also touch on Rav Ganzfried’s halakhic disagreements with the first Sanzer Rebbe, Rav Chaim Halberstam, leading to a bitter and personal trading of pamphlets. Finally we end with a d’var Torah on parshat Chukat in which Rav Shomo Ganzfried cites his own Rav, Rabbi Hirsch Tzvi Heller, and in which he attacks the Jewish reformers who want to do away with some of the mitzvot.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 9
BEN ISH CHAI: In a complete departure from all the Rabbis and books we have spoken about so far, we now move continents and ‘edot’ to discuss the Ben Ish Chai, one of the most important and influential Sefardi Rabbis of the past 200 years. He wrote dozens of books, many of which have still not been published. His influence is felt today through the piskei halakha of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (and conversely, Rav Ovadia Yosef has to explain why he rejects the approach and rulings of the Ben Ish Chai). Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad named many of his books after the verse in 2 Samuel 23:20. He chose these names because he claimed to have been a reincarnation of Benayahu ben Yehoyada, who was known as ‘Ben Ish Chayil.’ We will look at the Ben Ish Chai’s unique style of presenting halakha, and at some of his other books.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 11
LIKUTEI HALAKHOT: This class and the next one turn away from books of halakha, and look at books of philosophy and theology based on halakha. In this class we will look at Likutei Halakhot, a halakhic commentary based on the teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Breslav, written by his foremost student Rav Natan. We will look at the life, times and influence of Rav Nahman, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, who disagreed strongly with many of the main principles of Hassidut (including the need for a Rebbe). We will also examine the importance and influence of Rav Natan in creating the Breslav Hasidic movement and in publishing the books of Rav Nahman. And we will look at some of the halakhot, and how Rav Nahman viewed them as means for connecting to the Creator. Next week (the final class in the series) – Rav Hirsch and Horeb.
The Mishna Berura and its Sources: Lesson 12
HIRSCH AND HOREB: In the final shiur in this series we move even further away from the world of halakha and delve into the efforts of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch to reconnect Jewish practice to spirituality. Hirsch’s masterpiece, Horeb, finds the deeper meaning and symbolism behind the mitzvot. Before publishing Horeb, Hirsch wrote ’19 Letters’ as a brief overview and introduction to Horeb. Hirsch also wrote a commentary on the Torah, the siddur and Psalms, as well as many articles which have now been compiled in Hirsch’s ‘Collected Writings.’ This class will look at the historic and social upheavals in the German-Jewish world which led Hirsch to write his work. We will look at Hirsch’s views on Judaism, history and other topics, as well as his relationship to the historian Heirich Graetz. Join me in the final class of this series.
Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.