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Evolution of Halakhah: Halakhic Codification in History

Introduction to the Evolution of Halakhah

Rabbi Isaac Alfasi

Rabbi Isaac Alfasi

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In terms of codification of Rabbinic law, three major streams may be mapped from the following:  (1) Rif (Rabbi Isaac Alfasi of Fez), (2) the Rosh (Rabbenu Asher ben Yechiel born in Germany and died in Codovero Spain [1259 – 1327], who was a student of the Tosofist Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg), (3) the Rosh's son Rabbi Yakov ben Asher, who authored the Arba'ah Turim, known as the Baal HaTurim (and who was born in Cologne around 1269 and passed on in Toledo in 1343) (4) the Rambam, author of the Mishneh Torah in 14 sections (born in Cordevero in 1135 and passed on in Cairo Fostat in 1204), (5) Rabbi Yosef Karo of Safed, who authored the Beit Yosef and Shulchan Arukh  for Sephardim, (6) Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as the Mah Pah (tablecloth) in Cracow for Ashkenazim.

The four-part structure of the Tur and its division into chapters (simanim) were adopted by the later code Shulchan Arukh. The 4 rows or 4 Turim [Rambam comments in the Mishneh Torah that the number four is wondrous, see the last chapter of Pirke Avot about groupings of 4 i.e. 4 types of students, etc.] are as follows:

  • Orach Hayim - laws of prayer and synagogue and Sabbath &, holidays
  • Yoreh Deah - miscellaneous ritualistic laws, such as shechita and kashrut
  • Even ha-ezer - laws of marriage, & divorce (gittin)
  • Choshen Mishpat - laws of finance, financial responsibility, damages (personal and financial) and legal procedures

The Rambam organized his work in sevens (i.e. 7 sections of the Moreh Nevukhim) or multiples of 7 i.e. 14 sections of the Mishneh Torah [possibly derived from the gematria of his brother's name, Dovid: daleth=4, vav=6, daleth=4, sum 14])

The 14 sections of the Mishneh Torah are:

  1. HaMadda' (Knowledge):
    1. Yesodei ha-Torah: Kayumut of Hashem and other yod gimmel ikarim
    2. De'ot: general proper behavior
    3. Talmud Torah
    4. Avodah Zarah: the prohibition against avodah zarah
    5. Teshuvah: the law and philosophy of Hilchot teshuvah
  2. Ahavah (Love): the precepts which must be observed at all times if the love due to G-d is to be remembered continually (tefilah and teffilin)
  3. Zemanim (Times):
    1. Shabbat
    2. Eruvin: a Rabbinic device that facilitates Sabbath observance although Chabad does not hold by an Eruv
    3. Yom tov: prohibitions on major Hagim that are different from the prohibitions of Sabbath
    4. Shevitat `Asor: laws of Yom Kippur except for the Temple service (see Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim, below)
    5. Hametz u-Matza
    6. Shofar ve-Lulav ve-Sukkah: on RH and Sukkot
    7. Hanukah u-Megillah: see Hanukkah  and Purim
  4. Nashim(Women):
    1. Ishut: laws of marriage including kiddushin and the ketubah
    2. Geirushin: laws of gitten
    3. Yibum va-Chalitzah: laws of halitzah
    4. Na'arah Betulah: the law of a man who seduces or rapes an unmarried woman
    5. Sotah laws concerning a woman suspected of infidelity
  5. Kedushah(Holiness)
    1. Issurei Biah: forbidden sexual relations, including niddah, incest, and adultery; since intermarriage with non-Jews is forbidden, the laws of conversion to Judaism are also included
    2. Ma'akhalot Assurot: laws of forbidden foods (see kashrut)
    3. Shechitah: laws of ritual slaughter
  6. Hafla'ah(Separation): laws of vows and oaths
    1. Shevuot: laws of vows (to refrain from doing an action)
    2. Nedarim: laws of oaths (to do an action)
    3. Nezirot: laws of Nazirites
    4. Erachin: laws of donations to the temple
  7. Zera'im(Seeds): agricultural laws
    1. Kilayim: laws of forbidden mixtures
    2. Aniyim: laws of obligatory gifts to the poor
    3. Terumot: laws of obligatory gifts to the priests
    4. Maaser: laws of tithes
    5. Sheini: laws of secondary tithes
    6. Bikurim: laws of first fruit offerings
    7. Shemittah: laws of the sabbatical year
  8. Avodah (Divine Service): the laws of the Beit HaMikdash
  9. Korbanot (Offerings): laws for offerings in the Temple, excepting those of the whole community
  10. Tohorah (Cleanness): the rules of ritual purity
  11. Nezikin (Injuries): criminal and tort law
  12. Kinyan (Acquisition): laws of the marketplace
  13. Mishpatim (Rights): civil law
  14. Shofetim (Judges): the laws relating legislators, the Sanhedrin, the king, and the judges. It also addresses the Noahide and those pertaining to messianic times.

One of the differences between the 4-part classification of the Tur vs. the 14-part classification of the Mishneh Torah is that the Mishnet Torah includes the laws of the Beit HaMikdash and Korbanot. Korbanot are classified by the Rambam into their various types (olah, shelamim, asham, hatat, minchah, rikikei, etc.). The Yeshivah of the Chofetz Chaim was particularly diligent in learning these laws of the korbanot, as the rabbinic tradition ascribes that the learning of these laws and knowledge thereof will not only be necessary for reinstuting the Beit HaMikdash and the sacrificial services in the messianic age, but zekut (or merit) accrues to each Talmud scholar who learns the laws of the Temple sacrifices as if such students had actually brought a korban themselves.

The Rif, The Rosh, and Rambam are considered by Rabbi Yosef Karo as the 3 major streams of poskim for his ruling in the Shulchan Arukh.


Introduction to Evolution of Jewish Law After the Shulchan Arukh

Subject Guide

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David Levy

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