Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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J e w i s h B o o k A n n u a l
of view the inserted notes of Isserles changed the face of the
Shulhan Arukh,
disrupted its continuity, raised doubts and of-
fered different opinions, brought into the text of the
matters from the
Bet Joseph
which had been clearly and
intentionally omitted by the author of the
Shulhan Arukh.
yet in the final analysis Isserles became “the opposing help-meet”
for Karo. The many commentaries on the
Shulhan Arukh,
written by great rabbinic authorities, which surrounded its text
and made it appear like the
an island in the sea of
the Talmud, would have surprised R. Joseph Karo, who saw his
Bet Joseph
as his great work and the
Shulhan Arukh
as an
abridgment of it. However, unlike the attitude suggested by the
command of the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, that no com-
mentaries be written to his code, it was the custom for all ac-
cepted Jewish codes to be supplied with commentaries, tracing
sources and quoting different opinions. Only unaccepted codes
were left to stand without comment or elaboration.
Code Based on a Consensus of Opinion
Unlike Maimonides’ code which, although the product of a
scholar of extraordinary magnitude, was still considered as an in-
dividual’s opinion, the
Shulhan Arukh
came to be considered as
representing a
This was due to Karo’s decision in com-
posing his code, to consult in all controversial matters three au-
thorities: Alfasi, Maimonides and R. Asher b. Jechiel, and to
adopt the rule of the majority. This decision to select these three
thorities: Alfasi, Maimonides and R. Asher b. Jechiel, and to
and attacked by others (see R. Shlomo Luria, Introduction to
Yam shel Shlomo
and R. Moshe Isserles, Introduction to his
notes to
Shulhan Arukh).
Later it was established, however, that
this decision was not arbitrarily adopted by Karo but was based
upon the custom prevalent in many Jewish communities in Spain
and Morocco (see Azulai,
Birke Joseph, Hoshen Mishpat,
Moreover, in accordance with a tradition transmitted by R.
Hayim Abulafia, Karo did not decide alone in controversial mat-
ters. He involved his colleagues and disciples numbering at least
two hundred in deciding all such matters. This practice may be
implied in the title
(our master) by which Karo is cus-
tomarily referred to among the Sephardic Jews, instead of the
(author) by which he is referred to among the
Ashkenazic Jews (see J. M. Toledano, “When and Where Was
the Shulhan Arukh Accepted,”
vol. 22, no. 1 (263), Oct.
1958, pp. 26-30).
As he himself states, R. Joseph Karo began to write his com-
mentary to the Turim , Bet Joseph, while he was in Adrianople