Page 164 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
decisions, called
pesakim,
based on actual questions addressed to
the authors, or extracts of the Talmud itself. In the eleventh cen­
tury, Alfasi produced
Sefer ha-Halakhot,
a digest of laws of the
Talmud. Many commentaries on Alfasi were later written, as
were abstracts and rearrangements of his materials. In the
twelfth century Maimonides compiled the
Mishneh Torah,
also
called the
Yad ha-Hazakah.
Other scholars responded to the lack
of talmudic references and alternative opinions in the
Mishneh
Torah.
Abraham ben David of Posquieres (Rabad, d. 1198) wrote
glosses on it, and Moses of Coucy in his
Sefer Mitzvot Gadol
(c.
1250), Isaac of Corbeil in his
Sefer Mitzvot Katan
(c. 1277), and
Aaron Halevi of Barcelona in his
Sefer ha-Hinukh
(1302-1308)
made redactions of it. In the thirteenth century Asher ben Yehiel
compiled his code,
Piskei ha-Rosh,
giving attention to French and
German authorities but still following the order of the Talmud as
had Alfasi. In the fourteenth century Jacob ben Asher compiled
the
Tur.
In the fifteenth, Jacob Halevi ben Moses Moellin of
Mainz (Maharil, c. 1360-1427) codified the laws of the yearly
cycle of ritual, and Jacob Landau collected halakhic materials
based on the most recent rulings of Ashkenazic rabbis. His work,
called
he-Agur,
paid little attention to the argument of those rab­
bis, adding instead a fair amount of kabbalistic theory. Thus in
the sixteenth century, Caro’s
Shulhan Arukh
was part of a long his­
tory of codifications of Halakhah. One of the most fascinating
aspects of Caro’s work is that, as the author of
Beit Yosef,
the dia­
lectical movement of codification and full explanation of
halakhah was manifested in one and the same person; Caro has
indeed been described as “ ‘surfing’ on the ‘sea of the Talmud,’
rising and falling on the crests of analysis and thoughts of argu­
mentation, and then trying to ‘gather the water into one area.’ ”17
Caro’s dual role as an expositor of halakhah in
Beit Yosef
and as a
codifier in
Shulhan Arukh
may explain the unprecedented success
of his work. Caro’s halakhic writings exemplify the dynamics of
rabbinic literature and must be understood in a context larger
than the immediate circumstances in which they were pro­
duced.18
17 Twersky,
“Shulhan Aruk,”
p. 149.
18 Louis Ginzburg, “The Codification o f Jewish Law,”
On Jewish Law and Lore
(Philadelphia, 1955), pp. 153-186; Moses Gaster, “The Origin and Sources of
the
Shulhan Arukh,” Studies and Texts, 2
(New York, 1971), pp. 691-709.