The connection between Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (the Tur, Barcelona, Spain, 1269-1340), Rabbi Joseph Caro (Safed, Israel, 1488-1575) and Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (Cracow, Poland, 1520 – 1572) is an excellent example of both the international Jewish community and of Jewish scholarship in general.
Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s codification of Jewish law, the Arba’ah Turim, based on the Rambam’s Mishne Torah (which is based on the Talmud) was a ground breaking work that allowed Jews to understand, in a systematic way, what Jewish law required of them. The work, however, was criticized for its lack of sources and citations.
Rabbi Joseph Caro’s work, Beit Yosef, was both a commentary on, and a bibliography for, the Arba’ah Turim. In the Beit Yosef, Rabbi Caro explained how the Tur arrived at his halachic rulings. The Beit Yosef, however, was a large and exhaustive work and far too in-depth for the average person.
Impressed by Rabbi Caro’s scholarship, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis studied the Beit Yosef and wrote his own commentary on the material, known as Darkei Moshe. At the same time, however, Rabbi Caro was revising his work, condensing it to make it more “user-friendly” for those less scholarly.
On the 2nd of Elul 5315 (1555), Caro’s Shulchan Aruch was published. In English, this book is known as The Code of Jewish Law, which demonstrates the respect given to this work. While Rabbi Isserlis saw the tremendous merit of Rabbi Caro’s work, he noticed that the Sephardi rulings (Rabbi Caro was of Spanish-Jewish origin) could not be applied in Ashkenazi communities. He therefore wrote Hamapah (literally “The Tablecloth,” as shulchan aruch means “set table).’ Hamapah, which is printed in a different font within the text of the Shulchan Aruch, comments on the work of Rabbi Caro and notes the proper halacha for Jews of Ashkenazi origins.
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