Link to video discussion
Our work of
developing Judaism now takes off from the Mishnah, year 200, on to the editing
of the two Talmuds, circa the year 400 for the Yerushalmi, because the Christian rulers clamped
down heavily on the academies under their thumb, and the Bavli, around a
century to a century and a half later, because the Persian authorities were far
course, have finished answers, and very often, the discussions end in the
words” Teyku”- Let its stand, or, figuratively, as an abbreviation for Tishbi
yavo veyetaretz sheelot v kushiyot”-wait till Elijah comes and gives us the
are our beliefs? The Talmudic discussions are mostly around practice, but we
have compendium of Rabbinic sermons,
creating legends, tales, popular sermons, built around the Parshat Hashavuah or
other books of the Bible. Midrash
as opposed to Midrash Halakhah. The Talmud Bavli has
room to accommodate these, whereas, for the Yerushalmi, they were left as part
of the separate compendiums.
We have the
recognized authorities after the Tannaim and
the Amoraim- Now, the
Gaon- the glory,( sometimes used to refer to a genius, like the Vilna Gaon) title
now given to the head of the academies, as contrasted with Resh Galuta- Exilarch, head of
the exile. As always, there are conflicts between the theoretical authority,
the Gaon, and the political authority, the Resh Galuta. Frankly, that tension,
between the theoretical, and the political will continue.
is our prayer, for example. The ground rules are in the Mishna, fleshed out in
the gemara( the teachings). But we need a formal text of the
siddur, such as of
Rav Amram Gaon, around the end of the ninth century for the
Sephardim, or Mahzor Vitry, of the students following Rashi, for the
questions arise- there are different conditions and issues under Christian ,
contrasted with Zoroastrian or Moslem rulers. The questions give rise to
answers- Sh’elot u Tshuvot.Responsa. These are authored by
the heads of the academies , in the land of Israel, Bavel, or, later, North
have formalized philosophy, in line with Greek thought, Saadiah Gaon, Rambam. There is
also mystical speculation, breaking away from the plain text, filled with
flights of the imagination, Heykhalot texts, Bahir,
Zohar, and others, probably influenced by contact with the Orient.
need to once again comprehend our Torah, especially as we advance, in the early
deeper in to Christian France and Germany and Moslem Spain. Torah commentaries-
Rashi, ibn Ezra, Ramban and then, commentaries that explain the nuances of the
Talmud, Rabbenu Hananel
of Kairouan, Rashi, the Tosafot.
Jewish world now extends from Gibraltar all the way to China- we have so much
texts and literature- we now need new compendia, to organize our practice. For
example, Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi ( of Fez) or
Rabbenu Asher, who follow the order of the Talmud to provide summaries.
there is the first great systematization in the 12fth century,
The Mishnah Torah ( intentionally
copying the Mishna!) in 14 themes, by Maimonides, the Rambam, which became
accepted only by the Yemenite Jews.
Rabbi Yakov ben Asher organizes a more concise format, in 4 columns( Tur)
Arba Turim around the 14th century.
improves upon the Rambam, as it gives the sources, which Rambam left out.
just in time for the start of the printing press, the great commentator on the
his truly greatest work), the Sefardic Rabbi Yosef Karo, in the
16th century, compiles a simple
summary, as an abridgement for students and elderly, who did not have the
stamina to follow his real scholarship. It is the hallmark of judicial
simplicity- take the three great codifiers- Rambam, Rabbenu Asher, and the Tur,
settle on best 2 out of 3, as the official decision, and if there is a conflict
of all 3, find a 4 th source to resolve.
is the highlight of clarity and simplicity—and he does it just as printing
It is a
document also based on the Sephardic principal, which is finding clear lines
and base points in halakhah. Till the last century, if you wanted a clear,
common-sense approach to Jewish law, you went to the Hacham, to the Sephardic
If you wanted
complication, you went to an Ashkenazic Rabbi. The Ashkenazim elevated the idea of
Minhag, custom, to the status of a law, Minhag kedin” The custom is law, and
even “ a minhag brecht a din”, a custom could outweigh the actual law!
Add to that,
the tendency of Ashkenzic sages to apply “ pilpul”, hair splitting logic to
everything, and you have a very complicated Jewish practice.
Just at the same time of Rabbi Karo in Safed, in
Poland, Rabbi Moshe Isserles ( Ramu) is working on an equally great summation,
when he gets wind of Rabbi Karo’s project. He waits
for the final copy, and then adds his own set of emendations, based on
we get the Shulkhan
Arukh (The Table is Set) and the
table cloth, because we have two parallel sets of practice- Sefardi and
Ashenazi. It hits the printing presses in Venice and soon, every community has
a copy—and it is roundly rejected by great Rabbis of his day because they
understood that it eliminated the process of analysis of sources that was the
core of Judaism. That which the Rabbis rejected became the basis, very shortly,
of Orthodox Jewish practice.
To make matters
more difficult, in the middle of the 19th century, a Hungarian
scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, created a concise version of the Shulkhan
Arukh, The Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which became the go-to work for the
average Jew—except it was a Hungarian work, and
the Hungarian Jews were the most
extreme of their day in practice ( i. e Satmar).
we are trying to do, is get back to the sources.