About The Sources Frequently Quoted In The Halachot

Chacham Ovadia Yossef
Maran / Shulchan Aruch
Rav Paalim (The Ben Ish Chai )

ARIZAL - Rabbi Itzchak Luria, El Arí HaKadosh - The 16th century Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Ben Solomon Luria revolutionized the study of Jewish mysticism through Kabbalah. Luria, also known as Isaac Ashkenazi, attracted a large number of followers who gave him the title of "HaAri," The Lion, because of the initials of the phrase "haeloki Rabbi Yitzhak" the divine Rabbi Yitzhak. Luria was born in Jerusalem in 1534 to German parents. His father died when he was young, and Luria was brought up by his mother in the house of her brother, Mordecai Frances, a wealthy tax-farmer. In Egypt, Luria studied Jewish law and rabbinic literature under Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra and Zimra's successor, Bezalel Ashkenazi. Luria's teachers considered him outstanding in non-mystical study and he collaborated with Ashkenazi on shitah mekubbetzet, a work on Jewish law based on Tractate Zevachim in the Talmud. In addition to study, Luria earned a living through commerce. When Luria was 15 years old, he married his cousin. He spent approximately six years studying with Ashkenazi, then moved to Jazirat al-Rawda, a secluded island on the Nile that was owned by his father-in-law. He visited his family only on the Sabbath and the few words he spoke were always in Hebrew, directed solely to his wife. During this period, he concentrated his studies on the Zohar and the works of earlier Kabbalists. He was also particularly interested in his contemporary, Kabbalist Moses Cordovero. It was at this time that Luria wrote his commentary on the Sifra Di-Zenivta section of the Zohar. In 1569 Luria moved to Safed where he studied Kabbalah with Cordovero until Cordovero's death in 1570. Luria originally won fame as a mystical poet. He later started teaching Kabbalah in an academy, and would occasionally speak in Ashkenazi synagogues. He was friendly with other Safed scholars, and formed a group of Kabbalists who met each Friday to confess their sins to each other. He revealed to his disciples the locations of graves of rabbis that he claimed to have discovered through spiritual revelations. He taught his students orally, teaching both theoretical Kabbalah and methods to communicate with the souls of tazddikim (righteous people). He felt that he could see people's sins by looking at their foreheads. On the Sabbath, he dressed in white and many followers considered him a saint. Some say he believed himself to be the Messiah, the son of Joseph. Luria was known for his innovative ideas in understanding creation and various other metaphysical concepts. He was conservative in interpreting Jewish law and believed that each commandment had a mystical meaning. He respected all strains of tradition and customs in Judaism and although he was of Ashkenazic descent, preferred Sephardic prayer liturgy. Lurianic Kabbalah refers often to Messianism and many say that his Messianic ideas paved the way for the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zvi. Luria died in an epidemic in the summer of 1572 and was buried in Safed. His teachings were recorded by his disciples, particularly Rabbi Chaim Vital. Books on his work include: Ez Hayyim, Shulhan Aruch Shel R. Yizhak Luria, Orhot Zaddikim and Patora de Abba.

Chacham Ovadia Yossef - was born in Baghdad in 1920. He immigrated to Israel at age four and studied in yeshivot in the Old City of Jerusalem. He was ordained by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ben Zion Uzziel. In 1947, Yossef became chief rabbi and head of the rabbinic court of Cairo. In 1950, he returned to Israel, where he served as rabbi of Tel Aviv, and later as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. The phenomenal breadth of his knowledge and his total recall of relevant material from rabbinic and post-rabbinic literature endow his responsa with an encyclopedic quality. His works include Yabia Omer.

Chida - Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai (Chida), descendant of a famed rabbinic family originating from Castille and Mor, was born in 1724 in Jerusalem. Chida was considered the greatest halachic authority of his generation by the oriental and Italian Jews. His huge, multifaceted literary output included halachic rulings, mystical works, commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, bibliography, and travelogues. He was involved in communial activities, and also served in rabbinical positions. Chida traveled extensively to raise funds for the Jewish community in Israel, and in the course of his travels he visited such places as Egypt, North Africa, and Europe. He became rabbi of Leghorn, Italy, and died there in 1806. In 1960, his remains were brought to Israel and interred in Jerusalem.

Maran / Shulchan Aruch - Rabbi Joseph ben Ephraim Caro was born in Toledo, Spain in 1488, and died in Safed in 1575. He is also called Maran ("our master") or Ha-Mechaber ("the author," i.e. the halachic author par excellence). Caro left Spain in 1492 as a result of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews, and settled with his family in Turkey. In 1536, he emigrated to Israel and became the chief rabbi of Safed, an important center of Jewish learning and industry. His principal teacher in Safed was Rabbi Jacob Berab. Caro's magnum opus is his Beit Yosef ("House of Joseph"), an encyclopedic commentary on Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's Tur, a halachic code. Bet Yosef presents an extensive survey of relevant halachic literature, from the Talmud down to works of Caro's contemporaries. Caro's halachic decisions were codified in his Shulchan Aruch (which was actually a digest of Bet Yosef). This work quickly became accepted throughout the Jewish world as halachically authoritative. Likewise, Caro's commentary on Maimonides' code, the Kesef Mishneh, is one of the standard commentaries on Maimonides' work. Caro was also a mystic. He left two responsa collections, Avkat Rochel and Bet Yosef.

MISHNAH BERURAH - Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Kohen was born in 1839 and died in 1933 (in Radin, then Pland, now Byelorussia). In his youth he studied in a yeshiva in Vilna. He was renowned as a scholar of exceptional piety. Most of his life he lived in the town of Radin. He earned his living from a shop kept by his wife, and never held an official rabbinical post. Rabbi Ha-Kohen established a small yeshiva in Radin which ultimately became one of the most famous in Lithuania. He wrote many influential works on halakhah and ethics. His first halakhic treatise, Chafetz Chaim, dealt with the laws of slander (lashon ha-ra). He wrote other practical halakhic works, e.g., Machaneh Israel, for Jewish soldiers who served in the Czar's army. Similarly, he composed books on the laws of sacrifices and the Temple and even opened a Kollel for the study of Seder Kodoshim. His magnum opus was the Mishnah Berurah on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, in six volumes. He spent 28 years preparing this work; each volume was printed immediately after it was finished (Warsaw 1884 - Pietrkow 1907). The Mishnah Berurah became very popular and to this day is one of the most important halakhic works on Orach Chaim among Ashkenazic Jews. This work consists of three parts: the Mishnah Berurah itself, which explains the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and provides additional halakhic rulings regarding matters disputed by halakhic authorities; Be'ur Halakhah, which includes more detailed halakhic discussions; and Sha'ar Ha-Zion, which cites the sources of the rulings in the Mishnah Berurah and includes other brief notes.

RAMA - Rabbi Moses ben Israel Isserles (Rama) was born in 1525 (1530?) in Cracow, Poland, and died there in 1572. An outstanding halachic authority, Rama lived in Cracow, where he served as head of the rabbinic court and yeshivah. He corresponded with rabbinic scholars in Germany, Poland, and northern Italy, and appended important notes (hagahot), which reflected Ashkenazic halachic practice, to Rabbi Joseph Caro's Shulchan Aruch, which reflected Caro's Sephardic practices. Rama also authored responsa and works about philosophy and Kabbalah.

RAMBAM - One of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Rambam, Maimonides) was born in Cordova, Spain in 1138, and died in Egypt in 1204. His father, Rabbi Maimon, was a dayyan in Cordova, and studied under Ri Migash (q.v.), the outstanding disciple of RiF. In 1148, after Spain was invaded by a fanatic Muslim tribe from North Africa, Rambam's family went into exile, and eventually settled in Fez, Morocco, in 1160. Even during these difficult years, Rambam was already creating the books which eventually earned him international fame. His commentary on the Mishnah, in Arabic, was among the first of these works. In Fez, Rambam also studied medicine, and later he earned his livelihood as a physician. In 1165, his entire family left Morocco and moved to Israel, although difficulties subsequently forced the family to leave Israel for Egypt. After the death of Rambam's father, the family settled in Fostat (old Cairo). At that time, the Karaites exerted strong influence on Egyptian Jewry, and Rambam fought them with all the weapons at his disposal. Rambam's many-faceted activities included serving as chief rabbi, head of the rabbinical court, and head of the Jewish community. In addition, he taught, wrote, and served as personal physician to the sultan Saladin. Rambam was familiar with every branch of contemporary science and philosophy and every realm of Jewish knowledge - Talmud and halachah, philosophy and ethics - and he penned hundreds of responsa to queries from throughout the Jewish world. He also authored the Guide to the Perplexed, a philosophical treatise which attempts to reconcile Jewish belief with contemporary philosophy. Many of the philosophical concepts in this work were considered highly controversial. Rambam also authored Mishneh Torah (the "second Torah," also known Yad Ha-Chazakah), which summarizes the entire oral law clearly, concisely, and in organized fashion. In many communities, particularly among Yemenite Jews, the Mishneh Torah was accepted as halachically authoritative. Another work by Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, lists the 613 commandments and presents systematic criteria for the enumeration of these commandments. Rambam's responsa include much material on the Jewish world of his time - its customs, beliefs, and problems, as well as Rambam's own teachings.

Rav Paalim (The Ben Ish Chai ) - Rabbi Joseph Chaim ben Elijah al-Chakam was born in Baghdad, ca. 1835, and studied under Rabbi Abdallah Someich. Al-Chakam never served as official rabbi of Baghdad, although he was a popular preacher, and his sermons were attended by thousands of people. Al-Chakam wrote many works, about both halachah and Kabbalah. One of these books, Ben Ish Chai, a brief summary of practical halacha (comparable to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch popular among Ashkenazic Jews), remains very popular among Sephardic Jews to this day. Rabbi Joseph Chaim also edited the text of the Sephardic prayer book, in which he included kabbalistic elements. His responsa include answers to queries from Baghdad, Iraq, and all over the Far East - India, Singapore, Ceylon, Kurdistan, and elsewhere. Accordingly, valuable historical and sociological information about these communities can be gleaned from his responsa. Rabbi Joseph Chaim visited Israel, where he was received with great honor by the local rabbis. He died in 1909.

ROSH - Rabbi Asher ben Jechiel was born ca. 1250 in Germany, and died in 1327 in Toledo, Spain. Rosh studied in the yeshivot of the Franco-German Tosafist school, and his outstanding teacher was Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg. Due to persecution of the Jews by the Germans, Rosh fled to Spain in 1303, where he was greatly honored by Rashba. Later, Rosh became the rabbi of Toledo. After Rashba's death, Rosh was accepted as the foremost halachic authority of his generation. Rosh's literary legacy includes more than 1,000 responsa, as well as commentaries on the Talmud in which he combines the method of the Franco-German Tosafists with that of the Spanish yeshivot. His son, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, the author of the Tur, a noted halachic code, cites Rosh's halachic decisions extensively. Likewise, R. Joseph Caro's halachic code, the Shulchan Aruch, is replete with rulings of Rosh. Piskei Ha-Rosh was first printed in the Venice edition of the Talmud Bavli in 1520. Piskei Ha-Rosh summarizes the most important halachic points of each talmudic discussion, much like the Rif, although it frequently quotes the Tosafists' explanations of the Talmud and their halachic decisions. A condensed version of Piskei Ha-Rosh is printed at the end of each tractate. This work seems to be the work of Rosh's son, R. Yaakov Ba'al Ha-Turim. Haggahot Asheri, which contains halachic decisions from various Ashkenazic authorities (the Tosafists, Or Zarua, R. Hezekiah of Magdeburg, and others), was printed together with Piskei Ha-Rosh in the first edition of that work. These glosses were edited by R. Israel of Krems (Austria, fourteenth century), the great-grandfather of R. Yisrael Isserlein, author of the Terumat Ha-Deshen. Haggahot Asheri appear on most tractates and substantially influenced later halachic decisions.

TOSAFOT - one of the most important medieval commentaries on the Talmud, was composed by French and German Talmudists during the twelfth to fourteenth centuries C.E. This commentary, which augments and often disputes Rashi's commentary on the Talmud, is printed opposite that work in standard editions of the Talmud Bavli. Tosafot is formulated dialectically, as a series of questions and answers. The work often addresses the significance of parallel talmudic passages for a proper understanding of the local sugya. Prominent among the authors of this work were Rabbenu Jacob b. Meir Tam, Rashi's grandson, and his nephew R. Isaac ben R. Shmuel (Ri). Tosafot is a collective work, composed by scholars from different schools and during different periods; hence we sometimes find contradictions between the Tosafot on different tractates. Tosafot concentrates more on talmudic interpretation than on rendering halachic decisions, although the interpretations in this work often exerted a significant influence on halachic decision making.

Meiri - Rabbi Menachem ben Solomon Meiri

Radak - Rabbi David Kimhy

To see detailed information on other Rabbis and Great Leaders of our past, please visit: