Halakha (/hɑːˈlɔːxə/; Hebrew: .mw-parser-output
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Roman",Gisha,Arial,FreeSerif,FreeSans הֲלָכָה, Sephardic:
[halaˈχa]; also transliterated as halacha, halakhah, halachah, or
halocho) (Ashkenazic: [haˈloχo]) is the collective body of Jewish
religious laws derived from the written and Oral Torah.
based on biblical commandments (mitzvot), subsequent Talmudic and
rabbinic law, and the customs and traditions compiled in the many
books such as the Shulchan Aruch.
Halakha is often translated as
"Jewish Law", although a more literal translation might be "the way to
behave" or "the way of walking". The word derives from the root that
means "to behave" (also "to go" or "to walk").
Halakha guides not
only religious practices and beliefs, but also numerous aspects of
Historically, in the Jewish diaspora, halakha served many Jewish
communities as an enforceable avenue of law – both civil and
religious, since no differentiation exists in classical Judaism. Since
the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) and Jewish emancipation, some have
come to view the halakha as less binding in day-to-day life, as it
relies on rabbinic interpretation, as opposed to the pure, written
words recorded in the
Hebrew Bible. Under contemporary Israeli law,
certain areas of Israeli family and personal status law are under the
authority of the rabbinic courts, so are treated according to halakha.
Some differences in halakha are found among Ashkenazi, Mizrahi,
Sephardi, Yemenite, Ethiopian and other Jewish communities who
historically lived in isolated communities.
1 Etymology and terminology
2 The 613 mitzvot
2.3 Gentiles and Jewish law
3 Sources and process
3.1 Historical analysis
4 Views today
4.2 Denominational approaches
4.2.1 Orthodox Judaism
4.2.2 Conservative Judaism
5 Codes of Jewish law
6 See also
9 External links
9.1 Full-text resources of major halakhic works
Etymology and terminology
A full set of the Babylonian Talmud
The word halakha is derived from the
Hebrew root halakh – "to walk"
or "to go".:252 Taken literally, therefore, halakha
translates as "the way to walk", rather than "law". The word halakha
refers to the corpus of rabbinic legal texts, or to the overall system
of religious law. The term may also be related to Akkadian ilku, a
property tax, rendered in Aramaic as halakh, designating one or
Halakha is often contrasted with aggadah ("the telling"), the diverse
corpus of rabbinic exegetical, narrative, philosophical, mystical, and
other "non-legal" texts. At the same time, since writers of
halakha may draw upon the aggadic and even mystical literature, a
dynamic interchange occurs between the genres.
Halakha also does not
include the parts of the
Torah not related to commandments.
Halakha constitutes the practical application of the 613 mitzvot
("commandments") in the Torah, as developed through discussion and
debate in the classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah
Talmud (the "Oral Torah"), and as codified in the Mishneh
Torah and Shulchan Aruch. Because halakha is developed and
applied by various halakhic authorities rather than one sole "official
voice", different individuals and communities may well have different
answers to halakhic questions. With few exceptions, controversies are
not settled through authoritative structures because during the Jewish
Jews lacked a single judicial hierarchy or appellate review
process for halakha.
The 613 mitzvot
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Mitzvah § Mitzvot and Jewish law, and 613 commandments
According to the
Talmud (Tractate Makot),
613 mitzvot are in the
Torah, 248 positive ("thou shalt") mitzvot and 365 negative ("thou
shalt not") mitzvot, supplemented by seven mitzvot legislated by the
rabbis of antiquity.
Law given to
Moses at Sinai
Mitzvah § Rabbinical mitzvot
Judaism divides laws into categories:
Torah at old Glockengasse
Synagogue (reconstruction), Cologne.
Moses which are believed to have been revealed by
Israelites at biblical Mount Sinai. These laws are composed of
The Written Torah, laws written in the
The Oral Torah, laws believed to have been transmitted orally prior to
their later compilation in texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud, and
Laws of human origin including rabbinic decrees, interpretations,
This division between revealed and rabbinic commandments may influence
the importance of a rule, its enforcement and the nature of its
ongoing interpretation. Halakhic authorities may disagree
on which laws fall into which categories or the circumstances (if any)
under which prior rabbinic rulings can be re-examined by contemporary
rabbis, but all Halakhic
Jews hold that both categories exist and that
the first category is immutable, with exceptions only for life-saving
and similar emergency circumstances.
A second classical distinction is between the Written Law, laws
written in the
Hebrew Bible, and the Oral Law, laws which are believed
to have been transmitted orally prior to their later compilation in
texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud, and rabbinic codes.
Commandments are divided into positive and negative commands, which
are treated differently in terms of divine and human punishment.
Positive commandments require an action to be performed and are
considered to bring the performer closer to God. Negative commandments
(traditionally 365 in number) forbid a specific action, and violations
create a distance from God.
A further division is made between chukim ("decrees" – laws without
obvious explanation, such as shatnez, the law prohibiting wearing
clothing made of mixtures of linen and wool), mishpatim ("judgements"
– laws with obvious social implications) and eduyot ("testimonies"
or "commemorations", such as the
Shabbat and holidays). Through the
ages, various rabbinical authorities have classified some of the 613
commandments in many ways.
A different approach divides the laws into a different set of
Laws in relation to
God (bein adam laMakom, literally, "between a
person and the Place"), and
Laws about relations with other people (bein adam le-chavero,
literally, "between a person and his friend").
Within Talmudic literature, Jewish law is divided into the six orders
of the Mishnah, which are categories by proximate subject
Zeraim ("Seeds"), for agricultural laws and prayer
Moed ("Festival"), for the Sabbath and the Festivals
Nashim ("Women"), dealing primarily with marriage and divorce
Nezikin ("Damages"), for civil and criminal law
Kodashim ("Holy things"), for sacrifices and the dietary laws
Tohorot ("Purities"), for ritual purity.
However, Talmudic texts often deal with laws outside these apparent
subject categories. As a result, Jewish law came to be categorized in
other ways in the post-Talmudic period. In the major codes of Jewish
law, two other main categorization schemes are found. Maimonides'
Torah divides the laws into 14 sections. The codification
efforts that culminated in the
Shulchan Aruch divide the law into four
sections, including only laws that do not depend on being physically
present in the Land of Israel.
Judaism regards the violation of the commandments, the mitzvot, to be
a sin. The generic
Hebrew word for any kind of sin is aveira
("transgression"). Based on the
Judaism describes three
levels of sin:
Pesha – an "intentional sin"; an action committed in deliberate
defiance of God's commandments
Avon – a "sin of lust or uncontrollable emotion, committed against
one's will, and is not in line with one's true inner desires". It is a
sin done knowingly, but not done to defy God
Chet – an "unintentional sin"
Illustration in 1883 encyclopaedia of the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin
Relatedly, the three terms – chayyav, patur, mutar – in the Gemara
and Halakhic codes classify the permissibility of an action or the
severity of its prohibition and punishment.
Chayyav (חייב), (literally, "obligated" or "must") means the ones
who transgress the prohibition are responsible for their own criminal
actions, so ought to pay the price for them.
Patur (פטור) means "exempt" of liability to punishment, but the
action is forbidden.
Mutar (מותר) means the action is permitted.
Judaism understands that the vast majority of people, aside from those
who are termed
Tzadikim and those termed
Tzadikim gemurim (Hebrew:
צדיק, "the righteous" and "the completely righteous"), will
succumb to sin in their lives. A sin or a state of sin does not
condemn a person to damnation; a road of teshuva (Hebrew: תשובה;
repentance, literally: "return") is always present. For some classes
of people, this is exceedingly difficult, such as those who commit
adultery, as well as those who slander others.
In earlier days, when ancient
Jews had a functioning court system (the
beth din and the
Sanhedrin high court), courts were empowered to
administer physical punishments for various violations, upon
conviction by extremely high standards of evidence, far stricter than
those required in western courts today. These punishments included
execution, corporal punishment, incarceration, and excommunication.
However, since the fall of the Second Temple, executions have been
forbidden. Since the fall of the autonomous Jewish communities of
Europe, most other punishments also have been discontinued.
Today, then, one's accounts are reckoned solely by God. The Talmud
says that although courts capable of executing sinners no longer
exist, the prescribed penalties continue to be applied by Providence.
For instance, someone who has committed a sin punishable by stoning
might fall off a roof, or someone who ought to be executed by
strangulation might drown.
Gentiles and Jewish law
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The Seven Laws of Noah, also referred to as the Noahide Laws or the
Noachide Laws, are a set of imperatives which, according to the
Talmud, were given by
God as a binding set of laws for the "children
of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.
Sources and process
Eras of Jewish law
Tannaim (literally, the "repeaters") were rabbis living primarily
Eretz Yisrael who codified the Oral
Torah in the form of the
Mishnah. (0–200 C.E.)
Amoraim (literally, the "sayers") lived in both
Eretz Yisrael and
Babylonia. Their teachings and discussions were compiled into the two
versions of the Gemara. (200–500)
Savoraim (literally, the "reasoners") lived primarily in Sassanid
Babylonia due to the suppression of
Judaism in the Eastern Roman
Empire under Theodosius II. (500–650)
Geonim (literally, the "greats" or "geniuses") presided over the
two major Babylonian Academies of Sura and Pumbedita. (650–1038)
Rishonim (literally, the "firsts") are the rabbis of the late
medieval period (c. 1038–1563) preceding the Shulchan Aruch.
Acharonim (literally, the "lasts") are the rabbis from roughly
1500 to the present.
See also: Rabbinic literature
The development of halakha in the period before the Maccabees, which
has been described as the formative period in the history of its
development, is shrouded in obscurity. Y. Baer (in Zion, 17
(1951–52), 1–55) has argued that there was little pure academic
legal activity at this period and that many of the laws originating at
this time were produced by a means of neighbourly good conduct rules
in a similar way as carried out by Greeks in the age of Solon. For
example, the first chapter of Bava Kamma, contains a formulation of
the law of torts worded in the first person.:256
The boundaries of Jewish law are determined through the Halakhic
process, a religious-ethical system of legal reasoning. Rabbis
generally base their opinions on the primary sources of halakha as
well as on precedent set by previous rabbinic opinions. The major
sources and genre of halakha consulted include:
The foundational Talmudic literature (especially the
Mishna and the
Babylonian Talmud) with commentaries;
Talmudic hermeneutics: the science which defines the rules and methods
for the investigation and exact determination of the meaning of the
Scriptures; includes also the rules by which the Halakhot are derived
from and established by the written law. These may be seen as the
rules by which early Jewish law was derived.
Gemara – the Talmudic process of elucidating the halakha
The post-Talmudic codificatory literature, such as Maimonides's
Torah and the
Shulchan Aruch with its commentaries;
Regulations and other "legislative" enactments promulgated by rabbis
and communal bodies:
Gezeirah (literally, "declaration"): "preventative legislation" of the
rabbis, intended to prevent violations of the commandments
Takkanah (literally, "Repair", meaning also "Regulation"): "positive
legislation", practices instituted by the rabbis not based (directly)
on the commandments
Minhag: Customs, community practices, and customary law, as well as
the exemplary deeds of prominent (or local) rabbis;
The she'eloth u-teshuvoth (responsa, literally, "questions and
Dina d'malchuta dina (literally, "the law of the king is law"): an
additional aspect of halakha, being the principle recognizing
non-Jewish laws and non-Jewish legal jurisdiction as binding on Jewish
citizens, provided that they are not contrary to a law in Judaism.
This principle applies primarily in areas of commercial, civil and
In antiquity, the
Sanhedrin functioned essentially as the Supreme
Court and legislature (in the US judicial system) for Judaism, and had
the power to administer binding law, including both received law and
its own rabbinic decrees, on all Jews—rulings of the Sanhedrin
became halakha; see Oral law. That court ceased to function in its
full mode in 40 CE. Today, the authoritative application of Jewish law
is left to the local rabbi, and the local rabbinical courts, with only
local applicability. In branches of
Judaism that follow halakha, lay
individuals make numerous ad-hoc decisions, but are regarded as not
having authority to decide certain issues definitively.
Since the days of the Sanhedrin, however, no body or authority has
been generally regarded as having the authority to create universally
recognized precedents. As a result, halakha has developed in a
somewhat different fashion from Anglo-American legal systems with a
Court able to provide universally accepted precedents.
Generally, Halakhic arguments are effectively, yet unofficially,
peer-reviewed. When a rabbinic posek (literally, "he who makes a
statement", "decisor") proposes an additional interpretation of a law,
that interpretation may be considered binding for the posek's
questioner or immediate community. Depending on the stature of the
posek and the quality of the decision, an interpretation may also be
gradually accepted by other rabbis and members of other Jewish
Under this system there is a tension between the relevance of earlier
and later authorities in constraining Halakhic interpretation and
innovation. On the one hand, there is a principle in halakha not to
overrule a specific law from an earlier era, after it is accepted by
the community as a law or vow, unless supported by
another, relevant earlier precedent; see list below. On the other
hand, another principle recognizes the responsibility and authority of
later authorities, and especially the posek handling a then-current
question. In addition, the halakha embodies a wide range of principles
that permit judicial discretion and deviation (Ben-Menahem).
Notwithstanding the potential for innovation, rabbis and Jewish
communities differ greatly on how they make changes in halakha.
Notably, poskim frequently extend the application of a law to new
situations, but do not consider such applications as constituting a
"change" in halakha. For example, many Orthodox rulings concerning
electricity are derived from rulings concerning fire, as closing an
electrical circuit may cause a spark. In contrast, Conservative poskim
consider that switching on electrical equipment is physically and
chemically more like turning on a water tap (which is permissible by
halakha) than lighting a fire (which is not permissible), and
therefore permitted on Shabbat. The reformative
Judaism in some cases
explicitly interprets halakha to take into account its view of
contemporary society. For instance, most Conservative rabbis extend
the application of certain Jewish obligations and permissible
activities to women (see below).
Within certain Jewish communities, formal organized bodies do exist.
Modern Orthodox Judaism, there is no one committee or leader,
but Modern US-based Orthodox rabbis generally agree with the views set
by consensus by the leaders of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Within Conservative Judaism, the
Rabbinical Assembly has an official
Committee on Jewish
Law and Standards.
Note that Takkanot, the plural form of
Takkanah above, in general do
not affect or restrict observance of
Torah mitzvot. (In common
parlance sometimes people use the general term takkanah to refer
either gezeirot or takkanot.) However, the
Talmud states that in
exceptional cases, the Sages had the authority to "uproot matters from
the Torah". In Talmudic and classical Halakhic literature, this
authority refers to the authority to prohibit some things that would
otherwise be Biblically sanctioned (shev v'al ta'aseh, literally, thou
shall stay seated and not do). Rabbis may rule that a specific mitzvah
Torah should not be performed, e. g., blowing the shofar on
Shabbat, or taking the lulav and etrog on Shabbat. These examples of
takkanot which may be executed out of caution lest some might
otherwise carry the mentioned items between home and the synagogue,
thus inadvertently violating a Sabbath melakha. Another rare and
limited form of takkanah involved overriding
Torah prohibitions. In
some cases, the Sages allowed the temporary violation of a prohibition
in order to maintain the Jewish system as a whole. This was part of
the basis for Esther's relationship with
Ahasuerus (Xeres). For
general usage of takkanaot in
Jewish history see the article Takkanah.
For examples of this being used in Conservative Judaism, see
The antiquity of the rules can be determined only by the dates of the
authorities who quote them; in general, they cannot safely be declared
older than the tanna (from Aramaic, literally, "repeater") to whom
they are first ascribed. It is certain, however, that the seven middot
(literally, "measurements", and referring to [good] behavior) of
Hillel and the thirteen of Ishmael are earlier than the time of Hillel
himself, who was the first to transmit them.
Talmud gives no information concerning the origin of the middot,
Geonim ("Sages") regarded them as Sinaitic (given by God
to the people of
Israel at the time of the Sinai presence). Modern
historians believe that it is decidedly erroneous to consider the
middot as traditional from the time of
Moses on Sinai.
The middot seem to have been first laid down as abstract rules by the
teachers of Hillel, though they were not immediately recognized by all
as valid and binding. Different schools interpreted and modified them,
restricted or expanded them, in various ways. Akiba and Ishmael and
their scholars especially contributed to the development or
establishment of these rules. Akiba devoted his attention particularly
to the grammatical and exegetical rules, while Ishmael developed the
logical. The rules laid down by one school were frequently rejected by
another because the principles that guided them in their respective
formulations were essentially different. According to Akiba, the
divine language of the
Torah is distinguished from the speech of men
by the fact that in the former no word or sound is superfluous.
Some scholars have observed a similarity between these rabbinic rules
of interpretation and the hermeneutics of ancient Hellenistic culture.
For example, Saul Lieberman argues that the names of rabbi Ishmael's
middot (e. g., kal vahomer, literally, a combination of the archaic
form of the word for "straw" and the word for "clay" – "straw and
clay", referring to the obvious [means of making a mud brick]) are
Hebrew translations of Greek terms, although the methods of those
middot are not Greek in origin.
Talmud § Present day
Judaism holds that halakha is the divine law as laid out in
Torah (five books of Moses), rabbinical laws, rabbinical decrees,
and customs combined. The rabbis, who made many additions and
interpretations of Jewish Law, did so only in accordance with
regulations they believe were given for this purpose to
Moses on Mount
Sinai, see Deuteronomy 17:11. See Orthodox Judaism, Beliefs about
Jewish law and tradition.
Judaism holds that halakha is normative and binding, and
is developed as a partnership between people and
God based on Sinaitic
Torah. While there are a wide variety of Conservative views, a common
belief is that halakha is, and has always been, an evolving process
subject to interpretation by rabbis in every time period. See
Conservative Judaism, Beliefs.
Judaism and Reconstructionist
Judaism both hold that modern
views of how the
Torah and rabbinic law developed imply that the body
of rabbinic Jewish law is no longer normative (seen as binding) on
Jews today. Those in the traditionalist wing of these movements
believe that the halakha represents a personal starting-point, holding
that each Jew is obligated to interpret the Torah,
Talmud and other
Jewish works for themselves, and this interpretation will create
separate commandments for each person.
Those in the liberal and classical wings of Reform believe that in
this day and era, most Jewish religious rituals are no longer
necessary, and many hold that following most Jewish laws is actually
counter-productive. They propose that
Judaism has entered a phase of
ethical monotheism, and that the laws of
Judaism are only remnants of
an earlier stage of religious evolution, and need not be followed.
This is considered wrong, and even heretical, by Orthodox and
Jews value the
Torah as a historical, political, and
sociological text written by their ancestors. They do not believe
"that every word of the
Torah is true, or even morally correct, just
Torah is old". The
Torah is both disagreed with and
Jews believe that the entire Jewish experience,
and not only the Torah, should be studied as a source for Jewish
behavior and ethical values.
Despite its internal rigidity, halakha has a degree of flexibility in
finding solutions to modern problems that are not explicitly mentioned
in the Torah. From the very beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism, halakhic
inquiry allowed for a "sense of continuity between past and present, a
self-evident trust that their pattern of life and belief now conformed
to the sacred patterns and beliefs presented by scripture and
tradition". According to an analysis by Jewish scholar
Jeffrey Rubenstein of Michael Berger’s book Rabbinic Authority, the
authority that rabbis hold “derives not from the institutional or
personal authority of the sages but from a communal decision to
recognize that authority, much as a community recognizes a certain
judicial system to resolve its disputes and interpret its
laws.” Given this covenental relationship, rabbis are
charged with connecting their contemporary community with the
traditions and precedents of the past.
When presented with contemporary issues, rabbis go through a halakhic
process to find an answer. The classical approach has permitted new
rulings regarding modern technology. For example, some of these
rulings guide Jewish observers about the proper use of electricity on
the Sabbath and holidays. Often, as to the applicability of the law in
any given situation, the proviso is to "consult your local rabbi or
posek". This notion lends rabbis a certain degree of local authority;
however, for more complex questions the issue is passed onto higher
rabbis who will then issue a teshuvot, which is a responsa that is
binding. Indeed, rabbis will continuously issue different
opinions and will constantly review each other's work so as to
maintain the truest sense of halakha. Overall, this process allows
rabbis to maintain connection of traditional Jewish law to modern
life. Of course, the degree of flexibility depends on the sect of
Judaism, with Reform being the most flexible, Conservative somewhat in
the middle, and Orthodox being much more stringent and rigid. Modern
critics, however, have charged that with the rise of movements that
challenge the "divine" authority of halakha, traditional
greater reluctance to change, not only the laws themselves but also
other customs and habits, than traditional Rabbinical
prior to the advent of Reform in the 19th century.
Hasidim walk to the synagogue, Rehovot, Israel.
Jews believe that halakha is a religious system whose core
represents the revealed will of God. Although Orthodox Judaism
acknowledges that rabbis have made many decisions and decrees
Law where the written
Torah itself is nonspecific,
they did so only in accordance with regulations received by
Mount Sinai (see Deuteronomy 5:8–13). These regulations were
transmitted orally until shortly after the destruction of the Second
Temple. They were then recorded in the Mishnah, and explained in the
Talmud and commentaries throughout history up until the present day.
Judaism believes that subsequent interpretations have been
derived with the utmost accuracy and care. The most widely accepted
codes of Jewish law are known as Mishneh
Torah and the Shulchan
Judaism has a range of opinions on the circumstances and
extent to which change is permissible. Haredi
Jews generally hold that
even minhagim (customs) must be retained, and existing precedents
cannot be reconsidered.
Modern Orthodox authorities are more inclined
to permit limited changes in customs and some reconsideration of
Further information: Conservative halakha
A mixed-gender, egalitarian Conservative service at Robinson's Arch,
The view held by Conservative
Judaism is that the
Torah is not the
God in a literal sense. However, the
Torah is still held as
mankind's record of its understanding of God's revelation, and thus
still has divine authority. Therefore, halakha is still seen as
Jews use modern methods of historical study to
learn how Jewish law has changed over time, and are, in some cases,
willing to change Jewish law in the present.
A key practical difference between Conservative and Orthodox
approaches is that Conservative
Judaism holds that its rabbinical
body's powers are not limited to reconsidering later precedents based
on earlier sources, but the Committee on Jewish
Law and Standards
(CJLS) is empowered to override Biblical and Taanitic prohibitions by
takkanah (decree) when perceived to be inconsistent with modern
requirements or views of ethics. The CJLS has used this power on a
number of occasions, most famously in the "driving teshuva", which
says that if someone is unable to walk to any synagogue on the
Sabbath, and their commitment to observance is so loose that not
attending synagogue may lead them to drop it altogether, their rabbi
may give them a dispensation to drive there and back; and more
recently in its decision prohibiting the taking of evidence on Mamzer
status on the grounds that implementing such a status is immoral. The
CJLS has also held that the Talmudic concept of
Kavod HaBriyot permits
lifting rabbinic decrees (as distinct from carving narrow exceptions)
on grounds of human dignity, and used this principle in a December
2006 opinion lifting all rabbinic prohibitions on homosexual conduct
(the opinion held that only male-male anal sex was forbidden by the
Bible and that this remained prohibited). Conservative
made a number of changes to the role of women in
counting women in a minyan, permitting women to chant from
the Torah, and ordaining women as rabbis.
The Conservative approach to halachic interpretation can be seen in
the CJLS's acceptance of
Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz's responsum decreeing
the biblical category of mamzer as "inoperative." The CJLS
adopted the responsum's view that the "morality which we learn through
the larger, unfolding narrative of our tradition" informs the
application of Mosaic law. The responsum cited several
examples of how the rabbinic sages declined to enforce punishments
explicitly mandated by
Torah law. The examples include the trial of
the accused adulteress (sotah), the "law of breaking the neck of the
heifer," and the application of the death penalty for the "rebellious
child." Kaplan Spitz argues that the punishment of the
mamzer has been effectively inoperative for nearly two thousand years
due to deliberate rabbinic inaction. Further he suggested that the
rabbis have long regarded the punishment declared by the
immoral, and came to the conclusion that no court should agree to hear
testimony on mamzerut.
Codes of Jewish law
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There are many formal codes of Jewish law that have developed over the
past two thousand years. These codes have influenced, and in turn,
have been influenced by, the responsa; History of
provides an informative complement to the survey below. The
Talmud are not formal codes of law - they are sources of law.
The major works in the codification of Jewish law:
The Mishnah, composed by rabbi Judah the Prince, in 200 CE, as a
basic outline of the state of the Oral
Law in his time. This was the
framework upon which the
Talmud was based; the Talmud's dialectic
analysis of the content of the
Mishna (gemara; completed c. 500)
became the basis for all later halakhic decisions and subsequent
Codifications by the
Geonim of the halakhic material in the Talmud.
An early work, She'iltot ("Questions") by Achai of Shabcha
(c. 752), discusses over 190 mitzvot – exploring and addressing
various questions on these.
The first legal codex proper, Halakhot Pesukot ("Decided Laws"), by
Yehudai Gaon (c. 760), rearranges the
Talmud passages in a
structure manageable to the layman. (It was written in vernacular
Aramaic, and subsequently translated into
Hebrew as Hilkhot Riu).
Halakhot Gedolot ("Great
Law Book"), by R. Simeon Kayyara,
published two generations later, contains extensive additional
material, mainly from
Responsa and Monographs of the Geonim, and is
presented in a form that is closer to the original
Talmud language and
structure. (Probably since it was distributed, also, amongst the newly
Ashkenazi communities.) The She'iltot was influential on
both subsequent works.
The Hilchot of the Rif, rabbi
Isaac Alfasi (1013–1103), summations
of the legal material in the Talmud. Alfasi transcribed the Talmud's
halakhic conclusions verbatim, without the surrounding deliberation;
he also excludes all aggadic (non-legal, homiletic) matter. The
Hilchot soon superseded the geonic codes, as it contained all the
decisions and laws then relevant, and additionally, served as an
accessible Talmudic commentary; it has been printed with almost every
subsequent edition of the Talmud.
Maimonides (1135–1204). This work encompasses
the full range of Talmudic law; it is organized and reformulated in a
logical system – in 14 books, 83 sections and 1000 chapters – with
each halakha stated clearly. The Mishneh
Torah is very influential to
this day, and several later works reproduce passages verbatim. It also
includes a section on
Metaphysics and fundamental beliefs. (Some claim
this section draws heavily on Aristotelian science and metaphysics;
others suggest that it is within the tradition of Saadia Gaon.) It is
the main source of practical halakha for many Yemenite
Jews – mainly
Dor Daim – as well as for a growing community referred to
as talmidei haRambam.
The work of the Rosh, rabbi
Asher ben Jehiel (1250?/1259?–1328), an
abstract of the Talmud, concisely stating the final halakhic decision
and quoting later authorities, notably Alfasi, Maimonides, and the
Tosafists. This work superseded rabbi Alfasi's and has been printed
with almost every subsequent edition of the Talmud.
Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (The "SeMaG") of rabbi
Coucy (first half of the 13th century, Coucy, Northern France).
"SeMaG" is organised around the 365 negative and the 248 positive
commandments, separately discussing each of them according to the
Talmud (in light of the commentaries of
Rashi and the Tosafot) and the
other codes existent at the time.
Sefer Mitzvot Katan ("SeMaK") by
Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil is an abridgement of the SeMaG, including
additional practical halakha, as well as agaddic and ethical material.
"The Mordechai" – by Mordecai ben Hillel, d.
Nuremberg 1298 –
serves both as a source of analysis, as well of decided law. Mordechai
considered about 350 halakhic authorities, and was widely influential,
particularly amongst the
Ashkenazi and Italian communities. Although
organised around the Hilchot of the Rif, it is, in fact, an
independent work. It has been printed with every edition of the Talmud
An illuminated manuscript of
Arba'ah Turim from 1435.
Arba'ah Turim (The Tur, lit. "The Four Columns") by rabbi Jacob
ben Asher (1270–1343, Toledo, Spain). This work traces the halakha
Torah text and the
Talmud through the Rishonim, with the
Hilchot of Alfasi as its starting point. Ben Asher followed
Maimonides's precedent in arranging his work in a topical order,
however, the Tur covers only those areas of Jewish law that were in
force in the author's time. The code is divided into four main
sections; almost all codes since this time have followed the Tur's
arrangement of material.
Orach Chayim: "The Way of Life" worship and ritual observance in the
home and synagogue, through the course of the day, the weekly sabbath
and the festival cycle.
Yoreh De'ah: "Teach Knowledge" assorted ritual prohibitions, dietary
laws and regulations concerning menstrual impurity.
Even Ha'ezer: "The Rock of the Helpmate" marriage, divorce and other
issues in family law.
Choshen Mishpat: "The Breastplate of Judgement" The administration and
adjudication of civil law.
The Beit Yosef, and the
Shulchan Aruch of rabbi Yosef Karo
(1488–1575). The Beit Yosef is a huge commentary on the Tur in which
rabbi Karo traces the development of each law from the
later rabbinical literature (examining thirty-two authorities,
beginning with the
Talmud and ending with the works of rabbi Israel
Shulchan Aruch is, in turn, a condensation of the Beit
Yosef – stating each ruling simply (literally translated, Shulchan
Aruch means "set table"); this work follows the chapter divisions of
the Tur. The Shulchan Aruch, together with its related commentaries,
is considered by many to be the most authoritative compilation of
halakha since the Talmud. In writing the Shulchan Aruch, rabbi Karo
based his rulings on three authorities – Maimonides, Asher ben
Jehiel (Rosh), and
Isaac Alfasi (Rif); he considered the Mordechai in
inconclusive cases. Sephardic Jews, generally, refer to the Shulchan
Aruch as the basis for their daily practice.
The works of
Moshe Isserles ("Rema"; Kraków, Poland, 1525 to
1572). Isserles noted that the
Shulchan Aruch was based on the
Sephardic tradition, and he created a series of glosses to be appended
to the text of the Shulkhan Aruch for cases where
Ashkenazi customs differed (based on the works of Yaakov Moelin,
Israel Isserlein, and
Israel Bruna). The glosses are called Hamapah
("the Tablecloth"). His comments are now incorporated into the body
of all printed editions of the Shulchan Aruch, typeset in a different
script; today, "Shulchan Aruch" refers to the combined work of Karo
and Isserles. Isserles' Darkhei Moshe is similarly a commentary on the
Tur and the Beit Yosef.
The Levush Malkhut ("Levush") of
Mordecai Yoffe (c.
1530–1612). A ten volume work, five discussing halakha at a level
"midway between the two extremes: the lengthy Beit Yosef of Karo on
the one hand, and on the other Karo's
Shulchan Aruch together with the
Mappah of Isserles, which is too brief", that particularly stresses
the customs and practices of the
Jews of Eastern Europe. The Levush
was exceptional among the codes, in that it treated certain Halakhot
from a Kabbalistic standpoint.
Shulchan Aruch HaRav of
Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi (c. 1800) was
an attempt to re-codify the law as it stood at that time –
incorporating commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, and subsequent
responsa – and thus stating the decided halakha, as well as the
underlying reasoning. The work was written partly so that laymen
would be able to study Jewish law. Unfortunately, most of the work
was lost in a fire prior to publication. It is the basis of practice
Chabad-Lubavitch and other Hasidic groups and is quoted as
authoritative by many subsequent works, Hasidic and non-Hasidic alike.
Works structured directly on the Shulchan Aruch, providing analysis in
light of Acharonic material and codes:
Mishnah Berurah of rabbi Yisroel Meir ha-Kohen, (the "Chofetz
Chaim", Poland, 1838–1933) is a commentary on the "Orach Chayim"
section of the Shulchan Aruch, discussing the application of each
halakha in light of all subsequent Acharonic decisions. It has become
the authoritative halakhic guide for much of Orthodox Ashkenazic Jewry
in the postwar period.
Aruch HaShulchan by rabbi
Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829–1888) is a
scholarly analysis of halakha through the perspective of the major
Rishonim. The work follows the structure of the Tur and the Shulchan
Aruch; rules dealing with vows, agriculture, and ritual purity, are
discussed in a second work known as
Aruch HaShulchan he'Atid.
Kaf HaChaim on
Orach Chayim and parts of Yoreh De'ah, by the Sephardi
Yaakov Chaim Sofer
Yaakov Chaim Sofer (
Baghdad and Jerusalem, 1870–1939) is
similar in scope, authority and approach to the
Mishnah Berurah. This
work also surveys the views of many kabbalistic sages (particularly
Isaac Luria), when these impact the Halakha.
Yalkut Yosef, by rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, is a voluminous, widely cited
and contemporary work of halakha, based on the rulings of rabbi Ovadia
Layman-oriented digests of halakha:
Shulchan Aruch of
Shlomo Ganzfried (Hungary
1804–1886), based on the very strict Hungarian customs of the 19th
century, became immensely popular after its publication due to its
simplicity. This work is not binding in the same way as the Mishneh
Torah or the Shulchan Aruch. It is still popular in Orthodox Judaism
as a framework for study, if not always for practice.
Chayei Adam and
Chochmat Adam by
Avraham Danzig (Poland, 1748–1820)
Ashkenazi works regarded as a more appropriate basis for
Ben Ish Chai
Ben Ish Chai by Yosef Chaim (Baghdad, 1832–1909) is a
collection of the laws on everyday life interspersed with mystical
insights and customs, addressed to the masses and arranged by the
Torah portion. Its wide circulation has seen it become a
standard reference work in
Peninei Halachah by
Eliezer Melamed (15 volumes thus far) covers
a wide range of subjects, from
Shabbat to organ donations, and in
addition to clearly posing the practical law - reflecting the customs
of various communities - also discusses the spiritual foundations of
Temimei Haderech ("A Guide To Jewish Religious Practice") by rabbi
Isaac Klein with contributions from the Committee on Jewish
Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly. This scholarly work is based on
the previous traditional law codes, but written from a Conservative
Jewish point of view, and not accepted among Orthodox Jews.
Jewish medical ethics
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Menachem Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (trans. Jewish Law: History,
Sources, Principles ISBN 0-8276-0389-4); Jewish Publication
Society ISBN 0-8276-0537-4
Jacob Katz, Divine
Law in Human Hands – Case Studies in Halakhic
Flexibility, Magnes Press. ISBN 965-223-980-1
Moshe Koppel, "Meta-Halakhah: Logic, Intuition, and the Unfolding of
Jewish Law", ISBN 1-56821-901-6
Mendell Lewittes, Jewish Law: An Introduction, Jason Aronson.
Daniel Pollack ed., Contrasts in American and Jewish Law, Ktav.
Emanuel Quint, A Restatement of Rabbinic Civil
Law (11 vols), Gefen
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0-87668-396-0, 0-87668-197-6, 1-56821-167-8, 1-56821-319-0,
Emanuel Quint, Jewish Jurisprudence: Its Sources & Modern
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Joel Roth, Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis, Jewish Theological
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Wikiquote has quotations related to: Halakha
Full-text resources of major halakhic works
Hebrew: mechon-mamre.org; wikisource
Hebrew: chassidus.org at the Wayback Machine (archived June 24,
Translation: wikisource (incomplete); shulchanarach.com (incomplete)
Shulchan Aruch HaRav
Hebrew: wikisource; chabadlibrary.org
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
Hebrew: www.kitzur.net; shofar.net; wikisource
Translation: Yona Newman (100% complete); torah.org (incomplete)
Ben Ish Chai
Hebrew: wikisource; shechem.org
Hebrew: hebrewbooks.org (volume 1; others available via search on
Hebrew: wikisource; mishnaberura.com (With
A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice:
Archived June 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
A Halacha Wiki
Halakha (Jewish religious law)Ethics
Chillul Hashem (Desecration of God's name)
Geneivat da'at (Theft of the mind)
Gezel sheina (Theft of sleep)
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Lashon hara (Derogatory information)
Lifnei iver (Stumbling block in front of the blind)
You shall not murder
Bemeizid, beshogeg, and beones
B'rov am hadrat melech
Dina d'malkhuta dina
D'Oraita and D'Rabbanan
One commandment leads to another
Osek b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah
Toch k'dei dibur
Yad soledet bo
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