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The Shulchan Aruch ("Set Table") is a compendium of those areas of the halachah -- Jewish religious law -- that are applicable today. It was composed by Rabbi Yosef Karo of Safed (Israel) in the 1560's, and became generally accepted as authoritative after Rabbi Moshe Isserls of Cracow (Poland) supplemented it in the 1570's with notes (known as the Mappah - "Tablecloth") giving the rulings followed by Ashkenazic Jews.

The Shulchan Aruch consists of four parts:

  • Orach Chayim ("Way of Life") - Daily, Sabbath, and holiday laws

  • Yoreh De'ah ("It Teaches Knowledge") - Laws about food; relations with non-Jews; usury; menstruation and immersion; vows and oaths; honoring parents and scholars; Torah study; charity; circumcision; proselytes and slaves; Torah and doorpost scrolls; new crops; mixtures; firstborn; offerings from bread, crops, and flocks; the ban; illness, death, burial, and mourning.

  • Even Ha-Ezer ("Stone of Help") - Laws of procreation, marriage, and divorce

  • Choshen Mishpat ("Breastplate of Judgment") - Laws about judges and witnesses; loans and claims; agents, partners and neighbors; acquisition, purchases and gifts; legacies and inheritance; lost and found property; depositing, renting, and borrowing; theft, robbery, damage and injury.

The purpose of this course is to present a summary of the contents of the Shulchan Aruch which can serve as an introduction to further study. (References to chapter and paragraph numbers (x:y) in the Shulchan Aruch are given throughout.) The summary is based entirely on the Shulchan Aruch and Mappah themselves (usually following the latter when they differ) and emphasizes general principles; it omits many details and does not include rulings given in the commentaries or in later codes.

It should be stressed that the statements in a summary must not be interpreted as halachic rulings no matter how definitively they are worded. When such rulings are needed a qualified rabbi must be consulted.

The course will be presented by Rabbi Dr. Azriel Rosenfeld, who received Rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. He is Director of the Center for Automation Research at the University of Maryland in College Park and a past President of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. He is the author of our popular Halacha-overview course, which is based on the Rambam's comprehensive code Mishneh Torah.

Subscribe to Shulchan Aruch and receive the weekly class via e-mail.

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