Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rav Moshe Isserles

There's another yahrtzeit on Lag b'Omer that seems to get overshadowed in all the festivities surrounding Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai: that of Rav Moshe Isserles, known as the Rema.

The Rema lived in Krakow, and initially wrote a sefer called Darchei Moshe, a commentary on the Tur as well as the Beit Yosef on the Tur. His intention was to take this commentary and restructure it to be a definitive work on contemporary halacha by codifying the Tur's rulings and taking into consideration other notable arbiters of halacha.

In the meantime, the author of the Beit Yosef  commentary on the Tur, Rabbi Yosef Karo, was doing the same thing, distilling the halacha so to speak by codifying the law in a process that drew from three major medieval poskim - the RaMBaM,  Rav Yitzchak Alfasi (the Rif, whose commentary to the Talmud is printed in the back of nearly every edition of the Talmud), and Rabbeinu Asher (the Rosh, father of Rabbi Ya'akov ben Asher the author of the Tur). When the Rema found out that the Beit Yosef was engaged in a similar project, he decided to adapt his own work into a gloss on what would come to be known as the Shulchan Aruch (the "Prepared Table"), commenting in places where Ashkenazic (Germanic and Western Jews) and Sephardic (Eastern and oriental Jews) practice and customs differed.

The Rema's Mapah ("tablecloth" - get it?) to the Shulchan Aruch is not only an essential element of contemporary halacha. It is also an astounding lesson in humility and unity.

By putting his personal needs aside, the Rema gave us an amazing gift: a single contemporary source that is accepted universally by Jewry, no matter the background. This is truly inspiring.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu!

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