The Shulchan Aruch Harav: Background

 

The Shulchan Aruch Harav: Background of why it was written and why we follow his rulings
 
Historical background:[1]
The Shulchan Aruch Harav, also known as the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, or Shulchan Aruch Admur Hazakein; was written by Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
Its initiation: The Maggid of Mezritch was encouraged by the heavenly courts to search amongst his students for a proper candidate to compile a new Shulchan Aruch.[2] The Maggid of Mezritch chose the Alter Rebbe to write this compilation.[3]
When was it written: It was written anywhere between the years 1765-1775.[4] Some[5] prove that the section of Orach Chaim was written in the years 1771-1772. The Rebbe Rayatz writes[6] that the Maggid asked Admur to write the Shulchan Aruch when he was 21 years old.[7] The other sections of the Shulchan Aruch were written at a later time. An exact date has not been historically proven.[8]
How long did it take to write?[9] The section of Orach Chaim was written by Admur in a span of two years.
When was it printed? The Shulchan Aruch was first printed in its entirety after the Alter Rebbe passed away, in the year 1816.[10] Certain sections of the Shulchan Aruch were printed beforehand. Hilchos Talmud Torah was printed in Shklov in the year 1794.[11]
The name “Shulchan Aruch Harav”: The source for this name “Shulchan Aruch Harav” is seemingly based on the title of “Rav” that was given to Admur by the students of the Maggid and the Maggid himself. The following is the story related to the giving of this title:[12] The Maggid once told Reb Zusha “write to our Gaon Reb Zalmana Litvak to come here”. Upon the students hearing that the Maggid referred to the Alter Rebbe as our Gaon, they gave him the  title “Rav”. When Reb Avraham Hamalach told this over to his father the Maggid, the Maggid replied “The Chevraya Kadisha have projected the truth in this statement. A name has meaning and the Halacha is like Rav. The Shulchan Aruch of the Rav will be accepted within all of Jewry.”
 
The purpose of its compilation and its necessity over the Shulchan Aruch of the Michaber:
The compilation of the new Shulchan Aruch was to serve a dual purpose:

  1. To arbitrate between the many Halachic opinions that developed since the printing of the Shulchan Aruch of the Michaber.[13]
  2. To explain the reasons behind the Halachas, hence lending the learner the ability to compare the reason to similar cases and hence come to a proper Rabbinical decision.[14]

 
The burning of the manuscripts:[15]
In the year 1810 the original manuscripts of the entire Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch were destroyed in a fire that broke out in Liadi.[16] The Alter Rebbe cried bitterly over this loss, and did not imagine he would get such Divine retribution. It is for this reason that many chapters, and selected laws within chapters, are missing from the available print, as the Shulchan Aruch was never formally printed until after the Alter Rebbe passed away, and by that time only copies, of parts of the original, remained.
 
Following the rulings of Shulchan Aruch Harav:[17]
Chabad Chassidim have accepted the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch Harav for all matters, whether for leniency or stringency. This applies even if majority of codifiers argue on his opinion. This is similar to those who follow the opinion of the Rambam [or Michaber] and do not divert from his opinion. The Maggid stated that the four cubits of Halacha are dependent on the Alter Rebbe and that even the first thought of the Alter Rebbe in a given topic is a glimmer of Divine spirit [Ruach Hakodesh].[18] His rulings and arbitrations are considered as if they were given on Sinai.[19] The Tzaddik, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchiv writes[20] as follows: I testify heaven and earth that if the Alter Rebbe were alive in the times of the Rif and Rambam he would be considered like one of their contemporaries etc. His “words of gold” is literally like the words of the Rif and Rambam of blessed memory.”

 


[1] See the following resources for historical background of the Shulchan Aruch Harav: Hakdama of Shulchan Aruch Harav, written by the children of Admur; Sifrei Halacha Shel Admur Hazakein; Sefer Hatoldos.
[2] To note that the Gr”a also intended on writing a Shulchan Aruch with all of his final rulings, bringing only one opinion. However this did not come into fruition being the Gr”a testified that he did not have heavenly permission to do so. [Hakdama of Biur Hagr”a written by his children] However the Maggid received Divine consent and motivation to write a new Shulchan Aruch. [Sifrei Halacha Shel Admur Hazakein p. 7 footnote 1; Talpiyos 4/1-2 p. 184 in name of the Admur of Radzin]
[3] Igros Kodesh Admur Hazakein [printed in Maggid Dvarav Leyaakov Hosafos p.47]; Hakdama on Shulchan Aruch Harav, written by the children of Admur. The Maggid stated that the four cubits of Halacha are dependent on the Alter Rebbe and that even the first thought of the Alter Rebbe in a given topic is a glimmer of Divine spirit [Ruach Hakodesh]. [Letter of Maggid printed in Sefer Hatoldos p. 36]
[4] It is unclear as to exactly which year Admur began writing the Shulchan Aruch. The above years are the estimated years of when it was written. [See Sifrei Halacha Shel Admur Hazakein p. 9] Many say that the writing of the Shulchan Aruch was begun by Admur at the age of 25. Accordingly the beginning of the writing of the Shulchan Aruch would have begun in 1770. This is five years after the Alter Rebbe arrived in Mezritch. [He arrived in Mezritch for the first time at the age of 20 -Hakdama of Shulchan Aruch written by the children of Admur; Igros Kodesh Admur Hazakein 2/32; See also Beis Rebbe 2/1; Likutei Dibburim 3/483.] The year that the Alter Rebbe arrived in Mezritch was 1764. [Rebbe in Hagada Shel Pesach “Bedikas Chameitz”]
[5] Footnote 16-17 in Hakdama of new Kehos printing.
[6] Sefer Hasichos 1929 Sukkos brought in Sefer Hatoldos 3 p. 161
[7] Accordingly it was written in the year 1765-1767. Vetzaruch Iyun
[8] See Sifrei Halacha Shel Admur Hazakein p. 9-10
[9] Hakdama of Shulchan Aruch Harav, written by the children of Admur.
[10] Prior to that time the Chassidim had many hand written copies of the Shulchan Aruch. However it was not printed in a formal book. [Piskeiy Hassidur introduction ]
[11] Sefer Hatoldos p. 33
[12] Likkutei Dibburim 1 p. 100-101
[13] Hakdama of Shulchan Aruch Harav, written by the children of Admur.
After the compilation of the Shulchan Aruch of the Michaber a number of dissenting opinions over various Halachas were voiced and later compiled as part of the Shulchan Aruch. These commentaries include the Magen Avraham; Taz; Elya Raba; Levush; ChokYaakov; Shvus Yaakov; Olas Tamid; Bach; Ateres Zekeinim; Soles Belula; Peri Chadash; Tevuos Shur; Beir Heiytiv; Kreisy Upleisiy. This left the reader with an inability of knowing how he should practically follow. Thus the Alter Rebbe was given the great task of sifting through all the opinions, learning all the laws in extreme depth from their Talmudic sources and then handing down an authoritative decision regarding which opinion to follow.[ibid]
[14] Hakdama of Shulchan Aruch Harav; Sifrei Halacha Shel Admur Hazakein p. 31-32; Likutei Sichos 6 p. 40; Hilchos Talmud Torah Admur 1/6; 2/1.
[15] See Sifrei Halacha Shel Admur Hazakein p. 28
[16] Mittler Rebbe in Igros Kodesh p. 225; Hakdama of Shulchan Aruch Harav by the sons of Admur mentions two fires that destroyed the manuscripts. Perhaps this refers to the fire that broke out in 1813 when Admur was running away from Napoleon.
The Shulchan Aruch of the Mittler Rebbe: To note that the Mittler Rebbe, the son of the Alter Rebbe, likewise wrote a Shulchan Aruch on all four sections of the Tur. Likewise he wrote a lengthy commentary on the Shulchan Aruch of his father. Nevertheless these manuscripts never made it to print and were lost over the years. [Migdal Oz p. 80 as told by the son of the Rebbe Maharash, Rebbe Menachem Mendal]
[17] Hakdama of Ketzos Hashulchan; See Divrei Nechemia Yoreh Deah 1
[18] Letter of Maggid printed in Sefer Hatoldos p. 36
[19] Letter of Maggid printed in Maggid Dvarav Leyaakov Hosafos p. 100
[20] Brought in Piskeiy Hassidur ibid

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