Throughout the study of Semicha one becomes acquainted with various names of Sefarim and Poskim. Many students do not have even a basic familiarity of these Sefarim, their authors, and their chronology. An attempt to fully cover the background of these Sefarim and authors would require a thorough essay and treatise on each one of these celebrated Sages. Nevertheless we will attempt to give a basic outline of the major Sages that are mentioned throughout this Sefer which are the foundation of the final Halachic rulings accepted amongst Jewry.
The Shulchan Aruch:
The Shulchan Aruch was written by Rabbi Yosef Karo. He was born in Spain in the year 1488 and later lived in Bulgaria and Tzefas. He wrote a commentary on the Rambam called Kesef Mishneh. Afterwards he wrote a commentary on the Tur called the “Beis Yosef”. The purpose of this commentary was to summarize all the opinions of a given topic in order to arbitrate a final ruling. He wrote the Shulchan Aruch as a book of final rulings that resulted from the research written in his commentary the Beis Yosef. He arbitrated his rulings in accordance to the majority opinion between the three major Rishonim, pillars of Halacha, the Rosh; Rif and Rambam. In general [although with exceptions] the Michaber in his rulings did not take into account the opinions of Rashi; Tosafus; and other great Rishonim and Achronim, in a case that two of the three pillars of Halacha stated otherwise. His rulings in the Shulchan Aruch are commonly referred to as “the Michaber” or “the author”. His rulings are the pillar of Halacha for Sephardic Jewry. He also wrote responses to Halachic questions in a Sefer called Avkas Rochel. He wrote the Sefer Maggid Meisharim which includes the teachings of his angelic teacher “the Maggid”.
The Rama was born in Krakow, Poland in the year 1520 and was a comrade of the Mahrshal and Mahral of Prague. The Rama [Rabbi Moshe Issurlis] wrote the glosses on the Shulchan Aruch. These glosses are customarily called the “Mapah” and are based on the rulings of the pillars of Ashkenazi Jewry: Rashi; Tosafus; Oar Zarua; Shaareiy Dura, Issur Viheter, Mahril, Terumos Hadeshen, Hagahos Sheid; Iggur; Aguda [1400-1550]. The primary purpose of the rulings of the Rama was to bring the rulings of the Ashekanzi Rishonim and Achronim into the equation of the final ruling of Halacha, in contrast to the rulings of the Michaber which based his rulings mainly on the Rambam; Rif and Rosh. He also wrote a commentary on the Tur called “Darkei Moshe” which its purpose was to summarize the opinions of a given topic. He also wrote a compilation on the laws of Kashrus called Toras Chatas, which corresponds to the order of the Sefer Issur Viheter and Shaareiy Dora.
The Shach [Rabbi Shabsi Kohen] was born in the year 1622. He wrote a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch called Sifsei Koehn which is formally called “Shach”. His commentary serves as an explanation and critique of the rulings of the Michaber and Rama and other contemporary Poskim of the previous era. He publicized his Sefer in 1646 at the age of 24. That same year the Sefer Turei Zahav of the Taz was published and the two authors had various disputes in Halachic matters, at times face to face. The Shach wrote his arguments against the rulings of the Taz in a Sefer called Nekudos Hakesef and Kuntrus Achron. The Taz was already an elder Rav of that generation when the Shach publicized his commentary at the age of 24. The commentary of the Shach was written with Ruach Hakodesh.
The Taz [Rabbi David Halevi Segal] was born in the year 1586. He wrote a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch called the Turei Zahav which is formally abbreviated as “Taz”. His commentary serves as an explanation and critique of the rulings of the Michaber and Rama and other contemporary Poskim of the previous era. He publicized his Sefer in 1646. His father-in-law was the Bach. The Taz wrote his arguments against the rulings of the Shach in a Sefer called Daf Haachron. The commentary of the Taz was written with Ruach Hakodesh.
The Bach [Rabbi Yoel Surkish] was born in the year 1561. He wrote a commentary on the Tur. His commentary serves as an explanation and critique of the rulings of the Tur and Beis Yosef. The Taz [which was his son-in-law] and Shach entwined his rulings in their commentary, at times consenting with his rulings and at times disagreeing.
The Rashal [Rabbi Shlomo Luria] was born in Poland in the year 1510. He wrote a number of Sefarim in Halacha mainly known as Yam Shel Shlomo; Chochmas Shlomo; Mechonos-Ateres Shlomo. The Taz and Shach entwined his rulings in their commentary, at times consenting with his rulings and at times disagreeing.
How do we rule in case a case of dispute?
Sefaradim: Sefaradim in general follow the rulings of the Michaber over that of the Rama, Shach and Taz, whether to be lenient or stringent. However there are instances that they are also stringent like their opinion. The final Halachic rulings for Sefaradim are compiled in the Sefer Kaf Hachaim and are based on the famous Sefardi Poskim such as the Peri Chadash; Ben Ish Chaiy; Zivcheiy Tzedek; Shulchan Gavoa; Birchei Yosef.
Ashkenazim: Ashkenazim always follow the Rama over the Michaber. Regarding how to follow in a dispute between the Shach and Taz, in 1683 the Vaad of the four lands decreed that one is to follow the Taz over the Shach. Nevertheless Polish Jewry later accepted the rulings of the Shach over the Taz. Practically there is no clear rule in this regard and one is to look into the later Achronim for a final arbitration. These Sefarim include the Peri Megadim, Aruch Hashulchan, Chavas Daas, Kreisy Upleisiy, Yad Yehuda, Chochmas Adam, Darkei Teshuvah, Kaf Hachaim. More than all the above it is the traditional Rabbinical rulings that are handed down from Rabbi to Rabbi which serve as a final arbitration for how one is to rule. This can only be received through doing Shimush [apprenticeship] by a Rav who has received this tradition of Halachic ruling from the previous generation.