The Hayei Adam

The works of Rabbi Abraham Danzig.

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Reprinted with permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

Born in 1748 in Danzig Germany, Rabbi Abraham Danzig studied with Rabbis Joseph Lieberman and Ezekiel Landau (Nodah Byehudah). After his marriage, Rabbi Danzig relocated to the city of Vilna, the home of the famed Elijah (The Vilna Gaon). He served from 1794 to 1812 as dayan (rabbinical judge).

Hayei Adam

Though Rabbi Danzig published numerous works, his fame came from his Hayei Adam, which presents the essential teachings of legal decisors on the rules of Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim. On the cover page of the first edition of the Hayei Adam, which was published anonymously, Rabbi Danzig stated his intended readership and his purpose in writing this work as follows:

1. The first benefit is that even a boy of thirteen can now study and understand nearly all the laws of the Shulhan Arukh in a short period of time, whereas an experienced student [without having read this book] will take some years of effort to do so.

2. Heads of households, for whom the burden of earning a living is heavy, can read this book during their periods of rest. That is because the language is easy to understand and everything is clearly and completely explained, so that the person who wishes to delve in it will not have to compare subject to subject.

3. [This book is advantageous] even for those heads of households who study the Talmud and its major commentaries daily, because [Shabtai HaKohen Katz, known as] the Shakh has written in Yoreh De'ah that they fulfill their requirement for Torah learning with it. [Such Jews] are obligated to study halakhic rulings but have no time to study the Shulhan Arukh and its commentaries as well in order to quench their thirst and to know all the laws in their true sense and reasoning like experienced Torah scholars.

4. [This book is advantageous] even for those who study the Shulhan Arukh. Since it is well known that the rationale for a law is not given in the Shulhan Arukh, nor whether it constitutes a Torah or rabbinical law, [the Shulhan Arukh] is like a sealed book. It therefore requires extraordinary effort to study the words of the latter [halakhic authorities] which are also obscure. Thus when a person reads this book, he will properly understand the words of the Shulhan Arukh.

5. Those who study the commentary Magen Avraham know that his statements are very profound but also contain many typographical errors. In this book, [the reader] will find rest and satisfaction and will understand Magen Avraham's enlightening words.

6. Even seasoned Torah scholars and rabbis will find [in this book] novel legal interpretations, so that when a halakhic question arrives they will mostly be able to find [the answer] in this book. The author discusses [the issue] and shows the sources from which he derived the law. One who wishes to disagree with his conclusion may do so, but [even so] his analysis will have been rendered easier. The author has nearly exhaustively explored each doubtful area that may arise in any of the laws from any of the sections of the Orah Hayim.

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Simcha Fishbane is an Associate Professor of Judaic Studies at Touro College.

Herbert Basser

Herbert Basser is a Professor of Religious Studies at Queens University.