The Hayei Adam

The works of Rabbi Abraham Danzig.

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7. It is known that the laws of the Shulhan Arukh are scattered in many places. One who is not fluent in all [sections of] the Shulhan Arukh and the latter [halakhic authorities] will not easily find the law. In this book, each and every law is found in its place. From each and every law a rule will be made for this matter. When [the reader] searches in the table of contents, he will easily find that which he seeks.

I hereby admonish anyone who has the ability to understand the Shulhan Arukh properly not to rely upon me for actual guidance until he also examines the Shulhan Arukh.

Additional Works

Another text he published, Hokhmat Adam (Vilna, 1810) covers the laws in the section Yoreh De'ah of the Shulhan Arukh. He also prepared an addendum titled Binat Adam, which was an in-depth discussion of Danzig's adjudications. Nishmat and Binat Adam were for scholars who had the ability to analyze Jewish law.

In addition, he penned a brief work called Kuntris Matzevat Moshe dealing with the laws of mourning. Rabbi Danzig prepared and named this section in memory of his son Moshe, who died in the winter of 1814 at the age of twenty.

He also published in memory of his son Zikhru Torat Moshe (Vilna, 1817), a synopsis of the laws of the Sabbath much used to this day by young Orthodox Jews. This volume concludes with Mitzvat Moshe, a synopsis of biblical and Rabbinic laws. He also wrote a comprehensive introduction to all his works in this publication (Zikhru Torat Moshe), and prepared Toledot Adam (Vilna, 1818), a commentary on the Passover Haggadah. Though Beit Avraham (Vilna, 1821) was intended primarily as a last will and testament to Rabbi Danzig's family, it was published posthumously as a general tome of proper Jewish conduct and, like all his books, was intended for the Jewish layman.

Shulhan Arukh in Layman's Terms

During his lifetime, Danzig published two editions of the Hayei Adam with introductions. Here he stressed that the study of law has priority over the theoretical and analytic study of the Talmud. Even the primary codes of Jewish law, such as Joseph Caro's Beit Yosef and Moses Isserles's Darkei Moshe, were too difficult and time-consuming for the layman to comprehend. Hayei Adam is intended to allow the less knowledgeable to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study and to practice the laws properly. With proper discipline, he suggests, a student studying his Hayei Adam could reach a high level of knowledge of law at the end of one year. Joseph Caro had thought his Shulhan Arukh could do the same in thirty days. Danzig's claim seems more realistic.

He writes, "It was reported to me that great and able Torah scholars reviewed my work and stated that it served for them as a review of the Shulhan Arukh...In addition, they found many new laws in my work." Danzig grouped the materials of his book according to what he termed klallim (principles). Rather than employing the divisions (chapters and paragraphs) found in the Shulhan Arukh he attempted to organize the subject matter more finely. If the issues discussed were thematically related, he arranged them in one klal.

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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.