The Hayei Adam

The works of Rabbi Abraham Danzig.

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If the issues were not practical, relevant to his time, or required the educated decision of a Rabbinic authority, Danzig did not include them in Hayei Adam. Before his time, codes had analyzed the methods of using stoves on the Sabbath, such as ancient stoves (kira) or (kupah), but he excluded these issues, since they were not relevant to the nineteenth century. When he felt that a theme required special attention, he preferred to deal with them in a separate work. For example, while he discussed rules for scribes in the general laws relevant to every Jew, he prepared a separate volume on how to write phylacteries. In an addendum inserted in the text of the laws, he added in brackets alternate opinions concerning the specific law at hand.

Nishmat Adam

Hayei Adam also included a separate work titled Nishmat Adam. This took the form of a codicil placed on the bottom of the same page of the law to which it was related and presented an in-depth discussion of that law. In discussing different Rabbinic positions as well as offering his own analysis, Rabbi Danzig assured his work a major place in the history of legal codes pioneered by Rashba in the fourteenth century. Twin codes and legal decisions had usually required two separate volumes. Rabbi Danzig incorporated both in one volume.

Unlike many of his generation, he did not hesitate to adjudicate legal disputes among leading rabbis and to state his reasons with rare insight. Where Rabbi Danzig introduced his own decisions, he would often include his process of thinking in the Nishmat Adam codicil.

The author of the Hayei Adam put great importance on the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the classic commentaries of the Shulhan Arukh. While Caro had omitted general ethical motivations of the laws, Rabbi Danzig created new sections for them not found in the Shulhan Arukh. For example, in section 142, he elaborates on the many moral and ethical aspects of repentance. He explained every word in the vidui ("confession") of the Yom Kippur prayer service, and even prepared a special introduction to the Yom Kippur prayer entided "tfilat zaka," which today is included in most Orthodox Jewish prayer books.

Rabbi Danzig's Hayei Adam was widely-accepted. The work has gone through numerous editions, and groups were organized throughout various Jewish communities to study his text. Such groups persist until today.

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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.