An (almost) Unknown Halakhic Work by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and an attempt to answer the question: who punctuated the first edition of the Shulhan Arukh?
Chaim Katz is a database computer programmer in Montreal Quebec. He graduated from McGill University and studied in Lubavitch Yeshivoth in Israel and New York.
In 1980, the late Rabbi Yehoshua Mondshine published a manuscript, which was a list of chapters and paragraphs (halakhot and se’fim), selected by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (RSZ), from the Shulhan Arukh (SA) of Rabbi Yosef Karo. (RYK)
Figure 1: Part of the list of halakhot prepared by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the preliminary and concluding notes written by R. Isakhar Ber.
R. Isakhar Ber, who copied the original manuscript, explained the purpose of the list in a preliminary remark:
A concise study method of essential laws from the beginning of Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim until the end of the Shabbat laws - to know them fluently by heart, from Admur (our master, teacher and Rebbe), our teacher Zalman of Liozna.
R. Isakhar also added an epilogue:
I copied all of the above, from the beginning until the laws of Pesah, but I didn't check it completely to verify that I copied everything correctly and G-d willing when there's time I will check it. Prepared and researched by the Rabbi and Gaon, the great light, the G-dly and holy, our teacher, Shneur Zalman, may his lamp be bright and shine, to know it clearly and concisely, even for those people who are occupied in business. Therefore I thought I won’t withhold good from the good. Isakhar Ber, son of my father and master ... Katz, may his lamp be bright, of the holy community of Shumilina and currently in Beshankovichy.
The manuscript was probably composed (or at least copied), between the years 1790-1801, when RSZ lived in Liozna. The existence of this list isn’t acknowledged in any source that Rabbi Mondshine was aware of, and obviously the list was never published in book form, either because RSZ decided not to publicize it or because the list was simply put aside and forgotten.
RSZ wasn’t the first who envisioned a popular digest of the SA. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon lists four works that preceded the famous Kitzur Shulhan Arukh. They preceded RSZ’s work as well and are all quite similar although they also have their differences.
Figure 2: First edition of Shulhan Tahor by Rabbi Joseph Pardo (from Hebrewbooks.org). The page summarizes three and a half chapters of the original Shulhan arukh. Note how the author sometimes combines the words of RYK with the words of Rema (line 11).
Shulhan Tahor covers Orakh Hayim and Yore Deah. Others have a narrower scope and cover only Orah Hayim. RSZ covers even less. Some collections are abbreviated extensively; others include more details. There are variations in the language and content; some quote opinions of later authorities, some quote Kabbalah, some re-cast the language of the SA and some retain the language as much as possible.
Figure 3: Pardes Rimonim by Rabbi Yehudah Yudil Berlin, (from Hebrewbooks.org), composed in 1784. Note the author quotes Ateret Zekenim, (R. MM Auerbach, published in 1702). The additions in parenthesis are by the publisher of the 1879 edition.
The authors of each of these works possibly had two goals in mind. One of the goals was to make the basic rules and practices of the SA more accessible. To this end, certain subjects or details were left out because they were too technical for the chosen audience. Other rules were omitted because the situations to which they applied happened only infrequently (בדיעבד). Many regulations were left out because daily life and its circumstances had changed so much since the sixteenth century.
The other goal, and arguably the primary goal, was to provide a text of law that could be memorized. In the introduction to Shulhan Tahor, the author’s son writes: “every man will be familiar and fluent in these laws (שגורים בפי כל האדם)”. Likewise, the author of Pardes Rimonim defines the purpose of his work: “so that the reader will be fluent in these rules (שגורים בפיו) and will review them each month”. In the introduction to the Shulhan Shlomo, the author writes: “Put these words to your heart and you won’t forget them”, and the motive of R. Shneur Zalman’s work is: “to know [these laws] fluently by heart”.
Figure 4: Introduction of Rabbi Yosef Karo - from the first edition of the Shulhan Arukh, published in Venice in 1565 where memorization is emphasized (from the scanned books at the website of the National Library of Israel, (formerly the Jewish National and University Library.)
The tradition of memorizing practical laws goes back to RYK himself, and probably goes back even earlier. RYK writes in the introduction to his Shulhan Arukh:
I thought in my heart that it is fitting to gather the flowers of the gems of the discussions [of the Beit Yosef] in a shorter way, in a clear comprehensive pretty and pleasant style, so that the perfect Torah of G-d will be recited fluently by each man of Israel. When a scholar is queried about a law, he won't answer vaguely. Instead, he will answer: “say to wisdom you are my sister”. As he knows his sister is forbidden to him, so he knows the practical resolution of every legal question that he is asked because he is fluent in this book... Moreover, the young (rabbinical?) students will occupy themselves with it constantly and recite its text by heart…
I’m working on a phone version of RSZ’s work using the first print of RYK’s SA for that portion of the text. However, (aside from the difficulty of text justification in an EPUB), there is one typesetting decision that I’m wondering about. The first edition of the SA is punctuated with elevated periods and colons. The colons always separate each halakha, but infrequently colons appear in the middle of a halakha. Sometimes followed by a new line and sometimes not. The periods may appear in the middle of a halakha, sometimes followed by horizontal white space and sometimes not.
Hebrew printing (of holy books) hasn’t changed all that much in the past 450 years; the colons at the end of each paragraph are present in most current editions of the Shulan Arukh, but the periods, colons and white space in the middle of the paragraphs have largely been ignored in subsequent prints. Do I try and duplicate this punctuation or not? Here are two examples where I replaced the elevated period and colons with modern periods, but tried to keep the original layout.
Figure 5: Note the raised periods and colons in the first print (from the National Library of Israel web site).
Figure 6: Screenshot of a digital version of R. Shneur Zalman’s composition. Note periods and line feeds.
Figure 7: Facsimile of the first print of Shulhan Arukh - beginning of chapter 11. See the colons in in the fourth halakha.
Figure 8: Screenshot of my smart phone version of R. Shneur Zalman’s list - chapter 11
I think it’s possible that the punctuation of the first edition of the SA was copied from RYK’s manuscript. Prof. Raz-Krakozkin writes: He (Karo) insisted on personally supervising its publication and made sure that the editors followed his instructions. On the other hand, I can’t explain why the punctuation marks occur so rarely.
To help decide if RYK punctuated his manuscript before sending it to the printers, we can compare other manuscripts that were printed then. For example, the Yerushalmi was first printed in Venice (1523) from a manuscript, which is still extant today.
Figure 9: Facsimile of the first print of the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 1:1), with raised periods to separate word groups from the scanned books at the website of the National Library of Israel, (formerly the Jewish National and University Library.)
The printed version of the Yerushalmi has elevated periods that delineate groups of words. These markings are already found in the source manuscript in the exact same places.
Figure 10: Facsimile of Leiden manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud (1289 CE), Brakhot 1:1 from the Rabbinic Manuscripts on line at the National Library of Israel web site, (formerly the Jewish National and University Library).
Prof. Yaakov Sussmann speaks of two possibilities concerning the origin of the Talmud Yerushalmi’s punctuation. The punctuation may be relatively recent - the scribe punctuated the text or the punctuation existed in the manuscript that the scribe copied from. Alternatively, the punctuation might be a reduction or simplification of cantillation marks that were common in much older rabbinic manuscripts. Either way, the printers didn’t invent the punctuation.
Our editions of the Gemara (the Babylonian Talmud) have colons (“two dots”) in strategic places. These colons already exist in one of the first Talmud editions - the Bomberg Talmud (Venice 1523).
Figure 11: Facsimile of a page of Bomberg Talmud (Betza 21a) showing colons. (The horizontal lines near the colons are either blemishes, or markings by hand.) Note the horizontal white space after the colons.
Most volumes of the Bomberg edition were not printed from manuscript, but were copied from the Talmud printed by Joshua Moses Soncino in 1484. In the Soncino Talmud, we find separators in the exact places as the colons of the Bomberg edition. The Soncino Talmud had two types of punctuation: a top comma (or single quote mark) that marks off groups of words (like the Yerushalmi has) and a double top comma (double quote mark). When Bomberg printed his edition (40 years later), his printers replaced the double commas with colons (and dropped the single commas).
Figure 12: The bottom of a page in Soncino, coresponding to the same page (21a) in Betza. Note the two elevated commas, where we have a colon and the subsequent horizontal white space. (The Soncino Talmud does not have the same pagination as us). From the National Library of Israel web site.
Figure 13: Top of the next page in the Soncino edition, corresponding to our Betza 21a. Note again 2 commas where we have a colon.
It would be difficult to trace the origins of the colons much further. We don’t know which manuscripts were used by the printers of the Babylonian Talmud, and in any case the many Talmud burnings in the 1550’s in Italy destroyed most of the manuscripts that were there. Nevertheless, there is at least one old manuscript that has punctuation marks similar to what we find in the Soncino Talmud.
Figure 14: Snippet from Gottingen University Library Talmud manuscript showing the upper double comma separator for the same page - Betza 21a (From the Rabbinic Manuscripts on line at the National Library of Israel web site, (formerly the Jewish National and University Library).)
The Gottingen manuscript is a Spanish manuscript from the early thirteenth century – almost three hundred years older than the Talmud printed in Soncino. It doesn’t have the upper single commas that Soncino edition has, but it does have the same double comma in the same places that the Soncino print has. Just to repeat: the pauses represented by colons, that we see in our Talmud are at least 800 years old!
It’s at least possible (likely?) that RYK’s own SA manuscript was punctuated just as the Talmudic manuscripts that he studied from were.
I introduced RSZ’s abbreviated (Kitzur) SA, and discussed it in the context of other similar works. I mentioned that the authors aimed at producing collections of relevant laws that could be memorized. I noted that the first edition of the SA was punctuated differently from following versions. I suggested (based on comparisons with early printed Talmuds) that the punctuation was probably the work of RYK and not the work of the printers.
 Mondshine, Y. (Ed.). (1984). Migdal Oz (Hebrew), Kfar Habad: Machon Lubavitch , pp. 419-421. Dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Azriel Zelig Slonim ob”m. Essays on Torah and Hassidut by our holy Rabbis, the leaders of Habad and their students, collected from manuscripts and authentic sources and assembled with the help of the Almighty.
 Maimon, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, The history of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh (Hebrew), published in Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Mossad Harav Kook Jerusalem Israel 1949. The earlier works mentioned are: Shulan Tahor by R. Joseph Pardo,edited/financed by his son David Pardo, Amsterdam 1686. Shulan Arukh of R. Eliezer Hakatan by Eliezer Laizer Revitz printed by his son-in-law R. Menahem Azaria Katz, Furth 1697. Shulhan Shlomo by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mirkes printed in Frankfort (Oder) 1771. Pardes Rimonim by R. Yehuda Yidel Berlin, composed in 1784 and printed for the first time in Lemberg (Leviv) 1879.
 RSZ’s digest from the beginning until the end of chapter 156 contains 18,000 words while the same portion of the big Shulhan Arukh contains approximately 40,000 words. A word is loosely defined as a group of characters separated by a space or by spaces.
 In the introduction to the Mishne Torah, Maimonides writes: “I divided this composition into legal areas by subject, and divided the legal areas into chapters, and divided each chapter into smaller legal paragraphs so that all of it can be memorized.” See: Studies in the Mishne Torah, Book of Knowledge Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem (Heb.) by Rabbi José Faur for a discussion and explanation of the study methods of Middle Eastern Jews (page 46 and following pages, especially footnote 60).
 The National Library of Israel, (formerly the Jewish National and University Library) has the edition of the Shulhan Arukh printed in Krakow in 1580. This is the second version with the notes of the Rema (which was first printed in 1570) and it doesn’t have the original punctuation marks.
 “From Safed to Venice: The Shulhan ‘Arukh and the Censor” (in: Chanita Goldblatt, Howard Kreisel (eds.), Tradition, Heterodoxy and Religious Culture, Ben Gurion University of the Negev (2007) 91-115). A.M. Haberman, The First Editions of the Shulhan Arukh (Heb.) on the daat.ac.il web site, (from the journal Mahanaim # 97 1965 p 31-34.) suggests that the editor/corrector of the first edition, Menahem Porto Hacohen Ashenazi created its table of contents. See also the discussion about who created the chapter headings, (a pre-requisite for the table of contents), in Gates in Halakha (Heb.), Rabbi Moshe Shlita, Jerusalem 1983, page 100. He argues that the chapter headings of the Shulhan Arukh could not be the work of Rav Yosef Karo.
 Talmud Yerushalmi According to Ms Or 4720 of the Leiden University Library, Academy of the Hebrew Language Jerusalem 2001 Introduction by Yaakov Sussmann.
 Cf. Rashi in the beginning of Leviticus “What is the purpose of the horizontal white-space (in the text of the Torah)? It gives Moshe some space to contemplate between a section and the next section, between a topic and the next topic. (Rashi Lev. 1:1 s.v. vayikra el Moshe (2nd) from the Sifra.
 Raphael Nathan Nata Rabbinovicz. Essay on the printing of the Talmud (Hebrew).
 M. Krupp in The Literature of the Sages, Oral Torah, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Ad Novum Testamentum)
Fortress Pr; 1987 Part 1 Shmuel Safarai ed, p 352.