Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher - Baal HaTurim

For He Shall Never Be Moved;
The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance
Tehillim 112:6

Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher

A major halachic authority, was known as the 'Baal ha-Turim' after his influential magnum opus, the Arab'a Turim ("Four Columns"), which is one of the earliest systematic compilations of Jewish law and custom.

Rabbi Yaakov was taught by his famous father, the ROSH - Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel.  Rabbi Yaakov was completely immersed in his studies. He had witnessed the cruelties of his non-Jewish neighbors and government officials, and only in the study of the Torah could he find comfort and peace.

Under the guidance of his father, Rabbi Yaakov became fully acquainted with the entire Talmud and commentaries, especially with the works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) who lived less than a hundred years before him. He studied the Talmud discussions and decisions of the great German, French and Spanish scholars, which he was later to harmonize into his major life work.

Wishing to make it easier for his brethren to acquire knowledge of Jewish law, so that they could regulate their daily life according to the Torah, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher decided to create a uniform code for his people.

The Turim, is methodically arranged in four parts or rows (alluding to the four rows of precious stones mounted on the high priest's breastplate of judgement):

1) Orach Chayim (way of life) dealing with the duties of the Jew at home and in the synagogue, day by day, including Shabbat and Chagim.

2) Yoreh De'ah (teacher of knowledge), furnishing instruction in things forbidden and permitted, such as all phases of dietary laws.

3) Even ha-Ezer (stone of help) encompassing the laws of marriage and family matters

4) Choshen Mishpat (breastplate of judgment), describing civil law and administration.  The Biblical place name Even ha-Ezer is mentioned three times in the first book of Shmuel 4:1; 5:1; 7:12.  Ezer (help) alludes to marriage in Bereishit 2:18.  The name Choshen Mishpat is borrowed from Shemot 28:15.

Based on Maimonides' (RaMBaM) Mishneh Torah in both contents and language, the Tur, as the code is commonly called, became so popular that it was regarded as "the people's law book of the entire world" but unlike the RaMBaM, who simply gave a final decision without discussion, the Turim quote the views of many Poskim, (codifiers), and many customs which acquired the force of law.  Eventually, it became the basis of the Shulchan Aruch, consisting likewise of four parts bearing the same titles.  Designed to supply coordinated information for the average Jew, both law codes concern themselves only with laws practiced after the destruction of the Second Temple, omitting all precepts which presuppose the existence of the Temple.*

The Arab'a Turim are the standard reference books of rabbis and scholars to this very day. Their clear and simple style makes them highly popular and understandable.

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher also wrote a commentary on the Torah, which shows his deep knowledge of the secrets of the Torah. His commentary, in abbreviated form, is generally printed together with most standard Chumashim, under the name of "Baal Haturim." It is a treasure chest of hidden meanings which he discovered in the letters and words of the holy text, through combinations, numerical additions, etc., showing the profound depth of the Torah.


-Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts

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