Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

My post on 'How not to ask a shailah' has mostly generated comments on the uses and abuses of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. I tend to discourage its use by both beginning BTs and beginning pre-converts. If it must be used, then it should be an introduction to study b'chevruta - with a partner - as otherwise the book can serve as a stumbling block to future understanding of Judaism. There are editions of the kitzur that include footnoted commentaries which point one to contradictory rulings from sources such as the Aruch Hashulchan and the Mishna Berura. Studying from that sort of edition strikes me as substantially more useful. Incidentally, as a frequent mentor and contributor to on-line fora for beginning BTs and pre-converts, it usually takes a significant amount of explaining to show the difference between the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and the real Shulchan Aruch. Even a surprising number of people who have been BTs for years don't understand the distinction.

It is an unfortunate accident of history that the kitzur is available in a uncopyrighted English translation, which gave it a leg up on popularity over other halachic guides. I really wish that there was an English translation of the Aruch Hashulchan available.

David Klinghoffer's book The Lord Will Gather Me In has a rant on the deficiencies of the Kitzur as a text for BTs.

Thanks to the wonders of Amazon, here are links to the a search page on the contents of the book. Search on Kitzur Shulchan and look at the rant on pages 193 and 195. (The rant proper begins at the bottom of page 192).

9 comments:

The back of the hill said...

The Kitzer Shulchan Aruch is a fascinating document - but it is likely to scare the bejayzis outta prospective baalei-tshuva and gerim.

Like much such, I am convinced of its usefulness as example of methodology and habitus, while rejecting much of it as far too precise.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Jdub said:

While the Kitzur demonstrates how R. Gantzfried views the world, it is of little practical use outside the Hungarian world. It is useful to see what happens when halacha falls into the hands of the ultra-machmir who view the world as "everything is forbidden unless it is expressly permitted."

It's also useful if one is looking for screeds against masturbation. Otherwise, I tell people not to waste their money on it.

The Chayyei Adam, Shulchan Aruch haRav, and the Arukh ha'Shulhan are much more useful to get a sense of the halachic landscape. The M"B is useful since it surveys the halachic landscape, but is useless for practical halacha since it tries to fashion a solution that meets all approaches.
jdub | 09.29.06 - 10:43 am | #

Krum as a bagel said...

Somone once posted about the need for a KSA for today -- a one volume summary of relevant, everyday halakha for the beginner, with explanations of the background and purpose. None of the works cited above (Chayei Adam, SA HaRav, Aruch HaShulchan) quite fit this bill.

By the way, great blog.

Ari Kinsberg said...

i think the kitzur is more popular than the arukh hashulhan for 3 reasons:

1) the kitzur is one compact handy volume

2) the kitzur tells you what to do and that's it. the arukh can go and on with different opinions and quotes before you know what you need to know. (this of course should not be an excuse for not using the arukh and can give you a wealth of information)

3) the rabbinic hebrew of the arukh is much more difficult to understand. (especially when he starts quoting).

Ari Kinsberg said...

larry:

"While the Kitzur demonstrates how R. Gantzfried views the world, it is of little practical use outside the Hungarian world."

i could say the same thing about the AHS (Navordok Litvish) and SAHR (Chabad)

jdub said...

I'll disagree. The AHS is not limited to the Navardok litvishe, but is useful for many Eastern European Jews. The kitzur is fundamentally different, since it takes a certain tack and mindset that was present at a certain point in Hungarian history (and hasn't left yet, since Hungarians have been frozen in time). The AHS is a bit more universal since it explains more of his reasoning.

As to the one volume, I have a one volume Chayyei Adam that I use as my primary halachic resource for all basic things that one should know. I'll refer to the M"B, but I don't prefer his approach of "let's be yotzei kol ha'de'ot" but it's perhaps even more user friendly than the KSA, since there is an heb-English translation available.

Shulchan Arukh ha'Rav is of tremendous halachic significance, even if not for halacha l'ma'aseh. It is, btw, one of the sources R. Gantzfried used for the KSA.

Ari Kinsberg said...

"The AHS is a bit more universal since it explains more of his reasoning."

More "academic" and certainly more interesting, but I really don't think more universal. All his explanations aside, his practice is still litvish. (I would also suspect that he expected his audience to be on a different level than the other works we are talking about. it is definately the most "advanced" of the 4 we are dealing with.)

"it's perhaps even more user friendly than the KSA, since there is an heb-English translation available."

KSA also has such a translation

"Shulchan Arukh ha'Rav is of tremendous halachic significance, even if not for halacha l'ma'aseh. It is, btw, one of the sources R. Gantzfried used for the KSA."

i am told that non-chabad hasidim use it as well, but i was not aware of its influence on KSA

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>i am told that non-chabad hasidim use it as well, but i was not aware of its influence on KSA

KSA followed (or adopted) the SA's method of deciding according to the ruling of two of three great poskim. KSA chose the Chayei Adam, SA Ha-rav and R. Yaakov Lissa Lorberbaum of Lissa.

Ari said...

Just want to comment that there is a pending translation of the Aruch Hashulchan on Wikisource:

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arukh_ha-Shulchan/Orach_Chaim