Choshen Mishpat

June 7, 2006

“Breastplate of Judgment” is the fourth of the four volumes of the “Shulchan Aruch,” “Set Table”, the compendium of Jewish Law applicable today, compiled by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the 1560’s. The other three are “Orach Chaim,” “Yorah Deah” and “Even HaEzer.”

According to the Midrash, the first question a person is asked in the Final Judgment is “Did you deal honestly with your fellow man?” This indicates how important honesty and morality are in the Jewish outlook.

The origin of the name is one of the garments worn by the “Kohen Gadol,” the High Priest. It contained twelve precious stones, and the names of the twelve tribes to which they corresponded. On occasion, the “Choshen” would be consulted when Divine advice or consent was required. The letters of the names of the Tribes would light up in response to the queries.

The overall topic of this volume is Civil and Criminal Law. It contains 597 chapters, treating some 35 topics, including Laws of Judges, Witnesses, Loans, Partnerships, Buying and Selling, Fraud, Gifts, Bailments, Renters and Borrowers, Theft and Robbery, Damages and Injuries.

The “Shulchan Aruch” reflects mainly the Laws followed by Sephardic Jews (Jews living in Spain, North Africa and the Middle East). “Choshen Mishpat,” like the other three volumes of the “Shulchan Aruch,” also contains rulings followed only by Ashkenazic Jews (Jews living mainly in Northern and Western Europe) interspersed in its text by the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles) in the 1570’s, although the vast majority of Jewish Law was followed alike by both communities. When these notes, known as the “Mapa,” the Table Cover, were added to it, the “Shulchan Aruch” truly became the universally accepted Code of Jewish Law.