Orach Chaim

June 7, 2006

“Way of Life” is the first 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 “Yoreh Deah,” “Even HaEzer” and “Choshen Mishpat.”

“Orach Chaim,” as the name implies, is the set of Laws guiding the behavior of a Jewish individual from the moment he or she wakes up in the morning till the time they go to bed. It contains 697 chapters, dealing with 40 topics. The first Law cited in “Orach Chaim” begins, “One should rise with the might of a lion to serve his Creator…” In the Laws regarding “Putting on Garments,” the following perspective is articulated, “One should not say, ‘I am in my innermost chamber; who will see me?’ Because the Glory of the Holy One, Blessed is He, fills the earth.”

Some aspects of Life that are covered in the “Orach Chaim” are Blessings, Prayer, the Synagogue, Laws regarding Eating and the Blessing recited afterwards, Laws concerning Marital Relations, Observance of the Shabbat including a discussion of its Prohibitions and its Positive Commandments, Laws of Pesach, Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim, Purim and Chanukah.

The “Shulchan Aruch” reflects mainly the Laws followed by Sephardic Jews (Jews living in Spain, North Africa and the Middle East). The “Orach Chaim,” 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.