In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Shulhan Arukh and Sixteenth Century Jewish Law

  • Introduction
  • Shulhan Arukh and the Codification of Jewish Law
  • Impact of Printing on the Literature of Jewish Law

Jewish Studies The Shulhan Arukh and Sixteenth Century Jewish Law
Joseph M. Davis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0026


Rabbi Joseph Karo (b. 1488–d. 1575—more correctly Caro, as his last name is a form of the Spanish name Castro) was the author of the Shulhan Arukh, a code of Jewish law that was accepted to one degree or another by nearly every community of Jews in the world, and that remains even to this day a definitive statement of Jewish religious law. Karo is one of a galaxy of scholars who reconstituted Jewish life after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Karo and the Shulhan Arukh stood at a turning point in the development of Jewish law—what is sometimes described as the shift from “medieval scholars” (rishonim in classic Hebrew terminology) to “modern scholars” (aharonim). Whereas late medieval rabbinic literature was centered in Spain and Germany, Jewish life in the 16th century centered in the Ottoman Empire, Poland, and Italy. Furthermore, whereas rabbis before Karo lived in a world of manuscript texts, Karo lived in the new world of printed texts. This bibliography lists a wide selection of the best academic scholarship on Joseph Karo, the Shulhan Arukh, and Jewish law in the 16th century. The majority of the scholarly work on Karo and on Jewish law in the 16th century has been written in Hebrew, and this bibliography will include many Hebrew items. There is enough material in English, however, to achieve a clear understanding of Karo, his contemporaries, and their place in the history of Judaism and Jewish law.

16th-Century Jewish Legal Texts in English Translation

Much of the Shulhan Arukh has been translated, and there is a fair assortment of translated responsa by various 16th-century rabbis. There is also an assortment of other 16th-century Jewish legal texts in English translation, as well as one fine anthology, Judaism in Practice (Fine 2001, cited under Miscellaneous 16th-Century Jewish Legal Texts). In addition, there are probably two or three dozen nonhalakhic works by 16th-century Jews that have been translated into English, some—such as works on Jewish ethics—from genres that are closely related to Jewish law.

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