In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rabbi Yeheil Michel Epstein and his Arukh Hashulchan

  • Introduction
  • The Milieu of Rabbi Epstein’s Intellectual Life
  • Setting the Table: The Arukh HaShulchan
  • The Arrangement of the Arukh HaShulchan
  • The Production and Publication of the Arukh HaShulchan
  • Setting the Future Table: The Arukh HaShulchan HeAtid
  • Epstein’s Daughter and the Publication of the Arukh HaShulchan
  • The Popularity of the Arukh HaShulchan
  • The Methodology of the Arukh HaShulchan

Jewish Studies Rabbi Yeheil Michel Epstein and his Arukh Hashulchan
Michael J. Broyde
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0215


Yechiel Mikhel Epstein (also Yeheil Michel Epstein, b. 1829–d. 1908) was among the most distinguished Jewish Law authorities of the last half of the 19th century. Along with Moses Maimonides, he shared the accomplishment of preparing a full restatement of all of Jewish law, which he presented in two works, the Arukh HaShulchan and the Arukh haShulchan HeAtid. These two works established Rabbi Epstein as one of the leading Jewish law authorities of all Jewish history, both past and present. Although he wrote a few other works, such as Or Li-Yesharim, Mikhal HaMayim, and Leil Shimurim, as well as a recent work collecting his many letters titled Kitvei HaArukh HaShulchan, none of them have been seen as of any great significance. Rather, Epstein’s legacy resides in his complex, nuanced, and nearly complete commentary on the full breadth of Jewish law. Epstein was born on 24 January 1829 in Bobriusk, Russia. Epstein’s father was a successful businessman and competent Jewish scholar who provided his son with a thorough rabbinic education. By many accounts, Epstein demonstrated an aptitude for Talmudic studies at a young age and thus spent his formative years studying under the direction of Rabbi Elijah Goldberg, the Chief Rabbi of Bobriusk. He also studied briefly at the famous Volozhin Yeshivah from 1842 through 1843. While Epstein briefly pursued a career in business, he was quickly appointed as a rabbinical judge and assisted his teacher, Rabbi Goldberg, in his hometown of Bobriusk. Having subsequently decided to pursue service as a community leader, Epstein received his first appointment in 1865 when he was selected to become the rabbi of Novozybkov, a Russian town in which a few thousand Jews lived. The Jewish population there included Orthodox, secular, and Hasidic Jews, as well as Jews who resisted the Hasidic movement (called Mitnagdim). At the age of thirty-five, Rabbi Epstein married Roshka Berlin, the daughter of Rabbi Jacob Berlin and sister of the famous Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, who would later become head of the Volozhin Yeshiva. The couple ultimately had five children. Notably, their daughter, Braynah Welbrinski, was twice widowed before settling into her parents’ home and managing the publication and distribution of the Arukh HaShulchan, which was edited and produced in the years following the death of Rabbi Epstein in 1908.

General Overview of Epstein’s Life and Work

Epstein spent ten years as rabbi of Novozybkov, during which time he visited Lyubavichi to meet and study with Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the third Rebbe of the Chabad Hasidic court. Schneerson, who was an important scholar and decisor of Jewish law in his own right, led the Chabad Hasidic group to which many of Epstein’s Novozybkov constituents belonged. While it is unclear how long Epstein spent in Lyubavichi, it is known that he studied with Schneerson and subsequently received an additional rabbinic ordination from him. Later, when writing his Arukh HaShulchan, Epstein would often quote the Shulchan Arukh HaRav, a code written by Schneerson’s grandfather, Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Also during this time, Epstein published his first book, Or LiYesharim, a commentary on portions of the medieval text Sefer HaYashar, written by the Tosafist Rabbenu Tam (Rashi’s grandson). While the Sefer HaYashar itself is a relatively obscure and not well-studied work, Epstein’s commentary gained the attention of many important Eastern European rabbis and was well received by them. The publication of Or LiYesharim improved Epstein’s rabbinic reputation, and in 1874 he accepted a position as rabbi of Lubcha, a small town on the outskirts of Novogrudok in southern Lithuania. Shortly after arriving in Lubcha, the communal leaders of Novogrudok offered the recently vacant position of city rabbi to Epstein. At this time, and indeed until the city’s Jewish population was almost completely annihilated during the Second World War, Novogrudok was an important center of Lithuanian Jewish life. Epstein continued to serve as rabbi of Novogrudok until his death in 1908. During this time, he led the community, delivered sermons, and answered questions of Jewish law posed by local residents. Eventually, his leadership extended to Jews throughout Europe, Palestine, and the United States. Epstein headed up the local rabbinical court and interacted with Russian authorities on behalf of the Jewish community. Most importantly, it was during his time in Novogrudok that Rabbi Epstein wrote his magnum opus: the multivolume restatement of Jewish law, the Arukh HaShulchan, and its sequel, Arukh HaShulchan HeAtid.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.