The Shulhan Arukh ("Set Table") is a codification of Halakha (The Jewish law), composed by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the 16th century.
The Shulhan Arukh was first published in Venice in 1565 and immediately became the definitive code of Jewish life and law which, with certain modifications, it still remains for observant Jewry. Modeled on the Turim ("Rows"), an earlier (fourteenth-century) code by Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, the Shulhan Arukh consists of four sections:
(1) Orah Hayyim ("The Way of Life"), containing the rules and practices governing Jewish daily life, prayer, benedictions, Sabbaths, and festivals;
(2) Yore Dea ("Instruction in Knowledge"), containing laws governing matters prohibited and permitted, such as ritual slaughter, forbidden and permitted foods, pollution and purity;
(3) Even ha-Ezer ("Rock of Aid"), containing laws that deal with personal and marital relations;
(4) Hoshen ha-Mishpat ("Breastplate of Judgment"), dealing with law courts, purchase and sale; torts, damages, inheritance, etc.
While the four volumes of the Turim are rather detailed and engage in discussions of legal particulars, the Shulhan Arukh is brief and to the point, and hence of greater immediate use to Jewish legal authorities and others concerned with the application of Jewish traditional law.
Rabbi Yosef Caro, was born in Toledo, Spain, in 1488 and left the country with his parents four years later with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. His childhood and early adolescence were spent in European Turkey. Later, he went to the Land of Israel and settled in Safed (Zefat), which had become the spiritual center of Jews in Palestine. Rabbi Yaakov Berab, one of the leading residents and Jewish legal luminaries of the city, renewed the Talmudic practice of rabbinical ordination by the laying on of hands. Rabbi Yosef Caro, who had already held a distinguished rabbinical career in Europe, was one of the first to be ordained in this way.
Caro afterwards became the head of the Safed Rabbinical Court and Rabbinical Academy. There he composed his commentaries Kesef Mishne ("Secondary Tribute") on the earlier code Mishne Tora ("Repetition of the Torah"), or Yad Hazaka ("Strong Hand"), by Maimonides; and Bet Yosef ("House of Joseph") on Turim by Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher.
Later came the Shulhan Arukh, which consisted mainly of the conclusions reached in his earlier Bet Yosef. Caro also corresponded extensively on Jewish legal issues with rabbis abroad. Himself a Kabbalist and a leading member of the Kabbalist circles then centered in Safed, he wrote a mystical work entitled Maggid Mesharim ("The Upright Speaker").
Rabbi Yosef Caro died in 1575 and was buried in Safed. The main purpose of the Shulhan Arukh was to provide a guide to Jews throughout the Dispersion, presenting Halakha in the light of the deliberations and novellae which had emerged in Jewish legal literature after the publication of the Mishne Tora of Maimonides.
The stamp was issued in 1967. Designer: E. Weishoff.