The earlier editions were addressed to young men. They were issued in various sizes, some of which could be carried around with ease, and were designed to be used anywhere, not only in the synagogue or in the study hall. Like the editions of the Greek and Latin classics that had appeared at Aldus Manutius’ press in Venice earlier in the century, the work contained a preface but offered little commentary. Furthermore, in some printings Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh was not one book, but four, as each volume of Jacob ben Asher’s Tur to which it served as a précis was packaged as its own volume. The early editions hardly looked or felt like the weighty law code it would eventually become.
Yaacob Dweck, “What is a Jewish Book?” AJS Review 34:2 (November 2010), 369.