The Considerable Importance of the Effect of the Extensive Commentary Tradition on the Shulhan Arukh

This extensive commentary tradition had a further effect of considerable import: By and large, the commentaries to Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh that appeared on the printed page were written by Ashkenazic rabbis; the Sephardic commentaries did not usually appear alongside the text. In this intensified Ashkenization of a Sephardic text, one can find a larger trace of one of the central shifts from the early modern to the modern in Jewish history, a shift that has parallels in the transformation of Lurianic Kabbalah by the founders of Hasidism in the eighteenth century and one that is undergirded by a massive demographic transformation of Jewish populations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When Karo wrote the Shulhan ‘arukh, the Jews of the Ottoman Empire were among the largest Jewish communities in the early modern world. When Gombiner wrote his commentary a century later, this demographic profile was beginning to change; and when Israel Meir ha-Kohen composed his in the nineteenth century, the Jews of the Levant were but a small minority of the world’s Jewish population.

Yaacob Dweck, “What is a Jewish Book?” AJS Review 34:2 (November 2010), 371.

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