Gedolei Haposkim Gather to Celebrate the Release of First Volume of Dirshu Shulchan Aruch

Leading Poskim Give Halachic Guidance at Event Held at the Home of Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein 

כ״ד באדר תשפ״ג – Mar 17, 2023

By Chaim Gold

“History was made,” is a common, often overused cliché, but an event earlier this month that took place at the home of the world renowned Posek, HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein, shlita, was truly historic.

The gathering was in essence a celebration for Klal Yisrael. It was the celebration of the release of the first volume of Dirshu’s groundbreaking Shulchan Aruch on the Yoreh Deah order of Shulchan Aruch that will undoubtedly have a transformative impact on the learning of Yoreh Deah.

It is extremely rare to bring together so many of Eretz Yisrael’s most senior poskim under one roof but a simcha of such magnitude, the celebration of a new, groundbreaking edition of the Shulchan Aruch, warranted such an august gathering.

At the same time, the large, elite group of great talmidei chachamim who are writing and editing the new edition was able to use the opportunity to receive advice and guidance on various matters pertaining to the future volumes that are currently being worked on.

Some of the prominent poskim who attended the event at the home of Rav Zilberstein were HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shaul Klein, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Sariel Rosenberg, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Messoud Ben Shimon, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Meir Stern, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Shevach Tzvi Rosenblatt and HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern.

An Instant Classic

More than a decade ago, Dirshu gifted the Torah world with the Dirshu Mishnah Berurah, a sefer that has become a classic. It was the first comprehensive sefer written alongside the Mishnah Berurah that brings the piskei halacha and additions of the various poskim in the more than 120 years since the Mishnah Berurah was originally published. It has become the go-to sefer for anyone looking up practical halacha on the Orach Chaim order of Shulchan Aruch, especially for areas of halacha involving the changes brought about by technology and day-to-day modern life.

There is no Mishnah Berurah on Yoreh Deah and in general, to learn the Shulchan Aruch on the Yoreh Deah order of Shulchan Aruch requires more background. Although a Jew is obligated to know halacha l’maassah in everything that he does, throughout the generations, a strong, comprehensive knowledge of Yoreh Deah and the sugyos upon which it is based has been more the purview of talmidei chachamim and aspiring moreh horaah.

In truth, there is no substitute for learning the sugyos, the Tur and Beis Yosef, then progressing to learn the Shulchan Aruch and the primary commentaries of the Shach and the Taz. Nevertheless, even after learning this way, it is often difficult to be come out with a clear psak on many questions.

That is why, when Dirshu began the Kinyan Halacha program encompassing Yoreh Deah, the senior Posek of the generation, HaGaon HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, gave them guidance on how to structure the program and maintained that even talmidei chachamim and aspiring rabbonim need practical guidance on how to learn the Shulchan Aruch, which meforshim are mandatory and the importance of learning from poskim muvhakim who have received the mesorah of psak and horaah from their predecessors.

The Unique Components of the  Dirshu’s New Shulchan Aruch

Over the years wonderful new editions of the Shulchan Aruch have been published with bold, large letters and numerous other enhancements that make it easier to learn. What Dirshu, however, has done now with the release of the first volume of a planned nine-volume set on Yoreh Deah is truly innovative.

The beautiful Shulchan Aruch using the popular tzuras hadaf of Machon Yerushalayim’s edition has added two seminal commentaries on the corresponding page. The first commentary, entitled L’asukei Shmaatsa, explains the source in Chazal for each halacha and then brings the sources for the psak from the Rishonim and Achronim, briefly explaining how the Rishonim understood the sugyos and came out with their rulings.

The second, longer commentary, entitled Alibah D’Hilchasa, briefly and concisely encapsulates each halacha, adding halachic ruling from the Achronim and later poskim right up until our times on practical halachos along with modern-day scenarios based on the original psak of the Shulchan Aruch and its meforshim.

In addition, Dirshu has included a comprehensive mafteiach, an index in the back that makes it easy to find any halacha brought in that volume.

Dirshu chose to begin with the portion of the regular Shulchan Aruch that comprises the third and final volume of Yoreh Deah, simanim 270-361 which covers hilchos sefer Torah, mezuzah, shiluach hakein, chadash, orlah, kilayim, bechoros, bechor beheima, and petter chamor.

Rav Zilberstein: “A Person Who Teaches Halacha is a Tzaddik Yesod Olam!”

The event began with brief remarks by the host, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein. Rav Zilberstein began with a question. “What is the greatest thing in our nation? Do you know what the greatest thing in our nation is?” Rav Zilberstein asked. “It is someone who enables others to learn Torah! I haven’t made this up. This is something that the Gemara teaches us. The Gemara in masechta Gittin tells us that Rav Chana went to a certain place and randomly picked a date off a tree. A person came over and asked him, ‘How can you do that? I came before you and I already halachically took ownership of the date.’ Rav Chana asked him, ‘From where do you know this halacha?’ He answered, ‘I heard it from Rav Yashia.’ Rav Chana called Rav Yashia a ‘tzaddik yesod olam – a tzaddik who is the foundation of the world.’ Why? Because he would teach people halachos that they did not know.

“I don’t know,” Rav Zilberstein continued, “of another time the Gemara uses this term of tzaddik yesod olam. We see from here, that someone who enriches others with knowledge of halacha is a tzaddik yesod olam. This is not just a nice ‘vort’. The Gemara doesn’t teach vertlech. This is a fact. A person who teaches Torah publicly, enabling people to know and therefore keep halacha is a foundation of the world. I heard this from my illustrious rebbi and father-in-law, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

“Rav Elyashiv also told me something else. He proved from the Gemara that the highest level of limud haTorah is someone who learns in order to come out with a final psak halacha. There are many levels of learning Torah but from the Gemara it is clear that to become a morah horaah, to learn Torah to the extent that you are able to actually derive the practical halacha is the highest level possible.

“That,” Rav Zilberstein highlighted, “is what Dirshu and Rav Dovid Hofstedter are doing. They are enriching Klal Yisrael with the knowledge of halacha. Open a Dirshu Mishnah Berurah and you get a psak on every aspect. They are ensuring that Torah is being learned at the highest of levels, the level of psak halacha.”

Shulchan Aruch,” Means Understanding the Reasons Behind the Psak

Rabbi Binyomin Birenzweig, a prime editor in the groundbreaking new Shulchan Aruch, chaired the event. Rav Birenzweig gave a bit of background on the extensive effort and thought that went into producing a work of such magnitude and thanked all the great talmidei chachamim who wrote and edited the work.

He then called on Rav Dovid Hofstedter, the Nasi of Dirshu, whose brainchild the project was, and who spared no effort in advising, guiding and ensuring that the best possible finished product would emerge, to speak.

Rav Hofstedter gave thanks to Hashem and then thanked the poskim for enabling Dirshu to reach this moment, after years of work. He cited the first passuk and Rashi in Parshas Mishpatim. “Rashi says that a person should not think that Hashem just gives the halachos over to us, saying, ‘do this and don’t do that,’ without giving the reasons for why we must or must not do something. No! ‘V’eilah hamishpatiim’, the Torah is telling us, ‘These are the mishpatim, I am giving you over the halachos like a “Shulchan Aruch – a set table, with all of the reasons.’

Rav Hofstedter explained, “Many of us think that a Shulchan Aruch means a compilation of laws in the briefest of ways. This is not true. Rashi is telling us that the true understanding of the Shulchan Aruch is with reasons, in all its depth.

“In our generation, how can we learn the Shulchan Aruch without understanding the reasons? How do we apply these halachos to the practical scenarios of our times that didn’t exist in the time of the Shulchan Aruch if we don’t truly understand the reasons behind the halachos?

“Indeed, Rav Elyashiv gave us so much guidance when we began the Kinyan Halacha program. One of the things we learned from him, is that learning Shulchan Aruch without understanding what is behind the actual halacha and without knowing what the poskim of our time say about a halacha is not learning ‘Shulchan Aruch.’ Shulchan Aruch means that one must understand the reason for the halachos as well as the rationale and source for the final psak.”

Rav Dovid then gave his heartfelt thanks to all the rabbanim who have been instrumental in guiding Dirshu on myriad issues regarding the monumental project of the Dirshu Shulchan Aruch.

Panel with Gedolei Haposkim

A highlight of the event was a fascinating sheilos and teshuvos session with the Gedolei Haposkim featuring practical questions on how to approach the learning of halacha. Rav Birenzweig related that it is not every day that such an eminent gathering of senior poskim comes together. “Let us take the advantage of having so many Gedolei Haposkim under one roof to ask questions regarding the learning of halacha,” he urged.

The first question was one encountered by so many who embark on the learning of halacha. Obviously, when one learns halacha one must come out with a clear psak. Nevertheless, there are two approaches of how to get there: The first approach is to learn the sugyos and the Rishonim, then summarize the halachic outcomes of what you have learned after which you can proceed to the Shulchan Aruch and the meforshim, summarizing the actual halacha l’maasah that emerges.

The second approach is that even while learning the Gemara and Rishonim, one should analyze each sevara and, in addition to summarizing the halacha, one should also think, “perhaps this sevara can be applied to this and this case and perhaps we can derive a halacha from that sevara?”. In other words, one should utilize everything one learns to see if there is a halachic principle that can be applied to a different scenario. The question is therefore, “Should one always try to apply every principle in learning to the practical?”

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein said that his father-in-law, Rav Elyashiv, absolutely used the second approach. No matter what he learned, he always tried to break it down to see if any halachic principles could be derived from there and applied elsewhere.

“I will give you a small example,” Rav Zilberstein said, “There was once a person who was a terrible rasha, a truly wicked person. This man was upset with his wife, and in order to take revenge on her, told her, ‘I have married our young daughter off (the Torah permits a father to marry off his daughter before she reaches a certain age) and I will not tell you to whom I married her off. In this way she will never be able to get married to someone else.’ Yes, he was a terrible rasha.

“They didn’t know what to do! It was a terrible situation. What did I do? I decided I would go together with my entire kollel to the Kosel, and we would curse that man. If he wouldn’t identify to whom he had married her off, we would curse him terribly.

“Why did I decide to do this? I learned this from the Rav of my birthplace. I was born in the Polish town of Bendin. Our Rav, Rav Chanoch Tzvi Levin, was a son-in-law of the Sefas Emes of Ger and was a great gaon who was also known as a tremendous ohev Yisrael. Rav Levin loved Yidden so much and would do anything to help another Yid.

A person once came to shul and hung his coat in the coatroom. His coat happened to contain an exorbitant sum of money that he had set aside for his daughter’s dowry. He came out to get his coat and discovered that the money was gone! When he realized that it must have been stolen, he fainted on the spot. He woke up and even though they tried to calm him, claiming they would find it, every time he realized that the money was gone, he fainted again! This kept on happening. Finally, the Bendiner Rav gathered everyone in the city to the shul and announced, ‘Tomorrow I will curse whoever took the money with a misah meshunah, a terribly gruesome death. I am making a box with a hole in it. If by tomorrow the money is not back, the curse will be made.’ The great ohev Yisrael cursed like this because he simply couldn’t bear to see the pain of this Yid. The next day the money had been returned.

“Because of that story in Bendin, I decided to do a similar thing and take the kollel to curse that terrible man who did such a terrible thing to his wife and daughter. When I told this to my shver, Rav Elyashiv, he smilingly and calmly continued peeling an apple and said, ‘Don’t take the kollel to the Kosel. Don’t curse him. There is absolutely no need for it.’

“Why?” I asked, “and why is the Rebbe smiling?”

“He then told me, ‘You can’t believe him. Doing such a thing would classify him as a rasha. The Gemara says ‘A person does not make himself into a rasha.’ That is a psak. He is not to be believed when he says he married off his daughter because he is not believed to say that he did something that makes him into a rasha.’”

“Do you know what happened? When Rav Elyashiv learned that Gemara, already right then he had thought of various scenarios where this principle of a person doesn’t make himself a ‘rasha’ could be applied.

“One must constantly be thinking about the application of the halachic principles that one learns, even in scenarios far different than the context in which you learned them.”

There were many other important questions asked and answered by the poskim but space constrains prevent more elaboration.

A Sefer Written Solely for Klal Yisroel is Eternal!

Rav Dovid Hofstedter concluded the event by citing what he had heard from his rebbi, Rav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l. He asked, “What is the secret of the success of the Mishnah Berurah? So many other great, illustrious geonim wrote sefarim and they have almost been forgotten. The Mishnah Berurah and the Chofetz Chaim’s other sefarim just became increased in popularity?

“The answer is that the Chofetz Chaim didn’t write sefarim to give over his own chiddushim. He wrote sefarim that were needed by Klal Yisrael. He was completely altruistic. Such sefarim, sefarim that are written solely for Klal Yisrael, are eternal.

“It is our fervent hope that this sefer that is so important for Klal Yisrael will serve a great purpose for Klal Yisrael, and will be successful in being mekadesh shem shomayim!”