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Arba'ah Turim

("The Four Rows")

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  • Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's 'Arba'ah Turim

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    See Exodus 28:17. The work is often referred to by the singular form "Tur."


    Rabbi Jacob ben Asher

    He is often designated simply as "Ba'al Ha- [=the author of the] Turim"


    c. 1270 - c. 1343


    Toledo, Spain


    He followed Maimonides' precedent in arranging his work in a topical order. However, unlike Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, the Arba'ah Turim covers only those areas of Jewish religious law that were in force in the author's time.

    Rabbi Jacob did not deal with criminal law, let alone with the sacrifices or the agricultural precepts that could be observed only in the Holy Land.

    The code is divided into four main topics, each of which is divided into a sequence of numbered paragraphs. The four "rows" are:

    1. Orah Hayyim

      ("The Path of Life"; see Psalms 16:11)

      This section deals with worship and ritual observance in the home and synagogue, through the course of the day, the weekly sabbath and the festival cycle.

    2. Yoreh De'ah

      ("Teach Knowledge"; see Isaiah 28:9)

      This section deals with assorted ritual prohibitions, especially dietary laws and regulations concerning menstrual impurity.

    3. Even Ha-'Ezer

      ("The Rock of the Helpmate"; see 1 Samuel 5:1 and the Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 2:18)

      This section deals with marriage, divorce and other issues in family law.

    4. Hoshen Mishpat

      ("The Breastplate of Judgment"; see Exodus 28:15)

      This section deals with the administration and adjudication of civil law.

    Another departure from Maimonides' precedent was the fact that the Tur did not limit itself to recording the normative positions, but compared the various opinions on any disputed point.

    As his starting point, he took the 11th-century Spanish code of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, which was still regarded as the definitive compendium of Jewish law. Alfasi's views were compared with those of Maimonides, as well as to the French and German traditions that were contained in the Tosafot literature. The comparison of the northern European and Spanish legal traditions had been pioneered by Rabbi Jacob's German-born father, Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (the "Rosh"). In most instances, Rabbi Jacob's followed his father's opinion.

    The influence of the Arba'ah Turim is thus perceptible in its integration of the Franco-German and Spanish legal traditions, as well as in its fourfold structure, which was later adopted by Rabbi Joseph Caro's Shulhan 'Arukh, and remains the most widely used structure for the organization of law codes and responsa.

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