By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
I’ve got some ‘musings’ that have been on my mind lately that I’d like to share. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that the Aruch Hashulchan just doesn’t get the full measure of attention or authority that it deserves. It often seems as if there is a popularity contest between the Mishna Berura and the Aruch Hashulchan.
Although not completely accurate, perhaps the state of affairs can be summarized as follows: the “yeshivishe” world follows the Mishna Berura (almost exclusively) while much of the learned, non-yeshivishe world defers to the Aruch Hashulchan. This is quite odd, actually, considering that the Aruch Hashulchan is a Lithuanian work while the Mishna Berura is a Polish one! While I certainly don’t want to marginalize the Mishna Berura, I would, however, like to discuss why the Aruch Hashulchan should be considered the posek acharon in a dispute between it and the Mishna Berura.
The Aruch Hashulchan is probably the most thorough and conveniently organized compilation of halacha today. Every halachic issue opens with a presentation of the relevant scriptural and Talmudic sources. So too, unlike the Mishna Berura’s text-based-tradition to deciding halacha, the Aruch Hashulchan tries to determine the halacha based on Talmudic precedents and contemporary practice…and often works hard to satisfy both. It’s not since the Rambam that there has been a work of halacha that covers all of Jewish law like the Aruch Hashulchan does.
So which should we follow? Mishna Berura or Aruch Hashulchan?
Rabbi Yehuda Henkin cites his grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, as having ruled that the Aruch Hashulchan is the more definitive and authoritative decisor of halacha. He offers a number of reasons for this. One reason is because most of the Aruch Hashulchan was written after the Mishna Berura. In fact, the Aruch Hashulchan often cites the Mishna Berura before issuing his own ruling. Another reason why the Aruch Hashulchan should be considered more authoritative is because it covers the entire Shulchan Aruch while the Mishna Berura only covers the Orach Chaim section. So too, as mentioned, the Aruch Hashulchan also takes into account the common customs of his day before rendering a ruling. Finally, the Mishna Berura was essentially written by a scholar while the Aruch Hashulchan was written by a scholar who was also a practicing rabbi. As a practicing rabbi, the author regularly interacted with the community and dealt with the problems and issues that they faced. He had more hands-on experience in dealing with halachic dilemmas. Indeed, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is reported to have said that the Aruch Hashulchan takes precedence over the Mishna Berura for this reason alone.
…I welcome your thoughts.