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Authoritative code, prepared by Joseph Karo, containing all the traditional rules of Jewish conduct, based on Talmudic sources and later opinions or decisions of the great rabbis. Originally, the Shulhan Arukh was intended for young students who were not yet prepared to weigh the complex decisions of the authorities. However, the work suited so well the need for a methodical and easily accessible arrangement of the various laws that it became the most popular handbook for both scholars and laypersons.

The Shulhan Arukh is divided, like its predecessor, the Arbaah Turim, into four parts: one summarizing the laws pertaining to prayers, Sabbath, and holidays; a second, the dietary laws, laws of mourning and other ritual matters; a third, civil laws; and a fourth, the laws relating to marriage, divorce, and similar matters.

The Code of Joseph Karo was accepted immediately by Sephardic Jewry. Ashkenazic scholars, chief among them Moses Isserles, amended, revised, and added many customs and practices current among the Ashkenazic Jewry. With the additions of Isserles and other commentaries, the Shulhan Arukh has been the most vital and influential book in Jewish religious life.

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