Sunday 28 January 2018


R. Chizkiya da Silva, author of Pri Chadash.


The well-known commentary on the Shulchan Aruch[1], the Pri Chasdash (literallyNew Friut’) was written by Rabbi Chizkiya ben David da Silva (1659-1698).

His story is often ignored or unknown and his work is generally regarded as any other commentary. However, he was considered by some to be a very controversial figure; threatened with excommunication, flogging and even violence, and his Pri Chadash commentary was banned for some years.

Many are not aware that the version we have today is not entirely original, as parts of the Pri Chadash had to be ‘neutralized’ and ‘toned down’ before it was authorised as an official commentary on the Shulchan Aruch.


R. Chizkiya da Silva was born in Livorna, Italy in 1659 and much happened to him during his short thirty-nine years.

At the age of thirty, he travelled to Amsterdam to try to raise money for his new book, the Pri Chadash (the first edition was published in Amsterdam, in 1692). Whilst in Amsterdam, he was offered two positions of leadership – either to remain in Amsterdam and lead the large Sephardic community, or to travel to Jerusalem and head up a new yeshiva.

Printed sermon in Ladino, by R. Chizkiya da Silva, delivered in Amsterdam, 1691.

He almost took the leadership position in Amsterdam after the community agreed to two of his demands: - firstly, that he receives a negotiated salary instead of having to rely on random ‘gifts’ from the community (which used to be the norm) - and secondly, that the community do not interfere with any of his Halachik rulings.

However, even after they agreed to those two demands, he realised that the community would never be comfortable with his radical approach to Halacha and he decided not to take the position.[2]
Instead, in 1693 he accepted the offer to head a yeshiva in Jerusalem which became known as Beit Yaakov.[3]


To see how revered R. da Silva was, one simply has to read the inscription under his official portrait[4]:

Whoever seen the Pri Chadash must say the blessing (Shehecheyanu) ‘who has given us life and kept us so that we have reached this moment’[5]...(This portrait) was stored and hidden in the archives of kings...(and) in the house of...the most learned rabbi Avraham...Lehren (who collected rabbinic portraits) in the city and mother of Israel, Amsterdam, may G-d watch over her.”[6]


R. da Silva apparently regarded coffee very highly as a stimulant for study, because he wrote that “one cannot attain presence of mind without the aid of coffee.” This was still at a time when coffee did not taste as good as it does today and was in fact rather foul-tasting.[7] (See KOTZK BLOG 155, for a view that it may have been something stronger than coffee.)


When people started studying the Pri Chadash, they found it to be far from a benign commentary on the Shulchan Aruch:


The Pri Chadash contained criticism of earlier rabbis from the period of the Rishonim (1038-1500) and even the Gaonim (589-1038). This created much consternation in Halachik circles as the golden rule is that later rabbis do not contradict earlier rabbis because it upsets the hierarchy of the legal system.

To make matters worse, he stated that R. Dosa was mistaken in the Talmud for his zoological view regarding which animals can have horns. And R. Dosa’s view was accepted by the Shulchan Aruch![8]
This again raised the ire of the rabbinical establishment as Talmudic views are regarded as sacrosanct and can never be ‘mistaken’.

R. Chizkiya da Silva also tended to be very lenient in his Halachik rulings - and he took to task those who pronounced strict rulings, as he felt that unnecessary stringencies drive people away.
Here is one example:

The Pri Chadash[9] states that one need not worry about keeping Chalav Yisrael in a place where it is known that milk is only produced from kosher animals, or if non-kosher milk would be more expensive. He adds that it was indeed the custom of Amsterdam not to observe Chalav Yisrael and he mentions that he kept that custom too.

הכלל העולה דבעיר שלא נמצא שם חלב טמא או שהיא יותר ביוקר מחלב טהור מותר לקנות מהעכו"ם חלב שחלבו בלא ראיית ישראל כלל וכן מצאתי המנהג פשוט פה אמסטרדם וכן נהגתי אני
Another example of his lenient views can be seen with regard to Marit Ayin (where something can become forbidden because even though one is not transgressing any law, it may appear to others as if he is transgressing):
The Pri Chadash is of the view that after Talmudic times we can no longer institute new stringencies based on Marit Ayin. This went against opinions of many others[10] including the Shulchan Aruch[11] itself, which maintained that we can and do continue to introduce new stringencies.
The challenging views expressed in the Pri Chadash often turned out to be radical rally-cries in support of Maimonides and his code, the Mishneh Torah (written in the 1200’s). So much so that he, in fact, undermined the growing authority of R. Yosef Karo’s new code, the Shulchan Aruch (written in the 1500’s), which was enjoying universal acceptance.

Most serious of all was his brazen questioning of the authority of the Shulchan Aruch as the official codification and the final arbiter of Jewish Law.


When the Pri Chadash[12] reached Egypt there was a huge outcry against the work. The Egyptian rabbis proposed to excommunicate him. The excommunication, however, was not carried out against R. da Silva, and instead, it was only his book, the Pri Chadash, which was banned.

In Shut Ginat Vradim, by R. Avrahan haLevi (who was the rabbi of Egypt at that time) it is written that the rabbis of Egypt would “not let anyone read this book.” The rabbis demanded that all copies of the Pri Chadash be placed in Geniza.


Later, the Pri Chadash became popular and some like R. Yonatan Eybeschutz and R. Yosef Teomim (Pri Megadim) quote the Pri Chadash and follow many of his rulings.

First edition of Pri Chadash, Amsterdam 1692.


The Egyptian ban, however, was later repealed by R. Avraham haLevi - as well as by a student of R. da Silva, R. Shlomo Elgazi (who succeeded R. Avraham haLevi as the rabbi of Egypt and held that important position for forty-five years). As a result of their endorsements, the Pri Chadash became accepted by the mainstream.

In 1743 The Pri Chadash was published together with the other standard commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. However, before it was printed it had to undergo severe ‘modification’ (or censorship). The publishers removed the harsh language of the original uncomfortable challenges to the Shulchan Aruch and then re-styled the text to conform to the other standard commentaries.


The following is a fascinating ‘eyewitness’ account of the controversy surrounding the Pri Chadash, as extracted from Shut (Responsa of) Ginat Vradim[13], by R. Avraham haLevi:

It so happened that a devout scholar, inflamed by the zeal of the Torah, had written a book, entitled Pri Chadash...

The book arrived in Egypt. Upon perusal of some of its content, it was discovered that the author had cast off the bridle of his tongue to say derogatory things about Israel’s great authorities, whose words we drink thirstily and whose utterances we follow.

He does not respect the rulings of the venerable elders, and refers perfidiously to our great rabbi the Beit Yosef (R. Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch), whose work forms the basis of all our rulings and is the pillar of our study, as if he (R. Karo) were his inexperienced pupil, a fledgling who has not yet opened his eyes, in that he (R. Karo) has no qualms about forbidding what is permitted (i.e. R. da Silva accused R. Karo of being overly strict in his Shulchan Aruch.)[14].’

When this (book) was made public (in Cairo), a group of brave men braced themselves and convened the scholars of Israel who dwelled in the city (of Cairo), and also some sojourners who are here from other countries, to call the author (R. da Silva) to order.

The local scholars agreed on a course of conciliation between the two sides, to avoid physical violence to the learned author or besmirching his honour, heaven forbid, by a public flogging or excommunication.

They, therefore, admonished him privately, and he apologised and became aware of his deeds, of which he was ashamed, like a thief caught red-handed.

In order to appease the community, its leaders and officials, they agreed to bury all the books found here in Egypt in a building.[15]

And it was most solemnly decreed, and a ban was imposed...that the said book must not be read casually or deeply, by any member of the community...

It so happened that the rabbis of Hebron...happened to be here too, and they were asked to...add their signatures to the document, but they would not be bound by it, and upon leaving the city, they would hold on to the said book and study it...”

Some time past after the book was banned in Egypt. R. Da Silva had passed away and it seemed that the mood towards him had changed.

The Ginat Vradim continues:

Now several utterly wise scholars, and many others, are longing and eager to study the said book...Now the fervent about (keeping) G-d’s laws have come and asked whether or not it is possible to lift the said ban...

When I who am but junior, saw the city (of Cairo) in this commotion, and the desire of numerous scholars to find a solution...I decided to examine it as much as my frail ability permits...”
First, though, the Ginat Vradim defends the original ban:

“In my opinion, even if the aforementioned ban seems very strange (to the reader) – for how could they (the rabbis who issued the ban) agree that this book, which contains numerous novel interpretations of the law, may not be read, thereby denying academic sustenance to students? – in any event, we have found that greater precautions have been instituted, when this is required by the times, to serve as fences to safeguard the Torah.”

In other words, with the passage of time, the Law becomes more and more stringent so as to protect the institution of Halacha. (It’s interesting to note that this very notion was fundamentally opposed by R. da Silva, as we saw regarding his general aversion to extra stringencies.)

In this light...there is no doubt that the ban on the book was legally valid, for they were zealous for the honour of the early authorities. Therefore, one who makes light of and abandons this covenant is like one who transgresses the complete Torah that was given to Moses...”

Having defended the ban, Ginat Vradim continues:

Now let us see if we can find a remedy for the injury of that scholar (R. da Silva) who tarnished and ridiculed the honor of Israel’s great men.”

The main argument in favour of R. da Silva’s vindication is:

“...he has atoned for this sin by his death. Since his sin has been atoned for, the court may lift the ban...”

Then Ginat Vradim acknowledges that it was only really in Egypt that rabbis took umbrage to R. da Silva’s outspoken views:

“...the work (Pri Chadash)
 has been disseminated throughout all Jewish communities (outside of Egypt) and there have been no misgivings anywhere...”

But he continues to defend the Egyptian rabbis:

Nevertheless, the competent court of Egypt...has acted well...since the honor of the early authorities has been enhanced...”

Finally, Ginat Vradim seems to rely on ‘public discretion’ as sufficient basis to support the lifting of the ban on the Pri Chadash:

Furthermore...we see that readers of this kind of book are discriminating enough to take the insides and discard the rind, and the holy people of Israel harken to strictures and truly recognize the stature of the early authorities...”

And as the last word, going almost as far as to admit that R. da Silva may have been treated a little unfairly, he seems to end almost in desperation:

“...since there are numerous (other) books that deserve to be taken out of circulation, and no one pays them any heed (we might as well rescind the ban on the Pri Chadash). Therefore, since we know that his action did not bring about any mishap to the public, his sin may be forgiven.”[16]


According to the Ginat Vradim, when the Egyptian ban against the Pri Chadash was rescinded, the book was to have been re-circulated in its original form. It was the ‘discriminating’ readers who would be able to choose which parts to accept and which to reject if necessary. There is no mention of the work being censored.

However, as we know, later in 1743, when the Pri Chadash became ‘standardised’ so as to conform with the other ‘normative’ commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, the text first had to be ‘cleansed’ (apparently by the publishers).

What this amounts to, then, is that the standard published version of the Pri Chadash commentary that we use today is essentially a censored text and not entirely  the original writing of R. Chizkiya da Silva.

[1] The Shulchan Aruch was authored by R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575). The Pri Chadash commentary can be found on the sections of Orach Chaim, Yoreh Deah and Even haEzer.
[2] This is the version of the story as apparently recorded by the Chida.
[3] While in Amsterdam, R. da Silva influenced the wealthy Yaakov Pereira to fund a new yeshiva in Jerusalem under his name, hence ‘Beit Yaakov’. Interestingly, there already did exist a Beit Yaakov Yeshiva in Jerusalem, named after the Vigo brothers, which had closed in 1689. He was soon to have three prominent students, R. Shlomo Elgazi (who became the Rabbi of Rabbi of Egypt), R. Avraham Yitzchaki and R. Yitzchak haCohen (author of the Battei Kehuna).
[4] The original painting was done during the 1600’s but in the early 1800’s it was copied and the inscription was added. The new painting was part of a collection of rabbinic portraits belonging to R. Avraham Tzvi Hirsch Lehren (1784-1853). R. Lehren also ran an organization called Pekidim, which strove to ensure that there was always a strictly religious community living and studying in Israel.
[5] This was a play on the blessing oven a ‘new fruit’, or Pri Chadash.
[6] Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe, by Richard I. Cohen.
[7] As an interesting aside, R. Yehudah Leib Nardin actually forbade coffee as a non-kosher beverage. This was, he said because sometimes meat fat was added to it. Although R. Nardin was adamant that he had seen meat fat added to coffee, it is possible that the word Cheilev (meat fat) was meant to read Chalav (milk) and that perhaps he intended to say that coffee should not be used after eating meat as it may contain milk.
[8] Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 80:20.
[9] Pri Chadash 115:6.
[10] Such as the Pri Toar (Yoreh Deah 87:9).
[11] Yoreh Deah 87:4.
[12] The section on Yoreh Deah to be precise.
[13] Yoreh Deah 3:3.
[14] All parenthesis are mine.
[15] My assumption is this may be a reference to the famous Cairo Geniza. See KOTZK BLOG 91.
[16] Excerpted from Controversy and Dialogue in the Jewish Tradition: A Reader, edited by Hanina Ben-Menahem, Neil S. Hecht, Shai Wosner.


  1. Do you have any evidence that his book was censored?

  2. I assume you refer to the censoring of the 1743 'standardised'edition - as the earlier banning of Pri Chadash in Egypt was well documented in Shut Ginat Vradim as shown in the article.
    I have no empirical evidence of the second censorship other than the research I did at the time which showed that some degree of censorship took place. To what degree I cannot say, although I would imagine the controversial issues found earlier in Egypt would not have gone away so quickly.
    The only way to know the extent of the second censorshhip would be to compare earlier texts with the current version.

    By the way I must commend you on your very well researched blog which I recommend people to read.

  3. There some early editions online. Do you know anyone who wrote on it or made research? Maybe someone from Israel?

  4. I can't see any comments from you on my blog :(

  5. Do you have access to the Friedman Edition of the Shulchan Aruch מהדורת פריעדמאן? We have it in our Beit Midrash, but we don't have the first volume with the introduction. I hope they printed the original edition of Pri Hadash. Look what they write about this edition:

    1. Do you know what year the Friedman Edition was published?

  6. Al pi thr hakdama to the Mishneh Torah and how the Geonim held, the sealing of the Talmud Bavli was sof hora'a. No later pesakim by any Rabbanim regardless of their madrega has the authority to matir or oser and force Jews to obey him. This authority was lost until we restore the Sanhedrin b'mehera v'yamenu. Likewise, the concept of hierarchy despite lack of real smikha and a Sanhedrin is foreign to the Rambam, Rif, and Geonim. Even the Rishinom themselves like Rashi or Ba'ale Tosafot didn't believe in it otherwise they'd never have dared to be cholek those talmide hakhamim who came before them.

    Regarding Tannaim or Amoraim being wrong about zoology or science etc, they knew only what was available to them through their days zoology, science etc. If you say it's impossible, they had ruach hakodesh! Simply recall even a gadol like Rabbi Akiva was wrong (thinking Bar Kokhba was mashiach) and humbly admitted when he was.

    Thus, nothing the Pri Chadash wrote is antithetical to Torah Judaism.