Sunday 22 November 2020


Part of the copious writings of R. Yitzchak Safrin (1806–1874) of Zhidachov-Komarno referred to here as the "Great Eagle, the living Ari, and the G-dly Tanna."


I have tried to show, in a previous article Displacing Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah that whoever controls Halacha controls the future of Judaism. This is why we have a surprising number of versions of what is essentially a singular code of law and often the authors of such works were from very mystical backgrounds (see A Mystical Side to R. Yosef Karo). It seems possible that the mystics were attempting to reclaim control of the law from the early codifier, Rambam the rationalist.

In more recent times, there emerged the Shulchan Aruch haRav, by R. Shneur Zalman of Liady (1745-1812) the first rebbe of Chabad. Interestingly, this work generally steers clear of mystical references. 

Around the same time another work surfaced, Likkutei Halachot by R. Natan Sternhartz of Nemirov (1780–1845), a student of R. Nachman of Breslov, although this is more of an explanation of the ideas of his teacher than a code of law per se.

This article, based extensively on the research of Professor Ariel Evan Mayse[1], deals with a most unusual and little-known Halachic work, the Shulchan haTahor by R. Yitzchak Ayzik Yehudah Yechiel Safrin of Komarno[2] (1806–1874). The Shulchan haTahor is presented as a new code of law specifically for Chassidim. It not only alludes to, and includes Chassidic practices and ideology but it draws primarily and in the first instance from the mysticism of Chassidut and Kabbalah.


Mayse describes this fascinatingly bold and overtly Chassidic Shulchan Aruch as follows:

The book is, at heart, a systematic reformulation of Jewish law in light of Kabbalah, Hasidism, and the quest for personal mystical experience. Shulchan haTahor offers a rare case study for the interface of mystical experience, Hasidic devotional values, and kabbalistic doctrine as they explicitly shape the codified forms—and norms—of halakhah.

R. Safrin of Komarno was a prolific writer. He wrote commentaries on the Torah, Talmud and Zohar, kept a dream journal, authored a mystical autobiography and of course his new Shulchan Aruch for Chassidim. He was born into the Zhidachov Chassidic community which was known for its emphasis on strict observance of Halacha. Yet, his Shulchan haTahor was not just a mystical commentary on the Shulchan Aruch but a complete reworking of it.

Initially, his Shulchan haTahor was distributed amongst the Zhidachov-Komarno Chassidic community and remained in manuscript form. It was only published as late as 1963 almost a century after R. Safrin’s passing.


The Shulchan haTahor follows a similar format to that of the Shulchan Aruch. It is also divided into the common simanim and se’ifim, but although presented in a seriously legalistic format, the content is very unusual.

The work contains a second section, entitled, Zer Zahav, which acts as a commentary on the first section.[3]


While R. Yosef Karo, in his Shulchan Aruch, does sometimes venture into sources from the Zohar, the general consensus is that Kabbalah must not inform Halacha. Thus, for example, R. Moshe Sofer known as the Chatam Sofer (1736–1839) writes:

“I say that one who mixes Kabbalah with legal rulings (halakhot pesuqot) is culpable as one who sows a forbidden mixture (kilayim).”[4]

Ironically, although R. Safrin showed great respect for the Chatam Sofer, he certainly did not follow this sentiment about not mixing Kabbalah and Halacha when he came to writing his Shulchan haTahor.

Mayse shows how, from a tender age, R. Safrin was drawn to the mystical teachings, particularly of the Ari Zal (1534-1572). These Lurianic Kabbalistic teachings “burned” within him “like a torch”.

Setting the tone for his Shulchan haTahor, R. Safrin nails his colours to the mast by writing:

In any case where it is impossible to reconcile the words of the Talmud with the Zohar, even though the authorities (posqim) did not say so [explicitly], the [opinions conflict] because they did not see the brilliant light of the Zohar. Had they glimpsed it, there is no doubt that they would have bowed their heads in fear and awe to its words, for they are holy! [5]


According to R. Safrin, one who ignores the customs of the Zohar reveals that there must be “an element of heresy (tzad minut) hidden in such a person.”

He also claims that if one disagrees with a custom of the Zohar it is as if one disagreed with a Talmudic sage. This is probably because although the Zohar was only published around 1290,  the traditional view is that the Zohar was authored by the second-century Tanna, R. Shimon bar Yochai.

R. Safrin certainly held the mystics in the highest esteem because he continues that “one who disagrees with the ARI, disagrees with shekhinah.[6]


On the subject of immersing in a mikva, R. Safrin writes:

It is a commandment, an obligation from the teachings of our master the ARI and from the holy Zohar, to immerse oneself in the river or miqveh every Sabbath eve. One is also required to immerse in the morning before prayers on the Sabbath day, according to our master the ARI. One who transgresses his words without being compelled to do so is called a sinner, for all of his words [i.e., those of the ARI], even the most minor, were received—not from an angel or Seraph—but from the blessed Holy One Himself.[7]


The Shulchan haTahor encourages one to “take care and immerse oneself each day for it purifies the life-force, spirit, and soul (nafsho, ve-ruḥo ve-nishmato).[8]


All men are obliged to follow the Ari’s “injunction” to wear two pairs of tefillin:

“[E]ach Israelite, who has some Jewishness within, is obligated by the Torah to put on two pairs of tefillin—those of RaSHI and Rabbenu Tam. One who does not wear those of Rabbenu Tam is a fool and coarse of spirit.” [9]


In addition to Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, there are also Shimusha Rabba and Ra’avad tefillin[10], which according to R. Safrin are not obligatory but optional for those who feel they are on a ‘higher level’:

“One whose heart has been touched by awe before God should put on the tefillin of Shimusha Rabba and the RaBad…. Only one who has maintained piety from the days of his youth (maḥazik nafsho mi-ne‘urav ba-ḥasidut) and fear of sin should do so. Thus shall he feel a wondrous light in them as well.”[11]


R. Safrin encourages “one who has attained the holy lights and vitality of the tefillin” to “wear them also at minḥah.[12]


Mayse explains that in R. Safrin’s commentary on the Book of Esther, he permits tefillin strengthened with a small piece of leather called a “punternik”. The reason why it is permissible is that he saw them on the tefillin of R. Shneur Zalman of Liady, “a holy man who was punctilious and careful in all commandments.[13]      

Interestingly, Israel Berger cites an oral tradition where R. Safrin tells a student that he saw the tefillin in a dream because tradition has it that the tefillin of R. Shneur Zalman were lost. However, R. Safrin then claims that “And yet, before all the people, I did not want to write this down, and therefore I simply wrote that I saw them,[14] - even thought he only ‘saw’ them in a dream.


Regarding the strict ‘prohibition’ of wearing tefillin on the intermediate days of a festival, R. Safrin rules:

“It is forbidden to put on tefillin during the intermediate days of a festival, and one who does so is liable for two heavenly deaths.” [15]


Because the Shulchan haTahor is based on mystical practices, it often rules more stringently than normative Halacha. According to most authorities, if one reads from a Sefer Torah that was found to have a mistake, one may continue from another Sefer Torah from where one left off in the first. However, Shulchan haTahor rules that even for a minor mistake where the meaning of the word is not changed, one must start from the beginning of the weekly portion in the second Sefer Torah all over again.[16] This is because the Ari ruled like this “in his wisdom and with his holy spirit”.

In R. Safrin’s Zer Zahav commentary section, he claims that the well-known ruling of Rambam[17] – that one may even read from a defective or pasul Sefer Torah – is not just incorrect but a forgery!

The truth is more beloved to me, and I must dare to contravene my teachers. The truth is with those [who rule] that reading a pasul Torah scroll is totally meaningless, according to the Zohar, and our master the ARI.

Without a doubt, one must go back and read [the entire portion from the very beginning].[18]


Unusual for a Halachic work R. Safrin includes some of the practices of the Baal Shem Tov. Mayce shows how influences from dreams and visions were incorporated into the Halacha by citing the mystical autobiography of R. Safrin:

The door opened and I was worthy to see the face of our master, the BeSHT, may his merit protect us. As a result of my great joy and fear I was not able to move from my spot. He walked over to me and greeted me with a joyful face and I had great pleasure. His visage is engraved in my mind and is always before me. Perhaps I had been worthy to attain this because I had given charity that day, as is right and proper.[19]


As a result of the influence of the Baal Shem Tov, the Chassidic custom to wear a gartel or prayer belt, becomes a Halachic requirement and it is prohibited to pray without one.[20]


Similarly, one must follow the Ari’s version of the Tachanun prayer and nefilat apayim which was established by the “true tzadikkim, the disciples of the BeSHT.”[21] The descent into the kelipot or husks of the nether realms becomes exemplified during the ‘descent’ in the nefilat apayim, and it is necessary to ‘fall down’ in order to free the trapped sparks contained within those lowly realms.


Although some authorities do regard Mayim Acharonim as a chova, or obligation, and R. Shneur Zalman of Liady calls it a mitzvah - R. Safrin cites the Baal Shem Tov’s emphasis on ensuring that the water is poured into another vessel and not onto the ground.[22]


Brandy is regarded as so important and delightful that it takes Halachic precedence over some baked items known as mezonot. R. Safrin supports this notion by writing that such was the practice of R. Avraham Yehoshua of Apt as well as his uncle Tzvi Hirsch of Zhidachov.[23]


R. Safrin writes that the Baal Shem Tov said a blessing when he smoked his pipe:

Our divine master, holy of holies, our teacher Israel ben Eliezer Ba‘al Shem Tov, recited a blessing on smoking his pipe (lulke) and on drawing the tobacco into his nose [i.e., on using snuff]. Because I do not know the formulation of this blessing, but rather simply received the tradition that he did so, my custom is not to offer a blessing.[24]

R. Safrin claims that the Baal Shem Tov received the tradition and the wording of this blessing from his teachers who are said to have been Eliyahu haNavi and Achiya haShiloni.

…But a renowned scholar can establish a blessing for himself upon smoking the pipe, and other such things. The one who blesses, shall be blessed![25]


There is a well-established[26] principle in Halacha that in a doubtful situation (say, for example, one does not remember if a blessing was recited for food), one does not recite a second blessing as it may be superfluous. (By ‘blessing’ is meant the formula Baruch atah etc.) However, Shulchan haTahor takes a very different approach to the matter and says that one should recite a blessing in cases of doubt.

R. Safrin writes that he cannot see why one should not be permitted to simply praise G-d as one does anyway throughout the day – and why does it change matters when the praise just happens to begin with the formula Baruch atah etc.?[27]

The Shulchan haTahor wites:

Each person, should arrange the blessings according to his nature and according to the hour.[28]

Regarding formulating new blessings entirely, although he does not permit the outright composing of berachot by just anyone, he does say:

Each person of Israel, if he is an expert (bar hakhi), may come up with a new blessing to offer praise for each and every one of his needs, for each and every limb. This [practice] requires great discernment.[29]

He also writes:

“Each person should act as is best for him, according to his mind and his temperament, to illuminate his soul with sublime lights” (orot tzaḥtzeḥot).[30]


The Shulchan haTahor mentions the tradition that the Baal Shem Tov did not recite the lengthy Ashkenazi piyyutim, or poems, on the High Holidays. He claimed they were a later insertion and interrupt the prayers. However, in this instance, it rules against this custom of the Baal Shem Tov and instead cites R. Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717–1787) who did recite these piyyutim because it was in accordance with the remembered practice of the Ari.[31] This way, some Chassidic recollections and oral traditions were incorporated into the Shulchan haTahor.


Many Chassidim have chosen to follow the Sefaradic (Eastern) rites over those of (German) Ashkenaz. The Shulchan haTahor, however, is vehemently against this adaptation of Sefaradic rites and exhorts one not to “change anything from the Ashkenazi rite”.[32]

Whatever our master the ARI did not specifically command us to do, we should not change from the [liturgical] order of the Ashkenazim. I thunder against … certain fools who recite the [blessings following the] order of the Sephardim … what are the Sephardim to us? We are the descendants of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz—all of our customs and the liturgy were established by those who possessed the Holy Spirit, “descenders of the chariot.”[33]

R. Safrin points out that although the Ari did indeed base himself on both Sefaradic and Ashkenazic rites, he nevertheless prayed in an Ashkenazi synagogue on the High Holidays - and the Baal Shem Tov, he says, only made a few changes to the Ashkenazi rites. [See Musings on an ‘Ashkenazi’ Arizal.]


How classical Halacha is now presented through the lens of modern Chassidut can be seen in the way R. Safrin explains the Talmudic prohibition against greeting others before the Shacharit prayer service. He writes that the progression of each day is determined based upon one’s first thoughts in the morning:

[T]he essence of Judaism—devequt and divine vitality that is showered upon (nispha‘) a person each day—is drawn from the first thought and first utterance of the morning.”[34]


The Shulchan haTahor exemplifies concentration and intention so much that it rules:

“[It is better to say the] Amidah while seated and thus settle the mind and cultivate intentionality than it is to stand while worshipping and do so without kavvanah”.[35]


The Chassidic Rebbe Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin (1796-1850) married a woman who was an isha katlanit (a married woman who had become a widow twice. Based on a Talmudic ruling[36], she should not marry again because of the fear that her third husband may also die – although today one can make a legal argument to permit such a marriage).

However, when some scholars criticised R Yisrael of Ruzhin for his actions, R. Safrin came to his defence by writing:

“the deeds of the tzaddik are firmly established law (halakhah kevu‘ah), clear as the sun…. Everything that the tzaddikim do is wholly Torah (torah sheleimah)!”[37]

Mayce writes that:

…Safrin…makes a deeper point about the power of the tzaddik to establish the halakhah—made possible because the Hasidic leader embodies the halakhah in the personhood of his charismatic self and deeds.


Mayce shows that what previously - during the time of the Ari - was a practice of the mystical elite had now become something the common people were encouraged to emulate:

“If all Israel wore white clothes on the Sabbath, the redemption would arrive … and in this bitter time, there is no arrogance (yuhara) whatsoever. ”[38]


These types of cases are highly unusual for a Halachic code of law and they make R. Safrin’s Shulchan haTahor a most noteworthy exception to the general genre of Halachic works. Although the presentation is lively in that it does include mystical explanations and emphasises the power of individuals to make choices and he certainly does not just present a dry list of do’s and don’ts – many, even within the Chassidic community, might argue that he went too far.

Perhaps Shulchan haTahor shows how Judaism can sometimes be reformed not only by the left but also by the right. [See Reforms of the ultra-Orthodox.]

The Kotzker Rebbe, who passed away fifteen earlier than R. Safrin, said:

There will come a time when those who dress in white garb will need all the help they can get, to prevent them from turning to a distortion of Judaism.[39]

[1] Ariel Evan Mayse, Setting the Table Anew: Law and Spirit in a Nineteenth-Century Hasidic Code.

[2] For more about R. Safrin, see Hayyim Yehudah Berle, Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac miKomarno: Toldotav, Ḥiburav, Ma’amarav (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1965).

[3] The citations in this article are all from the Shulchan haTahor published by Avraham Aba Zis, Jerusalem 2005. Translations are by Mayse.

[4] She’elot uTeshuvot Chatam Sofer, Oracḥ Cḥaim, no. 51, 1:88.

[5] Shulchan haTahor 2:2, Zer Zahav 5.

[6] Shulchan haTahor 203:5.

[7] Shulchan haTahor 260:7. 

[8] Shulchan haTahor 88:1.

[9] Shulchan haTahor  34:1.

[10] See here for the differences between the various tefillin.

[11] Shulchan haTahor 34:5.

[12] Shulchan haTahor 25:3, 37:2.)

[13] Ketem Ofir (Jerusalem: N.p., 2012).

[14] Israel Berger, ‘Eser Qedushot (Jerusalem: N.p., 1949/50), 68.

[15] Shulchan haTahor 31:1.

[16] Shulchan haTahor 142:4.

[17] Teshuvot haRambam, ed. Yosef Blau, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Reuven Mas, 2014), no. 294, 2:550–553.

[18] Shulḥan Tahor 142:4, Zer Zahav 2.

[19] Faierstein, Jewish Mystical Autobiographies, 279.

[20] Shulchan haTahor 91:1.

[21] Shulchan haTahor  131:3, 9.

[22] Shulchan haTahor 181:2, Zer Zahav 1.

[23] Shulchan haTahor 212:10.

[24] Shulchan haTahor 210:3, Zer Zahav 2.

[25] Shulchan haTahor 6:4, Zer Zahav 5.

[26] See the Rif on b. Berakhot 6a; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Berachot 8:12; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 210:2 and 209:3

[27] The actual reason for this principle, however, is fascinating. Many believe it is so as not to take G-d’s name in vain. However, the real reason (as I saw in Peninei Halacha) is out of deference to the Sages who carefully instituted such blessings. Its is their rulings that we do not want to slight and has nothing to do with taking G-d’s name in vain.

[28] Shulchan haTahor 46:3.

[29] Shulchan haTahor 6:4, Zer Zahav 4.

[30] Shulchan haTahor 46:1, Zer Zahav 2.

[31] Shulchan haTahor 68:2.

[32] Shulchan haTahor 66:6.

[33] Shulchan haTahor 46:2, Zer Zahav 1.

[34] Shulchan haTahor  1:3, Zer Zahav 7.

[35] Shulchan haTahor 94:3.

[36] b. Yevamot 64b.

[37] Notzer Chesed (Jerusalem: N.p., 1982), ch. 3, no. 4.

[38] Shulchan haTahor 262:8.

[39] Amud HaEmet p. 187, par 3. Translation mine.


  1. The publication of Shulchan Hatahor (published by Hasidei Komarno) that I own writes on the book that it is "Minhagei Komarno". While there is a certain intertwining of Minhagim and Halacha in most Halachic texts, maybe with the exception of the Rambams Mishne TorahI think it is a question of what is emphasized in the text. I think Shulchan Hatahor emphasizes the minhag rather than the halacha, even if some choose to use it as a halachic codex, it does not appear from the text that the emphasis is halacha. Of course it raises the broader question of how does one discern between Halacha and minhag in these types of texts, which is an interesting question.

  2. Thank you EA for your considered comments. My feeling is that "Minhagei Komarno" may have been an insertion by the printers in 1963. One would have to check this against the earlier manuscripts to see if this is correct.

  3. There is a lovely quote from one of the prominent rabbonim of the 18th century, Rabbi Landau
    "Now, regarding the words of the Zohar, I do not wish to speak at length. How I am angered by those who study the book of the Zohar
    and the Kabbalistic literature in public. They remove the yoke of the revealed Torah from their necks, and chirp and make noises over the book of the Zohar, thus losing out on both, causing the Torah to be
    forgotten from Israel... it would be proper to ... prohibit the study of the Zohar and the Kabbalistic texts . . . in any case, we do not rule halakhah from the Zohar."

  4. Some of this (e.g. tefilin at Minha) is most correct, other parts that are very incorrect are unfortunately extremely widespread (no tefilin on Hol haMoed), other parts one might argue with on specific grounds, but are quite reasonable and are the kind of things amoraim do frequently (according special status to brandy, saying a bracha on smoking a pipe). The emphasis on kavanah and meaningful worship of G-d is good. The author, on your description appears to have been a cool guy. Shame about the kabbalah, but if that's deal-breaker for you, and you're serious, you have to admit the whole last 600 years of Judaism has been pretty much one big mistake.