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Short Guideline in understanding the Halachic Process
A World Map specifies where different countries are (i.e. Israel, Turkey, France, China). It doesn't guide you from one location to another.
Thus, to find the way from Queens to Brooklyn you would need a New York City Map as its objective is to give directions.
The Torah is like a World Map. It mentions all the Mitzvot (i.e. Tefillin, Shabbat, Kashrut) though it does not give us the details of the Mitzvah.
The details were told over orally to Moshe Rabeinu and for hundreds of years the details of the laws were memorized by all. However, due to the trials and tribulations the Jewish people faced since the destruction of the Temple, the oral Torah was in danger of being forgotten and was eventually written down and the Mishnah/Gemarah (Talmud) that we have to day was compiled.
Thus, the Talmud can be likened to a City Map. If you want to learn about the laws of Shabbat, you open up the "Mesechet" (section) in the Gemarah which deals with Shabbat. If you want to learn about Pesach (Passover) you open up the Mesechet which deals with the laws of Pesach, etc.
The difficulty with the Gemarah is that there are several disagreements on different matters and the final law is unclear. Thus, in order to simplify matters, several "Rishonim" (Rabbi's living between the year 1000 and the late 1400's), wrote books with their "Halachic" opinion on each topic.
Amongst the many great Rishonim were:
(Note: S= Sefardi, A= Ashkenazi)
Rif (S 1013-1103)
Rashi (A 1040-1105)
Rashbam (A 1080-1158)
Rabenu Tam (A 1100-1170)
Rambam (S 1135-1204)
Ramban (S 1195-1270)
Rabenu Yonah (S 1200-1263)
Rashba (S 1240-1310)
Ritva (S 1240-1325)
Rosh (A 1250-1327)
Tur (A 1280-1340)
Maharil (A 1355-1427)
Early Commentaries on the Rambam
Magid Mishne (S 1300-1370)
Radvaz (S 1460-1574)
Kessef Mishne (S 1488-1575)
Lechem Mishne (S 1545-1588)
Mishne Lemelech (S 1657-1727)
Early Commentaries on the Tur
Bet Yosef (S 1488-1575)
Darkei Moshe (A 1540-1572)
Bach (A 1561-1640)
Problem: Eventually the same difficulties that were presented by the different opinions in the Gemarah, also came about due to the different opinions in the Rishonim.
Solution: Rav Yosef Karo (S 1488-1575) authored the "Kessef Mishne", a commentary on the Rambam, and the "Bet Yosef", a commentary on the Tur. He also authored the "Shulchan Aruch" ("The Set Table") which is commonly referred to as the "Code of Jewish Law." This work was meant to give the final ruling based on the works of the Rishonim. The system he normally followed in deciding the Law was by virtue of "majority rules." He took the writings of the Rif, Rambam and Rosh and concluded that if 2 agree then the law would follow their Halachic opinion.
However, 2 of the 3 Rabbi's he based his decisions on were Sefardic. Therefore, the Sefardic opinion dominated in most cases.
Thus, Rav Moshe Isserlish (A 1540-1572), who authored the Darkei Moshe on the Tur, and is known by the acronym "Rama", incorporated the Ashkenazi customs into the Shulchan Aruch, and this work which is titled "Mapah" ("Table Cloth") has been printed together with the Shulchan Aruch ever since.
And so, with this, the Sefardic and Ashkenazi customs were presented
in one Book.
Early Commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch
Taz (A 1586-1667)
Shach (A 1622-1663)
Magen Avraham (A 1637-1683)
Pri Chadash (S 1659-1698)
Elyah Rabbah (A 1660-1712)
Bei'ur HaGra (A 1720-1794)
Birkei Yosef (S 1724-1805)
Other Famous works on Halacha
Shalmei Tzibur (S 1679-1756)
Shulchan Aruch Harav (A 1745-1813)
Chayei Adam (A 1748-1820)
Chesed Le'Alaphim (S 1785-1828)
Kaf HaChaim [Falag'i] (S 1788-1858)
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch(A 1804-1886)
Aruch Hashulchan (A 1829-1918)
Mishnah B'rurah (A 1838-1933)
Kabbalistic Approach: During the times of Rav Yosef Karo, there were many great Kabbalists. The most famous of all was the Arizal (A 1534-1572). The works of the Arizal were only revealed and published by his primary student
Rav Chaim Vital (S 1542-1620) after Rav Karo passed away.
Many great Rabbi's amongst the Sephardic communities accepted the Arizals opinion over that of Rav Karo, some even claiming that had Rav Karo seen the Arizals writings, he would not have argued against him.
And so, for many generations Sefardic Rabbis including the Chida (1724-1805), Ben Ish Chai (1833-1909) and Kaf HaChaim [Sofer] (1870-1939) based their rulings on the writings of the Arizal.
This is how many Sefardic Communities practiced until recent times, when Rav Ovadia Yossef (1920-Present) came along. His Halachic opinion follows that of the Shulchan Aruch and his influence has been so great that many Sefardic communities today accept his rulings as final.
List of books authored by Rav Ovadia Yossef
Note: Besides the books listed above, Rav Ovadia Yossef's sons have written dozens of books in support of his views. His son Rav Yitzchak is the author of the Halachic work
"Yalkut Yossef" which currently has over 25 volumes. His son Rav David is the author of Torat Hamoadim, which deals with the laws and customs of the holidays and
Halacha Berurah, which is an in depth commentary on the Shulchan Aruch.
It should be noted that Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (1929-Present) and many other Sefardic Rabbi's continue to follow the path of the
Ben Ish Chai in following the Arizal, and there are many communities that continue to take this course.