The Truth of Jewish Law
Halacha is a word for Jewish law. Jewish law originates from the oral and written traditions of the teachings of Hashem (God) on Mt. Sinai to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher). Moshe then taught them to Yehoshua (Joshua), who then taught the Elders of the tribes of Israel, who then taught the prophets, who then taught the men of the great assembly. The men of the great assembly, which was made up of many great masters and known prophets, codified the Tanach (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim/ 5 books of Moses received on Mt. Sinai, the prophets, and writings), our 24 book written tradition. After them, the oral tradition was passed down from teacher to student until Hillel and Shammai, their students, and the Tannaim (Rabbis of the Mishna), who lived around the time of the destruction of the 2nd temple in 70 ce. These teachings were passed down to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) who wrote down the oral tradition for the first time in around 200 ce. He wrote it in a very compact way with little explanation. Over the next couple hundred years, rabbis studied the Mishna with their rabbis who explained the full oral tradition to them. Rabbis would learn and discuss the Mishna, and debate each other on how to interpret the Mishna and decide how to keep the laws. Around 200 years after the Mishna was written, the Talmud/Gemara was written, consisting of the discussions of the debates of the Rabbis on how to interpret the Mishna and their final decisions. It also has aggadah, which are very deep, cryptic stories with important teachings. The rabbis in the gemara are referred to as Amoraim. The Amoraim can’t go against a Tanna in the Mishna, they can just interpret and understand it in different ways. The gemara was studied and the basis for halacha until the Rishonim, the rabbis who explained and decided laws based on the gemara. The Rishonim couldn’t go against the Amoraim, they just disagreed on how to understand and interpret them. The Rambam was the first to ever make a book of halacha of all the laws of the oral and written traditions, the Mishneh Torah, written in 1180 ce. Then in around 1300 ce. Rabbi Yakov ben Asher, son of the great Rishon the Rosh, compiled his own book of halacha the Arbah Turim (four rows, after the four rows of stones on the breastplate of the Cohen Gadol/High Priest) known commonly as the Tur. This became a standard reference for Jewish law, and is still to this day. Around 250 years later, Rabbi Yosef Caro, an Acharon (Acharonim comment on and decide how to understand and keep the laws of the Rishonim) came to Tzfat, Israel and published his commentary on the Tur, the Beit Yosef. From this he made the Shulchan Aruch (set table), his code of Jewish law that is the standard halacha for Judaism used until today. The Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, wrote his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch soon after in Poland, and his decisions became the standard customs for Ashkenazic Jews in Europe and around the world until this day. Sephardic Jews stayed with the decisions of Rabbi Caro. Rabbi Caro wrote the Shulchan Aruch in a condensed way meant for people that are familiar with the Tur and Beit Yosef, along with the rest of the Poskim (Rishonim and Acharonim). Because of this, there are many commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch explaining what he wrote and how to practically keep the laws. The major commentaries are printed with the Shulchan Aruch, and later Poskim wrote books of halacha that are more practical for people to learn and understand, such as the Mishna Brurah by the Chafetz Chaim for Ashkenazim, and Yalkut Yosef with the halachic decisions of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef for Sephardim, and many more. Now there are books available in most languages that the average unlearned person can understand so everyone can learn and keep the laws.
Something extremely important to understand: All the great Tannam, Amoraim, Rishonim and Achoronim and Poskim had Ruach Hakodesh (divine inspiration), and many learned with angels and Elijah the Prophet from heaven, making sure that everything they said was true. It is well known that Rabbi Yosef Caro learned with an angel. He has a whole book of kabbalah that he wrote based on the angel’s teachings, Maggid Mesharim. Even though there are disagreements, they are all the words of the Living God as stated in the Gemara. Many simple halachic questions can be learned in the summary books of laws, but more difficult questions should be asked to a person that has learned properly, and knows how to come to halachic decisions, a tradition of learning and making decisions that has been passed down for thousands of years since Moshe Rabbeinu.
Rabbi Elimelech from Lezhensk, student of the Maggid of Mezritch student of the Baal Shem Tov, one of the greatest kabbalist/Tzadik/Chasid Rabbis that ever lived said this: All the halachic rabbis, the Poskim that are deciding the laws we keep, all the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Acharonim until and including the Magen Avraham, one of the major commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, had Ruach Hakodesh (divine inspiration/prophetic abilities) and learned with Eliyahu Hanavi/Elijah the Prophet. He said this in the 1700s. Since then, there are countless stories of the Ruach Hakodesh of the great Poskim/Kabbalists/Tzadikim of our generation to this day. There are endless stories of the Labavitcher Rebbe and Baba Sali performing miracles with many witnesses, knowing the future, and much more. They lived a few decades ago, and I know people that personally met them and witnessed these things. They both said all of the laws for our generation from the recent Poskim are accurate and we need to follow them strictly. They are just two examples, there are many more.
Having learned this, we see that all the laws we have today are accurate. If one wasn’t, Hashem would have let them know through an angel or Elijah the Prophet. Do you think Hashem would lead His people astray, not knowing how to keep His laws? Not a chance. As stated above, even though there are disagreements, they are all the words of the Living God as stated in the Gemara. If people chose a minhag (custom), such as Ashkenazi, Sepharadi, etc., and keep the laws of the major poskim with the guidance of a living Rabbi that has learned properly, they will be keeping the Will of the Creator. If a Jew doesn’t keep the laws that we have in our accepted books of halacha for our generation, they are directly going against the Will of our Creator, causing much damage to themselves and the world. We learn in the kabbalah that when people break the laws, they are causing their suffering in this world and after this life, and have to reincarnate. If they repent and keep them, they are helping rectify themselves and the whole creation.