What is Mishnah berurah comprised of in regards to table of contents? I understand it is typically a six volume book, but how many chapters and pages? Also, what are Simanim, seifim, and Helek?
I am newly religious and my Hebrew is way behind.
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
Okay, let's rewind a bit!
In the mid-1500s, Rabbi Yosef Karo compiled a work called Shulchan Aruch, his version of a code of Jewish law. (Well he was working on an earlier framework, but that's even more complicated ...) One volume deals with civil law, another marital law; the volume under discussion now is called Orach Chaim (path of life). It addresses the daily routine, and things involving time. It starts with waking up in the morning, daily prayers, continues to the laws of blessings before/after eating, and so on, until the laws of going to bed at night; then gets into Shabbos and the holidays.
It's divided into simanim, chapters, and se'ifim (literally, "branches"), sub-sections.
For example, Siman 47 is about the blessings said before studying Torah. (It's a relatively low-numbered Siman as that happens daily, near the start of your day.) Siman 47, Se'if 3 (often written 47.3 or 47:3) discusses whether it applies to writing Torah or just saying it.
Okay that wasn't complicated enough ...
Around a hundred years ago, a rabbi better known as Chafetz Chaim decided to write several extensive commentaries on the Orach Chaim portion of Shulchan Aruch., summarizing a great deal of earlier glosses on the material. That's what we call Mishna Brurah. You will therefore hear someone referencing Mishna Brurah on, say, what if you forgot the extra prayers for Rosh Chodesh? Or how to shake a lulav? Or how to keep food warm on Shabbos? You will not find Mishna Brurah discussing who can serve as a witness at a Jewish wedding; what forms of rental agreements constitute prohibited usury; what happens if you stirred a meat pot with a dairy spoon; or when I'm allowed to keep cash I find in the street. All of those subjects aren't in Orach Chaim.
So if someone says "I'm studying Mishna Brurah!", what they mean is: I will first see what Shulchan Aruch says on the subject, then look down and read the commentaries/glosses on it. Which is complicated, and confusing.
Also, there is so much commentary that it's not always practical to print one giant book containing all of Orach Chaim. As you said, it's often available as a six-volume set. The first volume (or chelek) covers the first bunch of simanim in Orach Chaim, waking up, morning prayers, and the like; the last volume gets to the holidays.
As others have said, it's a lengthy and complex work, really not suited for novices. (Many feel it's complicated enough it doesn't even belong in a yeshiva high school curriculum.) There are other works with a single voice that can be better options.
Mishna Brurah is actually a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish code of law written by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (Poland, 1838–1933), also known as the Chofetz Chaim
The Mishnah Berurah is an explanation on the 1st volume known as "Orach Chaim" which discusses laws common to daily ways of life such as prayer, tallit, tefillin, Shabbat and holiday observances.
A chelek is a volume - there are 6 in total A Siman is a chapter - 697 in total A se'if is a paragraph within a chapter. The beginning of each siman, will have a title telling you what it is about and it will tell you how manay se'ifim there are.