If the Shulchan Aruch primarily rules based on a majority based on the Rif, Rambam and the Rosh, who each (I'm assuming) are usually philosophically internally consistent, then wouldn't the Shulchan Aruch be philosophically internally inconsistent?

  • "primarily" "usually" All that could get you is that the ShA is generally consistent.
    – Double AA
    Sep 28, 2017 at 13:39
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    @SophArch I didn't say that was ok, and the OP didn't assume the works it is based on are fully internally philosophically consistent. (In any event if the Shulchan Arukh was just meant as cliff notes for the Beit Yosef and he intended you to just use it as a study aid, then bringing contradictory opinions in some places wouldn't be surprising since you are expected to go back and know the Sugya and make a decision.)
    – Double AA
    Sep 28, 2017 at 14:18
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    @DannySchoemann Examples of what?
    – Double AA
    Sep 28, 2017 at 15:57
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    This is not a question about Jewish philosophy, but about jurisprudence. The hashkafa tag is inappropriate.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 28, 2017 at 18:27
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    What do you mean by "philosophically," the shulchan aruch is a book of law not ideas?
    – mroll
    Sep 28, 2017 at 22:07

3 Answers 3


No. The philosophy is that majority rules; in that philosophy it is generally consistent.

You could ask the same question about any multi-member court or a legislature. Is it philosophically inconsistent because the majority which rules consists of different individuals each time there is a vote? No, because the philosophy that matters is not the philosophy of each individual, who is not himself the court or legislature anymore than the mailman or janitor is. The relevant philosophy is that of the court itself, which is nothing except the procedures that govern it.

  • Does this work out statistically? If we assume that each of the three are always philosophically consistent then there can never be a philosophical inconsistency in a work that always chooses the majority position. If the Shulchan Aruch endorses philosophy A that means that (at least) 2/3 held of philosophy A. For the Shulchan Aruch to be philosophically inconsistent it would have to reject philosophy A somewhere else, which means that 2/3 had to reject philosophy A elsewhere, so at least 1/3 dchange. Thus, if all 3 are philosophically consistent, the Shulchan Aruch would have to be as well.
    – Alex
    Mar 30, 2018 at 16:01
  • This is not to say that the Shulchan Aruch has no exceptions where it does not follow the majority, and that the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh have no exceptions where they philosophically contradict themselves. But to whatever extent those two rules are followed, the result will also be consistent.
    – Alex
    Mar 30, 2018 at 16:03
  • I don't understand what you are asking. My point is that each individual's philosophy is irrelevant to the philosophy of the SA as a whole, which is simply that majority should rule.
    – Dov F
    Mar 30, 2018 at 16:05
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    It is true that the Shulchan Aruch does not have an independent philosophy (aside from "follow the majority") but my point is that it will be statistically impossible for two places in the Shulchan Aruch to be philosophically inconsistent, because in order for there to be an inconsistency while still following the majority in both places, one of the three sources must be inconsistent. If we are operating under the premise that the three sources are always self-consistent then the Shulchan Aruch will also be. Not for a philosophical reason, but because it's mathematically impossible not to be.
    – Alex
    Mar 30, 2018 at 16:08
  • It sounds to me like you are debating the question, not the answer. I understand the question to be asking as follows. Assume A's philosophy of legal interpretation is Intentionalism, B's is Textualism, and C's is Something Else. If the SA follows AB on one occasion, that ruling is unjustified according to Something Else. When he follows AC, it is unjustified according to Textualism, and when he follows BC it is unjustified according to Intentionalism. It follows that the SA is not internally consistent with any individual's interpretive philosophy, because he'll ignore any. Hence my answer.
    – Dov F
    Mar 30, 2018 at 16:22

Let us set up the following steps:

  1. The Shulchan Aruch always follows the majority of Rif, Rambam, and Rosh.
  2. Each of the three (Rif, Rambam, and Rosh) are philosophically consistent.
  3. If none of the three ever changed position on a philosophical matter, then the majority view on the philosophical matter can never have changed either.
  4. If the Shulchan Aruch always follows the majority and the majority can never change, ergo the Shulchan Aruch can never change.

Thus, assuming the premises to be true, it should be mathematically impossible for the Shulchan Aruch to be philosophically inconsistent. Any philosophical inconsistencies that do exist would have to be exceptions to one of the premises – either one of the three sources was inconsistent, or the Shulchan Aruch did not follow the majority in (at least one) of the cases.

  • Unfortunately, the premises are not always true... Apr 2, 2018 at 13:11
  • @רבותמחשבות Hence my last sentence.
    – Alex
    Apr 2, 2018 at 13:39
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    it wasn't a critique, it was an expression of agreement ;) Apr 2, 2018 at 13:40

If I understand your question and assumptions correctly, I think the answer is no. I think this is what you mean: two different halakhot can depend on the same underlying issue. For example, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon disagree regarding muktze in many cases. Let's say two of those cases are Case A and Case B. So if Posek X rules Case A is not muktze it must be because he holds like Rabbi Shimon and therefore should hold Case B is also not muktze.

Based on your premises, there should be no case where the Shulchan Aruch is internally inconsistent because if Halakhah A really implies Halakhah B, there should be the same majority for both halakhot. Going back to our example above, if The Rosh and Rambam both rule Case A is not muktze and the Rif holds it is muktze, then there should be the same 2-1 split in Case B and the Shulchan Aruch would be consistent. On the other hand, if the Rambam holds C and D, the Rif holds C and -D, and the Rosh holds -C and -D, then halakhot C and D must not actually depend on each other (according to your premises) and there would be no inconsistency for the SA to rule C and -D.

I can't think of a scenario where you'd have consistency among the 3 sources but inconsistency in the SA. Can you construct an example?

Anyway, even if there were such a configuration of rulings, I don't think it would necessarily be "inconsistent." The SA sometimes concludes that as a practical matter we should be machmir on a safek, which can sometimes imply chumrot in both directions. For example, I don't think it would be "inconsistent" to say that since we don't know the exact temperature of yad soledet bo we hold it's a lower number when it comes to the isur to heat food on shabat but that it's a higher number when it comes to returning liquids to the fire.

Separately, as many other responses point out, OP's premises are flawed and/or vague. The Mechaber was not a robot and did not resolve all issues on a "best of three" basis. Furthermore, there are many (apparent) contradictions in the Rosh, Rambam, and Rif. But I do think as you've presented it it's an interesting logic puzzle.

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