Mysteries of the Paratext: Why Did Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady Never Publish His Code of Law?

Diné Israel 31 (2017): 43-84

42 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2017 Last revised: 3 Aug 2017

Levi Cooper

Ben Gurion University of the Negev

Date Written: July 30, 2017


This paper outlines the inconsistencies, idiosyncrasies, and unusual features of the code of Jewish law written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady (ca. 1745-1812) and first published posthumously in 1814-1816. The spotlight is cast on the code’s paratext – a notion introduced by French literary theorist Gérard Genette to describe any part of a work, except for the main body of the composition. The study offers a viable explanation for the unorthodox phenomena, by recounting the history of the code from its inception through its early editions. The account reveals that when Shneur Zalman died prematurely in 1812, his legal writings were in state of disarray. His sons cobbled together faulty, copied, and partial manuscripts in a valiant attempt to construct their illustrious father’s legal legacy. They utilised the paratext in order to frame the work, essentially creating a code out of a disparate array of legal writings. The results of their efforts would become known as Shulhan ‘Arukh ha-Rav, “The Set Table” – meaning code of law – “of the Rabbi.” In light of the central role of the sons in the creation of the code, the work might rightly be known as the Shulhan ‘Arukh – of the sons of the – Rav. The analysis highlights the value of mining the paratext, alongside the text and context. More significantly, the study demonstrates the power of the paratext to control the reader’s encounter with the text.

Keywords: Codification, code, Jewish Law, paratext, Gérard Genette, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, Shulhan ‘arukh ha-rav, Chabad, Lubavitch

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Levi, Mysteries of the Paratext: Why Did Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady Never Publish His Code of Law? (July 30, 2017). Diné Israel 31 (2017): 43-84. Available at SSRN:

Levi Cooper (Contact Author)

Ben Gurion University of the Negev ( email )

Be'er Sheva
Be'er Sheva, 8410501

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