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Thought for the Day: Mishna Brura and Biur Halacha

While researching when to make a siyum to commemorate the the first yahrtzeit for my brother-in-law, alav hashalom, I ran into one of those contradictions between the Mishna Brura and the Biur Halacha.  Those are always interesting because the Mishna Brura and the Biur Halacha have a single author, were written at the same time, and exist together in one sefer.  I figured this is as good a time as any to explain my understanding of how the various sections of the Mishna Brura fit together.  NB: These are my observations; your mileage may vary.

The Mishna Brura has a very interesting format.  Shulchan Aruch on top, followed by B'er Heitev and Sha'arei T'shuva, then followed by the Mishna Brura proper side by side with Biur Halacha, finally finished at the bottom with the Sha'ar haTzion.  The roles of the top and bottom sections are clear; Shulchan Aruch on top, sources for Mishna Brura and Biur Halacha at the bottom.  Note, however, its worth taking a look once in a while at the Sha'ar haTzeion as there are some cool goodies down there.  (Known as easter eggs in the software world, but it just seems wrong to use that term here.)  The Mishna Brura (playing the title role) is p'sak halacha.  The other three sections are also basically p'sak halacha.  The question is, then,  what role are they meant to play?

In some ways the B'er Heitev is the 18th century equivalent of the Mishna Brura.  The B'er Heitev will bring different m'forshim on the Shulchan Aruch.  The B'er Heitev, however, is very short and his p'sak halacha may or may not follow from the quoted authorities; it is his p'sak with support from the quoted authorities.  The Sha'arei T'shuva, is similar (and he often cites the B'er Heitev), but he also brings minhagim and short drashes.  It's very cool.  I believe the Mishna Brura brings those two because they are a nice summary of the various explanations and extrapolations from the time of the Shulchan Aruch (1500s) to the 18th century.

R' Yisrael Mayer Kagen chose to split his halachic compendium into two works.  The Mishna Brura itself is almost entirely quotes from earlier authorities, showing the range of opinions, then ending with the opinion that he feels represents normative halacha.  There is very little of R' Kagan's own opinion represented there.  Well... besides his choice of authorities and how to weigh their opinions to come to a conclusion.  The Biur Halacha, on the other hand, is R' Kagan's deep dive into various halachic issues that have no clear p'sak from earlier authorities and so you get insight into how a Talmid Chacham thinks.  That's why you can get a different p'sak in the Mishna Brura than the Biur Halacha.

The issue that prompted all this was finding that the Mishna Brura (Siman 568, small paragraph 44) brings as his last word that if the k'vura is more than two or three days after the p'tira, then first yahrtzeit should be based on the date of the k'vura (subsequent yahrtzeit's will be based on the date of the p'tira).  The Biur Halacha (Siman 132) paskens explicitly that the date of the first yahrtzeit is not different that subsequent year; you always follow the date of the p'tira.  After discussions with the both R' Fuerst and R' Friedman, it was decided that for a sibling the siyum/yahrtzeit for all years should be based on the date of the p'tira and not the date of the k'vura (which differed by six days in this case).

Not to belabor the obvious, but this is a very gross simplification.  None the less, I find it helpful as a guide to learning.


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