Isaac Alfasi


Isaac Alfasi

Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi (1013 - 1103) - also Isaac Hakohen, Alfasi or the Rif (רי"ף) - was a Talmudist and posek (decisor in matters of halakha - Jewish law). He is best known for his work of "halakha", the legal code "Sefer Ha-halachot", considered the first fundamental work in "halakhic" literature. He was born near Fes in Morocco, and spent the majority of his career there, and is therefore known as "Alfasi" ("of Fes" in Arabic ); "Rif" is the Hebrew acronym of "Rabbi Isaac alFasi". [cite book|title=Blackwell Companion to Judaism |author= Jacob Neusner, Alan Jeffery Avery-Peck|year= 2003|publisher=Blackwell Publishing|url= http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1577180593&id=asYoIwz9z2UC&pg=PA154&lpg=PA154&dq=%22Isaac+Alfasi%22&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html&sig=vAYNmkPfBBAS3WcfGMbMtDszFBU|id=ISBN 1577180593]

Biography

Alfasi was born in Kalatt ibnn Hammad, a village near the suburbs of Fess in Morocco. He studied in Kairouan, Tunisia under Rabbeinu Nissim Ben Jacob and Rabbeinu Chananel Ben Chushiel the recognized rabbinical authorities of the age. Rabbeinu Chananel trained Alfasi to deduce and to clarify the Halakha from Talmudic sources, and Alfasi then conceived of the idea of compiling a comprehensive work that would present all of the practical conclusions of the Gemara in a clear, definitive manner. To achieve this goal, he worked for ten consecutive years in his father-in-law's attic.

In 1045, the “heterodox sects in the city were severely persecuted, and the Jews, with the rest, suffered greatly"; see History of Tunisia, History of the Jews in Tunisia. As a result, the city's Jewish residents fled; Alfasi moved to Fes with his wife and two children. Fes' Jewish community undertook to support him and his family so that he could work on his "Sefer Ha-halachot" undisturbed. They also founded a yeshiva in his honor, and many students throughout Morocco came to study under his guidance. The most famous of his many students is Rabbi Judah Halevi, author of the Kuzari; he also taught Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash (the "Ri Migash"), who was in turn a teacher of Rabbi Maimon, father and teacher of Maimonides "(Rambam)". Alfasi remained in Fes for 40 years, during which time he completed his "Sefer Ha-halachot". Eventually, he became known as "Alfasi" ("from Fes"); "Rif" is an acronym of Rabbi Isaac alFasi. In 1088, when an old man of seventy-five, two informers denounced him to the government upon some unknown charge. He left Fes for Spain, eventually becoming head of the yeshiva in Lucena in 1089.

In a sense, Alfasi brought the geonic period to a close - the last of the Babylonian geonim, Rav Hai Gaon, died when Alfasi was 25 years old; Alfasi himself was called "Gaon" by several early halachic authorities Fact|date=February 2007. His "magnanimous character" is illustrated by two incidents. When his opponent Rabbeinu Isaac Albalia died, Alfasi adopted Albalia's son. When Alfasi was himself on the point of death, he recommended as his successor in the Lucena rabbinate, not his own son, but his pupil Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash.

Works

Sefer ha-Halachot (ספר ההלכות; also referred to as "the "Hilchot" of the Rif") extracts all the pertinent legal decisions from the three Talmudic orders Moed, Nashim and Nezikin as well as the tractates of "Berachot" and "Chulin" - 24 tractates in all. Alfasi transcribed the Talmud's halakhic conclusions verbatim, without the surrounding deliberations; he also excludes all Aggadic (non-legal, homiletic) matter as well as discussion of the halakha practicable only in Land of Israel. Maimonides wrote that Alfasi's work "has superseded all the geonic codes…for it contains all the decisions and laws which we need in our day…".

"Sefer ha-Halachot" plays a fundamental role in the development of Halakha. Firstly, "the Rif" succeeded in producing a "Digest", which became the object of close study, and led in its turn to the great "Codes" of Maimonides and of Rabbi Joseph Karo. Secondly, it served as one of the "Three Pillars of Halakha", as an authority underpinning both the Arba'ah Turim and the Shulkhan Arukh. Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (the "RaN") compiled a detailed and explicit commentary on this work; In yeshivot "the Rif and the RaN" are regularly studied as part of the daily Talmudic schedule.

This work was published prior to the times of Rashi and other commentaries, and resulted in a profound change in the study practices of the scholarly Jewish public in that it opened the world of the gemara to the public at large. It soon became known as the "Talmud Katan" ("Little Talmud"). At the close of the Middle Ages, when the Talmud was banned in Italy, Alfasi's code was exempted so that from the 16th to the 19th centuries his work was the primary subject of study of the Italian Jewish community. Alfasi also occupies an important place in the development of the Sephardi method of studying the Talmud. In contradistinction to the Ashkenazi approach, the Sephardim sought to simplify the Talmud and free it from casuistical detail; see for e.g. Chananel Ben Chushiel.

The Rif also left many responsa. These were originally written in Arabic, and were soon translated into Hebrew as "She'elot u-Teshuvot ha-RIF". See .

References

External links

* [http://www.tzemachdovid.org/gedolim/rif.html The Rif] , tzemachdovid.org
* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Alfasi.html Alfasi] , jewishvirtuallibrary.org
* [http://www.jewishgates.com/file.asp?File_ID=249 Alfasi] jewishgates.com
* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1191&letter=A Alfasi] , jewishencyclopedia.com


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