Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen (1013–1103) (Hebrew: ר' יצחק
אלפסי, Arabic: إسحاق الفاسي) - also known as the
Alfasi or by his Hebrew acronym Rif (
Rabbi Isaac al-Fasi), was an
Algerian Talmudist and posek (decider 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 in the Algerian city of Qalaat Beni Hammad,
but spent the majority of his career in Fes, and is therefore known as
"Alfasi" ("of Fes" in Arabic).
3 See also
5 External links
Isaac Alfasi was born in Qalaat Beni Hammad, the capital city of the
Hammadid rulers of central Maghreb. 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
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, 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
ibn Migash (the Ri Migash), who was in turn a teacher of
father and teacher of
Alfasi remained in
Fes for 40 years, during which time he completed
his Sefer Ha-halachot. In 1088, aged seventy-five, two informers
denounced him to the government upon some unknown charge. He left Fes
for Al-Andalus, eventually becoming head of the yeshiva in Lucena in
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.
Chananel ben Chushiel
Nissim ben Jacob
Joseph ibn Migash
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,
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
Maimonides and of
Rabbi Joseph Karo. Secondly, it served
as one of the "Three Pillars of Halakha", as an authority underpinning
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 example Chananel Ben Chushiel.
Alfasi also left many responsa. These were originally written in
Arabic, and were soon translated into Hebrew as "She'elot u-Teshuvot
History of the
Jews in Morocco
History of the
Jews in Tunisia
History of the
Jews in Kairouan
^ Jacob Neusner, Alan Jeffery Avery-Peck (2003). Blackwell Companion
to Judaism. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-57718-059-3.
^ Chisholm 1911.
^ a b c One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates
text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh,
ed. (1911). "'Al-phasi, Isaac". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th
ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 732.
The Rif, tzemachdovid.org
Alfasi at the
Wayback Machine (archived March 11, 2007)
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