Isaac Alfasi

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Isaak ben Jakob Alfasi , also called Rif (* 1013 in Al Qal'a near Constantine in Algeria; died on 1103 in Lucena , Spain ), was a North African Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages. He is considered to be the most important halachic authority before Maimonides and is the author of numerous responses .


Alfasi is sometimes called "Ha-Kala'i" after his place of birth. After studying in Kairouan , Alfasi settled in Fez . Hence its name Alfasi or the abbreviation Rif as an acronym for R abbi I saak F asi. He lived in Fez until 1088, when he was denounced by enemies to the authorities at the age of 75 and had to flee to Spain. After a few months in Cordoba , he moved to the Andalusian city of Lucena, where he stayed until his death. Shortly after his arrival in Lucena in 1089 he took over the chairmanship of the local yeshiva . One of his numerous students there was Yehuda ha-Levi . Before his death, Alfasi named Joseph ibn Migasch as his successor, although his own son Jacob was an excellent scholar. His death was mourned by various poets, including Moses ibn Esra (1055–1135). He praised Alfasi as a man of incomparable wisdom and an intense religious life. Alfasi devoted his life to studying the Talmud and its general distribution.

Work and aftermath

Hundreds of Alfasis responses have been preserved. Many were written during his stay in Fez, most of them in Arabic. Stylistically, his responses are still close to those of the Babylonian geonim . But his fame is based on his main work Sefer ha-Halachot . This is a summary of those parts of the (especially Babylonian) Talmud that were still in practical use at the time of the author. There is no mention of those tracts that were only of academic significance, such as regulations on temple service in Jerusalem. Sefer ha-Halachot deals with 24 of the 63 Talmud tracts , including the three "orders" Mo'ed , Naschim and Nesiqin . Unlike many other scholars, Alfasi deals not only with halachic, but also aggadic , i.e. H. legendary material from the Talmud that teaches moral behavior.

Jewish scholars of later generations have written down their admiration for Alfasi and his book. Maimonides wrote: “ The book of the Halachot of our great rabbi, blessed memory of our teacher Isaac, surpasses all these works [of the Geonim] ... for it contains all the decisions and laws we need today ... with the exception of ten at most Halachot, his decisions are incontestable. " Abraham ben David of Posquières , who strongly criticized the writings of Maimonides, wrote:" I would rely on the words of Alfasi even if he were to say that right is left. “At the end of the Middle Ages, when the study of the Talmud was banned in Italy, Alfasi's work was expressly excluded and remained one of the most important study works for Italian Jews from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

His critics and commentators include Talmudic scholars such as Nachmanides , Samuel ben Meir, and Rabbenu Tam . In Spain in particular, but also in the south of France, Alfasi studied the book even more thoroughly than the Talmud itself. An anonymous comment by a Yemeni scholar from the 12th century on Chullin's tract (published in 1960) attests to the widespread use of his work.


  • Sefer ha-Halakhot. Ed. N. Sacks, Hilkhot Rab Alfas, 2 volumes, Jerusalem 1969 (first printing Konstantinopel 1509).


  • Encyclopedia Judaica . Volume 2, pp. 600-604.
  • Angel Sáenz-Badillos, Judit Targarona Borrás: Diccionario de autores judios (Sefarad. Siglos X-XV). Estudios de Cultura Hebrea 10. Córdoba 1988, pp. 159-160.
  • Nicola Kramp-Seidel: Isaak Alfasis codification of Talmudic law in the Sefer ha-Halakhot for the Pesachim treatise. Series: Studia Judaica, 95.De Gruyter, 2019, ISBN 978-3-11-064932-1 .

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