Yitzhak ben Yakob HaKohen al-Fasi, ‎

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Yitzhak ben Yakob HaKohen al-Fasi (Ben Shlomo al-Fasi), ‎

Hebrew: Yitzhak ben Yakob HaKohen al-Fasi (Ben Shlomo al-Fasi), ר' יצחק אלפסי
Also Known As: "‎ ר' יצחק אלפסי", "RIF", "Isaac alfasi", "Isaac al-Fasi", "Isaac of Fez"
Birthplace: Al Qal'a of Beni Hammad, Batna, Algeria
Death: Died in Lucena, Cordova, Andalucía, Spain
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About Yitzhak ben Yakob HaKohen al-Fasi, ‎

Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen (1013 - 1103) ר' יצחק אלפסי - also known as the Alfasi or by his Hebrew acronym Rif (Rabbi Isaac al-Fasi), was a 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 Al Qal'a of Beni Hammad, but spent the majority of his career in Fes, and is therefore known as "Alfasi" ("of Fes" in Arabic). Continued . . .

Al-Fāsī was a native of Qalʿat Banī Ḥammād in the central Maghreb (now Algeria). The Banī Ḥammād moved thier capital to Béjaïa (Fr. Bougie; Cl. Ar. Bijāya), a town on the Algerian coast about 175 kilometers (109 miles) east of Algiers and west of Greater Kabylia. Béjaïa became an important city and port when the Ḥammādi dynasty (1015–1152) moved its capital there in 1067. Jews from Qal‘at Banī Ḥammād, the former Ḥammādid capital, likely followed, as evidenced by a reference to a Jewish community in Béjaïa that was persecuted during the Almohad conquest of the city in 1152. The town is also mentioned in a number of documents from the Cairo Geniza, but always in a general context without specific reference to a Jewish community. Following the Almohad period and under the Ḥafṣid rulers of Tunis, the situation was more favorable, and Jews from the Balearic Islands, Italy, and Marseilles settled in Béjaïa. Noted rabbinical scholars settled there, including:

  1. Isaac ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq
  2. Astruc Kohen
  3. Isaac Nafusi, an astronomer and inventor of instruments originally from Majorca, also resided in Béjaïa.

In the fourteenth century, Rabbi Shem Ṭov haLevi in Béjaïa corresponded with Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (1326–1408) and Simon ben Ṣemaḥ Duran (1361–1444),while a student of the latter, Joseph ben Abraham Zimron, lived and traded in Béjaïa.

Al-Fāsī received the talmudic tradition from R. Ḥananel ben Ḥushiel of Qayrawān, the premier post-gaonic authority in North Africa. This gave him access to the talmudic discourse and exegesis of the gaonic academies of Iraq, the source of the Babylonian Talmud, as well as to the Palestinian Talmud.

Al-Fāsī migrated to Al-Andalus around 1078 - after the turmoil surrounding the Zirid (Cousins of the Hammadids). Soon after the death of its incumbent master, Isaac Ibn Ghiyyāth, he became head of the academy in Lucena. Whereas the talmudic and gaonic yeshivot of Iraq and the Land of Israel functioned in rivalry, presenting the halakha in dialectic and divergent forms, al-Fāsī ’s academy in Lucena attained a level of authority unprecedented in the history of the Diaspora. It became the world center of talmudic activity, training disciples like Judah ha-Levi, Joseph Ibn Migash, and Maimon ha-Dayyan, the father of Moses Maimonides, until it was destroyed in the Almohad conquest.

Like the gaonic masters, Rif exercised halakhic authority through Responsa, as well as a few talmudic commentaries. Although these were mostly in Judeo-Arabic, and thus limited to an audience within the Islamic world, hundreds of his responsa survived until the age of print (Livorno, 1781).

His magnum opus, however, was clearly his Talmud digest, Hilkhot Rabbati (Great Book of Laws). The gaonic monographs that preceded al-Fāsī developed separately from the Talmud and were intended for an audience distant from the yeshivot and not well versed in Talmud. Instead of building on these existing canons, al-Fāsī preferred to compose his Halakhot on the basis of the talmudic text, much like the earlier gaonic works Halakhot Pesuqot and Halakhot Gedolot, but updated with post-talmudic discourse and commentary wherever needed. His formula was to include the talmudic legal conclusions but not the intellectually taxing dialectics, laws irrelevant to the Diaspora, and aggadic lore. This was in step with the mukhtaṣar (Ar. abridgement) literature that was beginning to develop at the time in response to the same necessity in the Islamic scholarly world.

The al-Fāsī code immediately eclipsed the gaonic halakhic canons. Although the first edition of the Halakhot was disseminated from North Africa, the centrality of the Andalusian academy helped it to become the final work of this genre, giving al-Fāsī the historical stature of batray—the final arbiter of talmudic law. The hundreds of paper copies of al-Fāsī found in the Cairo Geniza present a picture of the first mass distribution of the Oral Law, the first version of the Talmud designed for the media of written dissemination. By presenting the most authoritative decisions built in to the original talmudic text, al-Fāsī’s Halakhot could be employed not only by lay consumers of halakha, but also in more erudite circles familiar with the original Talmud, including the newly established academies of Catalonia, Germany, and France. Knowledge of the al-Fāsi code was a standard requirement for rabbinic ordination throughout the Jewish world for the next five centuries. It was copied and studied more often than both the Talmud itself and most parts of Maimonides’s code.

Al-Fāsī’s outstanding longevity places him in a pivotal position spanning from the last generation of the geonim to the first generation of the great European commentators. Although the Ashkenazi tradition is most divergent from al-Fāsī’s, R. Asher ben Jehiel (Rosh) used the Halakhot as a platform for his codification of the European halakha. Its centrality remained unchallenged until Joseph Caro incorporated it into his Shulḥan Arukh, where it and two of its offshoots—the codes of Maimonides and R. Asher—serve as the three pillars of halakha. The numerous glosses, translations, and supplements composed on the Halakhot attest to its usage as the standard text for laymen and talmudists up to the age of print and beyond. It is still printed in all standard editions of the Babylonian Talmud.

Ezra Chwat


Ben Shammai, Haggai. “Mukhta ṣ ar,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam (1993), vol. 7, pp. 536–540.

Cohen, Boaz. “Three Arabic Halakic Discussions of Alfasi,” Jewish Quarterly Review 19 (1928/29), pp. 355–410.

Maimonides, Moses. Mishne Torah: Hu ha-Yad ha- Ḥ azaqa, ed. Daniʼel B. Rubin (Gateshead: D. B. Rubin, 2006), p

Margaliyot, Efrayim Zalman (ed.). Sheʾelot u-Teshuvot Rabbenu Yiṣḥ aq Alfasi (Pittsburgh: Makhon ha-Rambam, 2003).

Schaffer, Schaul. Ha-Rif u-Mishnato: Toldot Rabbenu Yiṣḥ aq Alfasi u-Sfarav (Jerusalem: Yefeh-Nof, 1967).

Ta-Shma, Israel. Ha-Sifrut ha-Parshanit la-Talmud be-Eropa uvi- Ṣe fon Afriqa: Qorot, Ishim ve-Shi ṭ ot (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999), pp. 145–153.

Ezra Chwat. " al-Fāsī, Isaac ben Jacob." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 10 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/al-fasi-isaac-ben-jacob-COM_0001310>

Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen Wikipedia

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Yitzhak ben Yakob HaKohen al-Fasi, ‎'s Timeline

Batna, Algeria
Age 90
Lucena, Cordova, Andalucía, Spain