Hilchot HaRif

 Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi

Manuscript. Spain, 14th century. Parchment. 327 pages, 25x35 cm. Sefardi square script. 2 columns per page.


Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi (1013-1103) on Tractate: Baba Kama (property damage, loans and interest); Baba Metzia (laws of chattel, lost and found); Baba Batra (possessions, inheritance, evidence); Sanhedrin (judiciary, capital punishment); Makot (lashings, false witness); Shavuot (oaths), Nedarim (vows and oaths); Avodah Zarah (rules concerning idols); Brachot (laws of prayers and blessings); Megillah (fast days), Rosh Hashanah (holiday laws) and Yoma (Yom Kippur - fast and repentance).


Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi was born in what is today Algeria, studied at the Kiruan Yeshiva in Tunisia and was the student of R. Chananel Ben Chushiel. He is considered the last of the Gaonim and the herald of the Rishonim. His name attests to his family's origins in Fes, Morocco. He settled in Fes and was active there until 1088, when he was forced to flee to Spain after being reported to the authorities. In Spain he served as head of the Lucena yeshiva in the city of Alsina, until his death.


The Rif's fame is largely attributed to his monumental work on the Talmud, in which he collated all aspects of the Talmud with halachic implications. The work "Hilchot Rabati", also known as the Talmud Katan or Shas Katan, was a leading tool in the formulation of halacha. Many commentaries were written based on the Rif's work, most of them Talmudic, and it soon became customary to study halacha from the Rif and not from the Talmud in its entirety. Upon the Rif's death, the poets Moses ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi, who appear to have been his students, wrote elegies.


The author is not mentioned by name, though he added comments on the text. The text also contains a commentary on Rashi and the Tosfot, and a series of ownership notes that bear testimony to the history of this particular manuscript, which was bought and sold many times over the years. The manuscript eventually came to the library of the Talmud Torah in Livorno, Italy. It should be noted that what is referred to as Rashi's commentary on the Rif's Hilchot Rabati was probably not written by Rashi and scholars have yet to agree on the identity of its author.

Hilchot HaRif