9th Through 11th Century Gedolim


Acronym for Ba'al Halachot Gedolot, a Geonic-era halachic work. The authorship of this work is a matter of debate. Some attribute it to Rav Yehudai the son of Shmuel Gaon, who headed the academy in Sura, Babylonia and lived from approximately 820 through 905, while others claim that it was written by Rav Shimon of Kaira.


Rav Hai Gaon

One of the last Geonim, Rav Hai was the head of the academy at Pumbedeita, Babylonia and lived from 969 until 1038. He authored both a commentary on the Talmud as well as a collection of responsa, plus several other smaller works on focused topics. His father, Rav Sherira Gaon, was his teacher and predecessor as head of the academy. His students included Rabbeinu Chananel and Rav Nissim, the head of the academy at Kairouan.


Rabbeinu Chananel

The earliest of the Talmudic commentaries to be printed on the standard page of Talmud, he lived in North Africa and became head of the academy at Kairouan. He lived from 980 until 1050, and was one of the first Rishonim (as a distinct group from their immediate predecessors, the Geonim). His commentary incorporates opinions handed down from the academies in Babylonia and Italy, as well as excerpts from the Jerusalem Talmud and halachic decisions. He learned under his father, Chushiel, as well as Rav Hai Gaon, and he was the teacher of Rav Yitzchak Alfasi (the Rif).



Acronym for Rav Yitzchak the son of Yaakov HaKohen Alfasi (al-fasi, or from Fez, Morocco).He was born in Algeria in 1013, moved shortly thereafter to Fez, and fled to Spain at the age of seventy-five, ultimately settling in Lucena. His major work is his Sefer HaHalachot, an abridged version of the Talmud that incorporates only the sections of the Talmud that deal most directly with the law, leaving out much of the lengthy discussions and anecdotes. Setting a precedent for many later codes of law, his work focused only on laws that were practical in his time, and thus the work does not cover a majority of Zeraim, Kodshim, and Taharot. His teachers included Rabbeinu Chananel and Rav Nissim, and his students included Rav Yehuda HaLevi (Author of the Kuzari) and Rav Yoseif MiGash (teacher of Maimon and His son, Rambam).



Written by Rav Natan the son of Yechiel, who lived in Rome from 1035 until 1106. The Aruch can perhaps be classified as a scholarly Talmudic dictionary, tracing the root of each word and citing the text in which it appears. It draws off of the works of several Geonim and early Rishonim, and was accepted by both Ashkenazic and Sephardic authorities.



Perhaps the best known and most basic of all Rishonim, Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki (son of Yitzchak) lived in Troyes, France from 1040 until 1105. His most important work is his commentary on the Talmud, which appears on the inside margin of almost every page (except for in a few select areas where his commentary is unavailable to us) and is responsible for opening up the Talmud to a much wider range of students than ever before possible. His commentary explains the text phrase by phrase, and thus is an invaluable guide for reading through a page of the Talmud. In addition, Rashi authored an equally famous commentary on the Torah, which incorporates his own views, as well as many Midrashim and grammatical notes. He also wrote a commentary on the rest of the Bible, as well as supplications for mercy written in the wake of the First Crusade (1096), which ravaged many communities in Europe. His grandsons include the Tosafists Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam, and his students also included Rav Simcha of Vitri and Rav Shemaya.



Rav Shmuel the son of Meir was the grandson of Rashi and lived from 1085 through 1174 in France. His Torah commentary is renown for its stress on the plain meaning of the text, and this approach often led him to state views that were somewhat controversial (thus resulting in the omission of his commentary on the first chapters of Bereishit in many earlier editions of the Chumash). Parts of his commentary on the Talmud have been preserved, and they appear on the pages of most of Bava Batra as well as the last chapter of Pesachim. He learned from his grandfather and from Riva, and was the teacher of his brother Rabbeinu Tam.



Rav Eliezer the son of Natan was a Tosafist who lived in Germany from 1090 until 1170. His main work is entitled Even HaEzer, and is comprised of his halachic decisions, responsa, and a commentary on the prayerbook. He also wrote several liturgical poems. Among his students was his grandson Ra'avyah.


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