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Codes and Responsa

After the Mishnah and the Talmud, numerous attempts were made over the centuries at the systematic codification of the increasingly complex body of Jewish law. These codes reflected the broader dispersion of the Jewish people and the emergence of new centres of Jewish life and learning outside Babylonia, particularly in North Africa and continental Europe. Along with the codes, there developed a rich literature of rabbinic responsa - queries and answers regarding law and ritual - reflecting the living interpretation and actual application of Jewish law in daily life. The codes and responsa provide a wealth of historical and linguistic documentation beyond their purely legal significance. A number of the early editions of the codes and more interesting editions of responsa, of the hundreds held in the Lowy collection, are displayed here and throughout the exhibition.

Sefer Rav Alfas 1558
Isaac b. Jacob Alfasi, of Fez,

[ Sefer Rav Alfas ]
Riva (di Trento, Italy):
Antoni Bruin and Joseph b. Nathan
Ottolenghi, 1558.

Written in North Africa at the end of the geonic period, the compendium of Alfasi was the most important code prior to that of Maimonides. This edition, which incorporates Ottolenghi's novellae, the first of many Hebrew books printed in Riva, was published with the approval of Christoforo Madruzzi, Cardinal of Trent.

Or Zaru'a 1862
Isaac b. Moses, of Vienna,
ca. 1180-ca. 1250

[ Or Zaru'a ]
Zhitomir (Ukraine):
Shapiro brothers, 1862.

According to the legendary account by the editor Akiba Lehren of Amsterdam, the manuscript on which this edition was based, while en route from London to Berlin, was swept ashore in Friesland following a shipwreck at sea and preserved in a wooden cask. Written over six centuries before this first part of this first edition was published, the legal compilation of Isaac b. Moses, a native of Bohemia, contains some of the oldest texts in the (Judeo-) Czech language.

Sefer ha-Itur 1608
Isaac b. Abba Mari, of Marseilles,

[ Sefer ha-Itur ]
Venice: Giovanni di Gara, 1608.

This first edition of the first part of Isaac b. Abba Mari's encyclopedic legal treatise was among the last books printed by di Gara, a prolific Christian printer of Hebrew books who aquired Bomberg's fonts after the latter's death. Important as a compendium of ritual law, the work also contains some of the earliest glosses in the Judeo-Provençal language.

Jacob Baruch b. Judah Landau,
of Germany and Italy,
fl. 15th cent.

[ Sefer Agur ... Sefer Hazon ]
Naples: Azriel b. Joseph Ashkenazi
Gunzenhauser, 1490?(-1492?).

One of the last Hebrew books printed in Naples, Landau's anthology of German-Jewish rites and customs, written for the layman, was based chiefly on the code of Jacob b. Asher. This first edition is also the first Hebrew book to contain rabbinic approbations, and the second printed during the lifetime of the author. A short treatise on talmudic conundrums, also appearing for the first time, is appended at the end.

Israel b. Eliezer Lipschuetz, of Cleves,
d. 1782

[ Or Yisrael ]
Cleve: bey der Wittwe Sitzmann,
Konigl Preuss. Hof=Buchdr.,

The "Cleves get (bill of divroce)" was the most celebrated divorce case in Jewish history. The couple was ultimately reconciled, but not before half the rabbis of Europe had issued opinions on the pertinent questions of Jewish divorce law. This collection of reponsa, by the rabbi who effected the get, is devoted in large part to the polemic.

Eleazar b. David Fleckeles, of Prague,

[ Teshuvah me-Ahavah ]
Prag: Scholl'sche Buchdruckerey,
1815 and 1820.

Fleckeles' responsa, published in three parts between 1809 and 1820, followed a new arrangement in the history of this literature. As noted on the title pages, the work was released by the government censor Karl Fischer, a Christian Hebraist and librarian of Prague University.

Go to Chap. 6 Go to Chap. 8

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