Halakhot Gedolot

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HALAKHOT GEDOLOT (Heb. הֲלָכוֹת גְּדוֹלוֹת), halakhic code belonging to the geonic period.

Nature of the Code

The Halakhot Gedolot gives a systematic and comprehensive summary of all the talmudic laws. Although in general it follows the order of the tractates of the Talmud, it groups together the various halakhot scattered in the Talmud according to their logical order, and, contrary to the procedure adopted in the Mishnah and Gemara, first states the general principle before giving the details. It also assigns new names to certain groups of halakhot, and embodies laws (such as those dealing with sacrifices and some of those applicable to the priests) which were no longer observed after the destruction of the Temple. The decisions are founded on those of the Talmud and on the halakhic principles laid down by its sages. The work is based on the Babylonian Talmud but the author also makes use to some extent of the Jerusalem Talmud, which he refers to as "the Talmud of the West." Other sources are the responsa of Babylonian geonim and the halakhic work of the same period Sefer ha-Ma'asim shel Benei Ereẓ Yisrael. Halakhot Gedolot spread throughout Jewry, and in the course of time decisions of *Yehudai Gaon and those of a later date were incorporated into it. The earlier authorities often quote excerpts from it which are different, or entirely absent, from the extant work.

The Halakhot Gedolot has an introduction – it is the first rabbinic work to have one – and it is generally held that it was directed against the *Karaites and others who rejected the Oral Law. It is in two parts, the one comprising aggadic statements in praise of the Torah and its students; the other enumerating, for the first time, the 613 *commandments mentioned in the Talmud (Mak. 23b). They are classified according to the degree of punishment incurred in transgressing them and according to their common character. This list of 365 negative and 248 positive commandments, which provided the basis for similar elaborations in various *azharot, was severely criticized by Maimonides in his Sefer ha-Mitzvot, and defended by Naḥmanides.

Recensions of the Work

The work is extant in two recensions. The one (Halakhot Gedolot 1), published in Venice in 1548, is the Babylonian recension, which is the earlier and which preserves the original version. It was this recension that was used by the French and German scholars. The other (Halakhot Gedolot 2) was published by A. Hildesheimer on the basis of the Vatican manuscript (1892) and is, in the opinion of scholars, identical with Halakhot Gedolot shel Ispamya ("Spain"; Tos. to Yev. 48a, see below), the version used by the scholars of Spain, southern France, and Italy. Various excerpts from this Spanish recension are not found in Halakhot Gedolot 1, having been omitted by copyists. Moreover, the former contains later additions, commentaries, and supercommentaries, and also the names of geonim who lived after Simeon Kayyara (see below), the last gaon to be mentioned in it being Ẓemah b. Paltoi (890 c.e.). This recension, which may have been compiled in North Africa (Kairouan), was called by the northern French scholars Halakhot Gedolot shel Ispamya, having reached them from Spain by way of southern France. There may also have been other recensions of the work, for a southern French author mentions "our halakhot of Simeon Kayyara that came from Ereẓ Israel" (Ha-Ittur, pt. 2 (1874), 22c), while various excerpts from Halakhot Gedolot, not contained in the other recensions, have been found in the Cairo Genizah.

Date and Authorship

The authorship and date of the Halakhot Gedolot have been the subject of many studies and given rise to conflicting views. The work has been variously ascribed to Sherira Gaon (A.E. Harkavy (ed.), Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim, no. 376; Zikkaron la-Rishonim ve-gam la-Aḥaronim, 1/4 (1887)), Hai Gaon (D. Cassel (ed.) Teshuvot Ge'onim Kadmonim (1848) no. 87, et al.), by the scholars of Spain and Provence to Simeon Kayyara and to Yehudai Gaon by those of northern France and Germany. In his Sefer ha-Kabbalah, Abraham ibn Daud states that Simeon Kayyara lived before Yehudai Gaon and that the latter was the author of *Halakhot Pesukot, written in 741 c.e., which "he compiled from Halakhot Gedolot" (Ibn Daud, Tradition, 47f., see also 127, n. 18–19). S.J. Rapoport, following Abraham ibn Daud, held that Halakhot Gedolot is composed of two parts: the original Halakhot Gedolot of Simeon Kayyara and Halakhot Pesukot of Yehudai Gaon, which the latter's pupils incorporated into the former work. According to Rapoport, Yehudai Gaon's statements in Halakhot Gedolot can be re cognized in two ways: by the Aramaic in which various passages are written, and by the word pesak ("legal decision"), which is associated with several statements and which, according to him, derive from Halakhot Pesukot. This, however, has been controverted by S.D. Luzzatto (Beit ha-Oẓar, 1 (1847), 53af.). Graetz maintained that the work was written by Simeon Kayyara who lived at the end of the ninth or the beginning of the 10thcentury, some 150 years after Yehudai Gaon had composed Halakhot Pesukot. I. Halevy held that the author of Halakhot Gedolot was a younger contemporary of the writer of Halakhot Pesukot, the latter work being a compilation of Yehudai Gaon's practical decisions, while the former, more theoretical work has its source in the Talmud. A. Epstein contended that Halakhot Gedolot was written in Sura by Simeon Kayyara about 825 and that its main sources were Aḥa of Shabḥa's She'eltot and Yehudai Gaon's Halakhot Pesukot. Seventy years later there was compiled the second recension of the work, the Halakhot Gedolot shel Ispamya, the first recension being ascribed by them to Yehudai Gaon.

Simeon Kayyara came from Bozrah in Babylonia, as is attested by Hai Gaon. The city of Bozrah is mentioned twice in Halakhot Gedolot (in Hilkhot Ḥallah and in Hilkhot Eruvin) and was under the spiritual authority of Sura. Indeed, many of the laws and customs mentioned in the work conform to those of Sura, and several of its legal decisions are cited in the name of geonim of Sura.

The work has been reprinted several times: Venice (1548), Lemberg (1804), Vienna (1811), Berlin (1888–92, ed. by A. Hildesheimer). The various editions include comments by Solomon Salem (Amsterdam, 1764), notes by S.A. Traub (1875), and the commentary Sefat Emet by A. Margalioth (1894).

Halakhot Gedolot-Halakhot Pesukot

A new edition of the Halakhot Gedolot is being published by Azriel Hildesheimer through the Mekiẓei Nirdamim publishers, Jerusalem, two parts of which have already appeared (part 1, 1972; part 2, 1980). This edition is based on manuscripts found in the Ambrosiana Library in Milan (henceforth M). Besides this manuscript there are two others which include the entire Halakhot Gedolot or most of it, both in the Vatican Library: the first (Ebr. 142) served as the basis of the edition of the Halakhot Gedolot (Berlin 1888–92), published by Azriel Hildesheimer, grandfather of the current editor, the other is (Ebr. 136, referred to as r). The Halakhot Gedolot published in Warsaw (1875) is based upon the Venice (v) ms. and the Paris (p). Other manuscripts from the Genizah are incomplete. Part of this latest Hildesheimer edition includes halakhot for the Seder Moed; part 2, Seder Nashim and the three Bavot of the order Nezikin.

Rabbi Isaac *Ibn Ghayyat and *Judah ben Barzillai, author of Sefer ha-Ittim, are among the first Spanish sages who quote extensively from the Halakhot Gedolot using the text b and the early Ashkenazi sages also rely on it and only rarely cite halakhot and variant readings from m.

According to Hildesheimer the author of the Halakhot Gedolot wrote only one edition and the many textual variants resulted from adaptations by various other parties, and it is difficult to determine which version is the original one. The m edition was not written in Kairouan and is not identical to the Halakhot Gedolot shel Ispamya as A. Epstein thought (Kitvei A. Epstein, 2 (1968), 399) though his opinion has been accepted by scholars dealing with the Geonic period. Halakhot Gedolot includes many citations from the Talmud which are of importance for the study of the talmudical text itself, since they include many textual variants, some of which, however, are derived from the explanations and commentaries of the author of Halakhot Gedolot which he interwove into the text of the Talmud. Hildesheimer's edition gives cross references to the Talmud which were missing in edition B. He has also noted the variances between the text of m and all the other versions of Halakhot Gedolot.

the relation of halakhot gedolot to halakhot pesukot

In contrast to the opinion of various scholars that Rabbi Yehudai Gaon was the author of the Halakhot Pesukot published by Sassoon from a manuscript entitled Halakhot Pesukot of Rabbi Yehudai (Jerusalem, 1951), Hildesheimer is convinced that Halakhot Pesukot is one of the versions of Halakhot Gedolot and that it is not identical with the Halakhot Pesukot of Rabbi Yehudai; the Halakhot Pesukot of the Sassoon manuscript was not written by Rabbi Yehudai Gaon but in a later period, making it impossible for the Halakhot Pesukot of the Sassoon manuscript to have served as the source of the Halakhot Gedolot. On the contrary, it is based on the Halakhot Gedolot. He reached this conclusion on the basis of the following: (1) the arrangement of the Halakhot Pesukot as a book divided into chapters according to subjects and topics in contrast to that of the Halakhot Gedolot which is based on the order of occurrence the Halakhot on the pages of the Gemara (especially in the three Bavot of Nezikin); (2) the citation of halakhot in the Halakhot Pesukot without noting their source and the deletion of long passages of the Gemarot which are given in the Halakhot Gedolot. In addition to this, halakhot are written out in full in the Halakhot Gedolot. In the introduction to the second part of the Halakhot Gedolot Hildesheimer cites other proofs to buttress his argument about the connection of the Halakhot Gedolot to the Halakhot Pesukot. S. Morell, on the other hand, maintains "that the Halakhot Pesukot is not an abridged edition of the Halakhot Gedolot but an independent work relying on early sources. The two works drew upon the same material and not from each other, the result being that the Halakhot Pesukot and Halakhot Gedolot are neither an abridgment or expansion but rather the same items arranged according to different systems." Morell is of the opinion that the Halakhot Pesukot of the Sassoon manuscript is one of the editions of the Halakhot of Rabbi Yehudai which served as a source for the author of the Halakhot Gedolot.

With regard to the talmudic topics (sugyot) in the Halakhot Pesukot, Morell tries to prove that there were other beraitot and statements available to the Talmudic sages which were not available to the author of the Halakhot Pesukot and vice versa. There are topics in the Halakhot Pesukot which are missing in the Talmud and there are intricate discussions in the Talmud which are missing prior to the Halakhot Pesukot. There is even an instance in which the Talmudic version is an abridgment of a longer original version retained in the Halakhot Pesukot. The sages of the talmudic sugyot and those of the Halakhot Pesukot used the same raw material which included beraitot and received texts of questions and answers, and they edited this material in different ways.

Note should also be taken of the linguistic research concerning the Babylonian Aramaic forms of language as evidenced by the Halakhot Gedolot (the Paris manuscript of 1402) which includes words vocalized according to the Babylonian system. Kutscher established the fact that the Halakhot Pesukot is the prototype of Babylonian Aramaic, the Aramaic of which is remarkably precise. In the Halakhot Pesukot examples of various Aramaic dialects are found: (1) the Aramaic of the texts of contracts in the Halakhot Pesukot, (2) Babylonian Aramaic of the quotations from the Babylonian Talmud, (3) Gaonic Aramaic. Some scholars feel that there is linguistic similarity between Babylonian Aramaic and Mandaic.


Rapoport, in: Kerem Ḥemed, 6 (1841), 236ff.; Graetz, in: mgwj, 7 (1858), 217, 228; Halberstamm, ibid., 8 (1859), 379–86; 31 (1882), 472–5; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 3 (1893), 261; Reifmann, in: Ha-Maggid, 5 (1862), 293f.; Gottheil, in: mgwj, 36 (1887), 457–61; Weiss, Dor, 4 (19044), 29–37; Schorr, in: Jubelschrift… L. Zunz (1884), 127–41 (Heb. pt.); A. Hildesheimer, in: Jahresbericht des Rabbiner-Seminars zu Berlin 5646 (1885/86); idem (ed.), Halakhot Gedolot al pi Ketav Yad Romi (1892), introd.; Halevy, Dorot, 3 (1923), 200f.; A. Epstein, in: Ha-Goren, 3 (1902), 46–81f. (Kitvei A. Epstein, 2 (1957), 378–409); L. Ginzberg, Ginzei Schechter, 2 (1929), 48–101, 110f., 201f.; L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 1 (1909), 95–111; Epstein, in: mgwj, 61 (1917), 127–32; idem, in: Tarbiz, 10 (1939), 119–34; 283–308; 13 (1942), 25–36; 16(1945), 79–82; Marx, in: zhb, 13 (1909), 70–73; H. Tchernowitz, in: Ha-Tekufah, 5 (1923), 240–79; idem, Toledot ha-Posekim, 1 (1946), 70–78; Frankl, in: jjlg, 14 (1921), 208–16; V. Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer Ravyah (1938), 230–3; idem, Meḥkarim be-Sifrut ha-Ge'onim (1941), 28, 30f., 78, 82; Waxman, Literature, 1 (19382), 284–6; S. Assaf, Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (1942), 39, 44; idem, Tekufat ha-Ge'onim ve-Sifrutah (1955), 168–70; H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1945), 163f.; S.K. Mirsky (ed.), She'iltot de-Rav Aḥai Ga'on, 1 (1960), 12–16 (introd.). add. bibliography: A. Hildesheimer, in: Sefer ha-Yovel shel "Sinai" (1958), 563–572; idem, in Sefer Zikkaron le-Rav Y.Y. Vainberg (1970), 303–312; idem, Mavo le-Halakhot Gedolot, 1 (1972), 15–45; 2 (1980), 11–36; idem, Le-Mivneh ha-Sefer Halakhot Pesukot (1978), 153–171; S. Morell, in: huca, 46 (1975), 510–532; idem, huca, 50 (1979), Hebrew section, 11–32; Y. Ta-Shema, in ks, 55 (1980), 197–200. linguistic studies: Y. Kutscher, in: Leshonenu, 26 (1962), 153, 173–174; S. Morag, in: Leshonenu, 32 (1968), 67–88; M. Bar-Asher, in: Leshonenu, 34 (1970), 278–286; 35 (1971), 20–35; A. Sokolof, in: Leshonenu, 35 (1971), 235–242; Y. Melon, in Leshonenu, 37 (1973), 161–164.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]