RESPONSA (Heb. שְׁאֵלוֹת וּתְשׁוּבוֹת; lit. "queries and replies"), a rabbinic term denoting an exchange of letters in which one party consults another on a halakhic matter. Such responsa are already mentioned in the Talmud, which tells of an inquiry touching upon halakhic practice that had been sent to the father of *Samuel (Yev. 105a). It relates of Samuel that he sent to Johanan "13 camels" (some Mss. read גְּוָלִם "parchments" for גְּמָלִים "camels") laden with questions concerning *terefot (Ḥul. 95b). The same passage speaks of a ramified halakhic correspondence that took place between Johanan in Ereẓ Israel and Rav and Samuel in Babylon. Such "letters," of which the amora*Avin wrote many, constituted a general exchange of opinion in halakhah and did not necessarily bear the exact character of "query" and "reply" in the classical sense; they may be considered the inception of the responsa literature. The major novelty lay in the committing of halakhic subjects to writing, the prohibition against committing to writing words transmitted orally (Git. 60b) still being in force at the time. The Talmud (Sanh. 29a) speaks of a litigant who claimed that he could bring a letter from Ereẓ Israel which would support his view, the allusion being to a written "responsum" obtained on presentation of the facts of the case before the respondent in a distant locality.
The Geonic Period
The beginning of responsa literature as a literary and historical phenomenon of important dimensions, however, took place in the middle of the geonic period, when it played a decisive part in the process of disseminating the Oral Law and establishing the Babylonian Talmud as the sole authority in the life of the Jewish people, who were becoming ever more widely dispersed as a result of the Islamic conquests. The Jews of the Diaspora outside Babylon, already strangers to the language and format of the Talmud, turned to the scholars of the Babylonian academies, whom they had always regarded as their spiritual leaders, asking them to send them "such and such a tractate or chapter" together with "its explanation." They also turned to them for decisions on the many disputes which arose continually between different local scholars and on new halakhic problems for which they could find no precedent. Nor were problems wanting on scriptural subjects, traditions, beliefs, and opinions. Accordingly geonic responsa are divisible into: very short responsa, sometimes consisting of only one or two words, such as the earliest surviving responsa, those by *Yehudai Gaon; and responsa containing the exposition of an entire book, chapter, or topic. There was also, understandably, an intermediate group – the most common – of responsa of average scope, but most of these, too, tended toward extreme brevity. The second group mentioned, the "monographic," becomes more prominent toward the end of the geonic period, from *Saadiah Gaon onward, a classical example of this group (not on a halakhic topic) being the Iggeret de-Rav *Sherira Ga'on, written in response to an inquiry by *Jacob b. Nissim of Kairouan.
Of the tens of thousands of geonic responsa, only a small portion has been published in the various collections of geonic responsa. The major portion remains in the Cairo *Genizah fragments and scholars are still engaged in publishing them. More than half the total of the known geonic responsa was written during the last generations of the geonic period, the most prolific writers being Sherira and his son *Hai. During this period of 300 years (750–1050), responsa literature embraced almost every aspect of Jewish life. Apart from issues of practical halakhah, they included explanations of verses and of talmudic themes, theological and ideological discourses, and various chronographic, medical, and scientific discussions, all written at the request of individuals or communities who desired this knowledge, either for the needs of the community or for their polemics with the *Karaites and with their Muslim neighbors. Generally speaking, the queries were assembled by the representatives of the yeshivot from the various Jewish centers of Spain, the countries of North Africa, and those surrounding Ereẓ Israel, to as far as Yemen in the south. These then transmitted them, along with the monetary donation of the communities for the financing and maintenance of the yeshivot, by way of the ramified routes of the postal caravan which passed through Egypt on its way to Babylonia. The representatives, who were usually outstanding scholars, sifted the queries, improved and corrected their language, and as far as possible refrained from answering questions to which answers had already been received on a previous occasion. The answers were copied by the representatives, several copies being preserved in anticipation of similar queries in the future. The yeshivah archives were often drawn upon by later geonim for their own decisions. That a large part of this material has been preserved in the Cairo Genizah is due to the fact that Egypt served as the postal junction of that time.
The yeshivot followed a set procedure for dealing with queries. In general hundreds of such questions were read and discussed at the yeshivah during each of the two months of *kallah in the presence of the full forum of its scholars and pupils. At the conclusion of the discussion the yeshivah scribe wrote the decision of the head of the yeshivah at his dictation, and all the senior members of the yeshivah signed it. Urgent queries which could not be delayed were discussed and decided by the gaon as soon as they were received. In view of the fact that the questioners generally sent groups of queries, sometimes unrelated to one another, the reply of the gaon usually consisted of many sections. The scant mention of previous geonim and their rulings in the responsa stems from a desire to give them the character of impersonal finality, representative of the view of the yeshivah as a whole. The geonic responsa, which in themselves and in their many copies had begun to pile up by their thousands in the different centers of the postal route and outside it, were already collected in early times by various individuals into kovaẓim ("collections") or kunteresim ("booklets"), according to differing criteria: subject matter, the names of the respondents, order of tractates, etc. As a result, responsa which had comprised a single entity when written were divided up by the copyists and attached to different booklets piecemeal. The great number of such secondary booklets and the utter confusion in the names of the respondents, which they carelessly transcribed as a result of the arbitrary order prevailing in them and among their copyists, has rendered the problem of determining the authorship of various responsa one of the most difficult problems in present-day research into geonic responsa. In addition, the habit of most copyists of omitting those opening lines of the questions and answers which had no halakhic significance has increased the problem of identification. Much help is obtained, however, from the lists of responsa (without the responsa themselves) prepared by these copyists for themselves and preserved in the Genizah, in which the opening words of the responsa and the name of the author are noted.
Responsa of the Rishonim
Responsa literature acquired a different character during the period of the *rishonim. Their contents became more and more confined to talmudic halakhah; the responsa became by degrees more and more detailed and lengthy, and the discussion of the parallel talmudic themes, whether closely or distantly related to the topic, grew correspondingly longer and all within the context of a definitive dependence upon the rulings of the geonim which had already become part of binding halakhah, almost like the Talmud itself, especially in the regions of Spain and North Africa. The responsa of the rishonim contain for the first time such expressions of humility as "in my humble opinion," "may the Merciful One save us from the abyss of judgment," and the like, and such admissions as that the understanding of a certain theme, or the determination of a correct reading, "requires further thought." One also encounters for the first time, in the middle of this period, an exchange of responsa between rabbis in different countries, for the purpose of clarifying and reinforcing their rulings and in order to diminish their responsibility in the event of their erring (cf. Hor. 3b). This correspondence also had great value in strengthening the ties between different localities. In contrast to geonic responsa, in which the mention of inter-geonic disputes is very slight (a factor to a certain extent attributable to the insistence of the geonim that their questioners were not to address the same query to more than one yeshivah), the responsa of the rishonim are filled with differences of opinion – another sign of the dwindling authority of the rabbis from the close of the geonic period.
A substantial number of responsa or remnants thereof from the period of the rishonim – some among the earliest – have already been published. Many of the numerous responsa of *Ḥanokh b. Moses and *Moses b. Ḥanokh, of the first generation of Spanish rabbis, for instance, have been published in various collections, especially in the compilation Teshuvot Ge'onei Mizraḥ u-Ma'arav (1888). Some of the responsa of *Gershom b. Judah, "the Light of the Exile," were published by S. Eidelberg (1955). Similarly most of Rashi's extant responsa and remnants of others were collected by I. Elfenbein (1943). Other responsa of the early rishonim of France and Germany were published in the Teshuvot Ḥakhmei Ẓarefat ve-Loter (1881). The situation is different with respect to North Africa, the responsa of whose scholars from the middle of the tenth century and for a considerable time afterward not being preserved in collected form or in great numbers. There are scattered specimens of these, especially in J. Hildesheimer's edition of the Halakhot Gedolot (1886–92) and in various Genizah fragments. The responsa of Isaac *Alfasi (the Rif) are chiefly from his last years in Spain.
The rishonim of France and Germany did not, in general, make collections of their responsa and such collections in our possession represent the work of their pupils and pupils' pupils, who assembled and edited the comprehensive literary legacy of their teachers. This is the case, for example, with the responsa of Jacob *Tam, which were incorporated by his pupils into his Sefer ha-Yashar, together with his novellae, rulings, glosses, etc.; with those of *Eliezer b. Nathan of Mainz; and also, in fact, with the various volumes of responsa which contain the complete literary heritage of *Meir b. Baruch (MaHaRaM) of Rothenburg. In contrast to the geonic responsa, specific collections of the responsa of rishonim have not been collected or arranged. This task was first undertaken by modern scholarship, and the work is still being pursued. The situation was slightly different in the countries of Spain and in the later period in North Africa, where many of the scholars, or their children, or pupils made collections of their responsa. To this can be attributed the large collections of responsa of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Rashba) and *Asher b. Jehiel (Rosh or Asheri), among Spanish scholars, and of *Isaac b. Sheshet (Ribash), Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ (Rashbaẓ), and Solomon b. Simeon (Rashbash) *Duran of North Africa, which were well preserved and frequently republished. Of the responsa of other Spanish scholars, however, such as *Naḥmanides (Ramban), Meir *Abulafia (Ramah), *Yom Tov b. Abraham Ishbili (Ritba), and others, only a minute portion has remained, and no additional manuscripts have been discovered.
Only a modicum of the responsa of rishonim has been published in scholarly editions, especially noteworthy among which are the numerous editions of the responsa of Maimonides (Rambam), the most recent and best being that of J. Blau (1957–61); and that of his son, *Abraham b. Moses b. Maimon (by A.H. Freimann, 1937). The fate of the Provençal scholars was completely different. Until very recent years hardly a single book of responsa by one of their outstanding scholars had been published. Only recently have relatively limited collections been published of the responsa of *Abraham b. David of Posquières (Rabad) and Abraham b. Isaac of Narbonne (Rabi [ראב״י]).
Until about the 16th century no self-inspired questions are found in rabbinic literature (with the single exception of the She'iltot of *Aḥa (Aḥai), which was also the first Hebrew book to be composed after the completion of the Talmud). They began to reach respectable proportions, however, in the middle of the 17th century, when the correspondence style became the accepted fashion among maskilim. For an analysis of this phenomenon see below.
Historical Significance of the Responsa
A special importance attaches to responsa as a primary source for knowledge of the history of the Jews in the various countries. Responsa literature has one advantage over such other accepted historical sources as chronographies, official documents, biographies, etc., since the evidence it affords is undesigned, without any specific historical purpose or intention. Moreover, while in general the accepted sources preserve only important events, the responsa echo the humdrum daily life of the ordinary person, his folkways, beliefs, dialects, and, of particular importance, details about the lives of villagers and townsmen whose identity is completely blurred in the usual sources. Since the beginning of modern Jewish *historiography the responsa literature has been drawn upon for this purpose. However, it is only during recent decades that monographs have been devoted both to individual collections of responsa which have been analyzed from the standpoint of their contents as books, and from the point of view of the study of a particular subject. Generally speaking, connected with this research is a study of the biography of the author of the responsa, and as a result, the history of the rabbinate has also benefited. The following works are examples: I. Epstein, The Responsa of Rabbi Solomon ben Adreth of Barcelona… as a Source of the History of Spain (1925); idem, The Responsa of Rabbi Simon ben Ẓemaḥ of Duran as a Source of the History of the Jews of North Africa (1930); A.M. Hershman, Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet and his Times (1943); S. Eidelberg, Jewish Life in Austria in the xvth century as Reflected in the Legal Writings of Rabbi Israel Isserlein and his contemporaries (1962). This genre of literature is of additional importance for knowledge of the history of the halakhah, since in it is reflected the first reactions of the halakhic authorities of the various ages to new scientific inventions and discoveries which have increased considerably during recent centuries. It is no longer possible to recognize this immediate reaction of the halakhah in the codes, since the decisions of the respondents underwent many processes of modification and limitation before being summarized in the classical works of the halakhah. In this field a great deal of work was done by Isaak *Kahane, who wrote many monographs on the development of halakhic (but also historical) topics in the responsa literature throughout the ages. (See also *Ma'aseh.)
Boaz Cohen's Kunteres ha-Teshuvot (1930), an annotated bibliography of the rabbinic responsa of the Middle Ages, which was one of the first attemps to classify and describe the responsa literature, became a standard reference work. There was, however, no list of individual responsa scattered in works devoted to other themes. The publication of Shmuel Glick's Kuntress ha-Teshuvot he-Ḥadash: Bibliographic Thesaurus of Responsa Literature Published from ca. 1470-2000, vol. 1: aleph-lamed (2005) is a major contribution toward accessing all types of responsa. In addition to the classic corpus of responsa, the work includes rare responsa found in other works focusing on spheres other than responsa. The Kuntress ha-Teshuvot he-Ḥadash, which has a bibliographical description of over 2,000 books of responsa, provides, among other features, authors' biographical details, a list of the editions of each work and their pagination, the original annotations of Boaz Cohen, and much updated scholarly information.
In 1963 the Institute for Research in Jewish Law attached to the faculty of law and the Institute of Jewish Studies in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem began to index the responsa literature. The index is made up of three parts: the first part gives in great detail all the legal material (Ḥoshen Mishpat and Even ha-Ezer) found in the responsa literature, classified alphabetically according to legal topics in modern scientific terminology; the second part cites all the halakhic sources mentioned in the responsa (from the Bible onward) while the third part gives all the historical material found in the responsa literature, divided according to subjects. Work has started on rishonim literature.
In its final form the project was to analyze the whole of the responsa literature according to a systematic legal index, rendering it possible to find any desired topic discussed in the literature.
[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]
From the Beginning of the 16th Century
After the expulsion from Spain, at the end of the 15th century, the exiles found their way to various countries, but chiefly to North Africa, the Balkans, Ereẓ Israel, and Egypt, where they either formed new centers, or new congregations in addition to those already there. As a result new problems arose. There were disputes about different customs, about the powers of the communities, including communal taxation and the apportionment between the original inhabitants and the newcomers, and about suffrage. Problems also arose in commercial matters regarding contracts and business dealings executed in accordance with the conditions obtaining in the locality from which the exiles hailed and their validity in their new localities, as well as in social and cultural relations. All these had to be given practical solutions in accordance with the principles of the halakhah.
In Germany changes also took place. In the wake of persecutions and expulsions German Jewry turned eastward, and new Jewish centers came into existence in Poland and Lithuania, where specific problems of a different type arose. The rivalries between communities with regard to settlement and trading, the apportionment of the taxes within the community itself and between the various communities, communal organization, relations between employee and employer in small industry – all of these had to be solved by means of *takkanot, bans, and rulings, based on the halakhah. The communal leaders thereupon addressed themselves to the great contemporary scholars for solutions to these complex problems. There were in addition problems of *issur ve-hetter, matters pertaining to marriage and divorce, and civil law. As a result a vast literature of responsa relating to different places and different customs was created. This literature, in addition to resolving the problems in accordance with the halakhah, serves as a source of knowledge for all aspects of life in these centers, their formation and their customs, the internal organization of the communities and relationship between them, and social, cultural, economic, and communal and private life.
Outwardly, this responsa literature was a continuation of that of the previous centuries – arranging the facts, clarifying the problem in all its aspects, and finally coming to the appropriate conclusion. Internally, however, changes took place in the content of the responsum. Discussions on matters of faith and belief and on philosophical views decreased, and were replaced by practical problems. There was also an increase in questions on the exposition of talmudic topics and on theoretical problems raised by the commentators, and on contradictions between halakhic rulings. It is from this century that the "responders" are referred to as *aḥaronim, and they generally accept as binding the conclusions of the earlier rishonim. In matters already discussed by the rishonim, the main discussion was whether the data of the aḥaronim accorded with those of the rishonim, since only if there was such a correspondence was the conclusion of the rishonim binding. As a result of the examination of cases for this purpose, and because of the need to seek new solutions not given by the rishonim, the responsa became longer by the addition of novellae and complicated argumentation which could be followed only by a scholar, and they lost much of the simplicity and clarity that characterized the early responsa. The large number of new centers, the great number of problems, the lack of one central authority for Jewry as had formerly existed in Ereẓ Israel and Babylon, the extension of national and international trade, and the closely guarded principle of not resorting "to gentile courts" resulted in a broadening, deepening, and extension of the responsa literature to such huge dimensions that to date it numbers no less than some 250,000 responsa.
The list which follows, though it gives only the most outstanding and the most famous authors of responsa in the various centers from the 16th century, nevertheless numbers some hundreds. In some cases it notes unusual responsa.
The Turn of the 16th Century
countries under turkish rule
While the oldest authors of responsa in the 16th century belonged to the previous century, their main responsa activity belongs to the 16th century. Among them are Elijah *Mizraḥi (Re'em), rabbi in Constantinople; Moses b. Isaac *Alashkar, dayyan in Cairo and then in Jerusalem; Jacob b. Moses Berab ii (Ri-Berav; 1475–1546) in Safed; *Levi b. Jacob b. Ḥabib in Jerusalem; *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz) in Egypt; and Joseph *Caro in Safed.
To this generation belong Meir b. Isaac *Katzenellenbogen (Maharam) of Padua and Isaac Joshua b. Emanuel *Lattes, a contemporary of Joseph Caro, rabbi of Bologna and Ferrara, whose responsa were published in 1860 in Vienna. The end of the volume (pp. 139–140) gives the text of the authorizations given to two young women in Mantua in 1556 to practice sheḥitah, and states that "Jewish women are accustomed to study the laws of sheḥitah."
The 16th Century
countries under turkish rule, the balkans, and north africa
There were Moses b. Joseph of *Trani (the Mabit) in Safed; Joseph b. David ibn *Lev (Maharival, Mahari b. Lev) in Constantinople (four volumes, 1–3 in Constantinople 1573, and 4 in Venice 1606), who, urged by his patron Gracia *Nasi, issued a ban against business dealings with the merchants of Ancona as a reaction against the cruelty of Pope Paul iv to the Jews and the burning of the Talmud in 1556 (no. 115); Samuel b. Moses de *Medina (Maharashdam) in Salonika; *Elijah b. Ḥayyim (Ranaḥ) in Constantinople; Solomon b. Abraham Cohen (Maharshakh), in Salonika; and Moses *Alshekh, in Safed; *David b. Ḥayyim of Corfu (Redakh); *Benjamin Ze'ev b. Mattathias of Arta; Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran in Algiers; Isaac b. Samuel *Adarbi in Salonika; Abraham b. Moses Di *Boton in Salonika; Baruch b. Solomon Kalai (see *Kalai, Mordecai; d. 1597) in Turkey; Yom Tov b. Akiva Ẓahalon Maharitaẓ (see *Ẓahalon Family), in Safed; and Aaron b. Joseph *Sasson in Salonika.
Jacob b. Abraham *Castro (Maharikash) was important.
The study of Torah in Poland began to flourish with Jacob *Pollack and *Shalom Shakhna b. Joseph of Lublin. Their pupils were among the greatest talmudists in Poland and other countries, as well as the greatest responders. Henceforth Poland became an important source of responsa. Responders included Solomon b. Jehiel *Luria (Maharshal), who in one of his responsa (no. 72) deals with the permissibility of going bareheaded; Moses b. Israel *Isserles of *Cracow (Rema), three of whose responsa (5–7) are a dispute with Luria as to whether the study of philosophy, grammar, and Kabbalah are permitted; Meir b. Gedaliah (Maharam) of Lublin (see *Codification of Law); Benjamin Aaron b. Abraham *Slonik (Responsa Masat Binyamin, Cracow 1633), who was a pupil of the previous two, and among whose responsa are a number by Joshua *Falk.
The 17th Century
This period was characterized by the spread of Joseph Caro's Shulḥan Arukh with the glosses of Moses Isserles, and their acceptance as authoritative halakhah. As a result the responders henceforth relied upon the Shulḥan Arukh, and from this point of view were neither original nor independent in their responsa except on topics not mentioned in the Shulḥan Arukh.
germany (including bohemia and moravia) and poland
Among the outstanding responders of this generation were Joel *Sirkes (Baḥ); Menahem Mendel *Krochmal, rabbi of Holesov and Mikulov, who in one of his responsa banned the purchase of fish for some months to counter the excessive prices charged by the fishmonger (no. 28); Aaron Samuel b. Israel *Koidonover, rabbi of Brest-Litovsk and Frankfurt; Jacob b. Aaron *Sasportas of Amsterdam and Hamburg; Ẓevi Hirsch b. Jacob *Ashkenazi (the Ḥakham Ẓevi); Jacob b. Joseph *Reischer of Prague and Metz; Ezekiel b. Abraham Katzenellenbogen (1668?–1749; see *Katzenellenbogen Family) of Koidanov (Dzerzhinsk) and the joint communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck and author of the responsa Keneset Yeḥezkiel (Altona, 1733); and Jonah b. Elijah *Landsofer of Prague.
ereẒ israel, the balkans, and north africa
Responders included Jehiel b. Ḥayyim Basan (1550–1625), author of the responsa Mahari Basan (Constantinople, 1737); Jacob b. Israel ha-Levi of Salonika and Xanthe; Joseph b. Moses *Trani (Maharit), Moses b. Nissim Benveniste, and Abraham b. Solomon *Alegre – all in Constantinople; Jacob b. Ḥayyim *Alfandari; Joseph b. Saul *Escapa (responsa Ri Escapa, Frankfurt on the Oder, 1709), Ḥayyim b. Israel *Benveniste, and Aaron b. Isaac *Lapapa – all in Smyrna; Jacob (Israel) b. Samuel *Ḥagiz, Moses b. Solomon ibn *Ḥabib, and Abraham b. David *Yiẓḥaki, Rishon le-Zion and author of the Zera Avraham (Pt. 1, Constantinople, 1732; Pt. 2, Smyrna, 1733) – all in Jerusalem.
There were, all in Cairo, *mordecai b. Judah ha-Levi; *Abraham b. Mordecai ha-Levi; and Joseph b. Moses ha-Levi Nazir (see Mosesha-Levi *Nazir), author of responsa Matteh Yosef (Pt. 1, Constantinople, 1717; Pt. 2, 1726).
There were Ḥayyim *Shabbetai (the MaHaRḤaSH), who wrote responsa on Even ha-Ezer with a Kunteres Agunot (Salonika, 1651) and also responsa Torat Ḥayyim on the other three parts of the Shulḥan Arukh (ibid., 1713–22); Daniel *Estrosa; Solomon b. Aaron Ḥason (1605–1667), called "the younger" to distinguish him from his grandfather of the same name), who was author of the responsa Beit Shelomo (Salonika, 1720), and some of whose responsa were published in the collection Mishpatim Yesharim (ibid., 1732) together with those of *Samuel b. Ali Gaon; Shabbetai Jonah (Shai la-Mora, Salonika, 1653); Baruch *Angel; Aaron b. Ḥayyim Abraham ha-Kohen *Peraḥyah; Ḥasdai b. Samuel ha-Kohen *Peraḥyah; Elijah b. Judah Covo (d. 1689; see *Covo Family); Ḥayyim b. Benjamin *Asael; Solomon b. Joseph *Amarillo; and Joseph b. Shemaiah Covo (c. 1660–1721; see *Covo Family).
The 18th Century
germany (including bohemia and moravia)
Among the responders were Meir b. Isaac *Eisenstadt; Jacob b. Ẓevi *Emden; Joseph b. Menahem *Steinhardt of Alsace and *Fuerth; Ezekiel b. Judah *Landau in Prague; and Israel b. Eliezer *Lipschuetz of Cleves.
There were Samson b. Joshua Moses *Morpurgo of Ancona; Raphael *Meldola of Pisa and Leghorn; David b. Jacob *Pardo of Spoleto; and Isaiah ben Israel Hezekiah Bassano (see *Bassano Family) in Reggio Emilia.
Responders were Ḥayyim Joseph David *Azulai (the Ḥida), who included the writing of responsa in his manifold literary activities; Moses b. Jacob *Ḥagiz; Jonah b. Ḥanun *Navon; Moses Israel and his son Elijah *Mizraḥi (d. 1749), Rishon le-Zion and author of the responsa Admat Kodesh (Pt. 1, Constantinople, 1742; Pt. 2, Salonika, 1758) – all in Jerusalem; and Ḥayyim *Modai of Safed and Smyrna.
north africa, turkey, and the balkans
Responders included Yom Tov *Algazi; Judah b. Isaac *Ayash of Algiers, Leghorn, and Jerusalem; Ephraim b. Aaron *Navon of Constantinople; Zedekiah b. Saadiah Huẓin of Baghdad, author of the responsa Zedakah u-Mishpat (Pt. 1, Jerusalem, 1926); Isaac Bekhor David (1690–1755) of Constantinople, and Isaac b. Judah ha-Kohen *Rappaport of Jerusalem and Smyrna. In Salonika there were Asher b. Emanuel Shalem (turn of the 17th and 18th centuries), author of the Matteh Asher (Salonika, 1748); Moses b. Solomon Amarillo (see Solomon b. Joseph *Amarillo; beginning of the 18th century); *Joseph David; and Joseph Raphael b. Ḥayyim *Ḥazzan, in Smyrna, Hebron, and Jerusalem.
Yaḥya b. Joseph Ẓalaḥ (second half of 18th and first half of 19th century), rabbi and av bet din in Sanʿa wrote responsa Pe'ullat Ẓaddik (Tel Aviv, 1946) dealing with problems of the Jews in Yemen such as: whether a leper could act as communal shoḥet (no. 71); and whether those going from one town to another on the Sabbath for prayer or for other religious duties or for a festivity, were permitted to carry walking sticks (no. 123). David b. Shalom *Mizraḥi (Misraki; c. 1696–1771) and his son Yaḥya (1734–1809) in Sanʿa wrote responsa Revid ha-Zahav (Tel Aviv, 1955), on the Shulḥan Arukh (Oraḥ Ḥayyim and Yoreh De'ah) reflecting the customs of the Jews of Yemen.
The 19th Century
The new age ushered in by the 19th century, the era of *Emancipation effected by the French Revolution and the advances made in every sphere of life, brought with it a change in responsa literature. A distinction must be made between the literature created in Europe, the focal point of the upheaval, and that created in Turkey and the Balkans. In the latter countries, where autonomous Jewish jurisdiction continued to exist, no change in the responsa literature is noticeable. A substantial part of the responsa is devoted to the Ḥoshen Mishpat section of the Shulḥan Arukh, which deals with civil law and financial matters. In Europe it was otherwise; here the responsa literature bore the marks of the Berlin *Haskalah trend, the emancipation in Germany and Austria (including Galicia, Hungary, and parts of Poland under German or Austrian rule), the *Reform movement, the national movements, and the discoveries of technology. All are reflected in the responsa of this century. Especially recognizable in the second half of this century is the influence of emancipation, which brought about the abolition of the judicial autonomy of the Jews and deprived rabbinic courts of the legal powers they had previously possessed. As a result, applications to Jewish courts on monetary matters declined, and the responsa on topics belonging to Ḥoshen Mishpat decreased. Such responsa as do occur on these topics are due to the fact that some Jews still preferred to bring their financial disputes to the rabbinical courts, although a number of responsa deal with hypothetical problems in this branch of Jewish law, as in other sections. On the other hand there was an increase in responsa on problems arising from the discoveries of technology and from the Reform and national movements, a number of which will be indicated.
poland and lithuania (under russia)
germany (including moravia, hungary, and galicia)
There were Eleazer b. David *Fleckeles of Prague; Mordecai b. Abraham *Banet of Nikolsburg; and Akiva b. Moses Guens *Eger of Posen. Moses *Sofer of Pressburg wrote responsa which reflect the spirit of the time and the changes that had occurred in German Jewry, including discussions on the permissibility of an organ in the synagogue (Ḥm 192); whether one may sell one's body to assist the study of medicine (yd 326); Jews in a non-Jewish army (Pt. 6, no. 29); whether a rabbi who preaches heresy should be removed from office (Ḥm 162, 207); the opening of one's business on the Sabbath (oḤ 195); and on prayer in the vernacular (Ḥm 192, 193). There were also Ephraim Zalman *Margolioth of Brody; Judah b. Israel *Aszod of Semnitz and Sordihel, author of the responsa Yehudah Ya'aleh (Pt. 1, Lemberg, 1873, and Pt. 2, Pressburg, 1880); Jacob Meshullam b. Mordecai Ze'ev *Ornstein, rabbi in Zolkiew and Lemberg, author of responsa Yeshu'ot Ya'akov (Piotrkow, 1906); Solomon *Kluger of Brody; Ḥayyim Halberstamm (1793–1876) of Zans; Joseph Saul *Nathanson of Lemberg; Isaac Meir b. Israel Alter (1789–1866) of Gur (see *Gora Kalwaria); Ẓevi Hirsch *Chajes in Kalisz; Abraham Samuel Sofer (see Moses *Sofer) in Pressburg; Israel (Azriel) *Hildesheimer in Berlin; Isaac *Schmelkes of Berezhany and Lemberg, whose responsa discuss whether a telegram may be given to a gentile for dispatch on the Sabbath if it has been written out before the Sabbath (oḤ 57) and whether electric lamps may be used for the Ḥanukkah lights (yd 120); Samuel *Ehrenfeld; Abraham Born-stein (1839–1910) of *Sochaczew, author of the responsa Avnei Neẓer on the Shulḥan Arukh (oḤ in 2 pts., Piotrkow, 1912; yd, Pt. 1, Warsaw, 1913, Pt. 2, Warsaw, 1914; eh, Lodz, 1926); Isaac Jacob *Reines of Lida; David Ẓevi *Hoffmann of Berlin; Mordecai Horowitz (1844–1910) of Frankfurt; Jacob David *Willowski (the Ridbaz), rabbi in Russia, Chicago, and Safed and author of the responsa Ha-Ridbaz (Vilna, 1881); Shalom Mordecai Schwadron in Berezhany; and Samuel b. Ze'ev Wolf Engel (1853–1935), rabbi of *Radomysl and *Kosice, and author of the responsa Maharash Engel in eight parts, published in various places between 1905 and 1957.
turkey, the balkans, and ereẒ israel
Responders included Ḥayyim *Palache of Smyrna; Raphael Jacob b. Abraham Manasseh (1762–1832), author of the responsa Be'er Mayim (Salonika, 1736); Raphael Asher b. Jacob *Covo of Salonika; Ḥayyim *Benveniste of Salonika; Samuel Raphael Arditi, author of the responsa Divrei Shemu'el (Salonika, 1891); Ḥayyim David b. Joseph Raphael *Ḥazzan (Hazan), of Smyrna and Jerusalem; Aaron Azriel (1819–1879) of Jerusalem, author of the responsa Kappei Aharon (Pts. 1 and 2, Jerusalem 1874); Jacob Saul *Elyashar of Jerusalem; Elijah *Ḥazzan of Jerusalem; Abraham b. Mordecai *Ankawa in Morocco, Tunis, and Algiers; Isaac b. Samuel Abendanan (1836–1900) of Fez (see *Abendanan Family), author of the responsa YiẓḥakRei'aḥ (Leghorn, 1902); Moses Judah Leib b. Benjamin Auerbach (1794–1865) of Lask, Kutno, and Jerusalem, and author of the responsa Zayit Ra'anan (Pts. 1 and 2, Warsaw, 1851 and 1869), who was the first Ashkenazi rabbi in Jerusalem whose responsa were published; Moses Joshua Judah *Diskin of Jerusalem; and Raphael b. Mordecai *Ankawa of Salé Morocco.
The 20th Century
The two world wars during the first half of the century brought about profound changes in the world generally and in the map of Jewish centers in particular. Old centers were impoverished, weakened, and even completely destroyed. New centers were created by immigration. Migration had already begun to the United States before World War i and increased as a result of the two wars. Many communities were established in New York and in the provincial towns. Yeshivot that had been uprooted from Poland and Lithuania were founded with outstanding talmudists to head them. Orthodox Jewry sank strong roots. A natural result of this migration was the blossoming for the first time in the New World of creativity in Torah study, and responsa literature. Between the two wars Torah activity had reached a peak in Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. As a result of the Nazis' rise to power in Germany and of the Holocaust, the centers of Jewry there almost completely disappeared, except in individual countries like Belgium and England. The survivors from Europe found refuge in the State of Israel, as well as in the United States. Both centers now produced responsa literature, mainly in Israel, but some in the United States. Many responsa naturally deal with the new problems which arose as a result of the Holocaust and in the extermination camps. The establishment of the State of Israel with legal recognition of rabbinical law in all matters affecting matrimonial laws and laws of personal status; the problems arising from agriculture, Sabbath and festival rest in the state, work in factories, problems of modern technology, the law of return for Jews, the immigration of intermarried couples, and the desire to base the law of the state on foundations of Jewish law – all these have given rise to halakhic problems that have found expression in the ramified responsa literature created during the last decades. To summarize the rich harvest of responsa literature in the last 70 years, it must therefore be divided into two periods: until the 1930s, i.e., when Europe was still the spiritual center of world Jewry; and after the Holocaust, when it passed to Israel.
Responders include David Dov b. Aryeh Jacob *Meisels (the Radad) of Lask, author of responsa on the Even ha-Ezer (Piotrkow, 1903) and on the Oraḥ Ḥayyim(ibid., 1905); Aryeh Judah Jacob b. David Dov Meisels, rabbi of Lask, author of Ḥedvat Ya'akov (Piotrkow, 1919); Ẓevi David Shapira of Dynow, rabbi and Ḥasidic rabbi in Javornik, author of the Ẓevi la-Ẓaddik (Bilgoraj, 1936); Abraham Menahem b. Meir ha-Levi Steinberg (1847–1928), of Sniatyn and Brody, and author of the Maḥazeh Avraham (Pt. 1, Brody 1927, on Oraḥ Ḥayyim; Pt. 2, New York, 1964), on the four parts of the Shulḥan Arukh; Aryeh Leib *Horowitz of Stanislav; Meir b. Aaron Judah Arik (1855–1926) of Jaslowice, Buchach and Tarnow, the author of the Imrei Yosher (Pt. 1, Munkacz, 1913, and Pt. 2, Cracow, 1925); Ḥayyim Ozer *Grodzinski of Vilna; Joseph *Rozin (Rosen), the "Rogachower" of Dvinsk (Daugavpils), who in his responsa Ẓafenat Pa'ne'aḥ discusses a marriage entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining a legal marriage certificate (Pt. 1, no. 5), a synagogue that would be permitted to exist only if the children went to the Tarbut school where bare-headed boys and girls studied together (Pt. 2, no. 15), and whether photographed scrolls of the Torah are sacred (Pt. 2, no. 26); Judah Leib *Zirelson (1859–1941) of Kishinev, who rules that a synagogue reader may not be removed because his daughter has converted from Judaism (Aẓei ha-Levanon, no. 1); Ḥayyim Ze'ev Eleazar Shapiro of Munkacz; Dov Berish b. Jacob Weidenfeld (1881–1965) of Trzebin, author of Dovev Meisharim (Pt. 1, Trebin, 1937; reprinted with Pt. 2, Jerusalem, 1958); Judah Meir b. Jacob Samson Shapiro (1886–1934) of Lublin, author of Or ha-Me'ir (Piotrkow, 1926); Jehiel Jacob *Weinberg in Pilwiszki and Berlin, whose responsa dealing with new problems include the permissibility of the stunning of animals before sheḥitah (Pt. 1, nos. 1–16), the permissibility of hastening the death of the animal after sheḥitah (pt. 1), changing from the Ashkenazi to the Sephardi pronunciation (Pt. 2, no. 5), whether a non-Orthodox rabbi may be permitted to lecture in an Orthodox synagogue (no. 13), women's suffrage (52), whether fire-proof glass (pyrex) may be used for both meat and milk dishes (76), lecturing on talmudic topics in a gentile college (92), the law with regard to a convert to Judaism who cannot be circumcised because of the condition of his heart (102), transplanting of a cornea from a dead person (129), and whether the bat mitzvah ceremony may be permitted for girls; and Jacob Avigdor (1896–1968) of Drogobych, Borislav, and Mexico, author of Abbir Ya'akov (Piotrkow, 1934).
After the Holocaust other Jewish centers were again organized in Europe and in some were great talmudists who replied to problems addressed to them by the rabbis of the Diaspora. In Belgium there was Moses Jonah Zweig (1910–1963), previously rabbi of Ataki (in Bessarabia) and then of Antwerp and author of Ohel Moshe (in 2 pts., Jerusalem, 1949 and 1960). In Switzerland there was Mordecai Jacob Breisch (1896–?) of Zurich, author of Helkat Ya'akov (Pt. 1, Jerusalem, 1951; Pt. 2, London, 1959). Among the subjects dealt with are whether a soldier may take leave for the New Year to hear the shofar, when it would entail his returning to his unit on the Sabbath (no. 37); whether an animal may be rendered unconscious with a narcotic before slaughter (no. 105); whether Jewish women studying nutrition in state schools may cook forbidden foods (no. 86); and artificial insemination (no. 24).
Isaac Jacob b. Joseph Judah Weiss of Manchester and later of Jerusalem (1902ff.) wrote Minḥat Yiẓḥak (Pt. 1, London, 1955, Pt. 2, 1958).
Abraham Isaac *Kook's Mishpat Kohen (1937) deals chiefly with problems connected with Ereẓ Israel – hybridization of grapefruit and oranges (25), the giving of "first fruits" in the present day (57), and the sanctity of the Temple site (96); in Da'at Kohen (1912), he discusses whether spiritualism is forbidden (69). Israel Ze'ev Mintzberg (1872–1962), av bet din of the "Adat Ḥasidim" in Jerusalem, wrote She'erit Yisrael (Jerusalem, 1963). He discusses: the possibility of reestablishing a Sanhedrin (Ḥm nos. 1 and 3), women's suffrage (no. 2), whether olives growing on the land of Arabs who have fled the country have to be tithed (yd no. 63), and the use on the Sabbath of electricity operated by Jews (oḤ no. 20). Ẓevi Pesaḥ *Frank, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, was one of the greatest posekim of his day. Both the chief rabbis Ben Zion Meir Ḥai *Ouziel (Responsa Mishpetei Uziel) and Isaac ha-Levi *Herzog deal with the permissibility of autopsies. Rabbi Herzog's responsa particularly reveal the manifold problems which had arisen as a result of the Holocaust and the establishment of the state, and two volumes of his responsa Heikhal Yiẓhak have been published. Others are Meshullam *Rath; Ovadosh Hadaya (1891–1969), dayyan in Jerusalem and author of Yaskil Avdi (in six parts, Jerusalem, 1931, 1935, 1939, 1948, 1958, 1959), in all the volumes of which there are kabbalistic responsa appended, entitled De'ah ve-Haskel, and which discuss whether one may listen to a woman's voice on the radio (Pt. 5, no. 2), whether a synagogue reader may wear canonicals (no. 15), and the use of a microphone in the synagogue on Sabbaths and festivals (Pt. 6, no. 16); Eliezer Judah b. Jacob Gedaliah Waldenberg (1917– ), rabbi and dayyan in Jerusalem and the author of Ẓiẓ Eli'ezer in 22 volumes (Jerusalem 1945–1998), who discusses departure by airplane on the Sabbath (Pt. 1, no. 21), the use of hearing aids for the deaf on the Sabbath (Pt. 6, no. 6), whether reparation payments from Germany have to be tithed (no. 27), the population census (Pt. 7, no. 3), the use of water from sunheated boilers on the Sabbath (no. 19), the transplanting of another woman's womb into a childless woman (no. 48), the duty of immigration and settlement in sovereign Ereẓ Israel (no. 12), heart transplants (Pt. 10, no. 25), whether a coffin containing soap made from the bodies of Jews may be reinterred (Pt. 8, no. 35), whether a limb may be donated for transplantation into a sick person (Pt. 9, no. 15), the laws of war (pt. 3, no. 9), shipping (Pt. 4, no. 5), and the right to strike (Pt. 2, no. 23); Ovadiah *Yosef, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, who discusses inter alia the use of the telephone and refrigerators on the Sabbath; Joshua Menahem b. Isaac Aryeh Ehrenberg, head of the Tel Aviv bet din and author of Devar Yehoshu'a (Pt. 1, Jerusalem, 1970), who discusses whether the victims of mass murders by the Nazis may be exhumed and reburied in a proper cemetery (no. 25). Others are Mordecai Fogelman (b. 1899), rabbi in Kiryat Motzkin, who in his responsa Beit Mordekhai (Jerusalem, 1971) deals with problems that arose in Ereẓ Israel after the Six-Day War: e.g., whether the blessing ("She-Heheyanu") should be recited when visiting the Western Wall (no. 23); and whether immigrants arriving after the Six-Day War were obliged to recite the blessing for the Land of Israel (no. 28). Ḥayyim David Halevi (b. 1929), rabbi of Rishon le-Zion, wrote responsa Mekor Ḥayyim, 1 (Tel Aviv, 1967), 2 (ibid., 1968), 3 (ibid., 1970), as well as Bein Yisrael la-Amim (ibid., 1968) on the subject of religion and state, and also dealing with topics relating to the post-Six-Day War era; whether on seeing the Temple Mount after its liberation one must rend his garment (vol. 2, no. 95); when tourists visiting Israel are obliged to recite the blessing on the establishment of the state (ibid.); whether there is an obligation to make the pilgrimage on the three pilgrim festivals despite the fact that the temple has not been rebuilt (ibid.); halakhot on the questions of national security, such as military training and self-defense (vol. 2, no. 99); whether it is permitted to travel on the Sabbath in a ship with a Jewish crew (vol. 2, no. 172); the laws of warfare on the Sabbath (no. 173); automatic lifts, trains, underground trains, and allowing a radar receiver to remain in operation during the Sabbath (no. 174).
In all post-World War ii works of responsa, many queries are found that arose among observant Jews, despite the inhuman and unbearable conditions which they suffered in the ghettos and concentration camps. Indeed there are complete works written by rabbis who themselves suffered in the concentration camps and were eyewitnesses to all that transpired. After their liberation they noted down the halakhic problems that had arisen or questions asked by prisoners, and reported the halakhic solutions they found for all these problems. To this category of responsa belongs Me-Emek ha-Bakha (Jerusalem, 1948) and Mi-Gei ha-Haregah (ibid., 1961) of Simeon b. Yekutiel Ephrati, rabbi of Bendery (Bessarabia), and of Warsaw after the Holocaust, and later head of the kashrut department of the Israel chief rabbinate. Among the problems dealt with in the latter work are whether it was murder when the mouth of a child was closed while in a bunker to prevent the Nazis hearing it crying, and the child died (no. 1); whether the ashes of those burnt by the Nazis may be put on show (no. 9); and the status of sites where Jews killed by the Nazis were buried in a common grave (no. 11).
Among the authors of responsa in the United States may be mentioned Moses *Feinstein of New York; a survivor of the concentration camps, Ephraim Oshry (1914–2003) in his Mi-Ma'amakim (New York, 1959) also deals with the problems of the Holocaust. He discusses the case of the Nazis forcing a Jew to tear and desecrate a scroll of the law (no. 1); whether garments stripped from the murdered martyrs may be used (3); whether one forced to cook on the Sabbath by Nazis may himself eat of the food because of danger to life (5); whether a Jew might read a page of Talmud to a Nazi who wished to ascertain its contents (14); whether a Jew may save his life by purchasing a certificate of conversion (15); the prohibition of leaven on Passover in the ghetto (18); the directive of the Nazis that any woman found to be pregnant should be killed with her fetus (18); and whether in view of this the inducing of abortion is permitted (20); and the case of a woman taken to a brothel and on whose arm was engraved: "a harlot for Hitler's troops" (27).
Recourse to rabbinic responsa is not confined to observant Jews. Reform Jews in the United States have recently developed a responsa literature, as evidenced by the eight volumes of responsa (1960–90), published in English by S.B. *Freehof.
Of the considerable number of volumes of responsa published from the late 1960s through the early 1970s, mostly in Israel, the majority are new editions of responsa which were out of print. Of those published for the first time the following may be mentioned:
She'erit Simḥah (Jerusalem, 1969) by S. Bamberger, rabbi of Stuttgart, which includes the responsa of his father, Rabbi Seckel Isaac of Kissingen.
Be-Ein Ḥazon (Jerusalem, 1969), anonymous, deals with topical halakhic problems. Appended is an exchange of correspondence between Rabbis E. *Wasserman and A. *Karelitz, the author of Ḥazon Ish, on a number of these topics. Responsa 1–4 discuss participation in elections to the Knesset: No. 5, participation in elections to urban and local councils; No. 8, the status and authority of the Council of Torah Scholars (Mo'eẓet Gedolei ha-Torah) according to the halakhah; No. 9, whether visiting the Western Wall is a religious obligation and whether the day of the liberation of Jerusalem is to be regarded as a day of religious thanksgiving.
Az Nidberu Pt. ii (Bene-Berak, 1970) by R. Benjamin Joshua Silver discusses inter alia the carrying of arms on the Sabbath (no. 44) and the permissibility of purchasing goods manufactured in Germany (77).
Responsa Shevet ha-Levi (Tel Aviv, 1970) by S. Wozner deals inter alia with medical injections (no. 61) and the use of a loudspeaker on the Sabbath (66).
Responsa ha-Rabakh (Jerusalem, 1970) by R. Benjamin ha-Kohen of Reggio, edited by former Chief Rabbi Isaac *Nissim.
Part 4 of Mekor Ḥayyim (1972) by R. Ḥaim David Halevi, Sephardi chief rabbi of Rishon le-Zion.
Hitherto responsa collections have been those of individual rabbis, but the present century, and particularly recent years, have witnessed a new departure in responsa literature; the appearance of periodicals devoted exclusively or largely to the clarification of practical and topical halakhic problems, with special stress on the solution of problems arising from new circumstances. The oldest of these, Ha-Pardes, a monthly, was founded in Poland in 1913, moved to Chicago in 1925, and is at present published in New York. The editorial policy of the non-halakhic section reflects the extreme rightwing Orthodox attitude, which can be seen in the halakhic sections as well. Among the topics dealt with are the use of the loudspeaker on the Sabbath (Vol. 5), civil marriages (12), adoption of children (1946. 3), and whether it is permitted to pray in the Cave of Machpelah since it is now a mosque (1968. 1).
Ha-Torah ve-ha-Medinah (1949– ) is, as its title suggests, devoted particularly to the clarification of halakhic problems in the State of Israel and particularly those arising from its establishment. Thus, among the topics discussed in Volume 1 are the right of extending clemency to those sentenced by the courts of Israel, the authority of the president and the institutions of elected government: the legal status of spoils of war. Vol. 4 (1952) discusses the rights of women according to the halakhah and enlistment of women in the armed forces: Vol. 5–6, security measures in the state on the Sabbath and festivals; Vol. 7–8, the powers of municipal authorities according to the halakhah (63); Vol. 11–13 (1960–2), the religious duty of aliyah (immigration to Israel) and the prohibition against leaving Israel; the liability of rabbis to taxation.
Or ha-Mizraḥ (1959– ), issued by the Mizrachi of the United States, is more or less a Diaspora equivalent of Ha-Torah ve-ha-Medinah. Among the problems dealt with are: Vol. 1 (1959), No. 3–4, p. 42 – war in the light of the Torah; Vol. 2, No. 11, p. 3 – traveling on a ship on the Sabbath that is manned by Jews; Vol. 3, No. 3–4, p. 4 – use of a corpse for plastic surgery; Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 13 – the halakhic status of Gaza and Sinai; No. 3–4, p. 35 – the determination of paternity; Vol. 5, No. 2, p. 17 – the Karaites; Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 3 – the halakhic definition of a Jew; Vol. 9, No. 3–4, p. 38 – whether one may buy a house in Israel from a gentile on the Sabbath; Vol. 10, No. 3–4, p. 23 – transporting immigrants on the Sabbath; Vol. 16, No. 2, p. 92 – relations between employee and employer; Vol. 17, No. 3, p. 105 – the right to cede areas of Ereẓ Israel liberated in the Six-Day War; Vol. 18, No. 4, p. 251 – halakhah appertaining to these areas.
Unlike the above two works, which appear under the aegis of a public body, the Mizrachi-Ha-Poel ha-Mizrachi, No'am (1959– ), "a platform for the clarification of halakhic problems," is a venture of the Torah Shelemah Institute of Jerusalem, and its scope is much wider. Among the practical problems dealt with are the use of the birth control pill (11. 167), heart transplants (13. 1), the transplanting of kidneys and artificial kidneys (14. 308), artificial insemination (29), and even whether the laws of the Torah are applicable to the Jew on the moon (13. 196).
Ha-Darom (1957– ), published by the Rabbinical Council of America, discusses such problems as whether a ḥazzan from Israel may officiate on the Second Day of the Festival in the Diaspora (24 (1967) p. 105), whether a blessing is to be recited on seeing the president (No. 25, p. 42), aborting the fetus to save the mother's life (28 (1969) p. 31), the determination of death according to the halakhah (32 (1971) p. 48), the mamzer (34 (1972) p. 27), and the freezing of prices (34 (1972) p. 106).
Among the topics dealt with in Talpioth (1959), a quarterly devoted to halakhah, aggadah, and ethics, edited by S.K. *Mirsky of Yeshiva University, are levirate marriage in modern times (No. 1, p. 151); whether visiting Israel is a religious duty (No. 2, p. 24); the halakhic status of Transjordan (p. 56); the obligation of those engaged in Torah study to serve in the army (No. 4, p. 720); the proposed regulations for inheritance by daughters put forward by Chief Rabbi *Herzog (No. 9, p. 11); the right of a person over his body with regard to autopsies (p. 79).
To a different category belongs a series of halakhic discussions on actual cases published as brochures by the Beth Din of London. Among the topics dealt with are: presumption of death of a man to enable his wife to remarry (agunah) (No. 1, 1956); the removal of the cornea from a corpse for transplanting (No. 5, 1957); the case of a mamzer (No. 17, 1967). They resemble to some extent the publications of the rabbinical courts of Israel (OPD) but differ from them in that they are anonymous and selective.
The Publishing of Responsa Texts
Among the ongoing publications of historical or present-day responsa, the following deserve special mention.
Many of the contemporary texts published pre-1970 have become multivolume series. The Yabbia Omer by Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef has now reached 10 volumes. In addition, material from his novel innovation, the Pinnat ha-Halakhah ("The Halakhah Column"), which was broadcast weekly over the Israeli radio network, wherein Rabbi Yosef responded to questions put to him by listeners by mail, has been edited and published under the Yeḥaveh Da'at (Vol. 1, 1977; Vol. 2, 1979; Vol. 3, 1980).
Rabbi Ḥaim David *Halevi, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, has published Aseh Lekha Rav ("Acquire a Rabbi," 3 volumes, 1976–80), similarly based in part upon his participation in the radio program of the same name, wherein listeners telephoned to the studio with their questions. Rabbi Isaac *Weiss, who headed the Bet Din of the Edah Ḥaredit of Jerusalem, expanded his Minḥat Yiẓḥak responsa into a seven-volume set; Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg's Ẓiẓ Eliezer reached 22 volumes, while the posthumously published Har Ẓevi of Rabbi Ẓevi Pesaḥ *Frank consists of three volumes (one on Yoreh De'ah and two on Orah Ḥayyim), and the Igrot Mosheh of Rabbi Moses *Feinstein of New York reached its eighth volume.
These texts have become an essential basis of contemporary halakhah and this activity is ongoing.
Makhon Yerushalayim ("The Jerusalem Institute of Talmudic Research") was founded in 1968 by Rabbi Joseph Buxbaum. It inaugurated a series of programs centered around the responsa literature.
Ashkenazi works. In addition to ongoing publishing activities, the Mifal Ḥakhmei Ashkenaz ("The Writings of the Jewish Sages of Medieval Germany") program has devoted itself to publishing from manuscript, early editions, and sources, the responsa and minhag literature of the rabbis of Germany from the middle of the 14th until the 16th century. Prior to the inception of this program, only five responsa texts from this period had been published, and even they were defective and corrupt.
Sephardi works. The Mifal Or Hamizraḥ ("The Writings of the Great Sephardi Rabbis") program was founded by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in 1976 to publish the manuscripts of Sephardi rabbis (primarily responsa) dating from the expulsion from Spain until the 19th century.
The institute also publishes responsa texts from manuscripts not included in the above programs.
rabbinic court decisions
The responsa literature is primarily composed of expert halakhic opinions and decisions of the battei din ("rabbinic courts"). The present-day Israeli counterpart of this latter feature is the collection of Piskei Din Rabbaniyyim ("Rabbinic Court Decisions"), edited by Rabbi Dov Katz (Vol. 1, 1954; 11 volumes to date). Since Rabbinic courts in Israel have jurisdiction in Family Law, most of the material belongs to this subject.
The Beth Din of London has also issued several important decisions in pamphlet form.
Literary Projects Based upon Responsa
Many literary projects and research institutes make extensive use of responsa for various purposes. The following is a partial listing according to fields of interest.
Among the literary programs making extensive use of the responsa for rabbinic and talmudic studies, the Talmudic Encyclopedia (founded in Jerusalem, 1947) has reached volume 26, up to the letter yod. The encyclopedia contains entries covering halakhic topics, from the Bible through the talmudic literature and its commentaries, to the early and later codes, and the relevant responsa sources. It is also available on cd.
Oẓar Ha-Posekim, also founded in Jerusalem in 1947, aims at producing a "digest of all extant Rabbinic Responsa bearing upon Jewish Law and ritual, arranged in the order of the Shulḥan Arukh." It concentrates in particular on the Even ha-Ezer section of the Shulḥan Arukh which deals with Family Law – due to the urgency of resolving problems in this sphere created in the wake of the Holocaust, the Ingathering of the Exiles into the Land of Israel, and the jurisdiction given to the rabbinic court in Israel in the realm of Family Law – and 19 volumes have been published to date. It is available on cd-Halachic Responsa Treasury; texts are only in Hebrew.
Koveẓ ha-Posekim uses the format of Oẓar ha-Posekim but is centered on the Ḥoshen Mishpat section dealing with Civil Law. The first volume appeared in Brooklyn, New York in 1969, and a total of three have appeared to date. This is the only literary project of its kind produced outside Israel.
Oẓar Mefarshei ha-Talmud ("A Compendium of Talmudic Commentaries"), the first volume of which was published in 1971, is published by Makhon Yerushalayim and five have appeared to date. The commentaries to the Talmud include materials drawn from the responsa.
The new Shabse Frankel edition of the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam (Vol. 1, 1975; Vol. 2, 1977) also contains a citation index including references to the responsa literature. Text variants of the Mishneh Torah also make use of responsa sources.
The Institute for Science and Halakhah (Jerusalem) has dealt with technological problems relating to halakhah in general, with special emphasis on Sabbath and Festivals, in particular those arising in industry and the public services. A team of engineers worked together with rabbinical experts in providing solutions for various problems. A card catalogue of responsa relevant to the various topics has been prepared, and two bibliographical surveys of relevant responsa grouped by topics, Electricity and the Shabbath (1975) and Electricity in Halakhah (Part 1, 1978) have been published, among other halakhic works.
The Israel Matz Institute for Research in Jewish Law at the Hebrew University School of Law, Jerusalem, has prepared a historical and legal card catalogue of the responsa of Gedolei Sefarad during the time of the *Rishonim (11th–15th centuries, Spain and North Africa).
The Institute for Research in Oriental Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel has inaugurated a series of programs based upon the responsa of Oriental rabbis, used as the basis for historical, sociological, and economic studies. A number of indices have been produced for various texts, plus a citation index for the place-names found in Ottoman Empire responsa collections, together with a map.
These programs all reflect the interest in applying halakhic materials to present-day real life situations, or for research into the history of Jewish communities.
Computerization of Responsa Literature
The Global Jewish Database (The Responsa Project) at Bar-Ilan University is the largest database of its kind. This database includes the full text of the Bible and its principal commentaries, the Babylonian Talmud with Rashi's commentary and Tosafot, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, Shulchan Arukh with commentaries, Midrashim, 391 books of responsa, and the Talmudic Encyclopedia, representing a period of over three thousand years of Jewish literary creativity. All these and more are included in a cd.
The Halakhah Berurah and Birur Halakhah Institute features a wide variety of collections on its website. The cd-romMekorot le-Toledot ha-Ḥinukh be-Yisrael, vol. 4 (2004), prepared and edited under the direction of Shmuel Glick, provides over 300 responsa from 16th to the beginning of 20th century dealing with Jewish education in Mediterranean communities and eastern countries. The texts stem primarily from rare first editions.
The website of the Schechter Institute offers six volumes of responsa written by the Va'ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel between 1985 and 1999.
Books Based upon Responsa Materials.
I. Schepansky wrote on the Land of Israel in the responsa literature, Ereẓ Israel be-Sifrut ha-Teshuvot, 3 volumes (1966, 1967, 1978).
The use of responsa for the biographies of outstanding scholars is, of course, well established, but during recent years there have been produced a number of works on specific topics in the responsa literature.
Y. Bazak published an annotated two-volume series of selected responsa on various legal topics, Mishpat ve-Halakhah (1971, 1975); A. Steinsaltz collected biblical commentary found dispersed throughout the responsa literature, Perush ha-Mikra be-Sifrut ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot (1978); and Dr. Fred Rosner published Modern Medicine and Jewish Law (1972) on various medical-ethical problems which are, for the most part, a collection of his articles which appeared in Tradition. I. Cahane's various historical legal studies were collected and published posthumously as Meḥkarim be-Sifrut ha-Teshuvot (1973); and J. David Bleich published a collection of his regular articles in Tradition on halakhic topics in book form, Contemporary Halakhic Problems (1977).
Z. Frankel, Entwurf einer Geschichte der Literatur der nachtalmudischen Responsen (1865); J. Mueller, Mafte'a li-Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (1891); J. Mann, in: jqr, 7 (1916–17), 457–90; 8 (1917–18), 339–66; 9 (1918–19), 139–79; 10 (1919–20), 121–51, 309–65; 11 (1920–21), 433–71; S. Assaf, Tekufat ha-Ge'onim ve-Sifrutah (1955), 211–20; idem, in: Tarbiz, 8 (1937), 162–70; S.B. Freehof, The Responsa Literature (1955); idem, A Treasury of Responsa (1963); idem, Recent Reform Responsa (1963); idem, Current Reform Responsa (1969); S. Abramson, Ba-Merkazim u-va-Tefuẓot bi-Tekufat ha-Ge'onim (1965), 45, 94, 101; idem, in: Sinai: Sefer Yovel (1958), 403–17; B.D. Weinryb, in: Essays Presented to… Israel Brodie (1967), 399417. N. Rakover, Oẓar ha-Mishpat (A Bibliography of Jewish Law) (Jerusalem, 1975), 115 ("Responsa"), and by topical index; Y. Choueka, M. Slae and S. Spiro, in: Proceedings of the Associations of Orthodox Jewish Scientists 5 (1979), 19–66; Y. Choueka, A. Schreiber, and M. Slae, in: Legaland Legislative Information Processing (1980), 261–85. add. bibliography: S. Glick, Kuntress ha-Teshuvot he-Ḥadash (2005) BEGINNING OF THE 16th CENTURY: I.Z. Cahana, in: Bar-Ilan, 1 (1963), 270–81; Elon, Mafte'aḥ.
"Responsa." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/responsa
"Responsa." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved May 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/responsa
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