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Halakhot Pesukot

HALAKHOT PESUKOT (Heb. הֲלָכוֹת פְּסוּקוֹת; "Decided Laws"), the first known halakhic work of the geonim, written in the eighth century and attributed to *Yehudai Gaon or to his pupils. It confines itself to those halakhot which are of practical application, arranging them according to subject matter: laws of eruvin, Sabbath, Passover, etc. Its language is the Aramaic of the Talmud (for the most part giving the actual wording of the Talmud) and it generally follows the order of the Talmud, only occasionally combining isolated or scattered halakhot. The author makes use of the halakhic Midrashim and the Tosefta and there are a few quotations from the Jerusalem Talmud and the Sefer ha-Ma'asim. In addition there are cited many explanations and traditions of the savoraim handed down by the geonim, and mention is made of some of the scholars belonging to the period of the savoraim.

Although much of the material in the Pesukot Halakhot corresponds to that of the She'iltot of R. *Aḥa and it is therefore probable that the author utilized it, it is also possible that both drew upon a common source, a collection of early interpretations available in the academy. Although the geonim ascribe the work to Yehudai Gaon, it should not be assumed that he compiled it himself. To explain away the fact that many of the halakhot in the Halakhot Pesukot differed from the accepted halakhah, the geonim and rishonim propagated the tradition that Yehudai was blind and that his disciples wrote the work ascribed to him. Yehudai is in fact frequently mentioned in the work, generally as rosh metivta, and his son, Joseph, is also mentioned once in the Hilkhot Re'u, the Hebrew translation of the work. Further evidence of the work not being wholly that of Yehudai may be seen in its inclusion of Terefot de-Ereẓ Yisrael, to which Yehudai was vehemently opposed (see Margalioth , in Talpioth, 8, 1963), although it may be that an early copyist added to the Babylonian work a section dealing with the halakhot in Ereẓ Israel to provide a parallel between the Babylonian and the Ereẓ Israel laws.

In consequence of this work, Yehudai achieved a reputation enjoyed by few in his time. *Pirkoi b. Baboi , his pupil, says of his master, "for many years there has been none like him… and he never said anything that he had not heard from his teacher… and Mar Yehudai of blessed memory added, 'I have never given any answer to a question for which there was no proof from the Talmud and I learned the law from my teacher, who had it from his own teacher.'" The intent of the above is apparently to emphasize the fact that the work is based on the two pillars of Talmud and tradition and, indeed, it contains no independent views, giving only the words of the talmudic sages or the traditions of the savoraim and early geonim.

Halakhot Pesukot filled a great need. Yehudai was in constant contact with the communities outside Babylon which turned to him with halakhic problems, and his realization that not everyone could find his way in the Talmud, and that it was impossible to turn to the geonim with every problem, led him to take on himself the task of giving the essence of the Talmud, the halakhic conclusion without the involved discussion. The work became indispensable almost as soon as it appeared, "most people turning to the digested halakhot saying, 'what concern have we with the Talmud?'" Paltoi, the gaon of Pumbedita, opposed this practice, fearing it would cause people to abandon the study of Torah (Ḥemdah Genuzah, no. 110).

Many adaptations and abridgments of the book were made, of which fragments have been found in the genizah. The scholars who published them gave them the names which were common among the rishonim, e.g., Halakhot Ketu'ot, Halakhot Ketannot, etc. One of these adaptations is the *Halakhot Keẓuvot , compiled in southern Italy during the first half of the ninth century.

The most important adaptation, which became even more widespread than the original, eventually displacing it, is the *Halakhot Gedolot (Venice, 1548) which absorbed most of the Halakhot Pesukot, and added to it a great deal of material from the sources. The Halakhot Pesukot was translated into Hebrew and Arabic shortly after it was written. The Hebrew translation (published from an Oxford Ms. by A.L. Schlossberg with an introduction by S.Z.H. Halberstamm in Versailles in 1886) was given the name Hilkhot Re'u, since it begins with Exodus 16:29, of which "Re'u" is the first word. The translation, executed in Ereẓ Israel, is the first of halakhic material from Aramaic into Hebrew to survive. Its literary standard is not high and many passages which it was difficult to translate were left in the original Aramaic. The translation contains many of the peculiarities of the style and script characteristic of the Jerusalem Talmud and the Sefer ha-Ma'asim. The beginning and end of the manuscript are defective, although the Cairo Genizah contains many excerpts from which the missing portions could be restored. In general, there is a need for a new scientific edition, since that of Schlossberg is defective and full of errors.

Many fragments of the Arabic translation have also come down, most containing a section of the Aramaic original, followed by the translation, although there are also fragments of a consecutive translation. In all probability there were a number of Arabic translations, testimony to the great popularity of this first halakhic code after the compilation of the Talmud.

Until 1911 Halakhot Pesukot was known only through quotations in the books of the early scholars. In that year, however, a manuscript of the work was found by David Sassoon in San'a, the capital of Yemen, and was published by his son Solomon (1951). This unique manuscript is in a fragmentary state; both the beginning and the end are lacking, as well as portions in the body of the text. (Many individual pages of the missing section, however, have been found in the Cairo Genizah.) Hilkhot Terefot from the Halakhot Pesukot have been published recently from several remnants.


Azulai, 1 (1852), 63 no. 8, S.V. Yehudai Ga'on; Epstein, in: Tarbiz, 8 (1937), 16–31; 10 (1939), 283–308; idem, in: JQR, 4 (1913/14), 423–33; 5 (1914/15), 97–8; V. Aptowitzer, Meḥkarim be-Sifrut ha-Ge'onim (1941), 27–28; Ḥ. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 1 (1946), 78–84; Assaf, Ge'onim, 167–8; Hildesheimer, in: Sefer ha-Yovel shel "Sinai" (1958), 566–72; Abramson, in: Sinai, 23 (1948), 75 n. 19; idem, in: Tarbiz, 18 (1946/47), 42 n.12; Margalioth, in: Talpioth, 8 (1963), 307–30 (text of Hilkhot Terefot); Bruell, Jahrbuecher, 9 (1889), 128–33; 232–44; Poznański, in: REJ, 63 (1912), 232–44; Waxman, Literature, (19602), 28 1ff.

[Mordecai Margaliot]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.