Yitzchak al-Fasi “Rif”
(1013 - 1103)
was born in 1013 in the City of Kala in Algeria.
He learned Torah in the Yeshiva of Kairuwan under the tutelage of Rabbi Chananel ben
Chushiel Gaon. But he was forced by fanatical Muslims to flee with his family to Fez in Morocco, where he remained
for forty years as head of the community and its Yeshiva, and it was
there that he completed his greatest work, the Sefer HaHalachot, (see
below). It was there also that the name of the city became intertwined
with the name of the great Torah scholar, for Rif stands
for Rabbi Yitzchak of Fez, or Rabbi
As a relatively young man, Rabbi Yitzchak had become
aware that most people were unable to deduce the halacha,
the actual Jewish Law, from the text of the Talmud.
He conceived the idea of a commentary that was essentially
an abridgement of the Talmud, containing only the material that was
pertinent to the determination of the final halachic conclusion. Omitted
were all Aggadic,
or legendary material and even the shakla vtarya,
the back-and-forth running dialogue, that scholars see as the soul
of the Torah she-BAl-Peh, the Oral
Torah, were omitted for the sake of halachic clarity. The body of
this commentary, that encompassed Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Brachot and
Chulin, was called the Sefer HaHalachot, the Book of Jewish
In Fez, there was an extremely wealthy man who, because
of his wealth, assumed a position of great distinction in the community.
Unfortunately for that individual, Rabbi Yitzchak knew that he had amassed
his wealth by corrupt means and therefore refused to show him deference.
That person informed falsely against the Rif to the government, forcing
the great Torah scholar again to flee, this time from North Africa to Spain.
He was received with great honor by the Jewish Community
of Cordova. The following year,
he assumed the position of Head of the Community and Head of the Yeshiva
of Lucena, when those positions became vacant with the death of Rabbi
Yitzchak ibn Gias. It was there that the best and the brightest
of his students was Rabbi Yoseph ibn Migash, about whom the Rambam writes that when he thinks of how much Torah the Ri Migash knew (actually,
it was Rabbi Maimon, father of the Rambam, who was the student of the
Ri Migash, but he passed along the Torah of his great teacher to his
son), his head aches. Thus the Rif succeeded in transmitting the Torah
traditions of the Geonim and the Babylonian Yeshivot to the Rambam and
When several leaders of the Community of Lucena expressed
reservations about his appointment due to his advanced age, Rabbi Yitzchak
of Fez assured them that he would celebrate his Bar
Mitzvah in Lucena. And he was true to his word, passing away
there in 1103, after thirteen years of creative and productive service.