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Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi (1013–1103) extracted all the pertinent legal decisions from the three Talmudic orders Moed, Nashim and Nezikin as well as the tractates of Berachot and Chulin - 24 tractates in all. Rabbi Alfasi transcribed the Talmud's halakhic conclusions verbatim, without the surrounding deliberations; he also excludes all Aggadic (non-legal, homiletic) matter as well as discussion of the halakha practicable only in Land of Israel. Maimonides wrote that Alfasi's work "has superseded all the geonic codes…for it contains all the decisions and laws which we need in our day…".
This work played a fundamental role in the development of Halakha. Firstly, "the Rif" succeeded in producing a Digest, which became the object of close study, and led in its turn to the great Codes of Maimonides and of Rabbi Yoseph Karo.Secondly, it served as one of the "Three Pillars of Halakha", as an authority underpinning both the Arbaah Turim and the Shulkhan Arukh. Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (the RaN) compiled a detailed and explicit commentary on this work; In yeshivot "the Rif and the RaN" are regularly studied as part of the daily Talmudic schedule.
This work was published prior to the times of Rashi and other commentaries, and resulted in a profound change in the study practices of the scholarly Jewish public in that it opened the world of the gemara to the public at large. It soon became known as the Talmud Katan ("Little Talmud"). At the close of the Middle Ages, when the Talmud was banned in Italy, Alfasi's code was exempted so that from the 16th to the 19th centuries his work was the primary subject of study of the Italian Jewish community. Rabbi Alfasi also occupies an important place in the development of the Sephardi method of studying the Talmud. In contradistinction to the Ashkenazi approach, the Sephardim sought to simplify the Talmud and free it from casuistical detail.
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