Lot 4
  • 4

Collection of Responsa of the Geonim and Rishonim [Ashkenaz: 15th century]

30,000 - 50,000 USD
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  • ink, paper
142 leaves (11 5/8 x 8 ¼ in.; 295 x 211 mm). [1], 141. Lightly written in brown ink on paper, in Ashkenazic semi-cursive Hebrew script, preserving many deckle edges, early foliation in ink in hebrew letters, modern foliation in pencil; first leaf mounted, with introductory text reconstructed in later hand; f.1 page severely stained, fol. 131 laid down, margins restored throughout (edges reinforced, corners restored, wormholes repaired), especially in first half, moderate staining throughout, library stamps on ff. 1r, 141v. Modern half blue morocco gilt; text quires resewn on paper guards.


Samuel David Luzzatto; Solomon Halberstam (shelf no. 179); Montefiore Collection (with stamps of Yeshivat Ohel Moshe ve-Yehudit-Judith Lady Montefiore College; among the 412 volumes acquired from Halberstam in 1892 by Moses Gaster); Purchased by the present owner: Important Hebrew Manuscripts from the Montefiore Endowment, Sotheby's NY, October 27, 2004. lot 91.


Hartwig Hirschfeld, Catalogue of the Hebrew MSS. of the Montefiore Library and of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Jews' College, London, 1904  (ms. no. 98); S.D. Luzzatto, In Kerem Chemed 7 (1843), pp. 274-282, printed 10 responsa by Jacob ben Meir (Rabbenu Tam) from this manuscript.  Luzzatto indicated on the margins of the manuscript references to the paragraphs in Sha’arei Zedek; Joel Müller, in Teshuvot Geonei Mizrah u-Ma’arav (Berlin, 1888), nos. 163-211 et al, published most of the earliest responsa from this manuscript.  Some had previously been printed in the collection Sha’arei Zedek (Salonica, 1792); Müller, in his Réponses faites par les célèbres rabbins français et lorrains (Teshuvot hakhmei Zarfat ve-Luter, Vienna, 1881) published responsa by the Spanish and Ashkenazic rabbis; A. Grossman, in Atara L’HaimStudies ... in honor of Professor Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky (Jerusalem, 2000), pp. 274-282, published corrections to Müller’'s edition.

Catalogue Note

The beginning of responsa literature as a literary and historical phenomenon of important dimensions may be traced to the geonic period, whose name comes from the adjectival form of gaon, the formal title given to the heads of the academies of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia. From approximately the end of the 6th century through the mid-11th century, the geonim played a decisive role in the process of disseminating the Oral Law and establishing the Babylonian Talmud as the sole authority in the life of the Jewish people. In answer to the halakhic questions sent by Jews around the world, seeking direction and guidance in determining the manner in which they should conduct their daily lives, the geonim, and later, other rabbinical authorities responded, sometimes succinctly, and sometimes at great length. The details gleaned from these communications provides us with an important understanding of the development of halakha, as well as frequently allowing us a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of Jewish individuals and communities.

This volume contains more than three hundred responsa from the Babylonian geonim as well as from early Spanish and Ashkenazic authorities. It should be noted that many of the responsa found here were written by Moses ben Hanokh, who may be seen as the bridge upon which the halakhic hegemony of the geonim departed Babylonia and arrived in Europe, to be reinvigorated by both Sephardic and Ahkenazic rabbinic authorities. The dramatic biographical details of Moses ben Hanokh’s life are recounted in the “Story of the Four Captives” by Abraham Ibn Daud in his Sefer ha-Kabbalah (see Gerson Cohen, The Book of Tradition, pp. 63–69). Moses was one of four scholars sent Babylonian academies to collect contributions from the Jews of the Diaspora. Captured by Moorish pirates off the coast of Italy, Moses was taken to Cordoba where his brilliance was soon recognized and he became the head of its large and influential yeshivah. There he followed in the tradition of the geonim, by answering halakhic questions which were addressed to him from other towns. In short order, his responsa were regarded by his contemporaries as authoritative and equal to those emanating from Babylonia. As a result, the ascendance of Moses ben Ḥanokh marks the beginning of the end of the practical dependence of Spanish scholars upon their Babylonian brethren, in all matters connected with halakhah and custom. Other responsa in this volume were written by Moses’ son Hanokh, who succeeded his father, and by Hanokh’s contemporary rabbinic rival, Joseph ibn Abitur.

Many of the responsa in this valuable codex have been cited or published in scholarly books and journals by a variety of authors. It remains, nonetheless, a veritable treasure trove of early responsa literature.