The Geonic Period

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The earliest example of this was Yehudai ben Nahman's Halakhot Pesukot (Decided Laws), which was organized both by topic (e.g. holiday laws, contracts, etc.) and by talmudic tractate. In addition, Yehudai ben Nahman innovated the notion that he would include only laws that were still operative in his day, omitting laws connected to the Jerusalem Temple that had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Nearly a century later, Halakhot Gedolot (The Great Laws) was published, attributed by many to R. Simeon Kayyara of Basra, which was arranged by the order of the Talmud but also summarized talmudic passages and offered halakhic decisions on a wider range of topics than had been covered by Halakhot Pesukot.

Perhaps the most significant contribution by the Geonim to halakhic literature was their writing and dissemination of responsa throughout the Jewish world. Like halakhic codes, responsa are intended to decide matters of Jewish law, but whereas codes by definition are generalized and more abstract, responsa represent the individualized halakhic decision of a posek (halakhic decisor) addressed to specific questions. Over the generations, as more responsa have been written and published, a body of Jewish case law has developed analogous to the common-law case law of other legal systems.

By the close of the Geonic period, the spiritual center of world Jewry had shifted away from Babylonia and towards communities spread throughout North Africa and Europe, and a new period of creative evolution of halakhah was beginning. The distinctive stamp of the Geonim, however, continues to be felt to this day.

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