A Definition of Responsa in Judaism

Actively involved in New York’s thriving Jewish community, Rabbi Leib Tropper founded the Kol Yaakov Yeshiva and Torah Center in Monsey, New York. A respected author, Rabbi Leib Tropper recently published two books that address Jewish responsa.

Responsa is a Jewish practice dating back to the geonic period, when Jewish scholars requested information on Jewish law from recognized authorities in Babylonian communities. The information they required often pertained to new situations that were not specifically addressed by the Talmud. The responses (known as geonic responsa) were collected and printed, sometimes several centuries later. The practice continues today, and responsa by well-respected rabbis are still published, sometimes electronically.

An example of a 19th century dilemma considered by responsa was the introduction of electricity. Scholars were uncertain whether the use of an electric light would be seen as creating fire, an activity forbidden on the Sabbath. Today, more than 2,000 responsa have been published, and serve as an important supplement to Jewish law, and a trove of information for the study of Jewish cultural and social history.

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