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Rabbi Yitzchok Alfasi was known as the Rif. The Roshei Teivos of his name is רי"א, and as far as I know there is no other historic figure known as the רי"א. Then why was he known as the Rif?

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I have seen "Riaf" and I've heard R' Yitzchak Fasi, though I doubt that they are common. –  Shmuel Brin Jan 26 '12 at 22:57
    
@ShmuelBrin: The "Riaf" is most likely not the Rif, but instead the writer of the Me'or Einayim, R' Yoshiyahu Pinto - hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=47606&pgnum=3 - yeshiva.org.il/wiki/… –  Menachem Dec 13 '13 at 6:00
    
R. Yitzchok Abarbanel is referred to as the רי"א. –  Gemini Man Mar 1 at 22:31
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1 Answer

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Because "Alfasi" is really "al-Fasi". "Al-Fasi" is Arabic for "the Fezite" (Fez being the city in Morocco where he lived).

So kind of like how the word "of" gets swallowed in "USA", the word "the" got swallowed in "Rif". Wouldn't have made much sense to make his acronym stand for "Rabbi Yitzchak The".

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Curiously, A few years ago I asked the one Rabbi Alfasi we knew, who taught at a Jewish day school in Los Angeles, if he was Sfardic. He answerd in the negative, saying he was Ashkenazic and I believe his family came from Poland. (On the other hand, some years ago, Rabbi Berel Wein was visiting LA, and in a lecture mentioned that he had discovered that in his ancestry, he should have been Sfardic). Go figure -- we are such a mixed up people! –  Madeleine Jan 27 '12 at 21:55
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