||Both in content and in form, She'iltot is unique in Jewish literature. It is unlike midrashic literature since its halakhic elements exceed its aggadic. It is without parallel in the literature of the Codes, being arranged neither according to subject matter nor according to the sequence of the sections in which the Pentateuch is divided. Rav Ahai's method is to connect decisions of the Oral Law with the Written Law.
Each she'ilta is divided into four parts. The first serves as a general introduction to the subject, speaks of the value and significance of the particular commandments, and serves as a preparation for the question that is to be discussed. The second part is always introduced with the words: "but it is necessary that you learn," or in an abridged form: "but it is necessary," followed by the question. Then comes the third part, the homiletical part, which begins: "Praised be the L-rd, who has given us the Torah and the commandments through our teacher Moses to instruct the people of Israel," after which the preacher proceeds from subject to subject. The fourth part is introduced by the formula: "With respect to the question I have set before you...," and then answers the question propounded in the second part. Some assume that the lecture was called "she'ilta" because its most important part is the question and its solution. However, not all the she'iltot have come down in their complete form: in most of them the third part is missing. One she'ilta is to be found in the Talmud itself (Shab. 30a) and it appears that this pattern of public sermon is ancient.
Rav Ahai (Ahai) of Shabha Gaon (680–752), scholar of the Pumbedita yeshivah in the geonic period and author of She'iltot ("Questions"). He came from Shabha, which is adjacent to Basra. When a vacancy occurred in the geonate of Pumbedita a few years before the death of Aha, the exilarch Solomon b. Hasdai appointed Natronai Kahana b. Emunah of Baghdad, a pupil of Rav Ahai, as gaon (748). Incensed at this slight, Rav Ahai left Babylonia (c. 750) and settled in Palestine. His departure deeply affected his contemporaries and many followed him. By the next generation a considerable number of Babylonian Jews were settled in Palestine. In many places they even built separate synagogues following the Babylonian ritual. The She'iltot (always so called, and not by the more correct name She'elata), was the first book written after the close of the Talmud to be attributed to its author. Much of its subject matter is very old, even antedating the final redaction of the Talmud. There are statements in the She'iltot that do not appear in the Talmud or which are there in a different version. It also contains "reversed discussions" (i.e., where the statements of the disputants are reversed, contradictory, or different from those in the standard texts). Other portions belong to the period of the savoraim and of the first geonim. A number of decisions cited by the geonim as the tradition of "many generations" or which refer to "earliest authorities" are verbally reproduced in the She'iltot. Even the legal terminology is identical with that of the legal decisions of the savoraim as transmitted by the geonim. Nevertheless, apart from his quotation of the decisions of other authorities, it can be assumed that the halakhic decisions are his own.
||דרב אחאי גאון משבחא, לכל הפוסקים קודם בזמן ובמעלה ... הגיה אותם כמהר"ר יוחנן טרייוש יצ"ו ...
שאלות בהלכה ותשובותיהן בצידן, על סדר פרשיות התורה. קולופון: "נדב רוחו להחכם הכולל מהרופאים כמה"ר אליה חלפן יצ"ו, להוציא לאור אלו השאילתות מרב אחאי גאון אשר נמצאו בבית מדרשו ... ובתחלת כל תחלה אשאל מהאל אשר אין לו תחלה כמו שעזרנו עד פה שגמרנו השאלתות כן יזכנו להתחיל ולהשלים ספרים אחרים בלי פגע רע, כך מתחנן ומתפלל קורנילייו אדי"ל קינ"ד, העומד תמיד על המלאכה".