The Last Rishonim of Ashkenaz

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A new series by R. Aryeh Leibowitz of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, excerpted from a book available for purchase: here

by R. Aryeh Leibowitz

A few years after the death of R. Peretz, in the year 1306, the Jews of France were stripped of their property and expelled from the entire French kingdom. Although they were allowed to return less than ten years later, the French Torah culture basically ended at this point.

In Germany, the condition of the Jews was also not very promising. A series of blood libels,[1]Mainz in 1283, Munich in 1286, and Oberwesel in 1288. followed by the imprisonment of the Gadol HaDor, the Maharam, culminated in the devastating Rindfleisch massacres of 1298, which led to the utter destruction of one hundred and forty-six Jewish communities, with deaths numbering in the tens of thousands. Fifty years later, the infamous Black Death plagued Europe, claiming the lives of a third of the population. The gentiles irrationally blamed the Jews, and in 1349 waves of massacres were ignited across Europe, destroying hundreds of communities. In Germany, community after community was decimated by bloodthirsty mobs. Refusing options to convert and save themselves, the Jews valiantly gave their lives al kiddush Hashem on the pyres.[2]This period witnessed the savage annihilation of entire Jewish communities, including the communities of Frankfurt, Mainz, Speyer, and Cologne. In one infamous massacre in 1349 in the German city of … Continue reading

As is the nature of the Jewish exile, the surviving Jews regrouped and relocated. Leaving their German homeland, many Jews headed east, establishing communities in Poland, Austria, Hungary, and other Eastern European regions. Many of the leading Torah scholars in these communities were students of Maharam’s students.

 
R. Asher Ben Yechiel (רא”ש)
The Rosh (d. 1328) was born and educated in Germany. He was a direct descendant of the Raavan and a student of the Maharam. When the Maharam died in prison, the Rosh assumed his role as the leader of the generation. However, the Rosh’s tenure in Germany did not last long, and in short time, the Rosh was forced to flee.

With his family, the Rosh travelled through France and Catalonia, eventually settling in Toledo, Spain – a city with a sizeable community of Ashkenazim who had fled Germany.[3]Toledo was an important Jewish city in Spain. It was home to many great Jewish scholars, including R. Yehuda HaLevi (d. 1141), R. Avraham Ibn Ezra (d. 1167), who was born in Tudela, but also spent … Continue reading In Toledo, the Rosh was appointed as Rosh Yeshiva of the Toledo academy, thanks in part to the efforts of the Rashba, who helped make sure the Rosh received the honor he deserved. When the Rashba died in 1310, the Rosh assumed his position as leading scholar in the land. In total, the Rosh spent more than twenty years at the helm of the yeshiva in Toledo.

The Rosh was a major Talmudist and posek. R. Yosef Karo writes that the Rosh is one of the three poskim that form the basis for his rulings in the Shulchan Aruch – the illustrious Rif and Rambam being the other two.

The Rosh’s magnum opus is the Piskei HaRosh, printed today in the back of the standard editions of the Talmud. The Piskei HaRosh is an analysis and summary of the Talmudic discussion with a distinct focus on pesak. It was written in Spain, and reflects the French, German, Provencal, and Spanish Talmudic traditions. Officially, the Piskei HaRosh is based upon the Rif’s Halachos – the primary text of study in Toledo when the Rosh arrived. The work regularly quotes full passages from the Rif’s Halachos,[4]The Oz VeHadar editions of the Talmud print in bold lettering the lines in the Rosh that are drawn from the Rif. however, the opinions of the Tosafists also receive much focus, and many of the major opinions quoted in Tosafos are carefully recorded by the Rosh.[5]When Piskei HaRosh quote Tosafos, it was generally to arrive at a halachic ruling. It is interesting to contrast this with the Rashba, who was the Rosh’s older contemporary in Spain. When the … Continue reading In general, the Rosh gives great weight to the views of the Tosafists, ruling like them over the Rif and Rambam. The Rosh also quotes regularly from the other major Rishonim, such as the Ravyah and Maharam of Germany, the Ba’al HaMeor and Raavad of Provence, Rabbeinu Chananel of North Africa, and the Rit”z Gayus and Rambam of Spain. The Rosh also included much of his own dialectic analysis and was generally not reluctant to share his own ruling on an issue. The multicultural influences on the Rosh resulted in a comprehensive and robust work that undoubtedly helped lay the groundwork for his son’s major undertaking, the Arba Turim.

The Piskei HaRosh were immensely popular and began to replace the Rif as the main text of study in Spain.[6]By the mid-fourteenth century, we begin to find manuscripts that have the Piskei HaRosh printed with Rashi alongside it, a phenomenon that we have already seen with the Rif’s Halachos. This … Continue reading Many commentaries were written on the Piskei HaRosh, such as R. Yomtov Lipman Heller’s Ma’adanei Yom Tov (d. 1654), R. Nesanel Weil’s Korban Nesanel (d. 1769), and the critical notes of the Bach and the Vilna Gaon.

It is important to note that although the Rosh does quote from German Talmudists, such as the Ravyah and his own teacher, the Maharam, the Rosh places a far greater stress on the French Tosafist tradition of R. Tam and the Ri. This is very different than the Maharam’s other prolific student, R. Mordechai, who is squarely in the intellectual culture of the German poskim, quoting much more frequently from the German Talmudists – such as Ra’avan, R. Yoel, R. Yehuda HaChasid, R. Elazar Rokeach, R. Simcha of Speyer, Rivak (R. Yehuda b. Kolonymus), R. Yitzchak Or Zarua, and many more. These great German scholars do not appear much, at least by name, in the Piskei HaRosh, and their omission highlights the Rosh’s focus on the French tradition of dialectic Talmudic analysis.

The omission of the traditional German teachings in the Piskei HaRosh was remedied by the Hagahos Ashri of R. Yisrael of Krems, Austria (d. early fifteenth century). R. Yisrael’s notes on the Piskei HaRosh quote the relevant opinions of the great German poskim that are absent from the Piskei HaRosh.[7]In other words, what R. Meir HaKohen did to the Rambam’s Mishna Torah with his Hagahos Maimonios, R. Yisrael did to the Piskei HaRosh with his Hagahos Ashri. In modern printings of the Piskei HaRosh, the Hagahos Ashri appears in distinct boxes within the main text of the Piskei HaRosh.

Tosafos HaRosh

When the Rosh emigrated to Spain, he brought with him from Germany a collection of Tosafos. The specific Tosafos that he brought contained the original teachings of the Ri and R. Shimshon of Shantz but did not include the additions or editing of the later redactors, such as R. Peretz or R. Eliezer of Tukh. The Rosh added to the text some of the Maharam’s teachings, as well as his own teachings.[8]The compiling of the Tosafos HaRosh may have paved the way for writing the more comprehensive Piskei HaRosh. There are also indications that he compiled different versions of the Tosafos HaRosh, some … Continue reading Upon arrival in Toledo, the Rosh might have used the Tosafos HaRosh to introduce the study of Tosafos and popularized their dialectic methods of analysis.[9]In an interesting letter, the Rosh’s son, R. Yehuda, advises someone not to bring any Tosafos collections with them to Toledo, as the scholars in Toledo, says R. Yehuda, are dedicated to only … Continue reading

The Tosafos HaRosh, in their totality, are not an original work of the Rosh. Much of it is only a record of the rich Tosafist tradition. Therefore, a contradiction between an anonymous passage in the Tosafos HaRosh and a passage in the Piskei HaRosh is not problematic, as the Tosafos HaRosh, save for the passages that indicate otherwise, is generally not the view of the Rosh himself, but rather of the French Tosafists.

The Tosafos HaRosh are very clearly written and are an excellent tool to be consulted when trying to decipher the printed Tosafos on the page of the Talmud. The Tosafos HaRosh were not, however, overly popular beyond the Rosh’s own time, and they were not printed until the nineteenth century.

Other Writings

The Rosh also wrote a commentary on the Mishna of Sedarim Zeraim and Taharos. In addition, printed editions of tractate Nedarim have a commentary of the Rosh printed in the margin.

People from all over Europe turned to the Rosh with their halachic questions. Over one thousand teshuvos of the Rosh have been published under the title Shu”t HaRosh.[10]Contradiction between the Rosh’s Teshuvos and the Piskei HaRosh: The Tur (Choshen Mishpat, end of 72) notes such a contradiction and writes that the Piskei HaRosh were written later and should be … Continue reading

The Rosh also wrote a commentary on the Torah and a popular work called Orchos Chayim, containing short ethical principles to be reviewed regularly.

 
R. Yaakov b. Asher (בעל הטורים)
The Rosh’s son, R. Yaakov (d. 1340s), fled from Germany to Spain with his father. Like his father, R. Yaakov’s teachings were heavily based on the Ashkenazic tradition, but also included the Provencal and Sefardic traditions that their family encountered when they moved to Spain.

In Spain, R. Yaakov wrote the Sefer HaRemazim, also known as the Kitzur Piskei HaRosh. As its title suggests, the sefer summarizes the final rulings of his father’s Piskei HaRosh. The sefer is printed in standard editions of the Talmud immediately following the Piskei HaRosh (or on the bottom of the page of the Piskei HaRosh in the Oz VeHadar editions of the Talmud). The Kitzur Piskei HaRosh is a valuable tool for reviewing the Rosh, and for clarifying the Rosh’s final position when it is not immediately clear from the text of the Piskei HaRosh.

R. Yaakov’s magnum opus is the Arba Turim, known by many as the Tur. The sefer summarizes the final rulings of the Talmud in light of the analysis of the great Rishonim. Significantly, the Tur does not always present a final ruling on an issue; instead, he sometimes presents a range of views, without issuing a pesak.

Among the Tur’s most prominent sources are the teachings of the Tosafists, the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, the Rashba’s Toras HaBayis, the Ramban’s Toras HaAdam, and the Sefer HaTerumos of R. Shmuel of Sardinia (d. 1256), a Catalonian contemporary of the Ramban. R. Yaakov also quotes his father’s rulings regularly and gives them significant weight when issuing a final ruling.

The sefer is divided into four sections, each one focusing on a different area of halacha that is applicable in the post Beis HaMikdash period.

  • Orach Chayim on daily halacha, Shabbos, and the holidays.
  • Yoreh Deah on the laws of Kashrus, Idolatry, Niddah, Torah Study, Mezuzah, and mourning. This section draws heavily from the Sefer Toras HaBayis and the Sefer Toras HaAdam.
  • Even HaEzer on the laws of marriage and divorce. This section draws heavily from the Mishna Torah.
  • Choshen Mishpat on civil and criminal law. This section draws heavily from the Sefer HaTerumos.

The Tur was immediately popular and became a major source for studying the accepted halachic traditions. Many important commentaries were written on the Tur, including the Darchei Moshe of R. Moshe Isserlis (Rema, d. 1572), the Beis Yosef of R. Yosef Karo (d. 1575), the Beis Yisrael (which is made up of the Drisha and Prisha) of R. Yehoshua Falk (d. 1614), who also authored the Sefer Meiras Einayim (Sema) on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, and the Bayis Chadosh (Bach) of R. Yoel Sirkis (d. 1640).

Most significantly, when R. Yosef Karo wrote the Shulchan Aruch, he adopted the structure of the Tur, dividing it into the same four sections. Even the simanim (chapters) of the Shulchan Aruch correspond to the simanim in the Tur.[11]There are two simanim that appear in the Shulchan Aruch that do not have a parallel siman in the Tur. (1) In the Tur, Choshen Mishpat has 426 simanim. In the Shulchan Aruch, R. Yosef Karo added an … Continue reading

The Tur also wrote a commentary on the Torah that drew heavily from the commentary of the Ramban, as well as other great commentators, including his father, the Rosh. The Tur’s commentary contains an introduction to each parsha that features gematrios and other similar styled comments. It is these introductions that are printed in many of today’s chumashim as the commentary of the Ba’al HaTurim.

Piskei Tosafos (פסקי תוספות)
Printed in the back of the standard editions of the Talmud is a work called the Piskei Tosafos. Many attribute authorship of the Piskei Tosafos to the Tur, while others assume the author to be R. Yaakov of Nordhausen, a German Talmudist who was killed al kiddush Hashem in the Black Death massacres of 1349.

The Piskei Tosafos is a record of the halachic rulings that emerge from Tosafos on the Talmud. As there were many different redactions of the Tosafist teachings, it is hard to know which specific Tosafos commentary served as the basis for the Piskei Tosafos. Indeed, the rulings that are recorded there do not always correspond to the printed Tosafos in the tractate. The Oz VeHadar edition of the Talmud notes the discrepancies between the printed Tosafos and the Piskei Tosafos in footnotes on the text of the Piskei Tosafos.

 

Endnotes

1Mainz in 1283, Munich in 1286, and Oberwesel in 1288.
2This period witnessed the savage annihilation of entire Jewish communities, including the communities of Frankfurt, Mainz, Speyer, and Cologne. In one infamous massacre in 1349 in the German city of Eurfurt, R. Alexander Suslin, author of the Sefer Agudah was killed. The Sefer Agudah is a very important halachic sefer based on the teachings and rulings of the Maharam, R. Mordechai, and the Rosh. The Sefer Agudah served as the basis of many of the Maharil’s rulings.
3Toledo was an important Jewish city in Spain. It was home to many great Jewish scholars, including R. Yehuda HaLevi (d. 1141), R. Avraham Ibn Ezra (d. 1167), who was born in Tudela, but also spent time in Toledo, R. Avraham ibn Daud (d. 1180), author of the Sefer HaKabbalah, and the Ramah (d. 1244).
4The Oz VeHadar editions of the Talmud print in bold lettering the lines in the Rosh that are drawn from the Rif.
5When Piskei HaRosh quote Tosafos, it was generally to arrive at a halachic ruling. It is interesting to contrast this with the Rashba, who was the Rosh’s older contemporary in Spain. When the Rashba quotes Tosafos, it was generally to engage in further dialectic analysis.
6By the mid-fourteenth century, we begin to find manuscripts that have the Piskei HaRosh printed with Rashi alongside it, a phenomenon that we have already seen with the Rif’s Halachos. This indicates that people were studying the Piskei HaRosh without the Talmud, and, hence, needed the relevant Rashi passages to understand challenging words and phrases. Amazingly, the first printing of the Talmud included the Piskei HaRosh, whereas the Rif’s Halachos was not included in the printed Talmud until the nineteenth century.
7In other words, what R. Meir HaKohen did to the Rambam’s Mishna Torah with his Hagahos Maimonios, R. Yisrael did to the Piskei HaRosh with his Hagahos Ashri.
8The compiling of the Tosafos HaRosh may have paved the way for writing the more comprehensive Piskei HaRosh. There are also indications that he compiled different versions of the Tosafos HaRosh, some longer and some shorter.
9In an interesting letter, the Rosh’s son, R. Yehuda, advises someone not to bring any Tosafos collections with them to Toledo, as the scholars in Toledo, says R. Yehuda, are dedicated to only studying his father’s Tosafos.
10Contradiction between the Rosh’s Teshuvos and the Piskei HaRosh: The Tur (Choshen Mishpat, end of 72) notes such a contradiction and writes that the Piskei HaRosh were written later and should be given more weight than the Teshuvos. The Prisha there notes that the Tur is speaking about this specific teshuva and that not all of the teshuvos predate the Piskei HaRosh. Similarly, the Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 201) says there is no general rule regarding this issue, and some teshuvos predate the Pesakim, while others were written after.

Teshuvos Besamim Rosh: There are responsa known as Besamim Rosh that were first published in Berlin in 1793 by Saul Berlin, a very learned man with impressive family yichus, who was drawn after the maskilim. Berlin claimed that the teshuvos were from an unpublished manuscript containing previously unknown teshuvos of the Rosh. A that time, Berlin was already a controversial figure in Orthodox circles for he had published, under a pseudonym, a book that attacked the Chief Rabbi of Altona, Hamburg, and Wansbeck (אה”ו), R. Refael Hamburg, author of Toras Yekutiel and Marpe Lashon. Immediately upon the release of the Besamim Rosh people began to question its authenticity. A number of teshuvos seemed to push the Reform agenda, such as the issue of shaving on Chol HaMoed, riding a horse on Shabbos, and the consumption of kitniyos on Pesach. R. Mordechai Bennet and the Chasam Sofer both charged that it, or at least major parts of it, was a forgery. Nonetheless, it is still quoted by some later poskim, either because the issue is not resolved completely or because some of the arguments and proofs are still Torah-true even if the conclusions are tainted.

11There are two simanim that appear in the Shulchan Aruch that do not have a parallel siman in the Tur. (1) In the Tur, Choshen Mishpat has 426 simanim. In the Shulchan Aruch, R. Yosef Karo added an additional siman at the end, siman 427, which deals with the mitzvah to remove dangers from one’s home. (2) Tur, Yoreh Deah, 296 addresses two different topics, כלאי הכרם (forbidden mixtures in a vineyard) and כלאי זרעים (forbidden mixtures in regular fields). It is followed by siman 297, which deals with כלאי בהמה (forbidden mixtures with animals). In the Shulchan Aruch, R. Yosef Karo decided to separate the two different topics of כלאי הכרם and כלאי זרעים into two different simanim, so he left כלאי הכרם in siman 296 and made a separate siman for כלאי זרעים. This new siman he numbered 297a, and 297b became the siman for כלאי בהמה.

About Aryeh Leibowitz

Rabbi Leibowitz is a Ram at Yeshivat Sha'alvim and serves as the Assistant Dean of the Overseas Program.

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