The Later Rishonim of Germany II

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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

R. Meir of Rothenburg (מהר”ם מרוטנברג)

R. Meir b. Baruch, the Maharam of Rothenburg (d. 1293), was considered the leading Halachic authority of his day in Germany. He studied in Germany under the Or Zarua, but he also travelled to France and studied under R. Yechiel of Paris and R. Shmuel of Evreux. The Maharam eventually returned to German lands and established his residence and yeshiva in Rothenburg. From there, the Maharam led his generation, as he answered the never-ending flow of halachic questions that were sent to him from all over France and Germany.

The Maharam not only answered the many queries sent to him, but he also dedicated himself and his academy to collecting all of the scattered responsa of the earlier Tosafist generations.[1]These collections, along with Maharam’s own responsa, were printed in four different editions: (1) Cremona Edition (1557), (2) Prague Edition (1608), (3) Lemberg Edition (1860), (4) Berlin Edition … Continue reading In his own responsa, the Maharam quotes frequently from the Rambam and analyzes his rulings and formulations. He is one of the first Ashkenazic masters to regularly quote from the Rambam.

The Maharam also redacted a Tosafos commentary, and it seems that the printed Tosafos on tractate Yoma is the Tosafos Maharam. Maharam also wrote a commentary on the Mishnayos of Seder Taharos, authored a commentary on piyyutim, and himself wrote a number of kinos and selichos.

During the tenure of the Maharam, the position of the Jews in Germany worsened. In response to increased persecution, many of the suffering Jews fled Germany.[2]In 1284, King Rudolph levied heavy taxes on the Jewish community, and in 1285-86 there was a notable blood libel. The Maharam himself, seemingly after an attempt to flee Germany, was jailed in 1284. Although the Jewish community desired to redeem him, the Maharam refused, fearing it would encourage additional kidnappings of Rabbis and communal leaders. The Maharam remained in captivity until his death in 1293.[3]Maharshal’s Yam Shel Shlomo, Gittin 4:6 records the Maharam’s refusal to be freed due to the exorbitant amounts of money being demanded. During his incarceration in the towers of Wasserburg and Ensisheim, Maharam’s captors allowed him to learn Torah and receive visitors. R. Shimshon b. Zadok, author of the Tashbetz HaKatan (תשב”ץ הקטן) [4]The Sefer Tashbetz HaKatan is a collection of rulings and practices of the Maharam. It should not be confused with the Sefer Tashbetz of R. Shimon b. Tzemach Duran (d. 1444), an important … Continue reading visited the Maharam and discussed Torah teachings with him, similar to the way Torah scholars visited R. Akiva when he was incarcerated by the Romans (Eruvin 21b).[5]See Hagahos Maimonios, Hilchos Shabbos 6:6 for a Torah teaching from the tower prison in Wasserburg, and see Hilchos Kriyas Shema 1:11, Hilchos Tefila 14:8, and Hilchos Shabbos 19:4 for Torah … Continue reading After his death, the Jewish community successfully redeemed the Maharam’s body and provided him with a proper burial.

The Maharam’s students were important rabbinic leaders and scholars in the following generation.

R. Meir HaKohen (הגהות מיימוניות)

R. Meir HaKohen of Rothenburg was a leading student of the Maharam. Like his teacher, R. Meir was greatly interested in the rulings of the Rambam, especially as the Rambam became more and more popular in Ashkenazic lands. R. Meir authored the Hagahos Maimonios (הגהות מיימוניות), which are Ashkenazic footnotes on the Rambam’s Mishna Torah.[6]Two Versions of the Hagahos Maimonios: The Hagahos Maimonios were first printed alongside the Rambam’s Mishna Torah in the Constantinople (Kushta) printing of the Mishna Torah in 1509. When the … Continue reading The Hagahos record the opinions of the Tosafists and German Poskim that are relevant to the discussion in the Rambam.[7]When the Hagahos quote the “Sefer HaMitzvos,” it is a reference to the Semag.

Included in the Hagahos Maimonios are responsa of early Tosafists that pertain to the rulings of the Rambam. These responsa were apparently circulated and studied in the Maharam’s academy. These collected responsa appear today in the back of standard editions of the Mishna Torah and are called Teshuvos Maimonios.

R. Mordechai b. Hillel (מרדכי)

R. Mordechai ben Hillel (d. 1298), an important student of Maharam, was R. Meir HaKohen’s brother-in-law, and was a direct descendant of the Ravyah and the Raavan.[8]R. Mordechai might have also studied under R. Peretz of Corbeil, for we find in one location in tractate Bava Kamma that R. Mordechai quotes R. Peretz as “my teacher.” It is also noteworthy that … Continue reading

R. Mordechai’s major work, Sefer Mordechai, is a collection of halachic rulings and interpretations of the Talmud. It is an extremely important source for primary material from the period of the Rishonim, for R. Mordechai excerpts verbatim quotes from hundreds of French and German Talmudists. Interestingly, R. Mordechai rarely adds in his own comments or opinions.

R. Mordechai’s work was extremely popular. It is probably the most influential German halachic work from the period of the Rishonim, after the Rosh’s Piskei HaRosh. It is reported that R. Moshe Isserles (Rema, d. 1572) gave shiurim on the Sefer Mordechai, and in Polish yeshivos there were times that the students first learned the tractate with the Talmud, Rashi and Tosafos, and then a second time with the Piskei HaRosh and the Sefer Mordechai. The Sefer Mordechai is also the main source of German material in the commentators (נושאי כלים) on the Shulchan Aruch.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the influence of the Sefer Mordechai is the fact that the Rema and Bach (R. Yoel Sirkis, d. 1640) both wrote glosses on it. There were also abridgments compiled of the Sefer Mordechai.[9]Mordechai HaKatan: One famous abridgment was the Sefer Mordechai HaKatan, compiled by R. Shmuel of Schlettstadt sixty years after the death of R. Mordechai. It includes critical comments, summaries, … Continue reading

The Sefer Mordechai is included in the back of the standard printed volumes of the Talmud.[10]Two Versions of the Sefer Mordechai – The late Rishonim reference two different versions of the Sefer Mordechai: (1) Austrich (Austrian) and (2) Rhenish (Rhineland, Germany). The standard printed … Continue reading However, it is an unfinished work, with many incomplete notes and comments scattered through the text – a problem that has led to many girsa issues with the work. The reason for this was likely the tragic death of R. Mordechai. R. Mordechai, his wife, and five children were all killed al kidush Hashem in Nuremberg during the Rindfleisch Massacres of 1298.[11]Rindfleisch Massacres of 1298: The massacre began in a small town called Rottingen. A libel alleged that the local Jews had desecrated a Christian rite. An angry mob led by a German knight named Lord … Continue reading This same massacre also took the life of his brother-in-law, R. Meir HaKohen, killed al kiddush Hashem in Rothenburg.

R. Yitzchak of Duren (שערי דורא)

R. Yitzchak of Duren, Germany was an important posek who flourished during the period of the Maharam, or in the immediate generation after him. He wrote an extremely influential halachic sefer on the laws of kashrus and Nidah called Sha’arei Dura. Within, R. Yitzchak quotes the accepted traditions and rulings from the environs of France and Germany.

The sefer was heavily relied upon by later halachic writers and is quoted often in the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. A testament to its influence is the many commentaries written on it by great scholars. Most notably, the Hagahos Sha’arei Dura by R. Yisrael Isserlin (Terumas HaDashen), plus commentaries written by R. Shlomo Luria (Mahrashal, d. 1573) and R. Mordechai Yaffe (Levush, d. 1612).

Endnotes

1These collections, along with Maharam’s own responsa, were printed in four different editions: (1) Cremona Edition (1557), (2) Prague Edition (1608), (3) Lemberg Edition (1860), (4) Berlin Edition (1891). In 2004, all four collections were printed as one set by Machon Yerushalayim Publishers.
2In 1284, King Rudolph levied heavy taxes on the Jewish community, and in 1285-86 there was a notable blood libel.
3Maharshal’s Yam Shel Shlomo, Gittin 4:6 records the Maharam’s refusal to be freed due to the exorbitant amounts of money being demanded.
4The Sefer Tashbetz HaKatan is a collection of rulings and practices of the Maharam. It should not be confused with the Sefer Tashbetz of R. Shimon b. Tzemach Duran (d. 1444), an important Spanish-North African Talmudist and posek.
5See Hagahos Maimonios, Hilchos Shabbos 6:6 for a Torah teaching from the tower prison in Wasserburg, and see Hilchos Kriyas Shema 1:11, Hilchos Tefila 14:8, and Hilchos Shabbos 19:4 for Torah teachings from the tower prison in Ensisheim. There are also a number of locations where the tower of Ensisheim is referenced in the Teshuvos Maimonios.
6Two Versions of the Hagahos Maimonios: The Hagahos Maimonios were first printed alongside the Rambam’s Mishna Torah in the Constantinople (Kushta) printing of the Mishna Torah in 1509. When the Rambam was printed in Venice in 1524, a different manuscript of the Hagahos was used. This version of the Hagahos, today’s standard version, is quite different than the original Constantinople edition. The Constantinople version can be found today in the back of the Frankel Publishers edition of the Rambam.
7When the Hagahos quote the “Sefer HaMitzvos,” it is a reference to the Semag.
8R. Mordechai might have also studied under R. Peretz of Corbeil, for we find in one location in tractate Bava Kamma that R. Mordechai quotes R. Peretz as “my teacher.” It is also noteworthy that the Tosafos R. Peretz on Arvei Pesachim are recorded at the end of the Sefer Mordechai on tractate Pesachim.
9Mordechai HaKatan: One famous abridgment was the Sefer Mordechai HaKatan, compiled by R. Shmuel of Schlettstadt sixty years after the death of R. Mordechai. It includes critical comments, summaries, and quotations from the original Sefer Mordechai, now referred to as the Mordechai HaGadol.
10Two Versions of the Sefer Mordechai – The late Rishonim reference two different versions of the Sefer Mordechai: (1) Austrich (Austrian) and (2) Rhenish (Rhineland, Germany). The standard printed Sefer Mordechai is the Rhineland edition, which quotes from many German poskim and was popular in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. The Austrian edition existed for many years only in manuscript form. In the late twentieth century, it began to be printed as the Mordechai HaShalem. As its printed title suggests, the Austrian edition is much longer than the Rhineland edition, and it includes many references to Eastern European poskim that do not appear in the Rhineland edition of the Sefer Mordechai.
11Rindfleisch Massacres of 1298: The massacre began in a small town called Rottingen. A libel alleged that the local Jews had desecrated a Christian rite. An angry mob led by a German knight named Lord Rindfleisch burned twenty-one Jews at the stake. Rindfleisch claimed that he had received a divine command to exact retribution on the Jews, although he likely owed money to local Jews, and he and his mob went on a six-month killing spree across Germany. Rindfleisch and his henchmen went town to town massacring Jews. Major Jewish cities, including Rothenburg, Wurzberg, Bamberg, and Nuremberg were destroyed. In total, one hundred and forty-six Jewish communities were wiped out, with tens of thousands of Jews killed.

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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