The Bridge to the Achronim

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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

The Later Poskim of Germany and E. Europe

By the end of the period of the Rishonim, there was a very rich and highly developed tradition of normative German halachic practice. The rulings of the Maharam, his contemporaries (R. Yitzchak of Duren), his prolific students (R. Mordechai and Rosh), and their students (Tur and Agudah) established the general contours of halachic practice for the Ashkenazic communities in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. These rulings and their application to new cases were upheld by a cadre of illustrious poskim that flourished in Germany and in the new communities that emerged in Eastern Europe. These great Torah leaders also bravely shepherded their communities through the unrelenting storm of massacres and anti-Semitic persecutions that were commonplace during these dark times in Jewish communal life.

 

R. Yaakov HaLevi Moelin (מהרי”ל)

The Maharil (d. 1427), also known as Mahari Segal (מהר”י סג”ל) was from Mainz, Germany. He studied under his illustrious father, the Rabbi of Mainz, R. Moshe HaLevi, and under R. Shalom of Neustadt, Austria, a central figure in the German community in the generation after the Maharam’s students, the period of the Black Death.[1]Another central German posek and leader at this time was R. Meir HaLevi of Vienna, also known as the Maharam Sal. R. Meir HaLevi was sometimes referred to as the Maharam Segal, but so was R. Moshe … Continue reading

The Maharil was an extremely important German posek and communal leader.[2]The Vienna Geserah (גזירת וינה): During the Maharil’s life, the Jews of Vienna were subject to horrible pogroms in 1420-21. The pogroms, which included forced conversions and widespread … Continue reading His teachings form the basis of the Minhagei Maharil, an authoritative and very detailed record of German ritual practices. The Minhagei Maharil was probably the most important collection of practices during this period,[3]The second most influential collection of ritual practices at this time was the Sefer Minhagim of R. Yitzchak of Tirnau (d. 1425). Like Maharil, R. Yitzchak was a student of R. Shalom of Neusdadt. … Continue reading and it was extremely influential in the Jewish communities of Western Europe in the following generations. In the Shulchan Aruch, R. Moshe Isserlis (Rema) quotes frequently from the Minhagei Maharil.[4]R. Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Aruch also occasionally quotes from the Maharil, referring to him as תשובה אשכנזית.

The Maharil was sent halachic questions from all over Europe, and his written responses were influential in later generations. Many of his responsa were originally printed in the sixteenth century, under the title Teshuvos HaMaharil. In 1977, the rest of the responsa, still in manuscript form, were printed under the title Teshuvos HaMaharil HaChadashos.

The Maharil was seen by later poskim as a patriarchal figure of the German culture at the end of the period of the Rishonim, and his students and influence impacted all future generations of poskim.

 

R. Yaakov Veil (מהר”י וויל)

The Mahari Veil (d. c.1460), also known as Mahariv (מהרי”ו), was a close student of the Maharil and was one of the most well-known poskim of his day. He served as the Rabbi of Eurfurt, one of the largest Jewish communities at the time, and he was sent questions from many European communities. His responsa were widely quoted in the following generations. Mahari Veil’s illustrious students, such as R. Yonah of Regensberg, author of Issur VeHetter HaAruch, and R. Moshe and Yehuda Mintz, were the Torah leaders of the next generation.[5]A relative of the Mahari Veil, was R. Yaakov Landau, the author of the Sefer HaAgur. R. Yaakov was from Germany, but towards the end of his life, he seemed to have moved to northern Italy. R. … Continue reading

 

R. Yisrael Isserlin (תרומת הדשן)

R. Yisrael Isserlin (d. 1460), also known as Maharai (מהרא”י), came from a well respected German rabbinic family,[6]R. Yisrael was a great-grandson of R. Yisrael of Krems, and a nephew and student of R. Aharon Blumlin, Hy”d. R. Yisrael was a young man during the Vienna massacres of 1420-21, where his mother and … Continue reading and was a leading posek at the end of the period of the Rishonim. R. Yisrael was born in Germany, but due to persecution, he was forced to flee. He first went to Italy, and from there to Austria, where he served in a few rabbinical positions. Eventually, he became Rabbi of Neustdadt, Austria and headed the city’s yeshiva.

R. Yisrael studied under many great German teachers, including the Maharil (who he refers to in his writings as “Gadol” or “Echad Min HaGedolim”). He also maintained a correspondence with the Mahari Veil.

R. Yisrael’s collection of responsa, the Terumas HaDeshen, contains 354 (the numerical value of deshen/דשן) important and often novel responsa, and is one of the most influential German works from the period of the Rishonim.[7]The Shach writes (Yoreh Deah 196:20) that it is known that the questions that appear in the Terumas HaDeshen were not actually sent to R. Yisrael. Each responsum is a topic that R. Yisrael wished to … Continue reading Appended to the Terumas HaDeshen is a collection of 267 pesakim, titled Pesakim UKesavim. R. Yisrael also wrote important critical comments on the Sefer Sha’arei Dura, titled Hagahos Sha’arei Dura, as well as other seforim.

R. Yisrael was very highly regarded by later generations. In the Shulchan Aruch, R. Moshe Isserlis (Rema) quotes regularly from his rulings. A student of R. Yisrael wrote Leket Yosher, a record of both his personal experiences with R. Yisrael and R. Yisrael’s rulings.

 

R. Yosef Colon (מהרי”ק)

While not much is known of the Italian Torah community in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, there was at least one well-known rabbinic figure in Italy who wrote influential responsa during this period of transition from the Rishonim to the Achronim. R. Yosef Colon (d. 1480), also known as the Maharik, was an important posek who was born in southeastern France, near the Italian border. At a young age, he moved to northern Italy, and served in a number of rabbinic posts. He also served as a Rosh Yeshiva in the Italian city of Bologna. His collection of responsa, Shu”t Maharik, was very influential on later poskim.

One of the Maharik’s students in Bologna was R. Ovadia of Bartenura, author of the very influential commentary on the Mishna. R. Ovadia eventually left Italy and settled in Yerushalayim.

 

Endnotes

1Another central German posek and leader at this time was R. Meir HaLevi of Vienna, also known as the Maharam Sal. R. Meir HaLevi was sometimes referred to as the Maharam Segal, but so was R. Moshe HaLevi, the Maharil’s father.
2The Vienna Geserah (גזירת וינה): During the Maharil’s life, the Jews of Vienna were subject to horrible pogroms in 1420-21. The pogroms, which included forced conversions and widespread massacres, were part of a premeditated plan to destroy the Jewish community of Vienna. One of the victims of this persecution was a great scholar, R. Aharon Blumlin, Hy”d, who, like the Maharil, was a student of R. Shalom of Neusdadt and the Maharam Sal. The martyred R. Aharon was the uncle and teacher of R. Yisrael Isserlin, author of the Terumas HaDeshen.
3The second most influential collection of ritual practices at this time was the Sefer Minhagim of R. Yitzchak of Tirnau (d. 1425). Like Maharil, R. Yitzchak was a student of R. Shalom of Neusdadt. The Sefer Minhagim was primarily influential in Eastern Europe.
4R. Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Aruch also occasionally quotes from the Maharil, referring to him as תשובה אשכנזית.
5A relative of the Mahari Veil, was R. Yaakov Landau, the author of the Sefer HaAgur. R. Yaakov was from Germany, but towards the end of his life, he seemed to have moved to northern Italy. R. Yaakov’s work is a collection of ruling and practices that quotes regularly from the rulings of the later Ashkenazic Rishonim (Semag and Semak), the great German poskim (Maharil), and his own contemporaries (Mahari Veil and Terumas HaDeshen). In the Shulchan Aruch, R. Moshe Isserles (Rema) quotes regularly from the rulings of the Sefer HaAgur.
6R. Yisrael was a great-grandson of R. Yisrael of Krems, and a nephew and student of R. Aharon Blumlin, Hy”d. R. Yisrael was a young man during the Vienna massacres of 1420-21, where his mother and uncle were murdered al kiddush Hashem.
7The Shach writes (Yoreh Deah 196:20) that it is known that the questions that appear in the Terumas HaDeshen were not actually sent to R. Yisrael. Each responsum is a topic that R. Yisrael wished to write a treatise on, and he chose to compose his treatises in the literary style of responsa. He himself wrote the questions, and then he penned the appropriate responses. However, it has been noted that in the Sefer Leket Yosher, we find the names of some of R. Yisrael’s questioners.

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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