Monday, May 07, 2007

19th Iyar - Maharam m'Rotenburg

Today is the Yarzheit of one of the most influential Ashkenazi poskim. R' Meir m'Rotenburg (c. 1215-2 May 1293), the Maharam, was the teacher of both the Rosh and the Mordechai, who themselves are pretty much the basis of Ashkenazi Halacha. He is also famous for spending the last years of his life being held ransom and eventually dying in captivity. Even though money was raised to ransom him he refused to allow the people to give the money, because he was afraid that kidnapping Jews would become a regular occurrence if the authorities realised that it was lucrative. (Is there a message for today's leaders in that then?).

Here is the wikipedia entry on the Maharam
Maharam of Rothenburg was born in Worms, and studied in Germany at Wurtzburg and at Mainz in the Yeshivoth of the leading Talmudists of those days. He later moved to France, studying under the great Rabbi Yechiel ben Joseph of Paris, who had defended the Talmud in the reign of Louis IX. Rabbi Meir was an eyewitness to the subsequent public burning of twenty-four carloads of Talmudic manuscripts (Friday, June 17, 1244), and he bewailed this tragedy in his celebrated "Kina" Shaali serufah (שאלי שרופה) which is still recited on Tisha B'Av.

The following year Rabbi Meir returned to Germany, where he became the rabbi of several large communities successively. He taught in several German communities, but is primarily associated with Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where he opened his own school, maintained at his own cost. Among his disciples were many scholars who later became leading Talmudists and poskim, notably Asher ben Jehiel ("ROSH") and Rabbi Mordecai ben Hillel Ashkenazi ("The Mordechai"). Rabbi Meir, became universally acknowldged as the leading Ashkenazi authority on Talmud and Jewish law, and many communities in France, Italy and Germany frequently turned to him for instruction and guidance in all religious matters and on various points of law.

In 1286, King Rudolf I instituted a new persecution of the Jews, declaring them servi camerae ("serfs of the treasury"), which had the effect to negating their political freedoms. Along with many others, Meir left Germany with family and followers, but was captured in Lombardy and imprisoned in a fortress in Alsace. Tradition has it that a large ransom of 23,000 marks (approximately 15,144,900 U.S dollars today) was raised for him (by the ROSH), but Rabbi Meir refused it, for fear of encouraging the imprisonment of other rabbis. He died in prison after seven years. 14 years after his death a ransom was paid for his body by Alexander ben Shlomo (Susskind) Wimpen, who was subsequently laid to rest beside the Maharam.


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