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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Meir of Rothenburg
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Hebrew Name(s): מאיר בן ברוך הכון; מהר''ם מרוטנבורג
Other Names: MaHaRaM, Meir ben Baruch, Maharam of Rothenburg, Meir ben Baruch HaKohen, Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg
Period: Rishonim — 13th Century
Location: Germany
Dates: c.1225–1293

Biography:
Meir of Rothenburg was a Germain Tosafist and a recognised authority in Askenazic Judaism in Germany. His teachers were his father (in Worms), R. Jehiel of Paris and R. Isaac ben Moses of Vienna.
 
Meir of Rothenberg wrote over 1500 Responsa which are important for the picture of Jewish life and customs and the conditions of German Jews in his time. He was also well known as a Tosafist as well as being quoted in the Tosafot on other Talmudic tractates. Meir of Rothenburg also wrote commentaries on the orders Tohorot and Zeraim of the Mishnah and made contributions to Jewish civil law. Over 1000 of his responsa related to halakic questions survive him. His Talmudic scholarship and his rulings on law and ritual, passed down by his students, notably Asher ben Jehiel (The ROSH), were recognised as authoritative.
 
Meir of Rothenburg wrote an elergy after witnessing the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1242. The elegy, Sha'ali Serufah ba-Esh (Ask, You Who Burned by Fire) is recited by Ashkenazi Jews on Tisha BeAv.
 
The Rabbi of Rothenburg, Meir, was captured and imprisoned during the persecution of the Jews by King Rudolf I. He later died in prison (1293). Tradition says that he refused to be ransomed (by ROSH, Asher ben Yechiel) but his body was later ransomed by Alexander ben Shlomo Wimpfen in 1306. Subsequently, both were laid to rest side by side in the Jewish cemetery in Worms, Germany.

Works:
HaGahot Maimuniot; Teshuvot Maimuniot; Tosofot; Commentary on Mishnah (Orders, Tohorot and  Zeraim); Piyyutim; Piske Eruvin; Halachoth Pesukoth; Hilchot Berachot; Hilchot Avelut; Hilchot Shechitah; Responsa; Tosafot on Tractate Yoma

Comments:
Hagahot Maimuniot is an anthology of commentary (traditions, interpretations, decisions and responsa) on Maimonides’ (Moses ben Maimon) work which are relevant to the rulings of the Mishneh Torah (Maimonides’ Yad), drawn from French and German rabbis. The work provides a valuable source of halakhic literature and Central European Jewish scholarship in the Middle Ages.
Teshuvot Maimuniot is responsa material related to the rulings of Maimonides collected and compiled in Rothenberg’s Hagahot Maimuniot.
Tosofot. Meir of Rothenberg was the author of many hundreds of tosafot. The tosafot to Tractate Yoma in the Talmud is that of Meir of Rothenberg. His tosafot are also quoted in various other tractates (Berakot, Shabbat, ‘Erubin, Yoma, Giṭṭin, Nedarim, Baba Ḳamma, Baba Meẓi’a, Baba Batra, Shebu’ot, Menaḥot, and Ḥullin).
Commentary on the Mishnah. Meir of Rothenberg wrote commentaries to the Mishnah (Orders, Tohorot and Zeraim). Of his commentary on the sixth order of the Mishnah (Tohorot) the commentaries to the treatises Nega'im and Oholot have been published [in Romm's edition of the Talmud (Wilna, 1897)] from an Oxford manuscript, and fragments of the rest from citations in Lippman Heller's Mishnah commentary.
Piske Eruvin is a work summarizing the Rabbinic regulations on the laws of Eruv. [An eruv (mixture) is an enclosure around a home or community. It enables the carrying of objects out of doors on the Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden by halakhah.]
Halachoth Pesukoth is a collection of decisions on controversial points of Jewish law. It is stored in manuscript at the Bodleian Library.
Hilchot Berachot is an halakhic work on blessings. It outlines the regulations for the various formulas of blessings to be pronounced in performing certain actions. The work is frequently cited in the works of Meir’s pupils, and is thought to be identical with the Birchot MaHaRaM, issued in 1558 in Riva di Trento.
Hilchot Avelut is a work which deals with the laws of mourning. This work, somewhat abbreviated, is included also in the Mordekai to Mo'ed Ḳaṭan [Sefer ha-Mordekai is an halakhic code written by Mordekhai ben Hellel ben Hillel, d. 1298]. In this work, however, in all the passages where the author speaks in the first person, the third person has been substituted, so that Meir's work appears everywhere in quotation. Judah b. Nathan ha-Levi edited and published this work under the title Sefer Maḥaneh Lewiyyah (Leghorn, 1789).
Hilchot Shechitah is concerned with the ritual slaughtering of animals to meet Kosher standards. The work exists in manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Responsa. Meir of Rothenberg’s many responsa are considered to be of great importance because of the picture they paint of Jewish life and customs in his day and especially for the information they contain pertaining to the life of Jews in Germany and their sufferings. His responsa also contain rulings of contemporary as well as older Ashkenazi poskim.
Meir of Rothenberg's Hiddushim contain novella to various tractates of the Talmud. Azulai is known to have possessed a copy of this work.
Meir ben Baruch Rothenberg produced a work on the minhagim (customs) of ritual ceremonies in the synagogue which exists in manuscript in the Vatican and Bodleian libraries.
Meir of Rothenburg was wrote liturgical poetry (piyyuṭim). The German Maḥzor (Prayer Book) included nineteen of his poems. His great authority as a Talmudist led to his compositions being included, at times, in the liturgy of the Day of Atonement and of the Ninth of Ab. Rothenburg modeled his poems upon those of Judah ha-Levi. His piyyuṭim show great command of language, and  poetic inspiration. Rothenburg's best-known is his dirge on the public burning of Hebrew books at Paris in 1244 which was composed in the strophic rime of Judah ha-Levi's, Zionide. As well as writing poetry Rothenburg wrote commentaries on earlier piyyuṭim, as did his father (Zunz, Ritus, pp. 195, 199).

 

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