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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works


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Mordecai ben Hillel ha-Kohen Ashkenazi
Hebrew Name(s): מרדכי בן הילל אשכנזי
Other Names: Mordecai ben Hillel ha-Kohen, Mordechai, Mordechai ben Hillel ben Hillel
Period: Rishonim — 13th Century
Location: Germany
Dates: c. 1240–1298

Mordechai ben Hillel ha-Kohen was descended from a prominent family of scholars. His maternal grandfather (Hillel) was a grandson of Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levi (himself the grandson of Eliezer ben Nathan.) He was a relative of the Rosh (Jacob ben Asher,) son-in-law of R. Yechiel of Paris, brother-in-law and student of the Maharam (Meïr ben Baruch of Rothenberg,) and a student of Perez ben Elijah of Corbeille, Ephraim b. Nathan, Jacob ha-Levi of Speyer (Jacob ben Moses ha-Levi), Abraham ben Baruch (Meïr of Rothenberg's brother), and Dan (possibly this was Dan Ashkenazi.) Mordechai ben Hillel ha-Kohen was murdered, with his wife (Selda) and five children, in the Rindfleisch Massacres of 1298.
Mordechai ben Hillel ha-Kohen quotes the tosafot, responsa, and compendiums of his teacher, Meïr ben Baruch of Rothenberg, together with many of his oral and written communications.
He was the author of Sefer ha-Mordechai (aka. Mordechai, Mordechai ha-Gadol, Mordechai he-‘Aruk), a halakhic digest of the Talmud and early authorities following the format of the Rif. The Mordechai takes the form of glosses to Alfasi's Halakhot in some editions or as an appendix in other. The methodology used is that a single word or sentence in Alfasi's work creates an opening for the introduction of relevant material contained in the Palestinian Talmud (Yerushalmi), the French and German Tosafot, the codices and other compendiums. Mordechai ben Hillel ha-Kohen's knowledge of his sources was great and he quotes c. 350 authorities. The Mordechai represents a summing up and judgment of the work of the schools of the Tosafot, of which he was one of the last, and contains much of his own thought and teaching.
At the time of his death the Mordechai was not yet printed in its final form and this task fell to his pupils. The outcome was a confusion of two editions which were very different. One, the Rhenish Mordechai which provided the text for the printed editions, circulated in the Rhine lands and in Eastern Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and the other, the Austrian Mordechai, which is preserved in manuscript form, became the text which was studied in Austria, Moravia, Bohemia, Styria, Hungary and neighboring provinces. Confusion arose because, not only was the material differently distributed in each edition, but one edition contained material the other did not, each edition seemingly electing to omit or substitute authorities, were relevant to each region. Samuel ben Aaron Schlettstadt's attempt to make sense in the confusion in his Haggahot Mordechai, using extracts from the Austrian version to supplement the Rhenish version, compounded the confusion.
Never-the-less the Mordechai became authoritative in the 14th Century in the wake of the persecutions in Germany and the subsequent decline in Talmudic studies. The first treatise of the Soncino Talmud (1482) included the Mordechai in addition to Rashi, the Tosafot and Maimonides. Joseph Karo and Moses Isserles both frequently quoted from the Mordechai in their Codes.
Mordechai ben Hillel ha-Kohen also wrote responsa and some piyyutim.

Sefer ha-Mordechai; Responsa; Piyyutim; Hilkot Shehitah u-Bedikah ve-Hilkot Issur ve-Hetter

Sefer ha-Mordechai contains a digest of rulings and responsa of German and French scholars compiled on the format to the Hilkhot ha-Rif (Alfassi) which reflected the combination of views of scholars. It became an authoritative text for later generations.


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