Meir of Rothenburg
Meir of Rothenburg (c. 1220-1293) was a German Rabbi and poet, a major author of the tosafot on Rashi's commentary on the Talmud. He is also known as Meir ben Baruch, the Maharam of Rothenburg. Rabbi Meïr ben Solomon of Perpignan, referred to Rab Meir of Rothenberg, as the "greatest Jewish leader of Zarfat" alive at the time, Zarfat is medieval Hebrew for France which was a reference to Charlemagne's rule of Germany.
One interesting aspect of the prolific writings of the Maharam is that he never referred to the Frankish kingdom of Germany as Ashkenaz. Rab Meir instead refers to what he termed 'his kingdom' as Canaan, in contrast to the areas where Hebrews were living in Normandy and England.
Rabbi Meir was born between 1215 and 1220 in Worms . He comes from a long line of rabbis. His first teacher was his father. He continued his training in Würzburg under Isaac ben Moses of Vienna and in France, where he remained until 1242, his teachers being Yechiel of Paris, Samuel ben Solomon of Falaise, and Samuel of Evreux, witnessing the burning of the Talmud in Paris . He then settled in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, opening a yeshiva in his house. After the death of his father in 1281, he settled in Worms. In 1286, King Rudolf I instituted a new persecution of the Jews, declaring them servi camerae ("serfs of the treasury"), which had the effect of negating their political freedoms. Along with many others, Meir left Germany with family and followers, but was captured in the mountains of Lombardy having been recognized by a baptized Jew named Kneppe, and imprisoned in a fortress near Ensisheim in Alsace. Tradition has it that a large ransom of 23,000 marks silver 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. Fourteen years after his death a ransom was paid for his body by Alexander ben Salomon Wimpfen, who was subsequently laid to rest beside the Maharam in the Jewish cemetery of Worms.
- His responsa are of great importance to advanced students of the Talmud, as well as to students of Jewish life and customs of those days, especially for the picture which they give of the condition of the German Jews, and of their sufferings from the caprice of princes and from heavy taxation. These responsa also contain rulings of other older and contemporary Ashkenazi poskim; see History of Responsa: Thirteenth century.
- Rabbi Meir is well known as a Tosafist and in particular, authored the Tosafot commentary of the Talmudic tractate Yoma; he is quoted in the Tosafot on various other tractates. He also authored commentaries on the Tohorot and Zeraim orders of the Mishnah.
- Rabbi Meir wrote a number of liturgical poems ("piyyutim").
- His writings on specific areas of Halakha (Jewish Law) include:
- Gedaliah ibn Jechia the Spaniard, Shalshelet Ha-Kabbalah, Jerusalem 1962, p. 134 (Hebrew)
- Excursus: Etymologically, during the Middle-Ages amongst Jewish scholars, the word “Kena`an” had taken on the connotation of “Germany,” or what was called in Judeo-Arabic, Alemania, and which usage would have been familiar to our author, Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg. Not that Germany was ever really a part of Canaan, since this has been refuted by later scholars. In Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Obadiah 1:20, he writes: “Who are [among] the Canaanites. We have heard from great men that the land of Germany (Alemania) they are the Canaanites who fled from the children of Israel when they came into the country.” Rabbi David Kimchi (1160–1235), in his commentary on Obadiah 1:20, writes similarly: “…Now they say by way of tradition that the people of the land of Germany (Alemania) were Canaanites, for when the Canaanite [nation] went away from Joshua, just as we have written in the Book of Joshua, they went off to the land of Germany (Alemania) and Escalona, which is called the land of Ashkenaz, while unto this day they are called Canaanites.”
- Responsa, No. 30, p. 8, ed. Bloch, 1891; see also p. 10
- Meïr of Rothenburg (Meïr B. Baruch), jewishencyclopedia.com
- Maharam of Rothenburg (circa 4980 - 5053), chabad.org
- Works of the Maharam during his imprisonment (Hebrew), daat.ac.il
- "Maharam of Rothenburg: The Perils of Jewish Leadership," Video Lecture by Dr. Henry Abramson