His commentary, the Beit HaBechirah (Literally "The Chosen House," a play on an alternate name for the Temple in Jerusalem employed by Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah, implying that the Meiri's work selects specific content from the Talmud, omitting the discursive elements), is one of the most monumental works written on the Talmud. This work is less a commentary and more of a digest of all of the comments in the Talmud, arranged in a manner similar to the Talmud—presenting first the mishnah and then laying out the discussions that are raised concerning it. This commentary cites many of the major Rishonim, referring to them not by name but rather by distinguished titles.
Much of Beit HaBechirah was published long before the publication of the Parma manuscripts, but it was met with skepticism, due to its character of a secondary source. Only with the new appreciation of secondary sources among haredim has it gained popularity. Thus, it has had much less influence on subsequent halachic development than would have been expected given its stature. Some modern poskim even refuse to take its arguments into consideration, on the grounds that a work so long unknown has ceased to be part of the process of halachic development. This is despite the respect they nevertheless have for the commentary and for its author.
Professor Haym Soloveitchik has remarked on what makes the Beit ha-Behira so unique. First, Soloveitchik summarizes the general trend of Jewish traditional scholarship:
In traditional Jewish society, the purpose of study (lernen) was not information, nor even knowledge, but a lifelong exposure to the sacred texts and an ongoing dialogue with them. Lernen was seen both as an intellectual endeavor and as an act of devotion; its process was its purpose.
By contrast, says Soloveitchik of the Meiri's work
Meiri is the only medieval Talmudist (rishon) whose works can be read almost independently of the Talmudic text, upon which it ostensibly comments. The Beit ha-Behirah is not a running commentary on the Talmud. Meiri, in quasi-Maimonidean fashion, intentionally omits the give and take of the sugya, he focuses, rather, on the final upshot of the discussion and presents the differing views of that upshot and conclusion. Also, he alone, and again intentionally, provides the reader with background information. His writings are the closest thing to a secondary source in the library of rishonim.
Meiri's commentary is noted for its position on the status of gentiles in Jewish law, asserting that discriminatory laws and statements found in the Talmud only applied to the idolatrous nations of old.
- Jewish History
- Soloveitchik (1994), p. 335; note 54, p. 367f.
- Soloveitchik (1994), p. 335
- Soloveitchik (1994), note 54, p. 367
- Moshe Halbertal. "'Ones possessed of religion': religious tolerance in the teachings of the Me'iri" (PDF). The Edah Journal. 1 (1).
- David Goldstein, "A Lonely Champion of Tolerance: R. Menachem ha-Meiri's Attitude Towards Non-Jews"