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Krochmal, Menaḥem Mendel ben Avraham

(1600–1661), rabbi and writer of responsa. Menaḥem Mendel ben Avraham Krochmal was born in Kraków, where he studied with David ben Shemu’el ha-Levi (Taz) and Yo’el Sirkes. As a young man he served as a rabbinic judge in Kraków and directed a yeshiva there. In his capacity as a judge he participated in the deliberations of the rabbinic courts at the Lublin and Jarosław fairs.

Krochmal moved to Moravia in 1636 and was appointed rabbi of Kremzir (Kroměříž). He moved to Nikolsburg (Mikulov) in 1644 or earlier and served as community rabbi and rav ha-medinah (chief rabbi) of Moravia until 1648. During his term as chief rabbi, the system of enactments known as the 311 Ordinances (Shai takanot) was promulgated. This collection functioned as an internal constitution for Jews in the region. During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa in the eighteenth century, the ordinances were translated into German and received governmental recognition.

Krochmal’s responsa collection, Tsemaḥ tsedek, published by his son Aryeh Yehudah Leib in Amsterdam in 1675, is an important historical source. One of its prominent themes is communal organization. In his decisions on this matter, Krochmal frequently ruled in favor of the poorer classes. In one case, wealthy members of the community requested permission to institute a new procedure according to which communal issues would be determined only by those who paid a high tax, or by scholars. The wealthy maintained that their success in business rendered their opinions more important. Krochmal rejected this claim, as well as the distinction between scholars and the unlearned, arguing that one may not give preference to one group. Nonetheless, he recommended that a compromise be reached.

Another important area of decisions in Tsemaḥ tsedek concerns personal and family issues, mainly those arising as a result of wars during the period: for example, the remarriage of ‘agunot (generally, “chained” women, bound in marriage owing to their husbands’ refusal or inability to grant them a divorce), or whose husbands had disappeared during the Thirty Years’ War, the 1648–1649 Ukrainian uprising, or in the Lublin massacre of 1656.

Krochmal takes a careful attitude concerning such cases involving disappeared persons, for both husbands and wives. He accepts testimonies about husbands’ deaths as much as possible considering the Halakhic demands, but on the stipulation that other regional great rabbis will agree. He insists, probably more than other rabbis of his time did (this is clear from his discussions), that men whose wives were lost or converted during the war not marry rapidly, and notes some cases in which women who were considered lost eventually returned (chaps. 70, 78). He sees his region as a part of the Polish-“Austreich” region, which is relevant to matters concerning converted women’s gets (divorce decrees).

Krochmal was considered an authority in family law and on a few occasions was asked to consider matters related to the medieval ban on bigamy attributed to Rabenu Gershom, which was imposed since the mid-twelfth century throughout the Ashkenazic lands. Krochmal tells about a common system concerning insane wives—the ban was systematically abolished in such cases, so that the husband could marry another woman (chap. 67). As a part of his careful attitude during wartime, he refused to confirm divorce without the converted woman’s consent (chap. 70).

Krochmal dealt with other subjects of public importance, such as the need to demand that the murderer of a Jew be brought to justice. He was also called to deliberate on issues involving debts connected to dowry payments, the distribution of payments to creditors, the return of collateral, communal ordinances related to the settlement of financial agreements between a married couple, and other matters.

Members of Krochmal’s family also served as rabbis: his son Aryeh Yehudah Leib and his son-in-law Gershon Ashkenazi, the author of ‘Avodat ha-Gershuni (1699), both served as chief rabbi of Moravia. Krochmal’s grandson, also named Menaḥem Mendel, served as rabbi of the Nikolsburg community.

Suggested Reading

Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-hanhagah (Jerusalem, 1959); Israel Halpern (Yisra’el Halprin), ed., Takanot Medinat Mehrin, 410–505 (Jerusalem, 1951/52); Y. Z. Kahana, ‘Arim ve-imahot be-Yisra’el, ed. Judah Leib Maimon (Jerusalem, 1950), vol. 4, pp. 265–268.



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen