From Ḥokhmat Shelomoh, by Shelomoh ben Yeḥi’el Luria. (Kraków, ca. 1582) An example of an early Hebrew book printed in Poland. (YIVO)

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Luria, Shelomoh ben Yeḥi’el

(1510?–1573), rabbi, legal authority (posek), and head of yeshivas in Brisk (Brest Litovsk), Ostraha (Ostróg), and Lublin. In traditional literature, Shelomoh Luria is known by the acronym Maharshal or Rashal, and is most famous for his Talmudic commentary, Yam shel Shelomoh. Luria received his early education in Poznań at the house of his grandfather, Yitsḥak Klober. In his writings, Luria noted Ashkenazic customs and liturgical traditions that he had learned from Klober (Responsa, 64, and others).

In his introductions to Yam shel Shelomoh, Luria explains the principles he believes should guide legal rulings. The Talmud constitutes the authoritative text for each decision. Post-Talmudic halakhic literature should be consulted for various possible interpretations of the Talmud, and familiarity with this literature is therefore essential. Written as an accompaniment to the Talmud, Yam shel Shelomoh deliberately offered a literary model to counter the influence of printed legal codes that were becoming increasingly common. Some of these, notably Yosef Karo’s Bet Yosef, which reflected the Sephardic tradition of legal rulings, were comprehensive compilations organized by subject matter; others were abridged halakhic compendia on specific topics, which generated the proliferation of local rulings or reflected various traditions. Within Yam shel Shelomoh are the texts of lectures that Luria gave in his yeshiva. Some reflect the pilpul style of argumentation that was common at the time and others are simply halakhic clarifications. In his writings and rulings, Luria stresses his connection to the Ashkenazic tradition (Responsa, 98).

Luria begins each discussion in Yam shel Shelomoh with the heading din (ruling) to show that he is presenting a practical legal guide. Although some of his rulings were accepted in later rabbinic texts, his attempt to redefine the structure of halakhic texts and create a lasting new model for Jewish legal writing did not succeed. The widespread influence of the Shulḥan ‘arukh resulted in virtually no other outstanding legal authorities structuring their halakhic works according to the Talmud.

As interest in kabbalah spread through Poland, Luria applied mystical thought to his homilies, but mysticism was not a significant factor in his legal teachings. The forcefulness with which he set down responsa, rulings, and rabbinic practices led to controversies with more than one scholar, among them Rabbi Shalom Shakhnah, head of the Lublin yeshiva and chief rabbi of the district, and his son Yisra’el (Responsa, 16). Luria discussed a variety of subjects with his relative Mosheh Isserles of Kraków (Isserles, Responsa, 5, 8, 9, and others), and disagreed with him about the role of philosophy in Jewish thought (Isserles, Responsa, 6, 7). One dispute, apparently provoked by students, resulted in a permanent estrangement between the two legal authorities (Yam shel Shelomoh, Ḥulin, 1.29).

Among Luria’s students were Avraham ha-Levi Horowitz, Binyamin Aharon Slonik, David ha-Kohen, Ḥayim ben Betsal’el (brother of Yehudah Leib [Maharal] of Prague), Yehoshu‘a Falk, Mordekhai Yaffe, Mosheh Margoliot, Mosheh Met (who recorded practices accepted by his teacher in his book Mateh Mosheh [1591]), and Efrayim Shelomoh of Luntshits.

Luria wrote Yam shel Shelomoh on 16 tractates of the Talmud, of which only six and part of a seventh were published: Bava’ Kama’ (1616–1618); Ḥulin (1633–1635); Betsah (1636); Yevamot (1740); Gitin (1761); Kidushin (1766); and the first four chapters of Ketubot (1862). His other significant published works were his Responsa (1574), number 29 of which contains a chronology of the sages of Ashkenaz from the eleventh century on; Ḥokhmat Shelomoh (1582), commentaries and glosses to the Talmud, Rashi, and Tosafot, some of which also found their way into sundry later printings of the Talmud (most of the glosses are to the Venice edition of the Talmud, 1526–1531, with some to the Lublin edition, 1559 onward); ‘Ateret Shelomoh, an interpretation and supplement to Yitsḥak ben Me’ir of Düren’s Sha‘are Dura (1599, 1600); ‘Amude Shelomoh, glosses to Sefer mitsvot gadol (1600); and Yeri‘ot Shelomoh, glosses to Rashi’s commentary on the Pentateuch and the interpretation of Rashi by Eliyahu Mizraḥi (1609). Luria also wrote his own commentaries and glosses to such texts as the prayer book, Maimonides’ writings, and Avraham ibn Ezra’s commentary to the Pentateuch; some of these are still extant.

Suggested Reading

Simha Assaf, “Mashehu le-toldot Maharshal,” in Sefer ha-yovel li-khevod Levi Gintsberg, ed. American Academy of Jewish Research, pp. 45–63 (Philadelphia, 1946); Me’ir Rafeld (Raffeld), Ha-Maharshal veha-“Yam shel Shelomoh” (Ramat Gan, 1991); Me’ir Rafeld, “Ha-Maharshal ve-samkhutam shel Sifre Kitsur Hilkhatiyim,” Shenaton ha-mishpat ha-‘ivri 18–19 (1992–1994): 427–437; Me’ir Rafeld, “‘Al Me‘at Sheki‘in Kebalim be-mishnato ha-hilkhatit shel ha-Maharshal,” Da‘at 36 (1996): 15–33; Me’ir Rafeld, “The Controversies of the Sages of Poland in the Sixteenth Century: A Chapter in the History of Jewish Law, Its General Rules and Methods of Decision-Making,” Jewish Law Annual 14 (2003): 271–293; Elchanan Reiner, “Changes in Polish and German Yeshivot in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the Debate on Pilpul,” in Ke-minhag Ashkenaz u-Polin: Sefer yovel le-Ḥoneh Shmeruk: Kovets ma’amarim be-tarbut Yehudit, ed. Israel Bartal, Chava Turniansky, and Ezra Mendelsohn, pp. 9–80 (Jerusalem, 1993); Yitshak Ron, “Mahadurat ha-Talmud she-higiah Maharshal,” ‘Ale Sefer 15 (1989): 65–104.



Translated from Hebrew by Anna Barber