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Me’ir ben Gedalyah of Lublin

(1558–1616), rabbinical scholar and authority. Me’ir ben Gedalyah of Lublin, known as Maharam (an acronym for “Our teacher, the Rabbi Me’ir”) or Maharam of Lublin, was a major figure in the Golden Era of Torah study in Poland during the second half of the sixteenth century. He was born in Lublin and was a student of Shalom Shakhnah; he also studied with Yitsḥak ha-Kohen Shapira of Kraków, whose daughter Esther he married. In 1582, he founded a yeshiva in Lublin, and five years later was a rabbi and head of the yeshiva in Kraków. In 1595, he moved to Lwów, where he served as a dayan (rabbinic judge) and head of the yeshiva.

After being widowed in 1604, Rabbi Me’ir married the daughter of Pinḥas ha-Kohen of Fulda. In 1611, a legal dispute broke out in Lwów between Maharam and Yehoshu‘a ben Aleksander ha-Kohen (Falk) regarding the so-called “divorce of Vienna.” As a consequence, Maharam returned to Lublin, where he served as a rabbi. He was fluent in Polish and according to some sources was involved in moneylending.

Maharam of Lublin is also the name given to the first of his seven books (jointly titled The Seven Candles), Manhir ‘ene ḥakhamim (1618). It contains 140 responsa, reflecting the social and economic life of Polish Jews. Jews from places as far as Russia, Italy, and Turkey also sought his advice. He opposed excessive reliance on the Shulḥan ‘arukh and encouraged clarifying each halakhic ruling based on its source in the Talmud. His responsum number 138, on whether a Jewish court had the authority to discuss and rule on capital offenses, was removed from published versions of the book by the Russian censor.

Maharam’s second book, Me’ir ‘ene ḥakhamim was published in Venice in 1619. It contains innovative rulings and interpretations of halakhic sections of the Talmud, as well as of the comments of Rashi and the Tosafot. Considered highly important, Me’ir ‘ene ḥakhamim was subsequently included in most printed editions of the Talmud, appearing at the end of each tractate along with interpretations of his contemporaries Shemu’el Edels (Maharsha) and Shelomoh Luria (Maharshal).

In his lessons to his students, Maharam expounded on Talmudic texts by taking a commonsense approach. By contrast, in his writing he kept his interpretations brief so that students could grasp the depth and full meaning of the peshat (literal meaning), without pilpul (dialectical reasoning). In some cases, he corrected existing versions of the Talmudic text on the basis of variant readings, but in many cases he opted to be cautious and merely raised the possibility of emendation or deletion. He had a firm disposition and often claimed that the truth was as he stated “without any doubt, and there is no way of settling [the issue] in any other way” (responsum no. 111). A fierce polemicist, Maharam wrote that there was a great distance between his approach and that of Luria. He also strongly disparaged Edels, about whom he wrote dismissively.

In his responsum no. 88, Maharam boasted of having produced numerous respectable students who became heads of yeshivas, religious authorities, and teachers. Among his students were Yesha‘yahu ben Avraham Horowitz, Natan Note Spira, Yehoshu‘a ben Yosef, Binyamin Slonik, Mosheh Bunims, Efrayim Shorr, and Me’ir, father of Shabetai ha-Kohen.

The following books by Maharam were never published: “Ma’or ha-gadol,” an interpretation of the Arba‘ah turim; “Ma’or ha-katan,” a commentary on Yitsḥak ben Me’ir’s Sha‘are Dura; “Ner mitsvah,” a commentary on Mosheh of Coucy’s Sefer mitsvot gadol; “Torah or,” a book of sermons on the Torah; and “Or shiv‘at ha-yamim,” on the laws and proper times for determining the New Moon, which he did not complete. His book on the preparation and delivery of bills of divorce was lost in a fire.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Aba Horodetzki, Le-korot ha-rabanut: Kovets toladot (Warsaw, 1911), pp. 175–182; Joseph Levinstein, “Toldot Maharam mi-Lublin,” in Ha-Goren: Me’asef le-ḥokhmat Yisra’el, ed. Samuel Aba Horodetzki, vol. 1, pp. 39–61 (Berdichev, 1898); Nokhem Shemen, Lublin: Shtot fun Toyre, Rabones un Khsides (Toronto, 1951), pp. 365–398.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann