Monday, October 17, 2011

What I misremembered about the Maharam

Tricks of the mind....

A discussion over the weekend about Gilad Shalit reminded me of a great eulogy written by Leon Weiseltier in honor of his mentor Issiah Berlin. How? Why?

I remembered (correctly) that Meir (the Maharam) of Rotenberg refused to be ransomed in deference to a law presented in Gitten 4:6
"Captives may not be ransomed in excess of their actual worth, on account of the protection of the society (Mipnei Tikkun Olam).
I remembered (also correctly) that Weisletier, in his essay, mentioned the Maharam and the kidnapping.

The trick of the mind was imagining (incorrectly) that Weiseltier's eulogy also contained some mention of the Maharam's refusal to be redeemed, and the halachik reasoning behind it. Here is the entire passage:
A dispute is recorded between the last great rabbis of Germany in the Middle Ages, Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg and his student Asher ben Jehiel. Meir leniently ruled that you mourn for a sage "if you know the ideas that he introduced, but if you know none of the ideas that he introduced, and he was not your master, then you are not required to rend when you hear the news after the funeral, since you do not [as Abbaye said] consider his views in the house of study every day." Asher stringently demurred, likewise in the name of Abbaye: "Does it say 'when your master dies'? No, it says 'when a sage dies'!" And so there is no reprieve from mourning. In 1286, when the Hapsburg emperor acted on the official view of the Jews as "serfs of Our Chamber," and promulgated capricious and punitive policies of taxation, Meir and his family attempted to leave Germany, but he was informed upon and imprisoned, and he died in the dungeon seven years later. In 1303, to avoid the fate of his teacher, Asher left Germany for Spain. About the mourning for a sage, they disagreed; but they agreed, certainly, that unreason was impending and wisdom was escaping.
Interesting yes, but of no relevance at all to the Shalit case.

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