Gershom ben Judah

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Gershom ben Judah, (c. 960 -1040? -1028?) best known as Rabbeinu Gershom (Hebrew: רבנו גרשום, "Our teacher Gershom") and also commonly known to scholars of Judaism by the title Rabbeinu Gershom Me'Or Hagolah ("Our teacher Gershom the light of the exile"), was a famous Talmudist and Halakhist.

Rashi of Troyes (d. 1105) said less than a century after Gershom's death,[1] "all members of the Ashkenazi diaspora are students of his." As early as the 14th century Asher ben Jehiel wrote[2] that Rabbeinu Gershom's writings were "such permanent fixtures that they may well have been handed down on Mount Sinai."

He is most famous for the synod he called around 1000 CE, in which he instituted various laws and bans.

Contents

Biography

Born in Metz in 960, Gershom was a student of Judah ben Meir ha-Kohen (Sir Léontin), who was one of the greatest authorities of his time.[3] Having lost his first wife, Gershom married a widow named Bonna and settled at Mainz (Mayence), where he devoted himself to teaching the Talmud. During his lifetime Mainz became a center of Torah and Jewish scholarship for many Jewish communities in Europe that had formerly been connected with the Babylonian yeshivas. He was the spiritual guide of the fledgling Ashkenazic Jewish communities and was very influential in molding them at a time when their population was dwindling.

Students came from all over Europe to enroll in his yeshiva, and later dispersed among various communities in Germany and beyond which helped spread Jewish learning. He had many pupils from different countries, among whom should be mentioned Eleazar ben Isaac (ha-Gadol ="the Great"), nephew of Simeon ha-Gadol; and Jacob ben Yakar, teacher of Rashi. The fame of his learning eclipsed even that of the heads of the academies of Sura (city) and Pumbedita.

His life conformed to his teachings. He had a son, who forsook his religion at the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Mainz in 1012. When his son converted to become a Christian R. Gershom grieved and observed the strictures of mourning for 14 days, double the required time for an actual death. However, he did apparently rule leniently regarding those who had submitted to baptism to escape persecution, and who afterward returned to the Jewish fold. He strictly prohibited reproaching them with infidelity, and even gave those among them who had been slandered an opportunity to publicly pronounce the benediction in the synagogues.

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