Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Menachem Meiri and Abba Mari

Following up a bit more on the Montpellier controversy, I was reading some of the correspondence between R'Abba Mari and R' Menachem Meiri. Meiri, though believing that Abba Mari had good intentions, and agreeing with the need to curb the activity of the allegorists, takes him to task for going outside of the community and involving outside rabbis in the controversy, especially those who may not be sympathetic to the rational branch of Judaism. He is very concerned about the reputation of the community as a whole and fears that the entire town will be judged unfavorably, especially prominent scholars like him. Furthermore, he fears that this ban would throw away the baby with the bathwater and destroy the spirit of enlightenment and knowledge which had blossomed in Languedoc.

I know, my lord [Abba Mari], I know that many have aroused the arrow of your intellect, and have induced you and our lord, the Rabbi [Rashba], to put an end to the sciences [hochmah], and to expel them almost entirely from our heritage...
The nakedness of this country [Languedoc] and our shame, that ignorant men continuously rise against us and preach in public. They teach antinomian interpretations of the Torah and out of the literal sense of Scripture produce far-fetched figurae [siyyurim], which have no basis in the biblical text or rabbinic tradition.
They [in Barcelona] have added transgression to their words saying, 'Once philosophy spread out over that country [Languedoc], piety and fear of sin ceased. There is no one who knows [philosophy] from his youth who fears God.' But God is indeed in this Place! You [Abba Mari] know well that there is [fear of Him] here! Put out your hand [in covenantal agreement, so that we can pull you aboard]!


The Meiri was an interesting man. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about his works:

His commentary, the Beit HaBechirah (The building of choice), is one of the most monumental works written on the Talmud. This work is less a commentary and more of a digest of all of the comments in the Talmud, arranged in a manner similar to the Talmud - presenting first the mishnah and then laying out the discussions that are raised concerning it. This commentary cites many of the major Rishonim, referring to them not by name but rather by distinguished titles.[1]

His commentary was largely unknown for centuries until being republished in modern times. Thus, it has had much less influence on subsequent halachic development than would have been expected given its stature. Some modern poskim even refuse to take its arguments into consideration, on the grounds that a work so long unknown has ceased to be part of the process of halachic development. This is despite the respect they nevertheless have for the commentary and for its author.


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