Luria, Shelomoh

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LURIA, SHELOMOH (c. 15101574), known by the acronym MaHaRSHaL (Morenu ha-Rav ["our teacher the rabbi"] Shelomoh Luria); Polish Talmudist and scholar. Luria was born in Poznan to a family that claimed descent from the great medieval Jewish exegete Rashi and that included many of the luminaries of the Ashkenazic rabbinical world. He was trained as a rigorous exponent of the Ashkenazic tradition in Talmudic exegesis, to which he added a distinctive commitment to relentless exactitude in the interpretation of sacred texts. His idiosyncratic method of study caused him to part company with many of the rabbinical authorities of his age and established his reputation as a brilliant, if demanding, Talmud scholar.

Shelomoh Luria appears to have held several rabbinical posts in Lithuania before settling first in the town of Brest-Litovsk, then in the important community of Ostrog, and finally in Lublin, where he died in 1574. In all of these centers Luria established academies that met opposition from the disciplines of his erstwhile teacher and colleague, Shalom Shakhna of Lublin, the primary exponent in Poland of the regnant method of Talmudic hermeneutics known as pilpul (dialectic reasoning). Luria fiercely condemned this approach as contrary to the true meaning of the text and argued instead for a "return to the Talmud," a careful explication of the sources, diction, and plain meaning of the Talmud and its later, especially Ashkenazic, interpreters. Particularly irksome to Luria were the corruptions that had recently crept into the Talmudic text through scribal errors and that had become accepted as a result of the new technology of printing; in his okhmat Shelomoh he set about to correct these errors and offered bold emendations and alternate readings that would be celebrated by critical scholars centuries after his death.

In line with this basic stance toward textual criticism, Luria also insisted on a firm command of Hebrew grammar and the Bible and opposed the study of Jewish philosophy. Perhaps most important, he not only rejected the codifications of Jewish law published in his own time, by Yosef Karo of Safad and by Luria's relative and friend Mosheh Isserles of Kraków, but he rejected Maimonides' code, the Mishneh Torah, as well. Objecting vehemently to both the form and the goal of these codes, Luria decided to write his own summary of rabbinic law in order to correct their errors. In his Yam shel Shelomoh, he cited all relevant authorities, examined the differing interpretations, and then selected the most cogent view, not necessarily the consensus. This ambitious task proved too massive even for Luria, and he was able to complete work on only a few tractates. Nonetheless, his contributions to jurisprudence and Talmudic scholarship marked him as one of the most important rabbis of his age and perhaps the leading eastern European Jewish scholar until the eighteenth century.


There is no complete critical study of Luria or his works. The most useful analyses are two essays in Hebrew: Simha Assaf's "Mashehu le-toledot ha-Maharshal," in the Sefer ha-yovel li-khvod Levi Ginzberg, issued by the American Academy for Jewish Research (New York, 1945), pp. 4563, and Haim Chernowitz's essay on Luria in Toledot ha-posqim, vol. 3 (New York, 1947), pp. 7491. For an English source, parts of Moses A. Shulvass's Jewish Culture in Eastern Europe: The Classic Period (New York, 1975) may also be consulted.

New Sources

Rafeld, Meʾir. "Ha-Maharshal veha-ʿYam shel Shelomoh." Ph.D. diss., Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, 1991.

Michael Stanislawski (1987)

Revised Bibliography