Schiff, Meir ben Jacob Ha-Kohen

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SCHIFF, MEIR BEN JACOB HA-KOHEN (known as the MaHaRaM ; M orenu H a-R av M eir Schiff; 1605–1641), talmudist and rabbinic author. Born in Frankfurt, where his father was a member of the bet din and a communal leader, Schiff was, in his early youth, considered a scholar of unusual ability. While still a boy, he turned to *Meir of Lublin with halakhic problems. At the age of 17, he was appointed rabbi of the important community of Fulda, where he also headed a notable yeshivah. He wrote down the essence of his lectures, novellae, and comments, which extend over the whole Talmud, but most of it was destroyed by fire in 1711. There exists a tradition that he was appointed rabbi of Prague in 1641. However, if the statement of his grandson is to be trusted, namely, that he lived only 36 years, he must have died immediately after his appointment. The novellae Maharam Schiff were published in Homburg-vor-der Hoehe (on Beẓah, Ket., Git., bm, and Ḥul., in 1737, and on Shab., bk, bb, Sanh., and Zev., in 1741). They were much sought after by students and were regarded as essential for the study of Talmud. Many editions were published, and they were also incorporated in the standard editions of the Talmud. A new annotated edition of his novellae on Gittin was published by S. Schlesinger in 1963.

Schiff avoids the casuistic manner that was prevalent in the yeshivot in his time and strives to arrive at an understanding of the text as its stands. For this reason, he also opposed suggestions that the traditional readings were faulty. In writing of pilpul, he complains of "the ink that has been spilled and the pens broken to give pilpulisitc interpretations to passages of the Talmud which I am able to explain according to this plain meaning." His books are distinguished by brevity and clarity of language. He takes special care to stress that he does not wish to give halakhic decisions, referring the reader on each occasion to the relevant halakhic literature. At the end of each tractate he gives an exposition connecting the tractate concluded with the one about to be studied at the yeshivah. In consequence, it is possible to determine the exact dates and order in which he taught. His novellae bear witness to his intellectual integrity. On more than one occasion he writes "I was mistaken," "There is no value in all I have written." He was acquainted with the works of his contemporaries, such as Solomon b. Jehiel *Luria, Samuel *Edels, and Meir of Lublin, and more than once disparages their views, belittling and scorning them with such phrases as "this is fit for children," "empty words," "he extends himself over a few futile difficulties." Because of the large interval between the writing and publication of his work, many errors crept in. Consequently many super-commentaries have been written, the most well known and the best being that of Mordecai Mardush of Poritsk, which is printed in the standard editions of the Talmud.

The many sermons appended to his books reveal that Schiff was a strong personality who did not hesitate to rebuke his community about those matters of which he disapproved. He accuses many of the communal leaders of desecrating the Sabbath, of not studying the Torah, of failing to support scholars, and of other offenses. His style in preaching does not differ from that of his contemporaries. Here he does permit himself the use of pilpul, although he eschewed it in the study of the Talmud. He also wrote on kabbalistic themes. The Schiff family of bankers are among his descendants.


S.A. Horodezky, Le-Korot ha-Rabbanut (1910, repr. 1914), 191–200; J.J.(L.) Greenwald (Grunwald), Lifnei Shetei Me'ot Shanah, o Toledot ha-Rav Eleazar Kallir u-Zemanno (1952), 34; M. Horovitz, Frankfurter Rabbinen, 2 (1883), 35–40.

[Itzhak Alfassi]

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Schiff, Meir ben Jacob Ha-Kohen

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