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Shmuel Marshak (The Maharshak)


Shmuel Marshak

Polish rabbi; born at Wilna 1614; died at Cracow Dec. 1, 1676 (Michael; but Azulai and Horovitz give 1679; see bibliography). Among his teachers were Jacob Hoeschel and his son Joshua Hoeschel. During the Chmielnicki revolution (1648-49) the Cossacks plundered Kaidanover's possessions, his valuable library and his manuscripts among them, and killed his two little daughters, and he arrived in Moravia an impoverished fugitive. He was elected rabbi successively of Langenlois in Lower Austria, Nikolsburg, Glogau, Fürth, and Frankfort-on-the-Main, and then returned to Poland, where he died as rabbi of Cracow. He wrote: "Birkat ha-Zebah," annotations to the Talmudical tractates of Kodashim (except Hullin and Bekorot), with a preface in which he narrated the remarkable events of his life (edited by his son-in-law Nahum Kohen, brother of Shabbethai Kohen, Amsterdam, 1669; another edition, with the commentary "'Omer Man," appeared [at Berlin?] in 1773); "Birkat Shemuel," derashot on the Pentateuch, partly cabalistic, with additions by his son Zebi Hirsch, its editor (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1682); "'Emunat Shemuel," sixty responsa on matrimonial cases, edited by his son (ib. 1683); "Tif'eret Shemuel," novellæ to various Talmudic tractates, also edited by his son (ib. 1692). The annotations to Hoshen Mishpat contained in the last-named work were printed in "Ture Zahab" (Hamburg, 1692).

By  Gotthard Deutsch, Ph.D. Professor of Jewish History, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.  
S. Mannheimer   B.L. Instructor, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Copyright 2002 JewishEncyclopedia.com. All rights reserved. Originally published between 1901-1906

As the Jewish community became more established in the first half of the 17th century, Vilna became the center of the Torah. Many religious learned Jews from other places, such as Bohemia, Austria, Germany and Poland arrived here. Moshe Rivkas’, son of the writer and scribe of the Jewish community of Prague, brought with him to Vilna the library that had belonged to his father, collecting many new works as well. Many at the head of the religious community were well-known, amongst them famous rabbis such as Moshe Lima (son of Yitzhak Yehuda, died in 1670) who wrote the book “Chelkat Mechokek” that became renown throughout the Diaspora. The religious judges in Vilna at this point were Ephraim (1616-1678, son of Yaakov The Cohen, “Shar Efraim”), Shabtai Cohen (son of Meir The Cohen, 1622-1663) Aaron Shmuel Keidanov (known as the Ma”hrshk, 1614-1676, born in Kedainiai), and Hillel (wrote Beit Hillel, born in Galicia, religious judge in Vilna). Due to the destruction of the community in 1655, many of these learned men fled and settled in the west. Some of them received jobs as rabbis in important Jewish communities. Rabbi Shah Shabtai Cohen became the rabbi of Holesov in Moravia. Ephraim, writer of “Schar Efraim” also became a rabbi in Moravia; Aaron Shmuel Keidanov became rabbi of Pielt in Germany; Hillel became rabbi in Altuna, Hamburg. Eventually, rabbi Moshe Rivkas’ (son of Tzvi Naftali, died in 1671) returned to Vilna from Amsterdam, where he wrote the book “Be’er Hageola”.


The principal Polish rabbis of the seventeenth century who wrote responsa were Aaron Samuel Kaidanover and Menahem Mendel Krochmal. The decisions of the former, which were published at Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1683 under the title "Emunat Shemu'el," afford a glimpse of the plight of the German Jews of the time.


Aaron Samuel Kaidanover was rabbi in Brest from 1657 to 1660.


Maimonides did not look kindly on expansive writing based on sad experience, especially since the essence of writing is jealously -- doubly so, the jealousy of writing and the jealously of contradiction. It is usually unnecessary, and even where there is some necessity, in several cases it is done without proper confirmation. He expressed his bitterness based on what was done in this area in his day, and all the more so in our day when matters have broken through all bounds and crossed all limits. This is what he said in the Moreh Nevuchim Part 1, Chapter 71:

You already know that even the received oral law was not written down in earlier times, according to the commandment which is well know among the people "Words which I communicated to you orally you are not authorized to communicate in writing." (Gittin 60) This is basic wisdom of the Torah, since it was intended to prevent what ultimately happened, that is the multiplicity of explanations, the variety of schools, the unclear statements that appear in authors’ explanations, the forgetfulness that occurs, the renewed disputes among people, the establishment of sects, and the confusion in practice … There was concern about writing the laws in a book that would be available to everyone because of the harm that would ultimately be caused." [See my edition note 10.]

And he wrote similarly in Part 3, Chapter 41, as follows:

Since it was known by exalted God that the laws of the Torah will need, in every time and place, additions in some cases and subtractions in some cases, according to varied places and events and the requirements of the circumstances, He therefore warned about additions and subtractions, and said "Do not add to it and do not subtract from it", for it leads to damage to the laws of the Torah, and to the belief that it is not from God. He authorized the scholars of each generation, that is the Great Court, to make a fence to protect those laws of the Torah, and to make innovations when need to repair breaches. They established those fences for the generations, as it is said "Build a fence around the Torah" (Avot 1:1) … If this particularized speculation had been permitted to every scholar, people would have perished because of the multiplicity of disputes and the fragmentation of methodologies. Therefore the Exalted One warned that the rest of the scholars should not undertake this, only the Great Court alone.

The situation extended over the generations of the Diaspora, and decrees and customs proliferated, the rulings and the laws, and even decrees whose promulgator was not clearly known, and only "we heard that so-and-so decreed." They are observed even more than the laws of the Torah itself, and they are imposed with force even on those who did not hear what so-and so decreed.

This is the rationale and reason that Maimonides did not write in his great work "some say this and some say that" except in a very few places that can be counted by a child. According to his opinion, this approach would have taken us back to the days of creation, and not just to the status of a "nation without a true book" but even the level and science of learning is diminished. As is stated in Nedarim 8, "If one was placed under a ban in a dream, ten persons are necessary for lifting the ban. They must have learned halacha; but if they had only studied ["matnu"], they cannot lift the ban." See the Ran there. Maimonides read and interpreted it as he wrote in Hilchot Talmud Torah, Chapter 7 halacha 12: "Ten men who studied halacha are needed to lift the ban, and if he did not find them, he must takes pains to search a distance for them, and if he still doesn’t find them, ten persons who only studied Mishnah may lift the ban." We see that he explains "matnu" to mean they studied Mishnah and "tanu hilcheta" to mean they studied actual halachot, decided halachot, such as the Mishneh Torah. The reason for his opinion is simple. If Rabbi X says this and Rabbi Y says that, then "vision is not widespread." [tr. Samuel 3:1] Based on all the foregoing, [page 25] he constructed his book the way he did, and included what he did, and refrained from adding hidushim which he thought up or drew from the depths of his understanding.

Not just Maimonides saw the disadvantages of the many works, but also the later authorities reached the same conclusion because of the reality which they saw and experienced, although they did not deal with the restriction on the expansion of writing. This is what Nachalat Shiv’a wrote in responsa #50:

This is how Maharshak [tr. Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Kaidanover] responded to me, in summary: Everything that they innovated on their own, I say, should be withdrawn, because in my view they are in error, Indeed, I credit them for what they do on their own since they do not have the Bet Yosef at hand, and they focus on the Taz and the Shach. That is not how I work, since the essence of my work is with the early poskim and the Talmud…. If anyone is at my bet midrash, I will show him bundles of errors on every page of their books, therefore I don’t work with them, thank God, and he would be better to sell the books, etc.

From: Introduction of Rabbi Yosef Kapach to his edition of  Moses Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (translated by Michael J. Bohnen)

Rabbi Kapach was the foremost editor of the works of Maimonides. Born in Yemen in 1917, he used ancient manuscripts to restore the text of the Mishneh Torah. Several fascinating articles about Rabbi Kapach can be found at www.chayas.com/rabbi.htm The preceding is from a summary and translation of his 20 page Introduction to his edition of the Mishneh Torah.


By : Executive Committee of the Editorial Board.   A. S. Waldstein  

German rabbi; died at Posen(?) in 1724. He was the pupil of R. Heschel and of Aaron Samuel Kaidanover (author of "Birkat ha-Zebah"). He wrote: "Zinzenet Menahem" (Berlin, 1719), an elucidation of difficult passages in the Haggadah; "Lehem Menahem," responsa, and explanations of various Talmudic passages; and "Ta'ame Menahem," on Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch.


By : Executive Committee of the Editorial Board.   M. Seligsohn  

Rabbi and cabalist; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main; died at Pinczow, Russian Poland, in 1682 (in 1662 according to Wolf, "Bibl. Hebr." iii., No. 1362c). He was a pupil of Aaron Samuel Kaidanover in Talmud and of Jacob Temerles in Cabala. In 1669 he was rabbi of Holleschau, Moravia, as appears from his approbation to the "Sifra dieni'uta deYa'akob" (Amsterdam, 1669) of his former teacher, Jacob Temerles. It is not known how long he was in Holleschau nor where he had been before going thither, but two other approbations show that in 1675 he was still there. Thence he was called to the rabbinate of Pinczow, where he remained until his death. Many rabbis applied to him for approbations of their works. Offenbach Manuscript No. 18 contains writings of and upon Moses Isaac Judah Löb, there called "Löb Zunz."

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