Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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“ L
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960 - 1028
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id e lb erg
| OWARD the latter half of the tenth century the famous
J- centers of Jewish learning in Babylonia began to decline.
Two main centers which became their spiritual inheritors rose
in western Europe. One was created in Spain and the other along
the Rhine, especially in Speyer, Worms and Mainz.
It is very difficult to trace the founders of the center in
Germany. It is known that a notable Jewish family named
Kolonymus emigrated in the middle of the tenth century from
northern Italy to Mainz. Historians believe that this family
was among the main founders of Jewish learning in the area.
At this time the Jews enjoyed special privileges accorded them
by the emperor—religious and economic freedom. Their relations
with their non-Jewish neighbors were good, although from
time to time, under the influence of the Church, outbreaks
against Jews occurred.
Jewish merchants in the Rhine cities had trade relations with
neighboring countries and with those abroad, enabling them
to travel extensively to far-reaching countries. Jewish trade,
however, declined with the uprising of the non-Jewish merchants
and with the outbreak of the First Crusade. At the time Rabbenu
Gershom appeared on the scene, there was already a flourishing
Jewish community in Mainz with a tradition of scholarship.
No definite data are available regarding the place and time
of Rabbenu Gershom’s birth. It is generally believed, however,
that he was born in the province of Lorraine in the year 960.
It is known that at the beginning of the eleventh century he
lived in Mainz, and according to a manuscript source he died
in the year 1028.
Rabbenu Gershom was a scion of those scholars who originally
came from France and Italy and settled in Mainz. It is definitely
known that Rabbi Leontin was one of his teachers. Rabbenu
Gershom was considered the most prominent scholar of his
country. Attracted by his great learning and magnetic personality,
students from all over western Europe flocked to his TalmudiV
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