Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

Basic HTML Version

5 0
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
academy in order to be taught by him. Two of his students were
teachers of Rashi.
Concerning his family, we know that the name of his father
was Yehuda; his brother, Machir, was a scholar who composed a
dictionary which dealt with the explanation of Talmudic idioms.
This book has not been passed down to us, although Rashi and
the Tosaphists made use of it. Rabbenu Gershom’s wife, Buna,
was the daughter of a certain David and a widow when he
married her. It seems that one of his sons was a forced Christian
convert for whom he mourned. This event may have occurred
in the year 1012 when an edict was promulgated compelling
the Jews of Mainz to change their religion. It is believed that
this personal tragedy contributed to Rabbenu Gershom’s great
tolerance toward forced Christian converts who returned to
Judaism.
Ordinances Enacted by Spiritual Leaders
At this time, the Jewish communities in northern France and
in Germany were in the process of development. In order to
organize community life and to bring discipline among the
members who did not have a common cultural and social back­
ground, their spiritual leaders decided to enact and promulgate
a number of ordinances. Rabbenu Gershom is famous for ordi­
nances of far-reaching social effect on Jewish life.
Some of these ordinances eased mutual relationships between
Jews and Christians in those countries; for example, 'the
prohibition of polygamy and of divorce against the will of the
wife. A number of ordinances of dubious origin were attributed
to Rabbenu Gershom, as their authors believed his name would
invest those decisions with greater authority. The authenticity
of these ordinances may be doubted on the grounds that they
are mentioned for the first time in books written more than
three centuries after Rabbenu Gershom’s death. Therefore,
only those may be accepted as authentically his which are men­
tioned in the writings of scholars contemporaneous with him or
close to his time.
Only these four ordinances are mentioned by scholars who lived
close to his era:
1. Those who repent should not be reminded of their sins.
2. The text of the Talmud should not be amended.
3. Prohibition of plural marriages.
4. Prohibition of compulsory divorce.
Massoretic Text of Rabbenu Gershom
Rabbenu Gershom contended that the prerequisite for all
Talmudic study was a thorough knowledge of the Bible, for
which he decided to set up the acceptable text. In those days,
although a definite text had already been established, many