Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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errors were still being entered in the process of hand-copying. It
is known that Rabbenu Gershom copied in his own hand a
massoretic text which he deemed to be the correct one.
Of great consequence was Rabbenu Gershom’s activity in
attempting to establish a uniform version of the Talmud.
Previously, a certain amount of confusion existed regarding
discrepancies among various texts of the Talmud. In addition,
the widespread study of the Talmud created a need for a com­
mentary to make it comprehensible to all strata of Jewish life.
Rabbenu Gershom undertook to write such a commentary on
various sections of the Talmud. We do not know how inclusive
his commentary was originally. I t has been proved that the
so-called “Commentary of Rabbenu Gershom” known to us is
not wholly from his pen. It seems that this commentary was
elaborated upon by his pupils and by later scholars, and was
erroneously attributed as a whole to Rabbenu Gershom.
Functions of Responsa
The responsa of Rabbenu Gershom serve two main func­
tions: a) they are references in making legal decisions, and b)
they are important historical sources.
The responsa did not reveal the identity of the correspondents,
because scholars of that time did not consider this significant.
Only the legal matters and the decisions involved were of
importance, so that they might be used in similar cases.
Rabbenu Gershom was extremely meticulous in answering ques­
tions. He studied all sides of a problem, and if he did not
understand it thoroughly, he would refuse to deal with it. If
an answer he gave was not understood, he did not hesitate to
review it in detail.
The primary sources to which he referred in making decisions
were the Scriptures and the Talmud. Although he sometimes
quoted the Geonim, he did not consider himself obligated to
accept their decisions as final.
The style of the responsa is distinguished by clarity, succinct­
ness and logical thinking. They were lengthy only when the
problem under consideration was involved and complex. Rabbenu
Gershom used Mishnaic and Talmudic idioms in his writing—
a practice very common at that time.
After some inspection of Rabbenu Gershom’s responsa, it
becomes apparent that parts of them are missing. These may
have been destroyed, or hidden in various manuscript collections
in anonymity, or even lost.
An examination of the multifarious subjects of the responsa
will disclose a wealth of material about the life of the Rhineland
Jews of the eleventh century. Some of the questions dealt with
money matters, others with business affairs, educational methods
and problems of daily living. I t is interesting to note that,