Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
although the Church did not permit Christians to engage in
lending money at an interest rate to other Christians, they did
engage in it with Jews.
From the responsa which deal with education, we learn
that a child advanced three levels in his studies. First he was
taught to read; following this he studied the Scriptures; and
finally he was introduced to the Talmud. A child could not
begin a higher study until he had mastered the basic lower
The responsa do not tell of Rabbenu Gershom’s personal
life. The tone of his letters, however, indicates his warmth and
sincerity. He showed flexibility and leniency in his interpretation
of the law and always took environmental circumstances into
Selichot—Prayers for Forgiveness
Rabbenu Gershom was one of the first Rhineland scholars
to compose Selichot, or prayers for forgiveness. In them he
included a vivid portrayal of the violence inflicted upon the Jews
in the Diaspora, a subject he never mentioned in his responsa.
Because he depicted the pogroms and the other discriminatory
practices against the Jews, the Selichot take on added historical
importance. We know definitely that in these liturgical poems
he portrayed the tortures suffered by French Jews in the years
994, 1007, 1010 and 1012. These Selichot are still recited in
synagogues during the Ten Days of Repentence.
Although Rabbenu Gershom probably composed numerous
Selichot, only ten have been passed down to us. They are
written in verse, in Biblical style. The stanzas are arranged
alphabetically. The Selichot show the influence of Palestinian
liturgy which penetrated the Rhineland region through Italy.
The reader of Rabbenu Gershom’s Selichot is poignantly moved
by the sincerity with which he expresses his anguished emotions.
Rabbenu Gershom devoted his life to the study and teaching
of the Torah, for he realized it was the only hope to brighten
the gloomy despair and the darkness of the Diaspora. In one of
his Selichot he says: “Its delights are hidden deep within . . .
And all that remains to us is this Torah .”
A thousand years have passed since the birth of the “Light
of the Exile,” Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz. His name still ranks
among the foremost scholars and spiritual leaders in the history
of Israel. His works may, therefore, be regarded as a turning point
in the development of the religious and social aspects of Jewish
life in central and western Europe. I t was Rabbenu Gershom
and his disciples who imprinted the stamp of their spirit on
that life, laid its foundations and gave it its impetus. Th e ir in­
fluence upon Jewish life has extended into our own contempo­
rary era.