Page 262 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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254
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
views and to develop an overarching theory o f communal gov­
ernment that took both into account. In situations that involved
communal regulation of social, economic, and religious life and
practice
(migdar milta),
R. Meir maintained the more conven­
tional view of Rabiah, that the majority of the members o f the
community could set policy. He sided with Rabbenu Tam, how­
ever, in cases which involved the apportioning o f tax encum­
brances. In light of the increasingly harsh taxation demands
that had become the rule in Germany at this time, individual
members of a community stood arbitrarily to lose substantial
amounts in the tax-collection process. For these matters, R. Meir
ruled that it was necessary to bind the members of a community
together on the basis of unanimous agreement. He also pre­
ferred that the communal board
(tuvei ha-cir),
which had the
power to impose certain monetary fines and restrictions, be
elected by unanimous agreement of the members of the com-
i o
munity.
Maharam’s status as the leading scholar of his day
(gedol ha-
dor)
accounted for the large number o f questions that he re­
ceived on every aspect of Jewish law. Unusually troublesome
controversies were brought before him for resolution. Occasion­
ally, and without much success, R. Meir suggested that some
of these matters might best be decided by the local rabbinic
leadership. But for the most part, R. Meir accepted his role
willingly and without hesitation.19 He was particularly inspired
when it came to matters of personal status. Even in his younger
years, he was unafraid to take on his teachers, and perhaps
the rabbinic establishment generally, by ruling in favor of a
groom from Diiren against the claims of his wealthy father in­
law in a celebrated case that reverberated throughout
Ashkenaz.20
An unusual degree of empathy and sensitivity may be detect­
ed throughout Maharam’s writings and practices. Several of R.
Meir’s formulations stressed that a son’s failure to provide sup­
port for his parents from specially designated funds (assuming
18. See my “Unanimity, Majority, and Communal Government in Medieval
Ashkenaz: A Reassessment,”
PAAJR
58 (1992) [in press]; Yizhak Handelsman,
Temurot be-Hanhagat Kehillot Yisrael be-Ashkenaz Bimei ha-Beinayim
(Ph.D. diss.,
Tel Aviv University, 1980), 73 -81 ; Agus, 108-24.
19. Agus, 14-29, 50 -53 ; Urbach, 537 -40 .
20. Urbach, 529 -34 ; Agus, 48-50 .