About Gershom ben Yehudah
R. Gershom ben Yehuda was born in Narbonne moved to, and studied/taught, in Metz, then later moved to Mainz at the request of Kalonymos.
Gershom ben Judah, (c. 960 -1040? -1028?) best known as Rabbeinu Gershom (Hebrew: רבנו גרשום, "Our teacher Gershom") and also commonly known to scholars of Ashkenaz Judaism by the title Rabbeinu Gershom Me'Or Hagolah ("Our teacher Gershom the light of the exile"), was a famous Talmudist and Halakhist in Ashkenaz.
Rashi of Troyes (d. 1105) said less than a century after Gershom's death, "all members of the Ashkenazi diaspora are students of his." As early as the 14th century Asher ben Jehiel wrote that Rabbeinu Gershom's writings were "such permanent fixtures that they may well have been handed down on Mount Sinai."
He is most famous for Synod of the Takkanot he called around 1000 CE, in which he instituted various laws and bans, including prohibiting polygamy, requiring the consent of both parties to a divorce, modifying the rules concerning those who became apostates under compulsion, and prohibiting the opening of correspondence addressed to someone else.
Contemporary Jewish historians perpetuate a legend that suggests Gershom ben Yehuda was a student of Yehuda ben Meir HaKohen. There is no in hebrew history to corroborate this story - not in 1,000 years. These stories perpetuate a tangential artifact that Yehuda ben Meir HaKohen has a daughter named "Deborah", who married Gershom, yet sadly died prematurely (Gershom's first wife). There is no French, German, Spanish, Byzantine Koine, Magyar or Turkic or Hebrew text to corroborate this story...not one...in 1,000 years. These stories have only come into popular Jewish history in the last 150 years and should be dismissed.
Many Jewish historians lack understanding of the pressures which forced Jews of Narbonne to move northward. Carolingian "King Charles the Simple" (ruled from 898-922) granted
"all the land, houses and vineyards that the Jews are seen to possess in the County of Narbonne, and out of which, tithes are customarily given to God's churches".
This confiscation of Jewish Property was not total...some jew were allowed to retain their lands and remain in Narbonne. Jewish landholding around Narbonne remained and we have the oldest extant document of Halakhic responsa concerning the purification of wine written by Yakob ben Moshe Gaon of Narbonne around 990CE.
Yet around 820CE, we find a vexing text written by the Archbishop of Lyons, Agobard, which gives us insights into the prevailing practices of the "Jews of France" as they existed in that time - Jews who are not Rabbinic Jews:
In his Contra Judaeos, Agobard (c. 779– 840), Archbishop of Lyons, noted that French Jews believed in the corporeality of God and anthropomorphism. A factor in these types of beliefs was that “Jews from France … say that these, I mean all the aggadot, are from the mouth of the Almighty.” To them, this meant that they must be interpreted in a most literal fashion (see below). When meeting Jews “professing the unity of God” in their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, some French Jews felt embarrassed about their creeds. In their criticism against the rabbanites, Karaites targeted such creeds as “a Minor and a Major God,” the anthropomorphic work “Shi‘ur Qoma,” and the proclamation announcing “the abrogation of the vows … ” made on the 9th of Tishri, declaring that all vows that will be made “shall be null and void.”
Please recall that by the end of the 8th century, Judaism was deeply divided between Karaites, denying rabbinic authority altogether, and the Geonim at the Yeshibot in Babel and the Holy Land, maintaining the authority of tradition, as conveyed by an uninterrupted chain of transmission, known as Shalshelet haQabbalah m’Bavli. On the one hand, unlike the Karaites, they recognized the authority of rabbinic texts and tradition. On the other hand, because of personal ideology, coupled with geographical and cultural distancing from the Yeshibot of Bavli and Palestine, some of the principles and doctrines that they taught were not grounded on Shalshelet haQabbalah m’Bavli.
See Bernhard Blumenkranz, Les auteurs chretiens latins du moyen age sur les juifs et le Judaism (Paris: Mouton, 1963), p. 165 n. 63. For an adequate understanding of the passion for anthropomorphism characterizing prevailing ethos and culture, see The New Science ## 180– 181, p. 70; ## 220– 221, p. 76; ## 405– 406, pp. 129– 130; and #816, p. 312. Note that R. Hai Gaon, in Teshubot haGe’onim haHadashot, #155, 67, pp. 219– 220, regarded people holding this type of belief as minim. Cf. Appendix 55. 7
See Saul Lieberman, Shkiin (Jerusalem: Bamberg & Wahrman, 1939), p. 11. Cf. Rabad on MT Teshuba 3: 7; and R. Abraham Maimonides, Teshubot, ed. A. H. Freimann (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1937) #4, p. 15, and n. 6. 8
Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies, 2 vols. (New York: Ktav Publishing, 1972), vol. 2, p. 38, n. 73.
See Texts and Studies, vol. 2, pp. 85– 86. They associated the minor deity with the met atron of the Talmud; see Shkiin, pp. 14– 15. For further reference, see Studies in the Mishne Tora, pp. 136– 137, 184, 189 n. 68; and R. Judah al-Bargeloni, Perush Sefer Yesira, p. 21. On a ‘major’ and ‘minor’ deity, cf. Zohar, 3 vols. (Leghorn, 5618/ 1858), vol. 2, 274a. From a responsum by Maimonides, Teshubot ha-Rambam #117, vol. 1, pp. 200– 201, it seems that they associated the ‘deity’ of Shi‘ur Qoma with the ‘minor deity’ peculiar to their belief. 10
See quotation from Sefer ha-Qabbala, below at n. 22. Cf. Kuzari III, 63– 67. The trustworthiness of Jewish prophets is proclaimed by the faithful in the blessing preceding the recitation of the haft ara, declaring that they are “the prophets of truth and justice.”===
Born in Metz in 960 - he lost his first wife, Gershom married a widow named Bonna and settled at Mainz (Mayence).
During his lifetime Mainz became a center of Torah and Jewish scholarship for many Jewish communities in Europe that had formerly been connected with the Babylonian yeshivas. He was the spiritual guide of the fledgling Ashkenazic Jewish communities and was very influential in molding them at a time when their population was dwindling.
Students came from all over Europe to enroll in his yeshiva, and later dispersed among various communities in Germany and beyond which helped spread Jewish learning. He had many pupils from different countries, among whom should be mentioned Eleazar ben Isaac (ha-Gadol ="the Great"), nephew of Simeon ha-Gadol; and Jacob ben Yakar, teacher of Rashi. The fame of his learning eclipsed even that of the heads of the academies of Sura (city) and Pumbedita.
His life conformed to his teachings. He had a son, who forsook his religion at the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Mainz in 1012. When his son converted to become a Christian R. Gershom grieved and observed the strictures of mourning for 14 days, double the required time for an actual death. However, he did apparently rule leniently regarding those who had submitted to baptism to escape persecution, and who afterward returned to the Jewish fold. He strictly prohibited reproaching them with infidelity, and even gave those among them who had been slandered an opportunity to publicly pronounce the benediction in the synagogues.
Questions of religious casuistry were addressed to him from all countries, and measures which he authorized had legal force among all the Jews of Europe.
Gershom's literary activity was not less fruitful. He is celebrated for his works in the field of Biblical exegesis, the Masorah, and lexicography. He revised the text of the Mishnah and Talmud, and wrote commentaries on several treatises of the latter which were very popular and gave an impulse to the production of other works of the kind. His selichot were inspired by the bloody persecutions of his time. Gershom also left a large number of rabbinical responsa, which are scattered throughout various collections.
He is the author of Seliha 42 - Zechor Berit Avraham ("Remember the Covenant of Abraham"), a liturgical poem recited by Ashkenazic Jews during the season of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
Synod and bans
He is famous for his religious bans within Judaism, which include:
- The prohibition of polygamy;
- The prohibition of divorcing a woman against her will;
- The modification of the rules concerning those who became apostates under compulsion;
- The prohibition of reading another person's private mail.
His bans are considered binding on all of Ashkenazic Jewry until the present day, although the reasons for this are controversial. Some authorities hold that the bans are still binding, while others consider them to have expired but nonetheless obligatory to follow as universally accepted customs.
- Rabbenu Gershom, Luce dell'Esilio by Marcus Lehmann; Shmuel Rodal - Book availability
- The Story of R' Gershom's Two Wives Rishonim
- The Takkanot , Hebrew Books
- Second Source , Hebrew Books
- Synod of the Takkanot
- Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, vol. ix., Leipzig, 1879
- Chaim Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim
- Bloch and Lévy, Histoire de la Littérature Juive, p. 310
- Histoire littéraire de la France, xiii. 2 et seq.
- Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. v. 405-407
- Leopold Zunz, Literaturgesch. pp. 238–239
- Eliakim Carmoly, La France Israélite, pp. 13–21
- Henri Gross, Gallia Judaica, pp. 299 et seq.
- Rosenthal, in Jubelschrift zum Siebzigsten Geburtstag des Dr. Israel Hildesheimer. Berlin, 1890; pp. 37 et seq.
￼ #This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
Gershon ben Yehuda is most famous for the synod he called around 1000 CE, in which he instituted various laws and ban
Rashi of Troyes (d. 1105) said less than a century after Gershom's death . . .
"all members of the Ashkenazi diaspora are students of his."
As early as the 14th century Asher ben Jehiel wrote that Rabbeinu Gershom's writings were . . .
"such permanent fixtures that they may well have been handed down on Mount Sinai."
רבנו גרשום, Rabbeinu Gershom ben Yehudah Me'Or Hagolah's Timeline
Narbonne, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany