About Moshe Hazaken ben Kalonymus I
The first Ashkenazic Gadol about whom we have abundant information is R’ Meshullam b. Kalonymos (died c. 1005).
It is disputed whether he was in fact Rosh Yeshiva in Mayence or if he returned to Italy, or both. Certainly, however, his opinion was accepted by Ashkenazic Jewry as authoritative, and he may be seen as the Ashkenazic counterpart to R’ Chanoch b. Moshe (see page 61). He deserved his title as R’ Meshullam HaGadol, the Great, and Rashi (Zevachim 45/b and other places) refers to him as “R’ Meshullam Gaon.” He corresponded with the Geonim, and in the Geniza there is preserved a responsa to him from R’ Sherira and R’ Hai coincidentally referring to the very passage in Zevachim that Rashi quotes from him. Following is an excerpt from the Machzor Vitry (R’ Simcha of Vitry; died early 12th century), quoting from R’ Meshullam’s commentary on Pirkei Avos:
Machzor Vitry; Avos Chapter V Mishna 16
The Mishna states: (Hashem’s) judgment is true and all is prepared for the banquet . . . R’ Meshullam b. Kalonymos of Rome (he either spent time in Rome, or else Italy in general is called Rome) explained that the banquet referred to here is the day of death, as we say later that the end of Man is inevitably death, and all are awaiting it . . . Why is death referred to as a banquet? Because when people enter a banquet they all enter through the same entrance, but once there each is assigned his proper place according to what he deserves. So too at the time of death, the evident end of the righteous and wicked are identical, and it is only after they arrive at their place in the afterlife that the difference becomes evident . . .