Rabbi Amnon ben Gershom

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Rabbi Amnon ben Gershom

Death: circa 1020 (36-54)
Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Immediate Family:

Son of Rabbeinu Gershom ben Yehudah Me'Or Hagolah and Bonna bat Kalonymos II
Brother of Rabbi Eliezer ben Rabbenu Gershom

Managed by: Private User
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About Rabbi Amnon ben Gershom

1020 CE – Rabbi Amnon of Mainz

Rabbi Amnon was the leader of the Jewish community of Mainz from 1012 until 1020.

The material of the story is taken partly from the legend of St. Emmeram of Regensburg (Amram of Mayence), who, having been accused by Uta, daughter of Thedo, Duke of Bavaria, of being her seducer, was tied to a ladder, where his limbs were cut off, one by one. He was then brought to the castle of Aschheim, where he expired praying and blessing his murderers ("Acta Sanctorum," September series, vi. 474).

Rabbi Amnon was the son of Gershom ben Yehudah who converted and then died a horrific death.

He was a scholar, respected even by the Christian authorities led by the Archbishop of Mainz, Willigis, who had held his role for many years, from 975, and was himself a very well respected leader. But when he died in 1011, he was replaced by a mere abbot, Erkanbald, Abbot of Fulda, who owned his election thanks to his family who was well connected with the ruler of Germany. At first, Erkanbald continued the good relation that Willigis had with Rabbi Amnon.

In September 1020, a few days before the Jewish New Year of 4781, Erkanbald requested from Rabbi Amnon to convert to Christianity. The latter asked for three days to consider. But when he got back to his home, he felt distraught to have even questioned the possibility of conversion by asking some time, which he saw as his betrayal of God. He spent the three days in fasting and asking for repentance from God. After the delay, Rabbi Amnon was brought by force in front of the Bishop of Mainz who demanded his response. The Rabbi answered that he should have his tongue cut out for having asked any delay and not having refused in the first place. The Bishop became very angry and ordered not only to cut the Rabbi's tongue, but also his feet for not having come to him by his own will, and also ordered his hands to be cut off. The Rabbi was then taken back to his home. When Rosh Hashanah came the next day, Rabbi Amnon, who was dying from bleeding, asked to be carried to the synagogue to sanctify the name of God for a last time. There he uttered a prayer that he had just composed and died in the synagogue.

Three days later, he appeared to one of his disciples, Rabbi Kalonymus ben Meshullam, (originated from Lucca, Italy), to teach him the words of his final prayer, requesting that it should be recited in all synagogues during the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Since this time, the prayer, called Unetanneh Tokef, is indeed part of these prayers. The text portrays God as a shepherd who counts His flock (mankind), one by one, to judge them on the Day of Judgment:

All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed - how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree! --- Extract from the prayer Unetanneh Tokef

Seder Olam Zutta Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ed. Maskileison, p. 218, where older sources are quoted; Heidenheim's edition of the MaḦzor, introduction, where an alphabetical index of the liturgical poets is given; Landshuth, 'Ammude ha-'Abodah, 1857, i. 45.

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Rabbi Amnon ben Gershom's Timeline

Age 45
Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany