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About Shimon HaGadol of Mainz
R' Shimon authored many liturgical compositions that have become part of our Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and yom tov prayers. He also wrote the poem Baruch Hashem Yom Yom which is part of the Shabbat morning zemirot.
R' Shimon Hagadol a"h (950 - c1020)? or b. 925? or born 975?
R' Shimon ben Yitzchak ben Avun Hagadol/ "The Great" was born and died in Mainz, Germany. Some say that he is R' Shimon, the maternal uncle of Rashi, who is quoted several times in Rashi's Talmud commentary.
Shimon Hagadol is also identified as the father of Elchanan, a Jewish child who, according to a legend which dates back at least 500 years, was kidnapped by his Christian babysitter and grew up to become Pope. When R' Shimon was later chosen to lead a delegation to beseech the Pope to rescind an anti-Jewish decree, R' Shimon recognized his son when the latter defeated R' Shimon at chess using precisely moves that he himself had perfected and taught his children.
R' Shimon served on the bet din/rabbinical court of Mainz together with Rabbenu Gershom "Meor Hagolah"/"The Light of the Exile." Some say that R' Shimon studied under R' Yitzchak al-Fasi ("Rif") in Morocco. It is also said that R' Shimon was a leading kabbalist, and he is referred to by the 12th century sage Rabbenu Tam as, "R' Shimon ben Yitzchak Hagadol, with whom miracles were common."
(Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim, p.117; Rashi to Shabbat 85b and Eruvin 42a; Machzor Korban Aharon: Mavo Hapiyutim; Notes to She'eilot U'teshuvot Rabbenu Gershom Me'or Hagolah, No. 32. Our thanks to R' Ephraim Kanarfogel shlita, Dean of Jewish Studies at Stern College and a noted historian, for additional information regarding the story of Elchanan.)
The legends about a Jewish pope seems to have arisen in the story of Rabbi Shimon HaGadol (the Great) of tenth century Mainz, Germany.
Rabbi Shimon's son, Elchanan was captured and kidnapped as a child by Christians and baptized and raised as a Christian. Rabbi Shimon, distraught and heartbroken, never gave up hope of finding his son and restoring him to Judaism.
Rabbi Shimon is the author of a piyut (prayer poem) that has found a permanent place in the recitation of the Ashkenazic liturgy for the shacharit/morning prayer service of Rosh Hashana. In this prayer there is an acrostic that begs God, "my son, Elchanan, live into the eternal world." This is apparently a reference to the boy's kidnapping and forced conversion to Christianity.
Legend has it that Rabbi Shimon somehow gained an audience with the pope to plead for the relaxation of Catholic decrees against the Jews and in that meeting both the pope and Rabbi Shimon realized that they were father and son. The chess game between the two was a later embellishment of the original legend.
That Rabbi Shimon's son was kidnapped and baptized is a fact. What happened to him afterwards is open to legend and conjecture.
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Another Gadol who founded a rabbinic dynasty (which intermarried with that of R’ Kalonymos) was R’ Shimon HaGadol (died c. 1020), whose ancestors lived in Le Mans in northern France. Either he or his father moved to Mayence where he became Rosh Yeshiva together with R’ Gershom Me’or HaGolah (see page 117). Rabbenu Tam says of him that “miracles were common with him,” and the Or Zarua quotes a question that came “before the saintly R’ Gershom and R’ Shimon.” His halachic legacy is not large, and he is best remembered for the beautiful poetry he wrote, some of which is included in the liturgy. Following is an excerpt from one of his Selichos that we recite on Tzom Gedalyah, and an excerpt his poem that is commonly recited on the second day of Rosh Hashana: Selichos of Tzom Gedalyah
R’ Shimon HaGadol is also the subject of the following venerable legend (Otzar HaMidrashim):
R’ Shimon HaGadol had a small son by the name of Elchanan who was kidnapped, made a priest and eventually rose to be- come Pope . . .(He questioned closely his subordinates regarding his genealogy, and they answered him) Our holy master, because you demand this of us we will tell you; you are a Jew. You were the son of a prominent Jewish leader and were kidnapped when yet young .
The Pope commanded them to bring his father from Germany, and they did so. R’ Shimon came, atremble with wonder about what the Pope could wish from him . . . The Pope said to him, “Tell me the truth and don’t deny it, did you once have any children that are now lost to you?.”
R’ Shimon answered him, “My Master the Pope, I once had a son named Elchanan but he was taken from me many years ago.” The Pope asked him, “Did he have any marks on his body?” R’ Shimon said yes, and the Pope showed him these selfsame marks on his own body, crying, “My father, my father, I am your son.” The Pope asked his fa-ther, “Will you take me back to be your son and teach me to be a Jew?” His father told him, “My son, you have inadvertently desecrated Hashem’s name, you must now publicly sanctify it.”
Elchanan called together a congress of principal Christian leaders, and declared to them that Christian doctrine was absurd . . . They wanted to kill him, but he denied them the opportunity, throwing himself from the dais that had been erected and killing himself. When his father heard of his martyrdom, he composed a poem to be recited on the second day of Rosh Hashanahas a remembrance of his son Elchanan (this poem is recited by some communities,
This legend contains perhaps a kernel of truth, for there was a Jewish apostate named Peter Pierleone who became Pope Anacletus II in 1130; his election was not widely accepted, mainly because he was of Jewish stock.
The legend: There exists a persistent folk memory of a medieval pope who was Jewish. The various versions agree that there was a Jewish boy who was abducted and raised as a Christian, he became a priest and in time a pope, he learned or knew of his Jewish origins.
In Jewish versions he is thought to have been Elchanan, one of two sons of Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzchak ben Abun of Mainz, a 10th century liturgical poet and an associate of Rabbenu Gershom Me’or HaGolah, “The Light of the Exile”.
The stories involve the pope’s father coming to Rome to plead for anti-Jewish measures to be rescinded. Father and son recognise each other; some say the father describes his son’s birthmarks. Playing chess, both know distinctive moves which the father had taught his son. Perhaps they discuss the Bible and the pope offers interpretations which outsiders would not know.
In some versions the pope had deliberately imposed restrictions on the Jews, knowing that his father would be sent to Rome to intercede with him. In others the pope, obsessed with his Jewish background, summons his father to explain Judaism.
One narrative says that the pope disappears from Rome and returns to Mainz to his father’s house. Another is that, shocked at what he now thinks of as his own perfidy, he decides to perform an act of Kiddush HaShem and commits suicide.
The earliest version of this legend first appeared in the Mayse-bukh (Basle 1602)
Another version, “Rabbi Shimen Barbun oder der drayfakhiker troym” was produced by Vilna’s own best-selling writer Ayzik-Meir Dik (1814-1893) and was published by the house of Romm in Vilna in 1874.
In 1958, Y.Y. Trunk wrote, “Der yiddisher poypst: historisher dersteylung”.
Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1943 published his version of the myth.
"The Jewish Pope: A Yiddish Tale", by Yudel Mark
About Shimon HaGadol of Mainz (עברית)
רש״י היא מילידי ארצות אשכנז בארץ לותיר הוא לוטדינגיאה אביו רבינו יצחק היה ג״כ גדול הדור שמזכירו (ובשה״ק וסה״ד שלכן מביא רש״י בתחילת פירושיו מאמר ר׳ יצחק התנא לעשות זכר לשם אביו שהיה ג״כ שמו יצחק׳ ומש״כ שם עוד בעניניו הם הבלי הבלים) בפירושיו לעבו״ז דף ע״ה (ועיין בערכו).
ואחי אמו הוא רבינו שמעון הגדול השני בן ר׳ יוסף בן ר׳ שמעון הגדול הראשון שמזכירו בפירושיו שבת דף ס״ה ובעירובין (עיין בערכו) ושמש שם לפני רבותיו ואח״כ נתיישב בצרפת בעיר טדיוויש, ושם הרביץ תורה בישיבה עד פטירתו׳ (ולא כמש״כ בשה״ג דהיה רב בטריוויש והיה גירוש בצרפת ובא רש״י לאשכנז (ערך ר׳ שמעון) עיי״ש. וליתא אלא אדרבא איפכא.
Shimon HaGadol of Mainz's Timeline
Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany