Great Rabbis of Medieval Austria
The history of the Jews in Austria likely originates in an exodus of Jews from the Roman occupation of Israel. Proof exists of a Jewish presence in Vienna since 1194. The first named individual was Schlom, Duke Frederick I’s Münzmeister (master of the mint).
The existence of a Jewish community in the area is only known for sure after the start of the 12th century, when two synagogues were created. In the same century, the Jewish settlement in Vienna increased with the absorption of Jewish settlers from Bavaria and from the Rhineland.
In 1204, the first documented synagogue in Austria was constructed. In addition, Jews went through a period of religious prosperity and a group of notable rabbis settled in Vienna and were later referred to as "the wise men of Vienna". The group established a beth midrash and it was considered to be the largest Talmudic school in Europe during that period.
In 1238, emperor Frederick II granted the Jews a privilege, and the existence of community institutions such as a synagogue, hospital and slaughterhouse can be proven from the 14th century onwards. Vienna’s city law empowered a special Judenrichter (Judge of the Jews) to adjudicate in disputes between Christians and Jews, but this judge was not empowered to rule in conflicts between two Jewish parties, unless one party filed a complaint with him.
The first Jews lived in the area near the Seitenstettengasse; from around 1280, they also lived around the modern-day Judenplatz. Vienna became a major center of Torah and Kabbalah. Jewish cultural and religious life was located here from the 13th to the 15th century, until the Vienna Gesera of 1420-21, when Albert V ordered the annihilation of the city’s Jews.
- Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna, who lived from 1189-1250, studied with the Tosafists.
- Rabbi Avraham ben Azriel in Ashkenaz. He was considered one of the luminaries of his generation, and he brought the light of Torah to (what is today) Bohemia and, later on, to Vienna. The Or Zarua, which he wrote, is considered to be one of the most important books of Jewish law written by an early Ashkenazi scholar.
- Pater b. Joseph, who was killed in France during the Second Crusade.
- Rabbi Shalom b. Baruch,
- Rabbi Hayyim b. Moses
- Solomon of Vienna,
- Judah b. David,
- Jacob b. Natan.
- Isaac b. Moses (Or Zarua) Isaac of Vienna.
- Avigdor b. Elijah ha-Kohen - Avigdor Katz of Vienna - head of the rabbinate
- Eliezer b. Elijah ha-Kohen
- Rabbi Ovadyah
- Rabbi Hayyim b. Moses of Neustadt.
- Moses b. Hasdai (Taqu) Ketav Tamiym (Nuestadt)
- Hayyim b. Isaac, (son of the Or Zarua) lived and worked in Vienna and Neustadt and wrote responsa.
- Rabbi Israel of Krems
- Veit Munk
- Hayyim Menahem Mann.
- R. Pheobus
- Zacharias Levi
- Gershon Ashkenazi
- Meir b. Barukh haLevy from Fulda "Maharam Segal" (who restored rabbinical ordination)
- Abraham Flesch
- Rabbi Abraham Klausner
- Isaac Hayyim of Opatow
- Rabbi Moshe Neumark of Vienna
- Jacob haLevy from Mayence (Maharil) reported in his book about Vienna as a place of Torah and about the scholars of the city whom he met and with whom he studied.
- Rabbi Shalom headed a yeshiva in Neustadt.
- Rabbi Yisrael Isserlin, who lived from 1370 to l440, was born in Slovenia and came from a distinguished line of scholars. He is considered as the last great rabbi of medieval Austria, and he started yeshivot and ordained other rabbis. He authored the Terumat ha-Deshen, which is written as 354 responsa, and there is speculation that he wrote the questions and answers himself. Another of his famous works, the Esakim u-Kethahim, contains 267 decisions, mostly about marriage law. Rabbi Isserlin also wrote an important commentary on Rashi. After the liquidation of the Jewish community of Vienna in 1420, Rabbi Israel Isserlin was solely responsible for keeping alive the study of Torah in the region. He headed the Neustadt yeshiva for a period of thirty years.
- Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, known as the Tosfos Yom Tov (1579-1654), served for a time as Rabbi of Vienna. After Vienna, he became the Chief Rabbi in Prague, where he was libeled and accused of slandering Christianity. He was sentenced to death and imprisoned in Vienna. It was nothing short of a miracle that his son Shmuel saved the wife and son of a French general who had a prominent position in the court of Louis XIV. The general petitioned on behalf of the Tosfos Yom Tov, and his sentence was overturned. He still had to sell of all of his possessions to pay a large fine, and he was removed as Chief rabbi.