A Rabbi, one of the leading interpreters of the Talmud and decisors of Jewish Law during the past 500 years.
A member of a family with distinguished lineage, he was born in Brest-Litovsk
circa 1510 and died in 1573. He was the Rabbi of Lublin and the surrounding area and
the head of its Rabbinical Academy.
Maharshal was a rarely encountered ideal prototype of the Polish rabbinate of his
time. He possessed a strong and independent personality, prolific creative ability and a
highly developed critical sense. In his legal works, he renders his decisions with
authority, unafraid to challenge the rulings of other sages.
In 1555, Maharshal was called to Lublin to serve as the Head of the Yeshiva
which had been founded by Rabbi Jacob Pollack and whose students included such
scholars as Rabbi Shalom Schachne and his son, Rabbi Israel Schachne. Their mode of
study was Pilpul– a search for distinctions among Talmudic principles and texts which
could result in conclusions with little bearing on the actual meaning of the text.
Maharshal opposed this approach and established a new Yeshiva of his own. His
exegetical method was logical and clear, based on well-grounded proofs.
What were the intellectual underpinnings of the Maharshal’s halachic rulings?
His judicial point of departure was that the Talmud is the sole source for determining
authentic Halacha. Therefore, no rabbis, when asked to pronounce judgment
regarding an issue or a dispute, regardless of erudition and brilliance, possess the
authority to issue rulings that contravene the explications and conclusions of the Talmud.
Confident in his system, strong-willed in his opinions, he did not yield to the authority of
others – regardless of reputation. He did not hesitate to offer daring critiques of major
rabbinic scholars, e.g. Maimonides, Rabbi Joseph Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch)
and Rabbi Moses Isserles, (author of notes on the Shulchan Aruch reflecting Ashkenazi
practice), who was his brother-in-law, close friend and confidant.
An example of an independent, critical ruling of Maharshal: Wearing a kipah is not obligatory
Rabbi Karo, had ruled that a Jewish male should always wear a head covering.
Luria, on the other hand ruled that wearing a kipah is not obligatory since there is no
clear mandate for it in Biblical or Talmudic sources. (See Responsum 72 in Machon
His Major Works
Yam Shel Shelomo (Sea of Solomon) – commentary on the Talmud
Chochmat Shelomo (Wisdom of Solomon) – glosses on the Talmud text with brief commentary
Maharshal wrote glosses on the early Venice printing of the Talmud. He
compared this text of the Talmud and the commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists with
older extant manuscript versions. Many of his notes were incorporated in the text of
subsequent printed editions of the Talmud.
Responsa (She’elot uTeshuvot)
In addition to their halachic significance, these Responsa are a prime source for
Information regarding the social and cultural milieu of the Jewish communities of Greater
Poland and Lithuania in the 16th century – the period of its greatest brilliance – and of the
status of the rabbinate at that time and its high ethical standards.
Rabbi Nachman Shemen wrote concerning the Maharshal: “The Yeshiva of
Lublin under the leadership of the Maharshal gained a world-wide reputation for its high
quality. The Maharshal and the Rama (Isserles) were the two leading rabbis of the
sixteenth century whose impact on the Jewish community has endured to our own times.”
Mordechai Margolioth, Entzyklopedia leToledot Gedolei Yisrael, s.v. Luria, Shelomo
haEntzyklopedia haIvrit, s.v. Luria, Shelomo
Entzyklopedia shel Galuyot, Volume 5, Lublin
Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. Luria, Solomon
Translated to English by Rabbi Albert Hollander