Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stam Stories #6: The Maharam Rothenburg and 13th Torah

The Maharam (Meir ben Baruch) was one of the last great Tosafists and was the Gadol of his generation. He lived a quite tragic life, witnessing many pogroms, the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1244 and ultimately dying as a prisoner of the King.

In 1286, King Rudolf I declared the Jews servi camerae ("serfs of the treasury"), which had the effect of negating their political freedoms. Along with many others, the Maharam left Germany with family and followers, but was captured in Lombardy and imprisoned in a fortress near Ensisheim in Alsace

The King asked for a very large ransom but after a few years his disciple the Rosh managed to collect just enough to secure his release. The Yam Shel Shlomo, who lived sometime after him, mentions that the Maharam refused to be released invoking the Talmudical law of אין פודים את השבויים יותר על כדי דמיה, as the ransom the King requested was way beyond reason. There's no evidence for that and many researchers say he did consent with the ransom but died while negotiations were in course. 

Be it as it may, the subsequent refusal of the King to release his body added more pain to this very tragic story, which only came to close 14 years later when a ransom was paid for his body by Alexander ben Salomon Wimpfen, who was subsequently laid to rest beside the Maharam.

Many legends are said about the Maharam, among them the claim that even after 14 years without a burial, when he was finally taken out of his cell his body was in perfect state, not decomposed. But this following story caught my attention:
When the Maharam was imprisoned in 1286 he was given access to parchment and quills but not to any Sefarim. Although he knew almost everything by heart, his inability to read from the Torah on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbos frustrated him.   
According to legend, the angel Gavriel visited the Maharam and presented him with the Thirteenth Torah, on loan from heaven. Generations of Tzadikim would descend from heaven and join him in his cell every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos to hear him read from their Sefer Torah.  
Eventually, the Maharam copied the Heavenly Torah onto his own scroll and sealed the copy in a waterproof case which he threw out of his window and into the river Rhine. The Torah floated to the city of Worms where some Jewish fishermen discovered it and placed it prominently in their shul. The Jewish community of Worms suffered terribly during the Chmielniki massacres but the Sefer Torah survived. They read from it every Simchas Torah and Shavuos. Today the Maharam’s Torah is in the Aron Kodesh of the famous Alt-neu shul in Prague.(click here for original article)
Yes it sounds very exagerated and the author of this piece doesn't bring a source but perhaps somebody expounded on what the Maharam wrote in one of his Teshuvot:  
.... I have no books and all what I've written is according what has been shown to me from the heavens...
There's a long way between that and the story but if you consider that Rabbi Yosef Karo, for instance, was widely believed to learn every night with an angelic Maggid (see here), perhaps being the leader of a generation, like the Maharam and Rabbi Karo, grants you these special divine visits. However, I visited the Alt-neu synagogue in Prague and I never heard about this miraculous scroll; I even emailed the community to ask about it - it got me curious!

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