MEDINA, SAMUEL BEN MOSES DE


MEDINA, SAMUEL BEN MOSES DE (known by the acronym Maharashdam; 1506–1589), rabbi, halakhic authority, and communal leader of *Salonika. Medina was descended from a distinguished family of scholars which originated from Spain. He was one of the three outstanding *posekim of Salonika of the 16th century, the others being Joseph ibn *Lev and Solomon b. Abraham ha-Kohen. Medina was dogged by misfortune throughout his life. Orphaned in his childhood, his sister and two of his sons-in-law died in his lifetime and the burden of the maintenance of his widowed daughters and their many children fell upon him. The death of his elder brother, a man of means who had educated him and supported him financially, added to these burdens. The death of his eldest son left a permanent mark on him and affected his health. He was obliged from time to time to undertake journeys, in all probability in order to improve his financial position. Until his position in Salonika was established, he devoted himself completely to study, finding in it consolation for his sorrows. Medina founded a yeshivah in Salonika in which he introduced the system of teaching of the great Spanish talmudic scholars from the time of Isaac *Campanton and his successors. It had many disciples, a number of whom became famous and he himself says that some of them were worthy of heading yeshivot themselves. They include Aaron Abayuv, Joseph ibn Ezra, Abraham di Boton, David Nahmias, and Abraham ibn Aruz. The yeshivah was supported by Donna Gracia Mendes (*Nasi) and was highly praised by his contemporaries.

Medina was the accepted halakhic authority both in his own and succeeding generations for European Turkey and the Balkans. Queries were addressed to him from all parts of the Ottoman Empire and Italy and his published responsa number over 1,000. Jacob Alfandari (Maggid me-Reshit) compares him and Solomon ha-Kohen to "Maimonides and the Rosh (Jacob b. Asher) in their time." Ḥayyim *Shabbetai says of him: "He was an expert judge and of encyclopedic knowledge and one must not deviate an iota from his decisions" (Torat Ḥayyim 3:70). Some even went so far as to take an oath by the names of these two rabbis to give authority to their decisions (Aaron Sasson, Torat Emet 80). Although many scholars such as Isaac Adarbi, Moses of *Trani, Jacob Samut, and even his own maternal grandson Samuel Ḥayyun disagreed with him, his decision always prevailed. His decisions were incorporated in those of Eastern European scholars in later generations. For historians his responsa constitute a most important source for the period in all its aspects, and his decisions are often quoted in modern times by judges in Israel in support of their decisions.

Medina's personality and character emerge clearly from his many responsa. He imposed his authority on litigants by the power of his personality and succeeded in enforcing just compromises even when there was no basis for them in law. This firmness and self-confidence were revealed even in his youth (cf. J. Caro, Responsa Avkat Rokhel, 219). They find striking expression in his stern rebuke to the scholars of Safed, who included Caro, for presuming to intervene in the affairs of the community of Salonika (Resp. YD 80) and he did not refrain from sharp and vigorous language, especially in his polemics.

Medina was original in his method. He would give a decision in accordance with his own judgment when he found no precedent in the halakhot of his predecessors. Utterly fearless, he was alert to all problems which arose from the special circumstances of his time and place, and many of his responsa deal with the social and economic problems which exercised the minds of his contemporaries. Medina applied himself to the communal organization of the Spanish exiles, which he established on a solid juridical basis. In the controversies which reigned in Salonika and elsewhere as a result of the glaring gap between the rich and the poor, Medina maintained the right of the wealthy members of the community to regulate the direction of communal affairs. According to him it was not numbers but quality which counted and it was right that, as had been the custom in Spain, the leadership of the community should be in the hands of those who bear its financial burden, providing they were loyal to religious principles. With all his respect for local custom, he strove to make it accord with the halakhah as he saw it. Where that custom differed from that in force in Spain, he justified the latter on halakhic grounds and encouraged its gradual adoption, whether in the liturgical usage or in matters of sheḥitah, etc. Unlike his predecessors his consistency in this matter did not meet with great opposition. Medina's decisions with regard to *anusim are important and are stamped with the same original approach as he showed in other matters for which there was no legal precedent. He regarded the community of Salonika and especially its educational institutions as being in a unique position, and as a result demanded a greater financial support for them than for the institutions in Ereẓ Israel.

Side by side with his intensive halakhic activity Medina filled certain communal offices. He was the rabbi of the most important and largest congregations of Iberian communities in Salonika among them those of "Gerush" (i.e., of the exiles) and Lisbon, and went to Constantinople on missions on behalf of Salonika. He was called on to decide in the serious disputes which arose in Salonika and other communities, and succeeded in preventing schisms. His authority is seen in the fact that his signature appears on the majority of the communal regulations (haskamot) which have come down. Unlike many of his contemporaries of Spanish provenance Medina did not engage in Kabbalah, nor did he enter deeply into philosophy and secular studies. He was the man of halakhah and the communal leader par excellence. Despite his often unsatisfactory financial position he refused to take advantage of the exemption from taxes granted to scholars. Toward the end of his life legends were woven about him.

Medina's responsa were published during his lifetime in two volumes (Salonika, 1585?–87) and an improved edition in three volumes (Salonika, 1594–98). A considerable number also appear in the works of other scholars, while others are still in manuscript. Thirty of his sermons were published in Ben Shemu'el (Mantua, 1622) and his novellae on a number of tractates of the Talmud are still in manuscript.

Medina's son Moses was a man of means and a scholar. He was responsible for the founding of a Hebrew printing press in Salonika in 1594 and published his father's responsa. He succeeded his father as rabbi of the Portugal community in Salonika.

Moses had two sons, Judah and Shemaiah. The former, a dayyan in Salonika, was murdered by an assassin hired by a Jew because of a verdict given against him. This tragedy caused his brother, who was also a scholar and communal leader of Salonika, to move to Venice where he became one of its scholars. He published his grandfather's Ben Shemu'el, and some of his poems were published in Ḥadashim la-Bekarim (Mantua, 1622).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Conforte, Kore, index; Jacob Luzzatto, Kehillat Ya'akov (Salonika, 1584), preface; Azulai, 1 (1852), 176 no. 122; A. Danon, in: REJ, 40 (1900), 206–30; 41 (1900), 98–117, 250–65; I.S. Emmanuel, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique (1936), 167–75; idem, Maẓẓevot Saloniki (1967), index; Rosanes, Togarmah, 2 (1937–382), 115–18; M.S. Goodblatt, Jewish Life in Turkey in the XVIth Century, as Reflected in the Legal Writings of Samuel de Medina (1952); M. Molho, in: Sinai, 41 (1957), 36–48; J. Katz, in: Tarbiẓ, 27 (1958), 204; I.R. Molho and A. Amarijlio, in: Sefunot, 2 (1958), 35–39; I. Kister, in: Saloniki Ir va-Em be-Yisrael (1967), 38–41; A. Nimdar, in: Mi-Mizraḥu-mi-Ma'arav: Koveẓ Meḥkarim be-Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Mizraḥ uve-Magreb (1974), 295–331.

[Joseph Hacker]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.