Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Katzenellenbogen, Meir ben Isaac

KATZENELLENBOGEN, MEIR BEN ISAAC (known as Maharam (acronym of Morenu Ha-Rav Meir) of Padua; 1473–1565), one of the greatest Italian rabbis and halakhists of his time. Meir's father was the son-in-law of Jehiel *Luria, the first rabbi of Brest-Litovsk (Brisk). Meir was born in Prague where together with Shalom *Shakhna he studied under Jacob *Pollak. From Prague he went to Padua, where he studied under Judah b. Eliezer ha-Levi *Minz, marrying his granddaughter, Hannah, daughter of Abraham b. Judah ha-Levi *Minz. In 1525, after his father-in-law's death, he was appointed rabbi of the Ashkenazi synagogue of Padua, serving there until his death. Meir was also head of the council of regional rabbis in Venice and he took an active part in their meetings despite his many other responsibilities. Many rabbis, including Moses *Isserles, addressed him in their responsa as the "av bet din of the republic of Venice." He also represented the Padua region at Venice meetings in matters of a general nature, not only in religious affairs. On June 21, 1554 the heads of seven Italian communities (Venice, Rome, Bologna, Ferrara, Mantua, Reggio, and Modena) assembled in Ferrara and enacted takkanot for the benefit of the population. Katzenellenbogen presided and headed the list of signatories in the capacity of "delegate of representations of the republic of Venice." He was renowned for his modesty, his benign disposition, and the fatherly interest he took in the students in his yeshivah of Padua, to which aspiring scholars streamed from near and far. The great esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries found expression in a tablet affixed to his seat in the Ashkenazi synagogue which read, "No man [has] sat there till this day," as testified by Isaac Ḥayyim Kohen, a cantor who saw the tablet 120 years after Meir's death. In 1555 Joshua *Soncino of Constantinople appealed to him to intervene against the boycott by the Jews of the port of *Ancona, a boycott supported by Don Joseph *Nasi, his mother-in-law Gracia Mendes *Nasi, and the greatest rabbis of Turkey. It is not known, however, whether Meir took any action. In 1558 he signed two bans against the study of Kabbalah. The great scholars of the generation, including Samuel di *Modena, Isaac *Foa, Joseph *Katz, Solomon *Luria, Moses Isserles, Obadiah *Sforno, and Moses *Alashkar, were in halakhic correspondence with him.

His son Samuel Judah succeeded him after his death. Katzenellenbogen published the responsa of Mahari Mintz and Maharam Padua (Venice, 1553), including 16 responsa of Judah Minz salvaged from his writings, followed by the Seder Gittin va-Ḥaliẓah of Abraham Minz, completed by Katzenellenbogen, and finally 90 of his own responsa, and Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (Venice, 1550–51), with his own glosses and novellae. The publication of the Mishneh Torah, with an abridgment of Katzenellenbogen's commentary and without Katzenellenbogen's knowledge, by Marcantonio Justinian, rival of Katzenellenbogen's co-publisher, the non-Jewish printer Bragadin, gave rise to a quarrel and recriminations and led finally to the burning of the Talmud in 1554 by order of the pope. Moses Isserles placed a ban on Justinian's Mishneh Torah. In 1563 Katzenellenbogen, together with his partner, Ezra b. Isaac of Fano, published in Mantua the Midrash Tanḥuma. In 1546 he published in Heddernheim, Germany, seliḥot (penitential prayers) with omissions and changes dictated by censorship. S.I. Mulder (see bibliography) claims that the first portrait to be painted of a Jew was that of Katzenellenbogen, which was made without his knowledge.


Ghirondi, in: Kerem Ḥemed, 3 (1838), 91–96; S.I. Mulder, Eene zeldzame medaille (1859), 3; Zunz, Gesch, 255f.; Zunz, Ritus, 148; I. Eisenstadt and S. Wiener, Da'at Kedoshim (1897–98), 82–84; S. Assaf, Mekorot u-Meḥkarim (1946), 240–6; M. Straschun, Mivḥar Ketavim (1969), 168–86; Schwarzfuchs, in: Scritti in Memoria di Leone Carpi (Italian pt.; 1967), 112–32; Siev, in: Hadorom, 28 (1968), 160–95; Tishby, in: Perakim, 1 (1967/68), 131–82; I.S. Lange, in: Miscellanea di Studi in Memoria di D. Disigni (1969), 49–76 (Heb. pt.).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.