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Rabbi Moses Isserles is Born, 1525/1530

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

On This Day in Jewish History: February 22, 1525/1530

On this day, 1525/1530, Rabbi Moses Isserles is born. Known as the Rama, Rabbi Moshe ben Israel Isserles was born in Kraków, Poland. His great-grandfather was the first Rabbi of Brisk and his father, Israel ben Joseph, was a well-known and wealthy Talmudic scholar who is believed to have headed the Jewish community of Kraków at the time. He began his studies in Kraków under his father and his uncle, Moses Heigerlich, and then studied in Lublin under Rabbi Shalom Shakhna, the city’s Rabbi. Rema studied under Rabbi Shakhna until he was nineteen years old, and was appointed as the Rabbi of Kraków at the age of twenty. Quickly recognized as an outstanding scholar and authority figure of Jewish law, Rabbi Isserles was appointed as a member of the beit din of Kraków in 1550. He also established and supported his own yeshiva in Kraków in that same year. He married Rabbi Shakhna’s daughter, who passed away when she was twenty years old. He and his father later built and named the Isserles Synagogue -- later referred to as the “Rema Synagogue” -- in Kraków in her memory. After her death, Rabbi Isserles married the sister of famous Talmudic scholar Rabbi Joseph ben Mordechai Gershon. They had several children together, one of whom became a Rabbi. Rabbi Isserles gained a reputation for his knowledge of Jewish law, but he also studied philosophy, astronomy, and history. He recognized the importance of philosophy, particularly Aristotle’s teachings, and dedicated time to studying it outside of rabbinical learning. With regard to rabbinical learning, Rema engaged in studying Talmud and Kabbalah, and preferred the simple interpretation of the Torah and its commentaries. Because of his interest in secular subjects, Rabbi Isserles’ writings can be divided into two categories: halakhic works and philosophic, mystical, scientific works. One of his first works, Darkhei Moshe, was commentary on the Tur by Jacob ben Asher and Beit Yosef, Joseph Karo’s commentary on ben Asher’s writing. These notes on the Tur served as the foundation of one of Rabbi Isserles’ most famous works, his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (‘Prepared Table’) by Joseph Karo. This commentary on Karo’s Sephardic code of Jewish law was called HaMapah (‘Tablecloth’), and brought attention to the differences in Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs. Rema’s notes are now embedded in and considered part of the text itself, widely held at the same level of authority as Karo’s words. His other works include a legal guidebook on kashrut laws, a commentary on the Book of Esther, and many more that utilize philosophy, Kabbalah, and law. In his short life, Rabbi Moses Isserles established himself as the “Maimonides of Polish Jewry,” and is considered to be one of the greatest halakhic authorities and scholars of Poland. Rema passed away in Kraków in May of 1572, on Lag Ba’Omer. Rabbi Moses Isserles was buried next to the Rema Synagogue, and his tombstone is inscribed with the words: “From Moses (Maimonides) to Moses (Isserles) there was none like Moses.” His gravesite was visited by thousands of Jews on Lag Ba’Omer until World War II.

 

Resources:


Elon, Menachem. “Moshe (Moses) Isserles: Rema: Rema’s glosses emended and enhanced the Shulchan Aruch.” My Jewish Learning, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/moses-isserles-rema/. “Isserles, Mosh (REMA).” ANU Museum of the Jewish People, dbs.anumuseum.org.il/skn/en/c6/e137736/Personalities/Isserles_Mosh_REMA_. Schechter, Solomon. Seligsohn, M. “Isserles, Moses Ben Israel (ReMA).”

Jewish Encyclopedia, www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8340-isserles-moses-ben-israel-rema#anchor1. Tal, Shlomo. Derovan, David. "Isserles, Moses ben Israel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. www.encyclopedia.com. Weiner, Rebecca. “Moses ben Israel Isserles.” Jewish Virtual Library, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/moses-ben-israel-isserles. Pictures: Picture of Rema’s grave- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Remuh%27s_maceva.JPG Drawing of Rema- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moses_Isserles.jpg Rema Synagogue and cemetary- https://www.inyourpocket.com/krakow/remuh-synagogue-cemetery_16499v Picture of Torah Ha’Chatat by the Rema- https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/51886122_torat-ha-chatat-by-the-rama-rabbi-moshe-isserles Shulkhan Aruch with both commentaries- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SA-EE1b.pdf

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