Luria, Rabbi Solomon (Maharshal)

June 15, 2006

Known as the Maharshal, Rabbi Luria was one of the great Ashkenazic poskim (halachic authorities) and teachers of his time. He served as rabbi in various communities in Poland and Lithuania. His major work of halacha, Yam Shel Shlomo, covers sixteen tractates of the Talmud. However, it is extant on only seven tractates. In it, Maharshal analyzes key sugyot (topics) and decides between various authorities as to what the practical halacha should be. He emphasizes the importance of the Talmud as the ultimate source. In his introduction Maharshal alludes to the fact that he was able to study when there was insufficient light as if he were being guided from Heaven.

His Chochmot Shelomo, glosses on the text of the Talmud and comments, is printed in the standard editions of the Talmud. However, it should be noted that the original separately printed version of Chochmot Shelomo is far more extensive and contains much more material.

Maharshal’s responsa contain a good picture of the contemporary questions of the day. There are a number of responsa to Rabbi Moshe Isserles for whom he had great respect but with whom he sharply differed in some areas. He was particularly critical of R. Isserles’ affection for philosophy, which he strongly opposed. Maharshal, was a strong follower of the Kabbala. Rabbi Isserles’ controversial view was that in many areas kabbala and philosophy are grappling with the same problems but using different terminology.

Maharshal was a firm and sharp critic. However, he also invited self-criticism and it was his custom that every day a “mochiach” (critic) would reprimand him as one of the masses.

Almost all of the greatest rabbis of the time were disciples of the Maharshal.