The Unique Judicial Vision of Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk: Selected Discourses in Meshekh Hokhmah and Or Sameah

The Unique Judicial Vision of Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk: Selected Discourses in Meshekh Hokhmah and Or Sameah


Yitshak Cohen
Translated by Meshulam Gotlieb
Edited by Herbert Basser

Series:  Touro University Press
ISBN: 9781618114891 (hardcover)
Pages: 188 pp.
Publication Date: August 2016

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This book analyzes the exceptional normative impact of R. Meir Simcha Hacohen’s Biblical commentary, Meshekh Hokhmah, and his halakhic commentary, Or Sameah. It examines the reliance of the poskim on R. Meir Simcha’s innovations and hermeneutic methods as well as their view of his interpretations that broadened or narrowed the scope of Maimonides’ rulings. The book explores the broad-based judicial principles underlying R. Meir Simcha’s legal decisions and approach to Jewish law. It further examines how his legal creativity was impacted by metahalakhic principles that guided him in addressing changing historical and social realities. The book also considers R. Meir Simcha’s unique attitudes toward gentiles. His approach attests to his innovativeness and his halakhic moderation, as he tried to rule as leniently as possible on matters concerning non-Jews. In this book, R. Meir Simcha is shown to be a truly influential rabbi whose contributions will long be a source of study and discussion.

Yitshak Cohen is an Associate Professor of Law and Senior Lecturer at the Ono Academic College Faculty of Law. He received rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. In 2012 he was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University Law School in New York, and in 2013 he served as a Visiting Professor at McGill University in Montreal. Cohen led various academic programs, including among them a law studies program for religious leaders at Ono Academic College and a Bar-Ilan University program for religious-secular relations. He has published numerous articles in his teaching and research fields of Jewish law, Family Law, and Civil Procedure. He is the Academic Director of the Ono Academic College Faculty of Law, Jerusalem Campus.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Midrashic Technique and Legal Creativity in the Meshekh Hokhmah


1. R. Meir Simcha and the Use of Midrashic Technique to Develop the Law
a. Traditional Reluctance to Use Midrashic Technique to Develop the Law
b. R. Meir Simcha’s Pioneering Adoption of Midrashic Technique to Develop the Law

2. Rejection of R. Meir Simcha’s Rulings Based on Midrashic Technique
a. One Who Kills Someone in the Throes of Death
b. The Amalekite Proselyte
c. Exhuming and Moving a Corpse
d. Self-endangerment to Save the Nation
e. Concluding Remarks

3. Acceptance of R. Meir Simcha’s Exegesis-Based Rulings
a. The Prohibition against Rebuilding Jericho
b. Inheriting Property from a Relative One Has Murdered
c. Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite—Conditional Divorce
d. The “If Two Do It” Exemption

4. The Normative Intent of R. Meir Simcha’s Exegesis-Based Legal Creativity
a. The Prohibition against Abortion: Biblical or Rabbinic?
b. Acts Carried Out by One Who Is Inebriated

5. Gilat’s Assessment of R. Meir Simcha’s Intent
a. Marrying a “Beautiful Captive”
b. Stealing from Outside the Owner’s Domain

6. Supportive Midrashic Exegesis
a. Children of a Convert
b. Sanctity of the Temple Mount


Chapter 2: The Rabbinic Decisors and the Halakhic Material in Or Sameah


1. Expanding Maimonides’ Ruling
a. A Pursuer Who Kills by Gerama
b. Disabling a Mechanical Heart

2. Supplementing Maimonides’ Ruling by Adding One Detail
a. The Pursuer
b. One Who Murders a Person in his Death Throes
c. Saving the Entire Nation of Israel

3. Transforming Legal Ground
a. One Who Takes his Ex-Wife Back: From Prohibition to Remorse
b. Laws of Jealousy and Seclusion: Textual-Criticism Approaches
c. Laws of Jealousy and Seclusion According to the Received Text

4. The Rabbinic Decisors and R. Meir Simcha’s Refinement of Mishneh Torah
a. Acquisition via One’s Movable Property
b. Gerama and Garmei in Tort Law
c. Tosefet Ketubah When the Woman Petitions for Divorce


Chapter 3: Metahalakhic Principles in R. Meir Simcha Hakohen’s Oeuvre

1. Taking Human Nature into Account
a. Preventing the Salvation of the Entire Nation of Israel
b. Is an Individual Obligated to Risk Limb in order to Save Another’s Life?
c. The Reason Women Are Exempted from the Precept to Procreate
d. Should a Minor Exempt Her Co-Wives from Levirate Marriage?
e. Coercing Someone into Observing Religious Norms
f. We Do Not Force an Individual to Circumcise Himself
g. May One Who is not a High Priest Allow Himself to Become Ritually Impure?

2. Dealing Stringently with Changing or Deviating from Societal Norms
a. A Woman Who Calls Off an Engagement to Marry
b. Tortfeasor: Paying According to the Time of Damage
c. One Who Steals from a Thief

3. Are Intention or Action the Determining Factor?
a. Adjudicating the Laws of Sabbath
b. Adjudicating the Laws of the Four Species Based on the Action Taken
c. One Who Digs Pits, Ditches, and Caves for the Purpose of Idolatry
d. Conditions Pertaining to the Wedding Canopy and Betrothal
e. Providing a Post Facto Rationale When Action Was Already Taken
f. Do a Minor’s Actions Testify to His State of Mind?
g. Halitsah


Chapter 4: R. Meir Simcha and His Attitude toward Gentiles


1. Religion and Commandments versus Commerce and Negotiation
a. Prohibition against Usury: No Agency for Gentiles
b. Execution Based on the Testimony of a Single Witness
c. Lien on the Body of a Jew and Lien on Assets Possessed by a Gentile

2. Rulings that May Bring Jews and Gentiles Closer
a. Giving Gifts to a Gentile and Teaching him Torah
b. A Gift Given by a Gentile
c. Increased Quantities by Gentiles
d. Gentile Kings
e. Applying the Law of Orlah to Trees Planted by Gentiles
f. A Gentile Writing a Torah Scroll

3. Distinction between the Laws of Gentiles and Jews
a. Robbing a Gentile and the Commandment to Restore to the Gentile
b. May One Who Contracted a Loan Collect from the Gentile’s Purchaser?
c. Which Commandments Are Bnei Noah Executed For?

4. The Halakhic Attitude toward Gentiles in Meshekh Hokhmah
a. Martyrdom (Dying to Sanctify God’s Name): Is a Ben Noah Allowed to Martyr Himself?
b. Relations between the Proselyte and His Biological Family