Shu”t Mahara”ch Ohr Zarua, by Rabbi Chaim ben Isaac Ohr Zaua of Vienna, Leipzig, 1860 – from the B. Strauss Library.

Maharach01Berthold-Baruch Strauss, born in 1901, was a book collector, originally from Leipzig in Germany, who came to England with his private library in 1933, and was able to add to it significantly in Britain until his early death in 1962.

He had a catalogue of his library printed in 1959.  In the first section he sets out his views very clearly:

“Most of the well-known collections of Hebraica and Judaica, including those of academic, governmental or religious institutions, originated as private collections. When books are incorporated into such official libraries, their brief enjoyment of personality comes to an end…”

Sadly, Strauss passed away in 1962, and the collection was purchased for Yeshiva University in New York in 1966. This was not exactly what Strauss had in mind when writing the piece above.

Maharach02My copy came from the Strauss collection, and has a penciled number that corresponds to the Strauss catalogue.  It has no Yeshiva University stamps or markings. At some time Yeshiva University seems to have sold off apparently unwanted books, perhaps duplicates of books that it already had.  I have previously written about my copy of Turei Even, which also came from the Strauss collection.

Maharach15The book consists of two hundred and sixty one responsa by the Rishon (early sage) Rabbi Chaim ben Yitzchok, known, like his father as ‘Or Zeru’a’. The author was the son of and the book is entitled after Rabbi Yitzchok ben Moshe of Vienna (Or Zeru’a). The title page informs us that this collection of responsa were sent to the leading sages of the time and cover all four parts of the Shulhan Arukh. The front matter consists of an introduction from Rabbi Yehudah ben Alexander, who brought the book to press; Rabbi Mordecai Michael ben Menachem Mendel Jaffe; and then glosses by Rabbi Jaffe.

Rabbi Chaim (Eliezer) ben Yitzchok (late 13th century) was a German rabbi and halakhic authority.  He was orphaned in his early youth. His principal teacher was Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg, whose opinions he frequently cited. He also studied under such eminent scholars as Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel and Rabbi Chaim be Moshe of Wiener-Neustadt. His permanent places of residence were Regensburg, Neustadt, or Cologne and he is said to have spent some years in France. Rabbi Chaim is considered to be one of the last of the Tosafists (medieval French and German commentators on the Talmud).

Rabbi Chaim’s responsa are especially valuable for the light they shed on the people, places, and events of his time. Thus he mentions (no. 110, below) a rabbinical synod which he attended at Mainz in about 1288, in which one of the matters discussed was the taxes imposed on the Jews by Rudolf of Hapsburg. In the same responsum he refers in passing to Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg’s imprisonment.


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