Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk and His Attitude toward Gentiles

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism
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This article examines various issues in R. Meir Simha Hacohen’s (rms) halakhic approach toward gentiles. His approach demonstrates innovation, and it attests mostly to moderation and an effort to reach a compromise with gentiles. We see that his halakhic and judicial approach does not advocate a complete detachment between Jews and gentiles; on the contrary, it encourages increased relations between them. On all the issues examined here, where the Halakhah could be interpreted in a strict manner or leniently, rms follows the approach that facilitates relations between Jews and gentiles. His position is consistent and forms a broad fundamental approach according to which, whenever it is possible to set the laws governing the relations between Jew and gentiles on an even footing, one should make an effort to do so. The article exposes several broad principles in rms’s attitude toward gentiles, for example, the rationale that distinguishes between religious matters and worldly affairs. The laws governing the latter apply to gentiles as well and are identical for gentiles and Jews. The article also shows that rms issued a series of rulings aimed at compromising with gentiles and bringing Jews and gentiles closer together. The article explains rms’s approach of meeting gentiles half way by examining the historical and sociological circumstances within which he acted, including the fact that in Eastern Europe his Jewish circle did not perceive itself as self-referential and conservative. This enabled rms to develop his moderate approach.

Review of Rabbinic Judaism

Ancient, Medieval, and Modern (Formerly: The Annual of Rabbinic Judaism)




See, e.g., Resp. Or Sameah 2, 18; Resp. Or Sameah 2, 48, etc.


See Rabbeinu Nissim, Ketouboth, p. 44, n. 2, in HaRIF, and also Meirath Einayim, Choshen Mishpat p. 66, n. 55.


Sifra Kedoshim, chap. 3, halakhah 2.


See, for example, Derora Pilpel, “The Seller and the Buyer Should Be Cautious,” in Iyunei Mishpat 5 (1976), pp. 94, 332.


See, for example, Aaron Anker, “The Claim of Being Ignorant of the Rule in Jewish Criminal Law,” in Mishpatim 25 (1995), p. 87 (Heb.); Arie Edrei, “Command or Error: About the Obligation to Obey in the Halakhic Conception,” in Iyunei Mishpat 24 (2000–2001), p. 463 (Heb.); Ben Zion Lahav, “Ignorance of the law,” in Law Studies 6 (1988), p. 165.


For a historic background see Z. Falk, “On the Historic Background of the Rules for Non-Jews,” in Zion 49 (1979), pp. 57–65.


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