Krakow: REMU. The Aristotelian Philosephardic Ashkenazi

Contribute by: dr. Benedetto Ligorio, Ph.D., Post. Doc. and Adjunct of Early Modern History Sapienza University of Rome.

Scientific Bureau Societas Spinozana Italy

REMU or REMAH was born in the second decade of 16th century and died in 1572 in Krakow. Moses Ben Israel Isserles Was the Rector of the Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi of the Askenazim of Krakow. Son of the wealthy merchant Israel Lazarius owner of real estate in Kazimierz and grandson of the wealthy Banker Moses Auerbach of Regensburg father of his mother Malka. His family business interests involved in a not confessionally influenced network the Episcopal court of Regensburg and the Jagiellonian dynasty in Poland.  Moses Isserles was student in Lublin of the Talmudic scholar Shalomon Sakhna and when became rabbi of Krakow Married his master’s doughter Golda who died in the plague of 1552 with the mother of Moses, Malka. His only daughter was Drusilla married to Simon Bunem. In 1553 the Moses’s Father, Israel, founded the “New Sinagogue” of Krakow, in Kazimierz, with the permission of the State authority, in the person of king Sigismund II, despite the opposition of the Church authority. 

His first book was the “Mechir Yayin”, “The price of the wine” a rich commentary to the “Book of Ester”, printed for the first time in Cremona in 1559 by Vincenzo Conti – a wealthy italian publisher involved also in printing of other Ashkenazi texts – and reprinted in Warsaw in 1880.

Isserles distinguished himself for a strictly rationalistic idea of Jewishness. In his “responsa” to the cabalist thinker Salomon Luria placed a strong rationalistic critics to the Kabbalah illusions. In first time he avoided the old questions on permitted and forbitten philosophic knowledge, solved by the previous rabbinical literature (RAMBAM) and prove on this way the weakness of the cultural structure of Luria. Then proved the RAMBAM never forbitten the reading of philosophers as instance of knowledge of the Nature. Then started to defend the Aristotele interpretation of Nature against the wrong confessional conservative idea of the unknowable essence of Nature. And definitely condemned Kabbalah as an incomplete knowledge in comparation to Philosophy.  “I will run away more from engaging in Kabbalah and understanding these words for myself than I will run away from engaging in philosophy” (REMU Responsa 7.3). Regarding the weakness of the methodology of the parable and the similitude of the kabbalah, REMU replies that he has achieved very little with respect to the rigor of logic and Philosophy, and therefore, he prays to abandon the rhetoric of the parable “because the subject is substance and the substance is form, and that is enough”. A materialistic interpretation that undermines the conservative narrative he is inherent in the kabbalistic rhetoric, against which several Jewish thinkers in Europe were simultaneously Lining Up. (Remu Responsa 7.9)

In his work Torat HaChata, printed in Krakow in 1569 criticized of obsolescence the interpretation of the german halakhic authority of Isaac ben Meir Dueren (13th century). The book of Dueren Sha’arei Dura was for the first time published in Krakow in 1534, and had a relevant influence on the conservative and identitarian ashkenazi groups in central Europe. With great courage Isserles proved the completely irrelevance of the book the for the new generations of askenazim and reclaimed the democratization of the knowledge of the halakah who need to be intellegible to every People without distinction. In 1570 published in Prague the Torat-ha-Olah a work of philosophical interpretation of the structure of the Temple, with a strong Hellenistic influence in geometrical and Neoplatonist interpretations.

His main relevant work was the sistematizing of the halakah for the Askenazim starting from the Shulchan Arukh of Joseph ben Ephraim Karo, the “Maran Beth Yoseph” and “HaMechaber” the main relevant Sephardic halakhah interpreter. In the Shulchan Arukh the Sephardic tradition overcome the other traditions and was founded on a strictly rationalistic interpretation flourishing from the Philosopher and physician Maimonides. The Isserles HaMapa, a glossa of the Sulchan Aruch was. Published in Krakow in 1578 few years after his death and was the biggest vector of the Sephardic halakhic interpretation among the Eastern European Ashkenazi communities. In an assimilation of Eastern European Ashkenazi tradition and Sephardic one under the philosophical rationalistic flag.


E. Długosz E. Duda, A Jod łowiex-Dziadzic D. Niemiec, The Bastion of Tradition, MHK Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa, Krakow, 2017.

L. Lewin, Seeing with Both Eyes, Ephraim Luntshitz and the Polish-Jewish Renaissance, Brill, Leiden 2008.

Sheeelot uteshuvut Remah, Warsaw, 1883.

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