Parsha Mitzvot: Tetzaveh: Communal Dispute in Treviso
Rabbi Judah Minz, (born in 1408; died in 1508), was the Rabbi of Padula, Italy, for 47 years, and it is said by tradition to have been also Professor of Philosophy at the University of Padua. Whether or not the tradition is reliable, there is no doubt that he was the leading authority of his day in Italy. Unfortunately, during the sack of Padua, all his manuscripts were burned; but his grandson found 15 of his responsa, which were published together with the responsa of his son and of his son’s son-in-law, Meir Katzenellenbogen. As Rabbi Minz’s name indicates, he was of German extraction and may himself have been an immigrant from Germany. There was a constant immigration from Germany into Italy, and many of the North Italian communities were largely German. This fact explains the sources quoted in the responsa of Rabbi Judah Minz which we will cite.
This Responsum (#7) deals with a dispute in the Jewish community of Treviso. This community, likewise, was largely settled by German Jews and therefore, in dealing with their communal dispute, he cites as his chief authority the great German teacher, RABBI MEIR of Rothenberg as quoted by Rabbi Meir’s disciple, Meir HaKohen.
It is also of interest to note the matters about which members of the community of Treviso fell into dispute with their leaders. The new synagogue being built was costing too much money. Some did not want to build a new mikvah closer to the Jewish quarter. They also found fault with the kindly manner used by the officers of the community when dealing with mendicants. They wanted the wanderers Amanda canst treated less politely so that they would be discouraged from coming. The fault neck
The text of the responsum:
These are the subjects under dispute, one, with regard to the building of the synagogue, the house of our Lord, “the small sanctuary”: according to the way the building is arranged and being erected at the command of the officers of the community or those appointed especially for the building, there is lacking a little money to complete the building in a proper, or the way. Because of this deficit, there are attacks and quarrels with the officers, with some people saying, “you should not have built thus and thus.” All these complaints are really for the purpose of finding an excuse to withdraw from giving enough money to make up the deficit in the building costs.
Second, about the matter of the mikvah: there is dispute over the proposal to build the mikvah in the Jewish quarter.
Third, there is the question of the reception of travelers, or itinerants, by means of tickets for food and lodging which are distributed by an urn as they happen to be picked out. Some say let the itinerant himself, and not the head of the community step up and take the ticket from the urn. This is proposed in order that the poor man shall be embarrassed and not want to come to Treviso anymore. But those who disagree with this proposal say that such embarrassing human treatment is not a true fulfillment of the commandment to welcome strangers, but can be more properly called expelling strangers, and that the custom wherein the officer takes out the tickets and gives them unostentatiously to the itinerant strangers is better. This custom should not be changed, and the poor should not be embarrassed.
This is the statement of the quarrel within your gates.
Since writing is difficult for me, I choose to be brief. In fact, I will transcribe one of the responsa the of my teacher. You must read this and did not deviate from its decision. You should, moreover, know the source of the answer to what you are seeking: it is one of the response of Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg. Most of our customs, especially the customs of the Ashkenazim, follow his opinion. He is one of the later teachers and knew the opinion of all his predecessors. Thus it says of Rabbi Meir’s authority that even where most of the rabbis disagree with him we still follow him. All the more should we follow him in a case where no one disagrees with them.
Now this is the wording of his responsum: “as for your question, dear friend, Abraham Halevi, about what to do, if there is a quarrel in your community and they are unable to come to an agreement in choosing officers with everyone’s consent, one saying one thing, the other saying the opposite, and because of this division of hearts, study of the Torah is neglected and there is no truth in judgment and peace in your city, nor in the whole district which is attached to your city; you ask me how then shall we proceed in this impasse?
It seems to me that they should gather together in a meeting all the taxpayers of the community, who should promise on oath that everyone will give his opinion in the name of God and for the good of the community; and that they should follow the decision of the majority as to choosing officers, appointing cantors, and fixing the treasury for charity, and in appointing Charity officers, building or dismantling the synagogue, adding two were diminishing or acquiring a wedding house, building were destroying it, acquiring the bakery, building or destroying it. In brief, all the needs of the community shall be decided by the majority. If the minority refuse and stand off at a distance and do not do everything as I have said, then the majority shall have the account shall have the power to appoint heads, to compel them to exert pressure, either by the laws of Israel or by the Gentile laws, until the minority gives their consent. He concludes: and thus will will peace be attained. Signed, Meir the son of Baruch of Rothenberg.”
Now, my friends, set your hearts from the pathway that goes up to the house of God. Do not swerve from the road which this great teacher has taught us. Do not deviate to the right or the left, “for his paths are passive pleasantness and all his roads peace.”
What appears to my humble mind and knowledge have I written. But I have made no comment on the statement about the old custom which you say is prevalent in your community about the distribution of food tickets. If you have a fixed custom of which we can say that it was established by worthy scholars of the past, then you must follow. In these matters it is the custom that counts, provided it is a custom established by worthy predecessors. Also, if you have arguments and rejoinders against what has been said above, bring your answers in your witnesses to me and justify your words. I will continue to take trouble to discuss the matter for you, in order to bring peace among you, for great is peace.
Therefore may your piece grow great, as is the wish of him who loves you,