On the 4th of Adar 1307, the Maharam of Rothenburg was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Worms–fourteen years after his death. The rabbi’s remains were released from the fortress of Ensisheim when a ransom was paid by Alexander Suskind Wimpfen, who asked only that, upon his death, he be buried next to the Maharam.

The Maharam of Rothenburg’s actual name was Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam is an acronym for Moreinu Harav Reb Meir, meaning our teacher, Rabbi Meir). He was born around 1215 in Worms, Germany, and was part of a family of Talmudic scholars. In time, Rabbi Meir became the leading rabbinic authority among Ashkenazi Jews. The Maharam corresponded with Jews throughout Western Europe – answering legal questions and giving them guidance.

In 1286, King Randolph I of Germany declared the Jews of his kingdom to be “serfs of the treasury.” In effect, declaring that the Jews were to be the possessions of the king. The Maharam and his family decided to leave and make their way to the Holy Land–Israel. Things went smoothly until Lombardy, when an apostate Jew revealed the Maharam’s identity to the Archbishop.

The Maharam was imprisoned in Ensisheim on the charge that, as “property” of the king, he broke the law by leaving. King Randolph demanded an exorbitant ransom. The Jewish community managed, with great hardship, to collect over 20,000 marks, but the Maharam instructed them not to pay the ransom. As important as the mitzvah of redeeming captives is in Jewish law, the Maharam argued, if the community paid the ransom, it would encourage other rulers to imprison rabbis and extort funds from them.

The Maharam lived in the fortress for seven years until his death in 1293. (It should be noted that, while in captivity, he was allowed visitors and was permitted to teach Torah.)

Today is the 4th of Adar.

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