||This volume contains the commentary of R. Menahem ben Solomon Meiri (1249–1316) on the tractate of Sanhedrin. It was published, with the addition of notes and comments, from a manuscript by R. Abraham (Sofer) Schreiber. Added to the end of the volume are comments from R. Akiva Eiger on this tractate that had not been previously published.
R. Meiri was a Provençal scholar and commentator of the Talmud. R. Meiri was born in Perpignan where he spent his whole life. Few biographical details are known of R. Meiri. In his youth he was orphaned of his father, and his children were taken captive while he was still young, but no details of this personal tragedy are known. Among the contemporary scholars with whom he maintained close ties was Solomon b. Abraham Adret; they exchanged many responsa and Adret's teachings assisted him in the writing of his monumental work. R. Meiri was one of the participants in Adret's polemic against Maimonides which ended in Adret's excommunicating any person who read philosophical works in his youth. In a letter to Abba Mari b. Moses Joseph, who handled the entire affair and collected the relevant correspondence, R. Meiri disassociated himself from the attitude of Adret and his colleagues, upholding freedom of thought for the scholars of each country, and freedom from intervention by outside scholars. Extracts from R. Meiri's letter reveal his great interest in philosophy and other secular sciences, and reflect his pride in the local scholars who had acquired proficiency in them.
R. Meiri occupies a central position in the sphere of the talmudic creativity of Provence, not only due to his extraordinary literary fecundity and the comprehensive scope of his works, but also because he summarizes the teachings of his predecessors during the previous three centuries. His literary activity covered halakhic rulings, talmudic exposition, biblical exegesis, customs, ethics, and philosophy. The vast majority of R. Meiri's works remained in manuscript until very recently. A small number of his books were published in the second half of the 18th century and the majority of them - from the beginning of the 20th century up to the present day.
R. Meiri's chief work is the gigantic Beit ha-Behirah on the Talmud, in which he was engaged from 1287 to 1300. In it he summarizes the subject matter of the Talmud, giving both the meaning and the halakhah derived from it. Beit ha-Behirah has been republished almost in its entirety in recent years from a single complete manuscript (Parma). Of particular interest is the introduction to his commentary on Avot, in which he gives the chain of tradition of Torah study from its outset to his own time. It contains valuable material for the knowledge of the history of Torah study in Spain and Provence, and was copied out in full and completed (updated) to his own time by Isaac Lattes in his Sha'arei Ziyyon (ed. by S. Buber, 1885). In addition, R. Meiri wrote commentaries on the Talmud which were expository rather than halakhic in orientation. An abundance of comments handed down by German, Provençal, and Spanish scholars with their different interpretations are incorporated, but each one is given separately to prevent confusion on the part of the reader.R. Meiri was one of the few rabbis of his time to make extensive use of the Jerusalem Talmud in order to clarify the parallel discussions in the Babylonian Talmud. R. Meiri's style contributes much to the lucidity of his presentation. His Hebrew is accurate, precise, and simple. In addition, he succeeded in finding the golden mean between the generally contradictory aims of expository comprehensiveness and halakhic definitiveness.
Meiri wrote several other important works. Hibbur ha-Teshuvah was devoted entirely to ethics and repentance. It may be assumed that toward the end of his life Meiri revised the work, which in its present form, bears the character of a well constructed sermon book. Extracts from it were published in various places; it was published in its entirety for the first time in 1950.
Meiri's commentary to Proverbs, and even more, his commentary to Psalms (1936), reveal all his exegetical and stylistic characteristics as well as his love for explicitness. In them he draws upon the Midrashim and the accepted ethical and wisdom literature of the Middle Ages, and also makes frequent use of the works of the great grammarians, such as Abraham ibn Ezra, Jonah ibn Janah, and the Kimhi family. Corrections to the text of the commentary to Psalms were published in Kobez al Jad, New Series, 4 (1946), 229–40. Another of his works, Kiryat Sefer (1863–81), contains the laws of writing the Sefer Torah, including lists of those words written plene and those written defectively, and of the "open" and "closed" sections of the Torah. Kiryat Sefer, composed in 1306, was considered for many years as one of the three basic works on the laws of writing a Sefer Torah - all the great posekim and masoretes making use of it. Kiryat Sefer was based upon Provencal and Spanish traditions as well as upon a copy of a Sefer Torah written by Meir Abulafia for his own use. However, 150 years after Meiri's death, more and more of Abulafia's manuscripts of Masoret Seyag la-Torah were circulated, which did not correspond with the Sefer Torah Meiri had written and as a result the reliability of Kiryat Sefer began to be called into question. Meiri wrote Magen Avot (ed. by I. Last, 1909) to uphold the customs of Provence in general and Perpignan in particular, against those of Spain, particularly Gerona, held by Nahmanides and brought by his disciples to Provence after its annexation to Spain during the reign of John I (1213–1276). In its 24 chapters, each devoted to the discussion of a different custom, Meiri asserts the value and superiority of these local traditions as against the great authority of Nahmanides.
In recent years many collections of extracts from Meiri's works, arranged according to subject, have been published, including a commentary to the Passover Haggadah (1965; ed. by M. M. Meshi-Zahav); Sefer ha-Middot (idem (ed.), 1966), a guide to proper conduct; and an anthology of his biblical expositions (1957), by J. I. Gad. Meiri stands out as the embodiment of the highest qualities which characterized Provençal Jewry: greatness in Torah combined with a leaning toward, and an appreciation of, philosophy, secular erudition, and the sciences in general; unswerving attachment to custom and tradition coupled with a high-minded tolerance of gentile society, and brilliant Torah creativity, brought to expression in fluent, even poetic Hebrew. Meiri was also the last Provençal scholar to embody this synthesis.