Kinah 41: Shaali Serufah B’Aish

Jul 26, 2010

When confronted with tragedy, a person usually responds with strong emotions.  These feelings can make it difficult to organize one’s thoughts and think logically. The solution in such a situation would be to write down one’s thoughts. Similarly, On Tisha b’Av, a day of national tragedy, it is difficult to recall and lament the many different misfortunes that befell the Jewish people throughout the generations. Therefore, throughout the ages, different paytanim have composed the kinos that we recite on Tisha b’Av in order to help us direct our emotions.

This kinah, Shaali Serufah B’Aish, was composed by R’ Meir ben Baruch who was also known as the Maharam of Rothenberg. During his lifetime, Nicholas Donin of La Rochelle, an apostate who was quite vicious in his hatred towards the Jews, suggested to the French king, King Louis IX, that the way to eradicate the Jews was to destroy the Talmud and its commentaries. He lodged a formal complaint against the Talmud, arguing that it contained sacrilegious statements towards Christianity. On March 3, 1240, the Pope ordered all of the copies of the Talmud to be collected from the Jewish homes and for a public debate to be held between Donin and four eminent rabbis of the time in order to determine the validity of these charges. The fate of these holy sefarim was sealed even before the debate began, and two years later, twenty four wagon loads of sefarim were burnt. This occurred two centuries before the invention of the printing press, so these copies of the Talmud were quite expensive and took years to write. In addition, many of the commentaries were one of a kind as they had not yet been disseminated around the world. It would take years to replenish this loss, and this tragic incident left France bereft of any written Torah. The Maharam actually witnessed this terrible tragedy and composed this kinah commemorating it.

The Gemara in Moed Katan states that one who is in the presence of a Jew who has died is obligated to rend his garment. Similarly, one who witnesses the burning of a Sefer Torah must also tear kriah. The Ramban, in his work Toras Haadam, explains that a person’s soul in his body is analogous to Hashem’s name on the parchment of a Sefer Torah. We are eternally connected to the Torah, it is what gives our lives meaning and purpose. Without the Torah, we are simply bodies without souls.  Ironically, being an apostate, Donin knew the value of Torah, and recognized its destruction as a catalyst towards the obliteration of Jewish life in France.


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