Rabbi Elijah of Oxford: The Most illustrious Jew of the Middle Ages in England

Thursday, 3 March, 2016 - 1:01 pm

One of the most illustrious Jews of the Middle Ages in England was Rabbi Elijah Menachem of Oxford, known as Rabbi Elijah of London, where he lived most of his life. He was son of Rabbi Moses of Oxford and known in Norman medieval England as Magister Elias fil’ Magistri Mossei. Much has been written about the details of the life of this great rabbi of the 13th century, which served as the subject of a presidential address by Oxford Jewish historian Cecil Roth (1899-1970) before the Jewish Historical Society of England in December, 1943, subsequently published as an article in the Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England[1].


In this essay we will first present an outline of the life of this great Jewish personality of medieval England, based on the research of Cecil Roth, and then present parts of his Jewish legal writings, critically analyzing the rulings in view of the rabbinical contemporaries of his time, particularly the Tosafist rabbis in France and Maimonides in Spain.


In addition, as the development of Jewish law as a legal code was in its formative stage in the 13th century - the widely accepted work of the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) was only formally codified in the sixteenth century by Rabbi Joseph Karo - we will also be able to compare some of Rabbi Elijah’s rulings in the context of the later development and establishment of Jewish law.


Most importantly, however, I would like to argue that Rabbi Elijah was not merely conveniently recording Jewish legal rulings for his English co-religionists, but was carving out a unique approach to Jewish law in 13thcentury England that is evidently not beholden to the better known Tosafist rabbis in nearby France or to the great legal work of Maimonides in Spain, whom he refers to as Harav HaSfardi (the Spanish rabbi); he follows the French rabbis in some cases and Maimonides, against the French rabbis, in others. This sympathetic view to Maimonides over the French Talmudists is particularly significant in light of the opposition of many French Rabbis to Maimonides, including Elijah’s own teacher, the great Talmudist and Tosafist Rabbi Samson of Sens (1150-1230), who sharply criticized Maimonides for the lack of Talmudic sources in his legal work Mishneh Torah, advised against studying the work, and was critical of Maimonides’ rationalistic views on resurrection and the Talmudic Aggadic teachings[2].


In this regard, I am presenting a view that 13th century English rabbis were independent thinkers in relation to Jewish law, despite being dwarfed by the far larger and more authoritative centres of Jewish learning in France. In matters relating to Jewish law and communal affairs, the English rabbis, small in number, were clearly becoming increasingly self-confident and self-reliant. I will conclude by arguing that this rabbinical independence of Rabbi Elijah of London may have been influenced in part by the delicate socio-economic environment of the Jewish community of England of the 13th century.


Rabbi Elijah of London’s family


Rabbi Elijah was born into one of the most distinguished Jewish families of the Middle Ages. His nephew, Moses ben Jacob, who experienced the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, documented his family tree on the pages of a Siddur (prayer book) that he brought with him from England. According to this family tree, the family were descendants of Rabbi Shimon Hagadol (the great) of Mainz, who lived about the year 1000 and whose prayers were included in the Hebrew prayer book. The first to settle in England was Moses of Bristol ben Isaac who subsequently moved to Oxford where he died around 1184. Moses of Bristol and his wife Belaset or Rachel had three sons: Shimon, Isaac and Yom Tov, author of Sefer Hatenaim (the Book of Conditions), a text on Jewish law and grammar. Rabbi Yom Tov had a son Moses (d. 1268) who was a great rabbinic scholar, quoted among the works of Tosafists[3], and author of Sefer Hatamim vehaneginot, an important work on Biblical punctuation and accentuation. Reflecting his stature, Moses, grandson of Moses of Bristol, is referred to in the records as Magister Mosseus of London. Moses married Antera daughter (fil’) of Jacob, sister of Tosafist Rabbi Eljah of York[4], who was killed in the massacre in York in 1190. Together they had six sons: 1. Rabbi Elias or Elijah, the subject of this essay 2. Jacob (d. 1277), who is known for selling a property in Oxford to Walter de Merton, which became the nucleus of the current day Merton College. 3. Deulecresse (d. 1269), whose son was the last Archpresbyter of English Jewry. 4. Rabbi Berachiah or Benedict of Lincoln, a prominent rabbi whose Jewish legal rulings are quoted in rabbinical works.[5] He was arrested as part of the blood libel relating to the death of Hugh of Lincoln in 1255 but subsequently released after the intervention of the mother of Hugh who declared him innocent. 5. Vives (d. 1274). 6. Hagin (d. 1280) who lived in Lincoln and in 1257 was appointed Archpresbyter of English Jewry.




Elijah was born around 1200[6] in Oxford or London and died in 1284. He is known in Hebrew as Rabeinu Elijah Menachem and in secular records as Magister Elias fil’ Magistri Mossei of London. He became one of the greatest Talmudists and Halachists in medieval England before the expulsion, having studied under the tutelage of three prominent teachers: his father Rabbi Moses ben Yom Tov, Rabbi Benjamin of Canterbury (Cambridge?) and outstanding French Tosafist Rabbi Samson ben Avraham of Sens (c. 1150-c.1230), who was among the 300 French and English Jews who immigrated to Israel in 1211 and a known opponent of Maimonides. A manuscript copy of his work on the Talmud tractate Bechorot is in the Bodleian library[7].


Elijah’s father Moses, grandfather Yom Tov and great grandfather Moses of Bristol all lived and had prominent residences in the Oxford Jewry around what is today called St Aldates. After Rabbi Moses moved to London, they had their residence on Milk Street, London, where Elijah also lived, before moving to Candlewick Street (today Cannon Street) near the River Thames. He bought a large stone house with a sun parlour in the parish of St Nicholas.


Elijah married twice, first to Pucelle, who is known to have engaged in business transactions together with him in 1253. When Pucelle passed away, he remarried by 1267 a wealthy widow Floria, formerly wife of Samson of Northampton, who had children of her own. Elijah had 6 children: Cresse (who died young leaving his wife Chera and son Leo), Abraham, Isaac, Benedict, Moses and Leo.


In his younger years, in 1251, Elijah wrote his Mishnah commentary. He was however not only a great rabbinical scholar but also a financier and physician, as evident from the detailed records of his transactions between 1253 and his passing in 1284. One can construct an outline of his life based on the research of Cecil Roth as follows: in 1253 he leased a house on Milk Street from Aaron of York. In 1262, Elijah was promised that the king would not grant remission of his debts for five years. In the Barons War of 1264-1267, Elijah and his family suffered major loss of property and were forced to move to Normandy. When they returned to London, in order to help restore economic activity of the Jews, the king renewed his promise to Elijah not to grant remission of his debts, first for five years, and then extended to ten years. To compensate the losses, in 1266, he received special permission to seize his pledges for his unpaid loans and also a grant of £50. Similarly, in 1266 a debt owed to him by Robert Ufford and Phillip d’Arcy was cancelled by royal authority, but was compensated by a remittance in taxation. In 1268, Elijah was exempt from paying tallage for four years through the intervention of Papal legate.


In 1269 he was called upon to act as tax collector from the Jews and to collect four marks of gold for the king, for which he had to borrow from Henry de Winton. In 1271, despite the restrictions on Jews from selling loans owed to them by Christians, Elijah and his brother Hagin were granted permission to transfer a debt from Roger Bertram to the Queen. In 1272, Elijah and his brother Hagin again were called as tax collector to raise 6,000 marks in Tallage to assist with the cost of the crusade by Henry III’s son, Edward, which they failed, due to the impoverished state of the community. In 1275, he complained that he paid the whole sum levied upon him, but was being asked for an additional £25 6s 8d.


In 1275 the Statute of the Jews was passed that forbade Jews from selling property that they had acquired through their business, as well as prohibiting Jews from lending as a means of livelihood. According to historians, this was a failed attempt at social engineering to force Jews into other areas of commerce. Elijah however was given special permission to dispose of some of his property to Christians and together with his son, Cresse, was also given a license to trade in commodities. They subsequently began to put their energies in the corn and wool trade, for which they seemed to have gone overseas for in 1277-8. In addition, in 1280 he imported from Gascony seven tuns of wine “made according to Jewish rite”.


In 1278, Jews across England were accused of the capital offence of coin clipping and Elijah was not immune and had to pay the vast sum of 1,000 marks “for trespass touching the King’s money.” In 1279, he paid this off in instalments of 50 marks a week coming a total of 450 marks. In 1280 Elijah is granted permission to call in his debts of £500, despite the prohibition to lend on interest since the Statute of Jewry in 1275.


In 1280 we also find Elijah acting as a witness together with the Mayor of London on a deed for the acquisition of a property on Catte Street from Aaron fil’ Vives for the purpose of constructing a synagogue. Furthermore, in 1282 Elijah acted as the head of the community relating to purchase of land from Martin le Bas in the Parish of St Giles outside Cripplegate for the purpose of extending the Jewish cemetery.


His business associates included Benedict of Winchester, Gamaliel of Oxford, and Aaron fil’ Vives. We know that he lent money to many people not only in London but also in counties across the country. Borrowers included: the Queen Mother, Eleanor of Provence, Sir Norman d’Arcy, Robert Ufford, Phillip d’Arcy, Walter de Huntercombe, Nicholas de Lenham, Sir Robert Burnel, Sir William Montgomery, Sir William de Boyville, Master Nicholas Waddingham, Guy de Rochford, David Ashby of Northamptonshire, the Abbot and Convent of Stratford, William de Mortimer and a certain William Bukweyt.


The properties he owned at various times of his life included part of a property on Milk Street, inherited from his father; another property on Milk Street that formerly belonged to Aaron of York, adjacent to the house of his nephew Cok Hagin; his main commodious residence on Candlewick Street; other property elsewhere from Aaron of York; a property on Colechurch Lane, London, given to him by King Henry’s brother, Richard, the Earl of Cornwall and property that he purchased from the crown formerly owned by Elias le Eveske, who was Archpresbyter of the Jews before he converted to Christianity. Elijah similarly was granted property in Northampton, confiscated by the king from Elias fil’ Esther.




From 1263 Elijah goes from being called “Son of Master Moses” to Magister Elias son of Magister Moses – Master of the Law”. This indicates his rabbinical standing among the Jews of London as an authority in Jewish law. The teachings of Elijah can be divided into four sections. One is a commentary of discussions and rulings derived from the first order of the Mishnah Zeraim[8] that includes the tractates of Berachot, Kilayim, Pesachim, Terumot, Maser Sheni, Challah and Orlah. A second section is a running commentary on the Mishnaic tractate of Berachot. A third work is a commentary with legal rulings on the Passover Seder ‘Pirush L’Seder Leil Pesach’; a fourth section is teachings and rulings that can be found cited in the work of Rabbi Mordechai ben Hillel of Nuremberg (d. 1298). MJL Sachs compiles the first three categories of these teachings in the The Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London (published by Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem 1965).


We will proceed to present a selection of seven teachings and rulings from the works of Rabbi Elijah and compare them to the rulings of the Tosafist and Maimonides offering us broader insight into the life and intellectual activity of Rabbi Elijah, and, most importantly, as mentioned earlier, to demonstrate the intellectual independence of the rabbis of England of the 13th century in relation to their contemporaries of France and Spain.


Liturgy of blessings


There are two formats for the liturgy of the blessings in Jewish law: one is with the prefix ‘concerning’ (al) the performance of a particular commandment; another format is the blessing with the prefix ‘to’ (l’) perform a particular commandment. What is the reason for this difference? The Tosafists argue the distinction is: when a commandment is a protracted activity, as lighting a Shabbat candle before sunset on Friday that continues to burn on Shabbat, one uses the prefix ‘to’; when one performs a momentary commandment, as eating Matza that is completed upon consumption, one uses the prefix ‘concerning’. Maimonides makes a different distinction: when a blessing is recited to discharge one’s own obligation of a mitzvah one uses the prefix ‘to’; when a commandment is performed to also discharge another person’s obligation, one uses the prefix ‘concerning’. Elijah clarifies that he views the distinction of the Tosafists as forced and prefers the view of Maimonides[9].


Partial Hallel


There is a dispute between Maimonides and the Tosafists regarding whether one should recite a blessing when reading the partial Hallel prayer - a verbatim recitation from Psalms 113-118, which is used for praise and thanksgiving on Jewish holidays. This is relevant for example on the semi-festival of the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) and on the intermediate days of Passover when only sections of these Psalms are recited. Maimonides rules that a blessing should not be recited over the partial Hallel:


A blessing is not recited over all practices that are customs. This applies even to a custom established by the prophets - for example, taking the willow branches on the seventh day of Sukkot. Needless to say, a blessing is not recited over customs established by the Sages - e.g., the partial reading of Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and on the intermediate days of Passover.[10]


This view is followed also by French Talmudist Rabbi Simcha ben Shmuel of Vitry (d. 1105)[11]. The French Tosafist Rabbi Ya’akov ben Meir Tam, known as Rabeinu Tam (1100-1171), however, maintains that that one should recite a blessing over the partial reading of Hallel on the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh)[12]. Elijah in this case appears to follow Rabeinu Tam that a blessing may be recited for the reading of the partial Hallel and in order not to confuse between the two readings of Hallel, it is recommended that the blessing should explicitly include the words ‘complete’ for the complete Hallel[13].


Blessing over standing before the aged


There is a dispute in Jewish law whether one is required to recite a blessing over commandments that are related to social interactions between people. Maimonides maintains a person should recite blessings only over Mitzvot that are related to man and G-d. Maimonides writes[14]: “A person should recite many blessings that are required. Thus, David declared [Psalms 145:2]: "I will bless you each day." However, Maimonides differentiates between practices between man and G-d and man and man[15]: “A blessing should be recited before fulfilling all positive commandments that are between man and G-d, whether they are Mitzvot that are obligatory or are not obligatory.”


Elijah however does not make such a distinction. He writes[16]:


“It appears to me that one should make a blessing on every positive commandment. At times, I would be accustomed to say a blessing on standing before the aged, and honouring an old man[17], and similarly with all other positive commandments.”


Rabbi Elazar ben Moshe Azikri (1533-1600) similarly writes[18] that Elijah would recite a blessing even before giving charity and offering a loan to the poor.


Reciting Kiddush over bread


A challenge in medieval England appears to have been the difficulty of importing kosher wine that is necessary for kiddush (literally, "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine to sanctify the Shabbat and Jewish holidays), as non-kosher wine is prohibited according to Jewish law[19]. In 1280, Elijah was in fact involved in importing from Gascony seven tuns of wine “made according to Jewish rite”. There is a dispute in Jewish law regarding reciting the Kiddush when no kosher wine is available. Rabeinu Tam is of the opinion that kiddush may not be recited on any other food or drink other than wine[20].


Maimonides however disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam and writes[21]: 


A person who desires to partake of bread more than of wine, and similarly, a person who has no wine, should wash his hands, recite the blessing hamotzi, and then recite kiddush. Afterwards, he should break bread and eat. Havdalah, by contrast, may not be recited over bread, but only over wine.


Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (1250 or 1259 – 1327), known as the Rosh, presents a third opinion: “If there is no wine, one may make kiddush over a different drink that is enjoyed as replacement for wine in the country where the person resides, called chamar hamedinah.”


In this case Elijah follows the view of Rabbeinu Tam, while rejecting the view of Maimonides. It would be in this context that in 1280 he went to great lengths to import kosher wine from Gascony[22].


A Sukkah roof


There is a dispute whether one may use a Sukkah roof for one’s personal use, as opposed to decorative purposes. Spanish Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aderet, known as Rashba (1235-1310), comments that it was common practice to make use of the Sukkah roof for hanging things for one’s own purpose[23]. French Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi[24], as well as the Tosafot[25] also imply that it is permitted to place items over the Sukkah roof for personal benefit[26].


Elijah however rules[27], in opposition to the French rabbis, that it is prohibited to spread out fruit or other things over the roof of a Sukkah. The reason for this is similar to the law against counting money at the light of the Chanukah Menorah[28]. This ruling of Elijah indicates that in medieval England it may have been customary, particularly among Jews from France, to not only decorate a Sukkah with hanging fruit and embroidered clothing[29] but also use the roof of the Sukkah for personal use[30]. 17th century Polish Rabbi Abraham Gombiner (c. 1636-1682), known by the title of his commentary to Jewish law, Magen Avraham[31], confirms that it is no longer customary to place articles on the Sukkah roof[32].


Aramaic translation of the Kedusha of the Order


In the morning prayers there is a custom to recite three verses in sequence that includes a verse from Isaiah (6:3) “Holy, Holy, Holy is G-d Master of Legions, His glory fills the world”; Ezekiel (3:12) “And a wind lifted me up, and I heard behind me the sound of a great uproar: Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place”; and Exodus (15:18) “The Lord will reign to all eternity”. These verses are followed by their translation in the Aramaic (vernacular of the time), so that even the illiterate may engage in some daily Torah study. This prayer is called Seder Kedusha or inAramaic Kedusha d’bei Sidra and described in the Talmud[33] to have the spiritual power to sustain the world from deterioration.


There is a dispute in Jewish law pertaining to two aspects of this prayer: whether this prayer should be recited when praying alone and whether the Aramaic should be cited in an undertone or audibly. Maimonides[34] writes that it should not be recited when praying alone. Spanish Rabbi Nissim of Gerona, known as the Ran (1320-1380), as well as the earlier Gaonic rabbis, maintain however that it should be recited[35]. Elijah brings both views as legitimate opinions.


Regarding the manner of how the prayer should be recited, Maimonides[36] writes that it should be recited audibly, as the whole reason for the translation – a rarity in the prayer book - was so that the illiterate can understand the meaning of these verses[37]. The mystics however argued that the prayer should be said in an undertone. This view is quoted in the 16th century code of Jewish law[38]. Elijah is however forceful in his view that the Aramaic should be recited audibly for the reasons that Maimonides gives.


Counting a minor in a quorum


The standard age of a child to be included in the prayers is thirteen. There is a dispute pertaining to counting a minor in a quorum for the purpose of the invitation to Grace after Meals or mezuman.


Maimonides and Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (1013-1103)[39] maintain that a minor may be counted in a quorum of ten or three for Grace of Meals as long as the child is of an age of comprehension of the Divine to whom the Grace after Meals is being recited[40]. Talmudist Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (born in Germany 1250, moved to France and settled as rabbi in Spain, where he died in 1328), maintains that a child under thirteen years old may not be included at all in the invitation to Grace after Meals.


Elijah appears to follow the opinion of Maimonides in a quorum of ten, but argues that a minor may not be counted in a quorum of three[41]. The present Ashkenazic custom, as codified by Rabbi Moses Isserles (1520-1572), known by his acronym Rema, is that a minor may not complete a quorum of either ten or three for the invitation to Grace after Meals.




From the seven cases in Jewish law that I have presented, one can now observe that the views pronounced by Rabbi Elijah, firstly, do not exclusively follow the French legalists, secondly, show that cognisance of the works of Maimonides have been taken[42], against advice of his French teacher Samson of Sens. In summary: In the liturgy style of the blessings Elijah feels more comfortable with Maimonides’ rationale than the Tosafists; in the recitation of a blessing over the partial Hallel, he follows the Tosafists over Maimonides; regarding reciting Kiddush over bread when there is no wine, he also follows the Tosafists over Maimonides; for the use of a Sukkah roof for personal benefit, he appears to follow Maimonides over the French sages; the need audibly to recite the Aramaic prayers follows the view of Maimonides, as opposed to the accepted custom today, based on the Zohar; and in regard to including a minor in the invitation for Grace after Meals, Elijah appears to chart his own view that is neither like Maimonides, nor the other medieval sages, including Rabeinu Asher, whose view becomes the accepted custom today.


One may, then, infer, in effect, that Rabbi Elijah consistently maintained his own independence of thought in his legal rulings, quite irrespective of the rulings of other authorities, and strove only to reach the correct ruling that served for the Jews of England.


Reason for independence


A possible reason for this staunch independence of Jewish legal reasoning is because of the case of David of Oxford that would have made considerable waves amongst the rabbis of the Jews of England in the middle of the 13th century. One of the only cases when the king interfered in the intra-communal affairs of the Jews of England was related to the divorce of major financier David of Oxford from his wife Muriel. Childless, David wanted to divorce Muriel and remarry but Muriel refused to accept the divorce. A rabbinical court was set up in Oxford and a letter was sent to the rabbis of France for a ruling whether David could divorce his wife. The rabbis ruled that there were no grounds for divorce and David may not divorce Muriel against her will. The king intervened and issued a letter stating that no one can force David to live or not to live with a woman. The king also forbade the rabbis of England to take opinion from the rabbis of France. The text reads:


Winchester, 27 August, 1242. For David of Oxford: Whereas by the council of venerable father of Christ W. archbishop of York and others of the King's council, it has been provided that henceforth no chapters shall be held concerning the Jews in England, instructions have been issued to the Justices of the Jews firmly enjoining all the Jews if England on the King's behalf to hold no chapters in England henceforth. Moreover, Peytevin of Lincoln, Muriel who was the wife of David of Oxford, Benedict f. (son of) Peytevin of Lincoln, Vaalyn', and Moses de Barbun', Jews, are to appear before the aforesaid Archbishop and others of the King's council on the octave of St Michael, wheresoever they shall be in England, to shew cause why they sent to France to the Jews of France to hold a chapter on the Jews of England. And the said justices are enjoined not to permit David of Oxford to be constrained to take or to keep any wife save of his own desire.




I would like to argue, in conclusion, that the case of David of Oxford, which took place exactly half-way through Rabbi Elijah’s life, and the high-profile prohibition against English rabbis consulting Jewish authorities in France on complex matters of Jewish law, may well have emboldened the English rabbis to make their own rulings on a completely independent basis. As evident in the above rulings of Elijah, this was indeed the case, not just in complex cases of divorce, as in the case of David and Muriel, but pertaining to all areas of Jewish life in 13th century England.






[1]  Vol. 15. Roth’s article was translated into Hebrew and published in Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London by Rabbi MYL Sacks (Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 1956). Joe Hillaby has also written on Rabbi Elijah in Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval History (2013), pages 250-252, but does not mention anything about rulings.

[2] Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 14, p. 777 (1971)

[3] Mordechai, perek Hasocher, by the name Rabbi Moses son of Rabbi Yom Tov.

[4] Rabbi Elijah of York is mentioned in the Tosafist commentary, Talmud Yoma 27 and Zevachim 14.

[5] Mordechai Berochot 84:90; Riva on Pentateuch 21:32; end of Zos Habracha; Shiltei Giborim Avodah Zorah 77 431:7; Kesubot, Hakosev 234.

[6] His date of birth and place is guided by a few factors: A. As a student of Rabbi Samson of Sens, Elijah would have had to be sent to study in Sens, France, before 1211, which is when Rabbi Samson immigrated to Israel (Simon Sebag Montefiore in Jerusalem: A Biography writes 1208). B. He appears to have been named after his uncle Rabbi Elijah of York who was killed in the York massacre in 1190. It is plausible that he would have been named not long after the episode. In view of an earlier date of Elijah’s birth, there is a greater probability that he was born while his father Moses was still residing in the Oxford Jewry.

[7] Neubauer catalogue 428/4

[8] There is some debate about the authorship of this commentary on the Mishnah Order of Zeraim. It is interesting that Samson of Sens also wrote a commentary on the Order of Zeraim (Encyclopedia Judaica Vol. 14, Samson of Sens), though excluding Berachot. Elijah’s commentary however does include a commentary on Berachot. In the text, many of the paragraphs begin with ‘it further writes’ indicating the text we have was copied from an earlier text. This could have been by a copier from an earlier manuscript by Elijah or perhaps Elijah copying from an earlier text. As his teacher also wrote a commentary on the same Order of the Mishnah, it is interesting to speculate whether the two works are connected.

[9] The Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London p. 30

[10] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Blessing 11:16

[11] Tosefot, Berachot 14a

[12] Ibid. The Tosafot source for the partial Hallel blessing is: since the Talmud (Ta’anit 28b) relates once Rav visited Babylon on the first day of the Hebrew month (Rosh Chodesh) and heard the community reciting the Hallel. He thought to interrupt them, however, when he heard they were reading the incomplete Hallel, he said they are following the custom of their ancestors. Now, the fact that Rav did not realise this from the reciting, as opposed to absence, of blessing, suggests they recited a blessing. Furthermore, Elijah concludes, the same blessing liturgy would have been said for the partial Hallel as the complete Hallel, thus also not serving as an indicator. In a slight variation, Tosafot is not so as conclusive and indicates it was merely not a reliable indicator due any such difference is merely a recommendation for the illiterate to know the difference.

[13] The Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London p. 32

[14] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Blessings 11:16

[15] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Blessings 11:2

[16] The Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London p. 32

[17] Leviticus 19:32

[18] Sefer Hacharedim, Commentary to the Jerusalemite Talmud, Berachot 6:1; The Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London p. 33, footnote 32

[19] Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 123

[20] Pesachim 106b. The Tosafist commentary attempts to offer a reason for the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. A suggested reason is since one may not recite Havdalah (prayer for the termination of Shabbat) over bread, one should certainly not be permitted to make Kiddush (prayer for the sanctification of the Shabbat) over bread, as the laws pertaining to Kiddush are more stringent (ibid. 17a). Elijah, as other Tosafists, including Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi, however, questions this reasoning as a relevant factor. The difference between the two blessings is that Kiddush was instituted as the beginning of the Sabbath meal; hence, it is also appropriate that it be recited over bread. Havdalah, by contrast, has no connection with a meal therefore bread may not be used. A further reasoning proposed by the Tosafist is drawn from the Jerusalemite Talmud (Pesachim Eilu Devarim 5) that states that both the school of Shamai and Hilel agree that one may recite Havadalah without wine but not the Kiddush. Elijah however rejects this implication, as the above reading may be interpreted to reject the possibility of reciting Kiddush over another drink, like beer, but concedes that one may make Kiddush over bread. Elijah concludes that the correct source for the ruling of Rabbeinu Tam is from another text of the Jerusalemite Talmud (ibid) that states: “one may make Havdalah on beer and one should go from place to place in order to hear the Kiddush recited”. Now, if one may make Kiddush over bread, why would one have to go from place to place to hear the Kiddush over wine? It is obvious – unless one forces the text to be merely stating a desirable preference but not law - that Kiddush may not be recited over any other food other than wine. A further reasoning is from the thrust of the discussion in the Jerusalemite Talmud pertaining to the liturgy in the Friday evening prayers when one does not have wine to recite the Kiddush. Rabbi Yosi ben Bun states: our custom is that where there is no wine, the Chazzan leading the prayers should recite an additional concluding blessing “Mekadesh haShabbat” (He who sanctifies the Shabbat) in the “Beracha m’ein sheva” (blessing that is similar to seven). According to Elijah this addition is recited as a concluding blessing at the end of the paragraph Magen Avot, in addition to the conclusion of the prayer “r’tzei na b’menuchateinu” (may G-d find favour in our resting). According to Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevi of Bonn (1140-1225), known as Ra’avyah, the earlier prayer in that section commencing “Vayechulu” is recited only when there is no wine for the Kiddush. The thrust of this discussion is predicated on the opinion that when there is no wine over which to recite the Kiddush one may not recite the Kiddush over bread, for otherwise there would be no need to recite an additional concluding blessing in the Friday evening prayers for this purpose.

[21] Mishneh Torah, laws of Shabbat 29:9

[22] Contemporary Jewish law follows Maimonides. In Shulchan Aruch Harav (Shabbat 272:11), it writes: If there is no wine available for the Friday evening Kiddush, one may make Kiddush over bread. If there is wine available, one may make Kiddush only over wine. In the event that one cannot afford wine, Kiddush during the daytime may be recited over another prominent drink (Chamar Hamedina) but the evening Kiddush must be recited only over wine, if wine is available.

[23] Mishneh Torah, laws of Sukkah (4:6), Maggid Mishneh

[24] Shabbat 154b

[25] Sukkah 22b

[26] This is based on the law that if a Sukkah is built on the ground but its branches (roof) is supported by a tree, one may not use such a Sukkah, lest the person climbs the tree to place utensils on the Sukkah, thereby ‘making use of a tree’, which is prohibited on the festival. This implies that were it not for the prohibition of ‘making use of a tree’ there is no inherent prohibition against utilising a Sukkah for placing utensils on it even for personal use.

[27] The Writings of Rabbi Elijah of London p. 34

[28] Shabbat 22a. The logic is that if one may not show disrespect to the Chanukah candles which is only of rabbinic origin how much more so should be the case that one may not show disrespect to a Sukkah that is of Biblical origin by using it for ones own mundane use. The use of this logic is in fact ‘borrowed’ from the Talmudic law prohibiting the consumption of the fruit and other items of food that were left hanging in the Sukkah from before the festival for the purpose of beautifying the Sukkah. The Talmud attempts to derive this law from the prohibition against making use of the Menorah by counting money with the light of the Menorah. This logic is however rejected by the Talmud as the prohibition against consumption of decorative fruit of a Sukkah is independently taught in a Beraisa. Elijah however proceeds to utilise the Menorah law as reasoning for his own law prohibiting the use of the Sukkah roof for spreading fruit out or for other personal purposes.

[29] Sukkah 10a

[30] Talmud (Sukkah 10b) relates that the shirt of the servant of Rav Ashi, Minyamin, got soaked in water and he spread it over the Sukkah to dry. Rav Ashi said to him: “Remove it, so that people will not say they are using as S’chach (covering of the Sukkah) something subject to ritual contamination (Tumah). Elijah argues that the reason Rav Ashi does not tell his servant to remove the shirt due to using the Sukkah roof for personal benefit, is because the intention of the servant was in fact (in part?) to beautify the Sukkah, as oppose to catching leaves, etc.

[31] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 628:6

[32] Maimonides’ view regarding using a Sukkah roof for personal benefit is unknown, since, while he brings the law pertaining to the prohibition of using a Sukkah that is built on top of a tree, he omits the law of a Sukkah built on the ground with just its roof supported by a tree. It is therefore not possible to utilize the reasoning as mentioned in footnote 25 suggesting he permits use of the Sukkah roof for personal use, as Rashi. It would stand to reason that without that reasoning, he would agree with the view of Elijah that it is prohibited, similar to the prohibition to count money at the light of the Menorah.

[33] Sotah 49b: Upon what basis does the world endure, as from the day the Temple was destroyed, each day’s curse is greater than the other? Upon the Kedusha of the Order.

[34] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer (7:17)

[35] Megillah chapter 4

[36] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer (9:5-6)

[37] Sotah 49a, Rashi. This seems to be the reasoning also of Maimonides.

[38] Beit Yosef Orach Chaim, ch. 59, based on the teaching of the Zohar; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 132:1

[39] Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chaim 199:9)

[40] According to Rabbi Isaac Alfasi the minimum age is nine; according to Maimonides as young as six.

[41] This view is based on the reading of the Jerusalemite Talmud (Berochot 74a): Rabbi Berachyah said: Rabbi Yaakov bar Zavdi inquired before Rabbi Yose: since a minor may be counted in for a quorum of ten, where G-d’s name is mentioned, certainly may a minor be included in a quorum of three, where G-d’s name is not mentioned. Rabbi Yose replied, on the contrary, it is only because there is the mentioning of G-d’s name that a minor may be included to complete the quorum of ten.

[42] Elijah appears to lift the entire text of Maimonides’ Laws of Blessings chapter 11 into his commentary on Berachot.


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