Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why in the Cemetery? - Meiri on Prayer.

Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-c.1310) was a famous Talmudist and Halachist . (Courtesy of Answers.com)

What is fascinating about the Meiri is that his works were lost to us for centuries and were discovered a little more than a century ago. He was one of the great Rabbanim in Provence, a contemporary of Rashba and Rosh. He was an opponent of Rashba’s ban on learning philosophy which was promoted by his colleague Rabbi Aba Mari. The latter wrote Minchat Kena’ot which discusses the whole controversy. Professor Moshe Halbertal in his Bein Torah Lachochma conjectures that there was an informal ban imposed by the followers of Rashba on all writings from Provence which explains the disappearance of many of their sefarim. In fact Professor Kreisel has recently published two – Ma’aseh Nissim on Torah miracles by Rabbi Nissim of Marseilles and Livyat Chen by Rabbi Levi ben Avraham, a correspondent of Rashba and possibly a Rebbi of Meiri.

The following is a Translation/Paraphrase of a selection of the Meiri in Chibur Hateshuvah on prayer. (Pages 505 – 507 in the Kedem edition).

After explaining that prayer consists of both a petitionary and contemplative component:

The other type of prayer, the contemplative, which is the primary in importance, consists of repeating God’s praises and his wonderful and great acts. The goal is that by paying attention to the words a person perfects himself by attaching himself to God and follow in his ways. That is the meaning in the first and last three benedictions in the Amidah… There is a mistaken concept that has been accepted that there is profit in praying to the souls of the dead relying on the Gemara (Ta’anit 16a)”why in the cemetery [do they go there during a drought]? So that they should pray for us”. Rambam (Hilchot Ta’aniyot 4:18) already explained that the meaning is that we should contemplate and see ourselves dead like those buried here unless we repent. Some ignorant people believe that one person can pray for the many. [Similarly] that is not the concept behind the Chazzan (Shaliach Tzibur) who says the prayer loud so that those who are not well versed are included. The concept is rather as having the Chazzan seen as the leader who by example teaches the people how to repent. He shows those who are not well versed how one changes his ways by emulating him. That is why it is important that the Chazzan be a decent person especially during the days that are dedicated to contemplation such as the holy Days and Fast Days.

How different is the Meiri’s take on what prayer is and what it is meant to accomplish from the popular misconceptions of our times.


  1. Just yesterday I saw an interesting lashon in the Rambam (Hilchos Eivel 4:4):

    ולא יפנה אדם לבקר הקברות.

    I haven't really investigated this yet, but I couldn't help but think of the prohibition of:

    שלא לפנות אחר ע"ז שנאמר אל תפנו אל האלילים.

  2. Matt, you are right and I don't remeber if I have written aboout it. Look in Hilchot Ta'anyot 4:18 where he paskens that one should go out to the Beit hakevarot
    אחר שמתפללין, יוצאין כל העם לבית הקברות, ובוכין ומתחננים שם: כלומר, הרי אתם מתים כאלו, אם לא תשובו מדרכיכם.
    That is according to the gemara even Kivrei Akum. see the Nose'ei kelim.

    Rambam does not accept that the dead pray for us!

  3. just realized Meiri referred to the Rambam as in my post. I should have explained better the thought behind it.

  4. Does anybody know what happend to Hakirah #4?
    I think that it's issue date was in February.

  5. It is out for quite a while and available in many Seforim stores You can also subscribe at hakirah.org. I know we are low on inventory but check there.