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Moses Isserles

(ca. 1525-1572) Known also as Rema.

A rabbi who specialized in religious law, which he codified in Poland. He came from a wealthy Jewish family in Krakow, where his father Izrael was the leader of the Jewish Community. In 1553, after being granted royal permission, he had a synagogue built in memory of his deceased wife. That synagogue, known as the Remuh synagogue, still stands today. Members of the Isserles family, including Moses - Rema, are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

The social position of Moses family, its wealth, and Moses own broad knowledge led him to be regarded as an authority. He studied in Lublin, and then founded a Talmud school in Krakow that became renowned throughout Europe. He served as Krakow's chief rabbi until the end of his life, and was famous for his kindness towards people who had fallen on hard times.

He wrote numerous commentaries on the Bible and Talmudic literature. He became especially well known as the result of his work Darkey Moshe (Moses's Road), a polemical text and also commentary about Jozef Karo's Beyt Josef, on Jewish law. Isserles stressed the significance of local customs for the development of Jewish law. He presented the views and practices of rabbis and Central European Ashkenazy communities that were not included in Karo's work, which had concentrated primarily on the traditions of the Sephardic Jews in Spain. Ten years after Karo published Beyt Josef, he also published an abbreviated version titled Shulchan Aruch (The Set Table). Isserles was afraid that Karo's work would become the definitive text among the Ashkenazy Jews, who as a result would forget about their own traditions. He wrote yet another polemic work about Jozef Karo's writings titled Mapa (Tablecloth). The work, comprised of those two works by Karo and Isserles, became the single most important guide to Jewish traditions. Isserles also wrote about philosophy, mysticism and natural sciences, always stressing the supremacy of religious law.
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