ELIEZER B. NATHAN OF MAYENCE ( = RABaN):
Halakist and liturgical poet; flourished in the first half of the twelfth century. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Eliakim b. Joseph of Mayence, a fellow student of Rashi. Through his four daughters Eliezer became the ancestor of several learned families which exerted a great influence upon religious life in the subsequent centuries. One of his great-grandsons was R. Asher b. Jehiel (ROSH), father of R. Jacob, author of the "Ṭurim."
The following table represents the genealogy of the family:
Eliezer maintained a scholarly correspondence with his noted contemporaries, R. Tam and Rashbam (Jacob and Samuel b. Meïr), who esteemed him very highly, and in conjunction with whom, at the head of a synod of 150 rabbis from France and Germany, he had directed important measures. His ritual and juridical decisions were eagerly sought. The most important of his responsa he included in his principal halakic work. This book, which, playing upon the initials of his name, he terms "EBeN ha-'Ezer," is cited by his great-grandson Rosh, and by R. Solomon Luria, under the title of "Ẓofnat Pa'aneaḥ." The author attempts in this work to account for certain traditional customs, to offer solutions of complicated legal questions, and to throw light on the significance of ritual observances. The work is therefore necessarily lacking in unity. The first and smaller part, mainly in short chapters of varied contents (in the printed text extending up to No. 385), contains answers to questions from pupils and contemporaries; while the second and larger section presents elaborate halakic discussions arranged according to subjects, corresponding to the Talmudic tractates. Since the decisions as well as the scholarly treatises often contain personal reminiscences, observations regarding customs and usages, names of scholars, and miscellaneous literary data, the work is a storehouse for the student of Jewish history in that century. The various Hebrew paraphrases of German and French words which occur in the work are of importance for linguistic research.
Eliezer proves himself conscientious and careful in his decisions. Unlike R. Tam, he possessed little self-confidence, and in his humility and reverence for tradition he is inclined to extremely rigid interpretations of the Law. Solomon's injunction (Prov. i. 8), "Forsake not the teaching of thy mother," he interprets as meaning, "What the older rabbis have prohibited we must not permit" (No. 10). The chapters on civil law contain many an interesting document, and also a statement of commercial relations occasioned by various trials. They contain precise statements of the prices of goods and accurate information concerning commercial usages in the Rhineland and in distant Slavic countries; e.g., concerning the gold trade in Strasburg and Speyer (fol. 145b); the coinage of the time (Zunz, "Z. G." p. 5b); and the export trade with Galicia and southern Russia (No. 5). Slavic customs and character are also discussed in connection with ritual matters. Among the decisions are some containing interpretations of Biblical and Talmudic sayings; one of them (No. 119) even presenting a connected commentary on Prov. xxx. 1-6, in which R. Saadia's view is cited—namely, that Ithiel and Ucal were the names of two men who addressed philosophical questions to Agur ben Jakeh.
The work mentions the year 1152, and must therefore have been completed after that date. The year 1247, which occurs on two copies, may be credited to later transcribers. In the subsequent centuries Eliezer came to be regarded as a great authority, but his work was little known. Not until its importance had been specially urged by the most influential rabbis of Poland—Mordecai Jafe, Samuel Eliezer Edels (Maharsha), Solomon Ephraim Luntschitz,among others, in a formal appeal issued from Posen in 1609—was its publication undertaken. The first edition, Prague, 1610, has, up to the present time, remained the only one.As Liturgical Poet.
Eliezer wrote numerous yoẓerot, seliḥot, and other piyyuṭim; very few of them, however, have been incorporated in the German and Polish liturgy. The "Akapperah Pene Melek" in the seliḥot to the musaf of the Day of Atonement is an example. His poetical productions are valuable only as an index to his devout nature and to his estimate of the importance of the liturgy. They are distinguished for neither originality, elevation of thought, nor elegance of diction. With their allusions to haggadic interpretations, their employment of payyeṭan phraseology, acrostics, rimes, and similar mechanical devices, they differ little from many other liturgical productions. Some of these poems he seems to have written on special occasions. Thus, one plyyuṭ composed for a circumcision occurring on the Sabbath bears at the close the cipher "ABN," and the words "Long live my child Eliakim." Altogether twenty-five piyyuṭim of his are known. One of his seliḥot depicts the persecutions of the First Crusade (1096); another, those of 1146.As Commentator.
To Eliezer is attributed the commentary on the Maḥzor published in Ostroh in 1830. Some of Eliezer's expositions are mentioned in a commentary on the festal prayers called "Ḳorban Aharon." Mention is also made of a commentary on Abot, from which Jehiel Morawtschik, in his "Minḥah Ḥadashah," written in 1576 after a manuscript of the year 1145, makes quotations.As Chronicler.
Eliezer is also supposed to be the author of a history of the terrible events of 1096, the year of the First Crusade. The persecutions of the Jewish communities in the towns along the Rhine, the horrible butcheries that were perpetrated, are faithfully depicted here in chronological order. In this work various acrostic verses contain the name "Eliezer b. Nathan." In deference to a passage in Joseph ha-Kohen's "'Emeḳ ha-Baka," p. 31, which makes a certain Eleazar ha-Levi the author, some writers (as Landshuth and Grätz) have denied Eliezer's authorship of this chronicle. This view, however, has recently been refuted. The chronicle was first edited by Adolph Jellinek ("Zur Geschichte der Kreuzzüge," Leipsic, 1854); and was republished as "Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen Während der Kreuzzüge," by Neubauer and Stern, together with a German translation, in the "Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland," ii., Berlin, 1892.
- Landshuth, 'Ammude ha-'Abodah, pp. 20-22;
- Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, pp. 211-215;
- Güdemann, Gesch. des Erziehunqswesen und der Cultur, i., passim;
- Zunz, Literaturgesch. pp. 259-262;
- Gross, in Monatsschrift, 1885, p. 310;
- H. Bresslau, in Neubauer and Stern, Quellen, ii., xv.-xvii.