The Crusades are over, but the Jewish communities of Germany continue to be shaken by one convulsion after another. Blood libels, pogroms and barefaced extortion make life in Germany almost unbearable for its Jews, and a wave of emigration begins. As the Jews begin to leave, Rudolf of Hapsburg, Holy Roman Emperor and supreme ruler of Germany, is worried that the loss of the Jews will impoverish the German states and stop the flow of gold into the Imperial coffers. He decides that the only way to stop the Jews from leaving Germany is to prevent the Maharam of Rothenburg, one of the last Rishonim and the acknowledged leader of all German Jewry, from leaving Germany. But before the Emperor's order can reach Rothenburg, the Maharam has already set out in the dead of night on a desperate flight to freedom. "The Captivity of the Maharam" by Shmuel Argaman, is a dramatized account of the historical events leading up to the flight of the Maharam, the escape, arrest and imprisonment of the Maharam and the colossal struggle of wills that follows. As the story unfolds, one of the most celebrated personal confrontations in the last thousand years of Jewish history emerges in a breathtaking narrative form; the greedy Emperor demands a huge ransom for the release of the Maharam, but the holy sage refuses to allow the setting of such a dangerous precedent which can come back to haunt the Jewish people, preferring instead to sacrifice his personal freedom for the greater good of the Jewish community. In addition to its central theme, "The Captivity of the Maharam" also offers an illuminating portrait of Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel (the Rosh), the foremost talmid of the Maharam, who fled Germany at the time of the Maharam's imprisonment and became head of the Academy in Toledo and the spiritual leader of Spanish Jewry.
by Shmuel Argaman
Translated by Tziril Salel