The current popularity of the Beit ha-Behirah of R. Menahem ha-Meiri reflects this change in modes of learning. Meiri is the only medieval Talmudist (rishon) whose works can be read almost independently of the Talmudic text, upon which it ostensibly comments. The Beit ha-Behirah is not a running commentary on the Talmud. Meiri, in quasi-Maimonidean fashion, intentionally omits the give and take of the sugya, he focuses, rather, on the final upshot of the discussion and presents the differing views of that upshot and conclusion. Also, he alone, and again intentionally, provides the reader with background information. His writings are the closest thing to a secondary source in the library of rishonim. This trait coupled with the remarkably modern syntax of Meiri’s Hebrew prose have won for his works their current widespread use. It is not, as commonly thought, because the Beit ha-Behirah has been recently discovered. True, the massive Parma manuscript has been in employ only for some seventy years. However, even a glance at any Hebrew bibliography will show that much of the Beit ha-Behirah on sefer mo’ed, for example, had been published long before Avraham Sofer began his transcriptions of the Parma manuscript in the nineteen twenties. (E. g. Megillah Amsterdam, 1759; Sukkah Berlin, 1859; Shabbat Vienna, 1864.) Rather, Meiri’s works had previously fallen stillborn from the press. Sensing its alien character, most scholars simply ignored them, and, judging by the infrequent reprintings, if any, they also appear not to have found a popular audience. They have come into their own only in the past half century. (On Meiri’s quasi-Maimonidean intentions, see Beit ha-Behirah, Berakhot, ed. Y. Dickman [Jerusalem, 1965], introduction, pp. 25-32. Meiri consciously follows Maimonides in addressing the halakhic dicta rather than the Talmudic discussion, in gathering scattered halakhic dicta under one roof, and in writing in neo-Mishnaic rather than Rabbinic Hebrew. He parts company with Maimonides and follows R. Judah ha-Nassi in writing not topically but tractatewise, and in registering multiple views. Indeed, no one writing after the dialectical revolution of the Tosafists could entertain again the Maimonidean notion of halakhic univocality.)

Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy“, Tradition 28, no. 4 (1994), 120-121, n. 54.

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