Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, popularly known by the abbreviation 'MaHaRaM' (Moreinu Horav Reb Meir) of Rothenburg, Talmudist and Paytan (religious poet), was born in Worms, Germany, nearly eight centuries ago, around the year 1220.
In his youth he studied at Wurtzburg and at Mainz in the Yeshivoth of the leading Talmudists of those days. Later he went to France to study in the well known French Yeshivoth, particularly in the Yeshivah of the great Rabbi Jehiel ben Joseph of Paris. Rabbi Jehiel was known as a saintly Rabbi and outstanding Talmudist, and it was he who defended the Talmud in the reign of Louis IX. However, the Talmud was subsequently condemned by the enemies of Israel to be publicly burnt on Friday, June 17, 1244, (Erev Shabbos Chukath, 5004), in Paris. Rabbi Meir was an eyewitness to this public burning of twenty-four wagonloads of Talmudic manuscripts, and he bewailed this tragedy in his celebrated "Kina" (elegy, mournful poem) Shaali serufah which we say on Tisha b'Av.
The following year Rabbi Meir, already a famous Talmudist, returned to Germany, where he became the rabbi of several large communities successively. Finally he settled in Rothenburg, where he maintained, at his own cost, a famous Yeshivah. Among his disciples were many scholars who later became leading Talmudists and codifiers, notably Rabenu Asher ben Jehiel ("ROSH") and Rabbi Mordecai ben Hillel Ashkenazi.
Rabbi Meir, became universally acknowldged as the leading authority on Talmud and Jewish law, and many communities in France, Italy and Germany frequently turned to him for instruction and guidance in all religious matters and on various points of law. Affectionate and rare titles were bestowed upon him in their communications, such as 'Father of Rabbis', 'Light of the Exile', etc. Rabbi Meir humbly gave his opinion and advice to all enquiries, and his responsa, of which about 1,500 have been preserved, and commentaries are of great importance not merely to advanced students of the Talmud, but also to the students of Jewish life and customs of those days.
Rabbi Meir wrote no large single work, but many notes, commentaries and expositions. His writings include: Piske Erubin on the laws of the Erub; Halachoth Pesukoth--a collection of decisions on controversial points of Jewish law; Hilchoth Berachoth--on the blessings; Hilchoth Abeluth on the laws of mourning; Hilchoth Shechitah on the ritual slaughtering of animals for Kosher meat, etc.
Those days were full of persecution for the Jews of Germany, and they lived in constant fear for their property and life. In the year 1286, Rabbi Meir took his entire family and set out for the Land of Israel, together with a group of well-to-do friends. In the Land of Israel they hoped to continue their work in behalf of their persecuted brethren. However, while passing through Lombardy, Rabbi Meir was recognized by an apostate Jew who was accompanying the archbishop of Mainz. The archbishop had Rabbi Meir arrested and taken back to Germany. There by order of King Rudolph, Rabbi Meir was imprisoned in the fortress of Ensisheim and held for ransom. The king knew that the Jews would give away their last mark to redeem their beloved Rabbi, and indeed the sum of 20,000 marks was raised for Rabbi Meir's freedom. Rabbi Meir, however, forbade his friends and followers to pay any ransom for him. In his selflessness he knew that once ransom were paid for him, every noted Rabbi in Germany would be arrested and held for ransom by the greedy and cruel German rulers of those days. Thus Rabbi Meir preferred to remain in prison, and even die there, in order to save many others from a similar fate.
For seven years Rabbi Meir remained a prisoner in that fortress, until his passing in 1293. During this time his disciples were permitted to meet with him, and he was even able to compose several of his works within the prison walls. After he died, his body was not surrendered until 14 years later, when a heavy ransom was paid by a generous Jew, Alexander Suskind Wimpfen of Frankfort. In return Alexander Suskind requested only that after his own death his body should be laid to rest by the side of the saintly Rabbi Meir. His wish was carried out when he died a year later, and in the ancient Jewish cemetery of Worms two tombstones stood erected side by side, one for the great and saintly Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, and the other for Alexander Suskind Wimpfen of Frankfort.