רבינו יחיאל מפריז/Rabbeinu Yechiel Miparis
Rabbeinu Yechiel MiParis was born in Meaux, France in the year 1190. Little is known about his childhood years apart from the fact that his father’s name was Reb Yosef. He grew up to be a prominent Baal Tosofs and succeeded Rabbi Yehuda of Paris as the Rosh Yeshiva at the Tosafist academy of Paris in the year 1224.
300 pupils would flock to his academy to hear his lectures. Amongst them were the famous Tosafists Rabbeinu Peretz of Corbeil, author of Tosofs Rabbeinu Peretz, and the great Maharam MiRotenberg.
He is mentioned in our editions of Tosfos and his Halachic decisions were recorded by the early Halachic works Orchos Chaim and Kol Bo.
He merited to have 2 great sons in laws, one was Reb Yitzchok of Corbeil, who was the author of the Smak (Sefer Mitzvos Katan), and the other was Rabbeinu Mordechai ben Hillel Ashkenazi, who wrote the commentary Mordechai printed at the back of most Tractates of the Talmud. The latter was murdered Al Kiddush Hashem together with his family during the Rindfleisch massacre.
In 1240, the French government organised a debate between the apostate Nicholas Donin and 3 of the greatest Jewish leaders in France. The topic was various passages in the Talmud that Donin claimed contained blasphemies against the Christian Messiah and the religion in general.
Rabbeinu Yechiel was chosen as one of the 3 and although they defended their position valiantly, the result was a forgone conclusion in favour of Donin and the outcome of this debate was the burning of 24 cartloads of Talmudic manuscripts in the streets of Paris on a Friday morning in the year 1242. It is hard for us to understand the magnitude of this loss due to living in modern times where printed books are taken for granted. However, the loss of practically all handwritten copies of the Talmud was a serious blow to Torah study in France.
As a side note, I once heard from my mentor Rabbi Michael Skobak, director of Jews for Judaism in Toronto Canada, that during the disputations, the Christians claimed that the Talmud clearly mentions Yeshu Hanotzri. Now at the time the King of France was King Louis IX. Rabbeinu Yechiel is proposed to have said “Not every Louis is the King of France” and so too not every Yeshu is a reference to Yoshke, as this was a common name in ancient times.
Maharam MiRotenberg, who lived through this terrible decree issued the Kina Shaali Serufa Baeish, and is Kina number 41 that is recited every year in Tisha Beav.
With the situation in France getting ever worse, in 1260 Reb Yechiel emigrated to Eretz Yisrael together with his son and some pupils where they settled in Ako (Acre) and established the Medrash Hagadol DeParis.