Besides the Fürstenberg archives, Rosenthal relied in his Stühlingen chapters12 heavily and uncritically on Leopold Löwenstein’s ‘Nathanael Weil, Oberlandesrabbiner [chief rabbi of the Baden province] in Karlsruhe und seine Familie.’ Löwenstein, in turn, had based his article largely on papers from the estate of that rabbi Nathanael (Nesanel) Weil, as edited by his son Rabbi Tiah Weil. According to these accounts, “Nathanael was the grandson of the learned and wealthy Maharam Weil of Stühlingen, the builder of the famous Stühlingen synagogue, who used wine instead of water in mixing the mortar for its construction, and who traced his own ancestry back to Morenu ha-Rav Meir of Rothenburg.”13
Löwenstein has reconstructed his “hagiography” of Maharam Weil largely from the yichus letters (pedigree documents) of both Rabbi Nathanael and his son Tiah Weil. The custom of compiling pedigrees has a long tradition in rabbinic families, reaching back to biblical times.14 It says in the Talmud:
Consequently, in traditional Jewish society, the pedigree is a crucial factor in judging a man’s piety and learning. It could affect a rabbi’s career,16 one’s chances at a desirable marriage, and even the size of the dowry.17 It is essential to count among one’s ancestors many famous scholars, as well as some martyrs steadfastly clinging to their faith. According to their biographies, both Nathanael and Tiah had great difficulties in finding stable positions as community rabbis and struggled with abject poverty. Nathanael largely depended on his wife’s income as a shopkeeper. One can well appreciate the temptation to fortify their pedigrees.
In their defence, as this investigation will reveal, there were at least five distinct Marum Weils over the 140-year history of Stühlingen’s Jews, several both rich and influential. It is quite possible that the fabled rabbi Marum Weil of Stühlingen resulted from a confluence of separate myths.
Rosenthal was well aware of this problem. In a letter to Florence Guggenheim, dated August 4, 1957, he wrote:
It is then somewhat surprising that Rosenthal should accept the claims in Nathanael Weil’s biography in such an axiomatic manner. In retrospect, it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction.
12Weil, Korban Nesanel.
13Löwenstein p. 4. Morenu ha-Rav Meir of Rothenburg refers to Rabbi Maharam of Rothenburg (1215–93), one of the greatest medieval Talmud scholars in Germany.
14Cf. Exod. 6:14.
15BT, Bava Metzia 85a 5.
16Klausner, “European Rabbis”, p. 14.
17Salsitz and Kaish, “Three Homelands” 117.
18Rosenthal, Berthold Rosenthal Collection, reel 13, frame 651 [in German].