The Danube River is a great winding waterway that connects various Capital cities in Europe, from Budapest to Vienna. This scenic river was the location of one of our previous kosher cruises where we explored Jewish history and heritage in locales and destinations along the banks of the Danube. Vienna, in particular, was home to a codifier of Jewish law in the Middle Ages. He is Isaac ben Moses of Vienna, also known as Isaac Or Zarua.

Life and Work

Isaac ben Moses of Vienna was born in Bohemia, circa 1200, a place that he called “the land of Canaan.” Unlike the lives of many other figures in Jewish history, Isaac of Vienna’s life story had only one primary source, which was Or Zarua, his most famous work. He was a studious man who lived for at least seventy or so years (like his date of birth, his death date is not exactly clear) but it was noted that his life was quite troubled, with a youth of “poverty and wanderings.”

He also deplored different injustices being enacted on the Jewish people of his time, from the compelling of Jews to wear identifying yellow badges in France to the massacres that occurred in Frankfurt (1241.) Despite these saddening events, he persevered and studied with German and French scholars, and wrote the Or Zarua, a compendium of halakhic knowledge that compiled the rulings of the scholars of his time. It was in Vienna that he gained prominence, which is the origin of his title.

The Legacy of the Isaac Or Zarua

In the long march of history, there have been many codifiers of the Halakha in Jewish history, with many compendiums of halakhic knowledge. The Or Zarua is fascinating in how it also illustrated the life of its author, and how it was also an important document in revealing the lives of European Jewish communities in the Middle Ages. Or Zarua both compiled the halakhic comments of Isaac’s peers and provided a snapshot of a time so long ago. The legacy of Isaac Or Zarua is sure to enrich your future Jewish tours through Vienna.


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