The Shapiro Family
The Shapiro family name is among the most common among Ashkenazi Jews. The reason is that it is one of the oldest Ashkenazi names. Most Ashkenazi family names were adopted in the 19th century, but the Shapiro name (or its variations - Spira, Shapira, Spero etc.) have been in use for many centuries. The origin of the name is from the city of Speyer in the Rheinland (Speyer was known by the name "Spira" as early as the fifth century. Previously it had been known by the Latin names Noviomagus and Nemetum.), but not all former residents of Speyer took the Shapiro name, and least not on a permanent basis. In fact permanent family names were not widely used by European Jews until their governments required them to adopt them about the time of Napolean. The exception was in rabbinical families, among them the Shapiros.
In Jewish sources Speyer is best known as one of the three Jewish communities on the Rhein (the other two being Worms and Mainz) which were destroyed during the first Crusade. These three communities are also remembered for their set of civil regulations known as Takanot "Shum". Shum is an acronym for Shapiro (Speyer), Vermaiza (Worms), and Magentza (Mainz). Many of these takanot still guide Ashkenazi Jews, particularly in monetary relations within families. Even Sefardic authorities refer to them, see Tshuvot Maraham Alashkar 114 and Tshuvot Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi 14. Rishonim like the Or Zarua and Rabiah often quote "Chachmei Shapiro". The mekubal Rav Yehuda Hechosid of Regensburg was born in Speyer, the home of his father Rav Shmuel Hechosid (Hanovi) of the Klonymus family as recorded in Tshuvot Maharshal #29. In fact some sources suggest that the entire Shapiro family is descended from Rav Yehuda Hechosid.
In spite of the destruction of the community in 1096, it seems that it was later restored, since we find references to rabbinical scholars from Speyer in later periods. The most famous of these was Rav Shmuel of Shapiro, whose son Rav Shlomo Shapiro, rabbi of Heilbronn and Landau is traditionally the first to use Shapiro as a family name, and is assumed to be the progenitor of all subsequent Shapiros, as we shall discuss later.
Rav Shmuel and Rav Shlomo are quoted by some of the greatest halachic authorities of their era.Rav Shmuel Shapiro is mentioned in Tshuvot Maharil (#15). Rav Shlomo Shapiro is mentioned several times in Tshuvot Maharam Mintz, Maharil, and Maharik as well as in Leket Yosher. Furthermore, R. Yaakov Freiman, in his preface to Leket Yosher, Yoreh Deah, identifies Rav Shlomo Shapiro as the Rav Shlomo who is addressed numerous times in Tshuvot Mahari Weil and mentioned several times in Trumot Hadeshen (Psakim uktavim).
Rav Yochanan Luria's lineage (told to R. Yosef of Rosheim) is printed as a note to Tshuvot Maharshal #29 (and also can be found in Chachamim Bedoram by Y.Y. Yuval). There he traces his descendence to Rav Shimshon of Erfurt, who was married to Miriam the daughter of Rav Shlomo Shapiro and sister of Rav Peretz of Konstanz. He adds that Torah never ceased from the ancestors of Rav Shlomo Shapiro back to Rashi. Thus we see that the lineage of the Luria family to Rashi is also dependant upon the Shapiro Lineage. We see that the Maharshal himself confirms this lineage in his Yam Shel Shlomo on Yavamot chapt. 4 sect. 33 where he mentions that his father's family is descended from Rashi. The Katzenellenbogen family also trace their lineage through this route since the mother of their progenitor, the Maharam Padua, was a sister of the Maharshal's grandfather, Rav Aharon Luria.
The actual connection between Rav Shlomo Shapiro and Rashi is through his mother, who was a daughter of Rav Matityahu Treves of Paris. The Treves family has a strong tradition of descent from Rashi, although there are slightly different versions of some of the details. The name Treves (or its variations) comes from the city of Troyes, Rashi's residence. E.E. Urbach in Baalei Tosafot quotes Rav Asher beRav David, grandson of the Raavad who met "a young scholar by the name of Rav Shmuel ben Rav Yaakov from the land of Troyes, of whom many great men testified that he was a descendant of Rashi". Urbach suggests that this Rav Yaakov may have been Rabbenu Tam, however this is pure conjecture on his part. It seems more likely that this may be the origin of the Treves family and if so we have an early source for their tradition of descent from Rashi.
We don't have precise dates for Rav Shmuel or Rav Shlomo, but we know that Rav Matityahu Treves died in 5145 (1385). Furthermore, from Rav Shlomo's correspondence with Rav Yaakov Weil and other contemporaries we can determine that Rav Shlomo Shapiro was active during the middle of the 15th century.
In fact, to find a common ancestor of the present Shapiro family we don't need to go back that far. All traditional Shapiro lineages in eastern Europe go through one
progenitor, namely Rav Noson Notte ben Rav Shimshon SHAPIRO of Grodna, author
of "Mevo Shearim" on the laws of Kashruth and "Imrei Shefer, a supercommentary
on Rashi's commentary on the Torah.. He died in 5337 . Rav David Ganz in his history Tzemach David refers to Rav Noson Notte as "my uncle", but the exact connection is not known.
According to traditonal genealogy, the yichus continues: Rav Noson Notte's
father was Rav Shimshon SHAPIRO of Posen, son of Rav Noson Notte SHAPIRO
of Posen, son of Rav Peretz SHAPIRO av beth din of Konstanz in the state of
Baden, son of Rabbi Shlomo SHAPIRO av beth din of Heilbron and Landau in
Rav Noson Notte of Grodna had three sons, Rav Yitzchok, Rav Shlomo, and Rav Yissachar. The famous mekubal, Rav Noson Notte Shapiro of Krakau, author of Megale Amukot, was the son of Rav Shlomo. In Megale Amukot Al Hatorah, Parshat Chayei Sara, we find the Rav Noson Notte eulogized his uncle, Rav Yitzchok in the year 5383 (1623).
Many prominent rabbinical families trace their lineage to the Megale Amukot Among them are Rav Yonatan Eibshutz, Rav Shmuel Koeln (author of Machtzit Hashekel), Rav Pinchas of Koretz, the chassidic dynasty of Neskhiz, and many more.
Many Lithuanian rabbonim (as well as the wife of Rav Nachum of Tshernobl) are descended from Rav Yitzchok (uncle of the Megale Amukot). Among them Rav Shmuel "Druyer" Shapiro, rav of Druya and Telz and author of Me'il Shmuel, Rav Shaul Shapiro, rav of Panevezys and Seduva and author of Chemdat Shaul (his descendants include Rav Pinchas Teitz of Elizabeth, N.J. and Rav Yitzchok Silber, rav of the Russian community in Jerusalem), and Rav Aryeh Leib Shapiro of Kovna, known as "Reb Leibele Kovner". This last was a Shapiro through his mother. His family is one of the best known Shapiro families in rabbinical circles today and includes the wives of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, Rav Aryeh Levin, and Rav Zvi Pesach Frank. Rav Shmuel Shapiro, a leader of the Breslav community in Jerusalem was also a descendant of Reb Leibele.
In central Europe there was another rabbinical Shapiro family. This family included the descendants of Rav Binyomin Wolf Shapiro of Prague. The early lineage of this family was published in Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (MGWJ) 1912 (nr.3) pp. 334-358. (The article can be viewed at . The earliest name mentioned in this lineage is Rav Michel son of Rav Shimon Shapiro av beth din Posen. Some researchers have identified this Rav Shimon with Rav Shimshon Shapiro of Posen, father of Rav Noson Notte of Grodna (Mevo Shearim). Whether or not that is true, it is interesting that both families originated in Posen, which suggests that they were indeed one family. It should be noted that in the lineage in MGWJ is states that Rav Man Shapiro (rav of Brisk deKoi (Brzecz)), son of Rav Michel had a book of his lineage "which included 1100 rabbanim from the Shapiro family who held the title "Morenu" and that lineage reached to Rav Yehuda Hachosid author of Sefer Chassidim and to the author of Imrei Shefer, Rav Noson [of Grodna]". This probably does not mean that Rav Man was a direct descendant of Rav Noson, but rather that he also appears on the lineage. In any case, it certainly seems to corraborate that both families are related. (This would seem to be further corroborated by comments attributed to the Baal Shem Tov concerning the honored lineage of the Shapiro family, and to a statement in Bnei Yissochar by Rav Zvi Elimelech Shapiro that all Shapiros are descended from one person). Descendants of the Prague Shapiro family include Rav Eliyahu Shapiro author of Eliyahu Rabba, the wife of Rav Yaakov Reisher author of Shvut Yaakov, the wife of Rav Yonatan Eibshutz, and Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch of Frankfurt, as well the Fränkel family and the Porges family. (The lineage in MGWJ also differentiates between two Shapiro families, one ending with an aleph and the other with a hei, but personally, I have never seen the name spelled with a hei).
There is also a family of Cohanim known as Kahana Shapiro. The best known member of this family was Rav Yitzchok Kahana Shapiro of Krakau, father in law of Maharam Lublin (who refers to his father in law as Hamelech [the king]). This reflects the practice of taking one's mother's family name, especially when that name was associated with a family of rabbonim. (See Chevel Hakesef by Rav Menachem Nachum Kahana Shapiro for the lineage of one such family.) We have already seen how Reb Leibele Kovner took his mother's family name. Rav Meshel Shapiro of Ragova, grandson of Rav Shaul Shapiro writes in the introduction to Chemdat Shaul that his grandfather was from a family of "true" Shapiros. Presumably this means that it was a purely patrolineal line. Rav Meshel writes that he had composed a pamphlet with the history of the Shapiro family, however my efforts to find this pamphlet have been unsuccessful.
Today the Shapiro clan is widespread among Ashkenazy Jews and it would be difficult to find a rav who could not somehow connect to the Shapiros (or Lurias or Katzenellenbogen).