Samson ben Abraham of Sens

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SAMSON BEN ABRAHAM OF SENS (late 12th–early 13th century), one of the great French tosafists, known also as Ha-Sar ("the prince") of Sens. He was the brother of *Isaac b. Abraham (Riẓba) and grandson of *Samson b. Joseph of Falaise, brother-in-law of Jacob *Tam. In his youth he studied under Tam and Ḥayyim *ha-Kohen, but his main teacher was *Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre. His authority was widely recognized, even beyond France. During the first *Maimonidean controversy (1202), the French rabbis were requested to express their views in the dispute between Meir *Abulafia, who attacked Maimonides, and *Aaron b. Meshullam of Lunel, who defended him. Samson replied on behalf of the French rabbis in lengthy letters. He sharply criticized the Mishneh Torah, describing its defects, and even advising against its study. He particularly opposed Maimonides' view on resurrection. On the other hand, he expressed profound esteem for Maimonides himself, concluding "that the gates of understanding were opened to him, enabling him to see wonders in the divine Torah." However, his attitude did not satisfy the opponents of Maimonides. On a much later occasion (1235), Abraham, the son of Maimonides, referring to an unconfirmed report that Samson had disagreed with his father, vigorously denied that he had excommunicated him.

The extent of Samson's ties with Germany is not known. However, his works circulated and were accepted there. Isaac of Vienna (see Or Zaru'a, 3 (1887); bk, no. 436) writes of him, "he was unique in his knowledge and his wisdom." He composed tosafot, known as Tosafot Sens, on almost the whole of the Talmud (see Urbach, Tosafot, p. 232ff. for detailed list).

Some of those printed in the standard editions of the Talmud are actually from his pen (rh, Suk., Men., Bek.), while others are the work of his disciples and their disciples (Shab., Er., Yev., Ket., bm, bb). Other collections of tosafot, such as those of Touques and of Asher b. Jehiel, are based on them. His tosafot on Pesaḥim were published (1956), others are still in manuscript. His commentary on the mishnayot of Zera'im (excluding Berakhot) and Tohorot (excluding Niddah) is the most important commentary on these orders, and it was made use of by all later commentators, such as Asher b. Jehiel and Obadiah of Bertinoro. He is known to have written a commentary on Shekalim, Eduyyot, and Kinnim, which has not come down to us. The one printed as Tosafot Sens on Eduyyot, Makkot, and Sotah, as well as the commentary on the Sifra, have been erroneously attributed to him. Jacob of Courson, one of his disciples, collected his responsa and halakhic decisions in a work which has not been preserved. Urbach gives a list of his responsa which are scattered among the works of the halakhic authorities (Tosafot, 264).

At the beginning of the 13th century Samson migrated to Ereẓ Israel (Graetz' view that he went with the 300 French rabbis in 1211 is unsupported), and he is therefore sometimes referred to as "of Ereẓ Israel" or "of Jerusalem." Maimonides' son Abraham states that they did not meet because Samson did not pass through Egypt; he would therefore appear to have sailed directly to Acre. He lived in Jerusalem and Acre, where he died, and was buried at the foot of Mount Carmel. Urbach gives the date of his death as before 1216, but others date it c. 1230.


Frankel, Mishnah, 352–5; Gross, Gal Jud, 165, 168f.; 622; V. Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer Ravyah (1938), 24f.; 418–20; Urbach, Tosafot, 226–65, 534; S.H. Kook, Iyyunim u-Meḥkarim, 2 (1963), 128f.

[Shlomoh Zalman Havlin]