Samuel ben Avigdor

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SAMUEL BEN AVIGDOR (1720–1793), Lithuanian rabbi. Samuel b. Avigdor was Vilna's last official rabbi. His father, Avigdor b. Samuel (d. 1771) was nicknamed Ḥarif ("the sharp one"). Between 1719 and 1746 he served as rabbi of Pruzhany, Zelwa, Volkovysk, and Ruzhany. His approbations are found in many works. He is mentioned in responsa in Mekom Shemu'el (Altona, 1738) and Givat Sha'ul (Zolkiew, 1774). In his old age he lived with his son.

Samuel was at first a merchant who contracted several business agreements with the Vilna community (1745), but was appointed rabbi of Vilna in 1750, succeeding his influential father-in-law, Judah b. Eliezer (known as Yesod). Later Samuel was also appointed rabbi of *Smorgon. As a result of complaints against him that he intended to dominate the community by the infiltration of members of his family into the communal organizations of Vilna, in 1777 the community decided to oust him from the rabbinate. The civil government also intervened in the ensuing battle. That year a temporary compromise was reached whereby the rabbi obtained several posts for the members of his family, he in his turn relinquishing several of his financial demands, but the furore broke out again in 1782. The dispute was brought before several courts, both Jewish and gentile. The resolution of the community on the dismissal of the rabbi from his post that was finally adopted in 1785 was endorsed by the civil court in 1787. In the second stage of the dispute (1782–91), Samuel was supported by merchants and artisans in the town, who represented a new power in the community and demanded that the community alleviate their situation and associate them in the conduct of its affairs. One of the chief opponents of the domination of Vilna by the wealthy was Simeon b. Ze'ev Wolf, who did not refrain even from false allegations and calumny. Although all the reforms were not achieved, some of them were implemented. In the end neither side won a clear victory, but, as a result of the controversy, no one was thereafter officially appointed rabbi of Vilna. Samuel was an opponent of Ḥasidism and was among the first signatories of the Vilna excommunication of Ḥasidim in 1772. Samuel published no writings (his novellae, in pilpulistic style, and Hadrat Zekenim, his novellae on the entire Talmud, are still in manuscript), but he is mentioned with great reverence in rabbinic literature.


Ḥ.N. Maggid-Steinschneider, Ir Vilna (1900), 17f.; S.J. Fuenn, Kiryah Ne'emanah (19152), 138–44, 171; Y. Zinberg, in: He-Avar, 2 (1918), 45–74, idem, in: yivo Historishe Shriftn, 2 (1937), 291–321; I. Klausner, Toledot ha-Kehillah ha-Ivrit be-Vilna (1935), 127–31; idem, Vilna bi-Tekufat ha-Ga'on (1942), 141–50, 285–7, 293; H. Lunski, in: Reshumot, 2 (1946), 62–68; I. Halpern, Yehudim ve-Yahadut be-Mizraḥ Eiropah (1968), 159–62; M. Wilensky, Ḥasidim u-Mitnaggedim (1970), 1 pt. 1, 60f., 64f.;1 pt. 2, 73, 114, 132f.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]