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Samuel ben Meir

SAMUEL BEN MEIR

SAMUEL BEN MEIR (Rashbam ; c. 1080–85–c. 1174), commentator on Bible and Talmud. Born in Ramerupt in northern France, Samuel was the son of Meir, one of the first tosafists and a prominent disciple of *Rashi, whose daughter, Jochebed, Meir married. Samuel was the elder brother of Jacob*Tam and was a colleague of Joseph Kara. In his early youth he studied under his father, but mainly under his grandfather, Rashi, in Troyes. He entered into discussions with Rashi on biblical and talmudic subjects. In some instances Rashi accepted his grandson's opinion and amended his own commentary accordingly.

Samuel b. Meir earned his livelihood from sheep-farming and viticulture. He led a life of extreme piety and modesty, but resolutely holding to his own opinion when he felt it necessary. He used to pray that he might be privileged to know the truth and to love peace. He was well versed in worldly matters and may have had a knowledge of Latin. He participated in disputations with Christians. His scholarly activity was comprehensive. In addition to his commentaries on the Bible and Talmud he devoted himself to piyyutim and wrote a grammatical work, Sefer Daikut.

Bible Commentary

He apparently wrote a commentary on all the books of the Bible; only his commentary on the Pentateuch, however, has come down almost in its entirety. It was well edited from a manuscript by David Rosin (1881) who also wrote a comprehensive treatise on Samuel as Bible commentator. The edition by A.I. Bromberg (1965) is inaccurate. Of the remainder of Samuel's commentaries only fragments have survived in the works of later commentators, notably in the Arugat ha-Bosem of Abraham b. *Azriel (ed. by E.E. Urbach, 4 (1963), index, s.v. Shemuel (Samuel) b. Meir). A. Jellinek published part of the commentary on Esther, Ruth, and Lamentations (1855); he wrongly attributed to Rashbam the commentary on Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, which he also published (see detailed discussion in Rosin's edition, xviii–xxii).

Samuel's biblical commentaries are characterized by his extreme devotion to the literal meaning (peshat). He constantly refers to "the profound literal meaning of the text." He strongly condemns earlier commentaries, including those of his grandfather, Rashi, even referring to some as "nonsense," "lies," and "crooked explanations," without naming their authors; in point of fact he generally refrains from mentioning other commentators by name. This method of literal interpretation he adopted in his youth, and he relates how he argued on the subject with his grandfather, who conceded that "if he had the time, he would have had to write another commentary, more in accordance with the literal approach, then daily gaining ground" (Rashbam, on Gen. 37:2).

On rare occasions he bases his interpretation on halakhic or midrashic interpretations if these seem to him to agree with the literal meaning. At times he even interprets a verse against the halakhah (e.g., Gen. 1:5; Ex. 21:6, 10), despite the fact that he considered the halakhah as authoritative and "every word and interpretation of our sages are correct and true" (on Gen. 1:1). His uncomplicated faith and spiritual wholeness prevented him and those who followed his method from any feeling of tension or contradiction. In his opinion peshat and derash belong to different categories. While the former explains Scripture according to the laws of language and logic, the latter bases itself on redundancies in language employing the hermeneutical rules by which the Torah is expounded. He states: "Let every sensible person know and understand that, although they are of primary importance, I have not come to explain the halakhot … derived as they are from textual redundancies. They can partly be found in the commentaries of Rabbi Solomon, my maternal grandfather. My aim is to interpret the literal meaning of Scripture" (preface to section "Mishpatim").

Samuel was greatly influenced by Rashi, and to a considerable extent regarded his commentary as complementing that of Rashi, especially in those cases where Rashi did not follow the peshat. He sometimes remarks that, since Rashi had already commented on a certain matter, there is no need to repeat what he had said. Some of his explanations, however, are completely identical with those of his grandfather.

His exposition is concise and lucid and confined to explanation of the subject matter and language. He does not usually state the difficulties explicitly; but these may be inferred from their solutions in the commentary. Unlike Rashi, he gives one explanation only. In his commentary he takes *cantillation into consideration. Like Rashi he often uses French glosses to explain words, and he often interprets verses in accordance with contemporary custom and usage (e.g., Gen. 49:24). Samuel enters deeply into grammatical questions, generally relying upon Menahem b. *Saruk and Dunash b. *Labrat. In some cases he disagrees with them, demonstrating his own superior scholarship. In contrast to Rashi he insists that biblical Hebrew differs from mishnaic, and the meaning of a biblical word cannot therefore be determined by its meaning in mishnaic Hebrew (on Ex. 12:7). Occasionally, however, when he cannot find a biblical parallel, he deviates from this rule (on Ex. 1:13).

He took pains to find accurate texts of the Bible, especially from Spain, according to them – and sometimes even according to his own opinion – amending the Bible texts before him (Ex. 23:24). Sometimes he quotes biblical verses different from the accepted text (e.g., Gen. l:5, 21; Deut. 32:11). This seems in some cases to be the result of adjusting the text in accordance with his explanation, but in others it is due to the fact that he had a different text before him. He laid down an important rule with regard to biblical poetry (cf. on Ex. 15:6) which was accepted by his grandfather who, accordingly, amended his own commentary. Another principle widely applied by Rashbam is that the details which appear to be redundant are necessary, however, for the elucidation of the events that follow. Targum *Onkelos on the Pentateuch is one of his major sources. He also quotes the Palestine Targum on the Pentateuch once and the Targum to the Hagiographa twice. Twice he quotes the Vulgate but rejects its readings (Gen. 49:10; Ex. 20:13). He was the first Bible commentator to incorporate in his commentaries attacks on christological exposition. In this connection he gives reasons for certain laws, especially those whose validity was challenged by Christians. In some cases his extreme adherence to the literal meaning of the text may be attributed to those controversies with Christians. This emerges from the oft-repeated expression "according to the literal meaning of the text and in answer to sectarians."

His self-confidence in his ability as a commentator emerges clearly from his commentary. That self-confidence may explain his vigorous criticism of other commentators, his limiting himself to single explanations, the complete absence of the admission "I do not understand" (often found in Rashi), and his preparedness to make textual amendments. S.Z. Ashkenazi wrote a supercommentary Keren Shemu'el (Frankfurt on the Oder, 1727) on Samuel b. Meir's commentary.

[Avraham Grossman]

As Tosafist

In addition to his importance as a biblical commentator, Samuel b. Meir is also one of the first, and the most important, of the *tosafists. Only part of his halakhic writings have come down to us. The most significant and important are his supplements to Rashi's commentary on the Talmud where Rashi did not manage to complete his final version. Two of these were published instead of Rashi's missing commentary – one on chapter 10 of Pesaḥim, and the other on most of Bava Batra, from folio 29a. The commentary on Bava Batra was written after Rashi's death. Two versions of the commentary which differ considerably exist: that of the Bomberg edition (Venice, 1521), and that of the Pesaro edition (1510). Some scholars ascribe to him the anonymous commentaries on a few of the small tractates of the Talmud, but there is no evidence for this. The commentary to Bava Batra was in the hands of Abraham b. Isaac of *Narbonne during Samuel b. Meir's lifetime. His commentaries are characterized by their excessive prolixity, so that at times one of his comments is as long as a whole passage of tosafot. In addition to explaining the text, he propounds and answers difficulties, proposes alternative explanations, weighing one against the other, and all within the framework of a running commentary on the Talmud. He also wrote tosafot to various tractates; only a number of quotations and a greater number of references have been preserved in the standard tosafot and in the works of other rishonim. A larger number of fragments occur in the tosafot to the third chapter of Makkot, from folio 20 onward, which are introduced with the words perush ha-kunteres. The commentary to *Alfasi's compendium there ascribed to Rashi is also his. Large sections of his commentary to Avodah Zarah have come down in the works of other rishonim, when they discuss the themes of this tractate. Many quotations from his commentary to Avot are preserved in the anonymous commentary to this tractate in the Maḥzor *Vitry and in that of Isaac b. Solomon of Toledo. Samuel b. Meir was also the first scholar of northern France to make frequent use of Alfasi's compendium, to which he even wrote a kind of tosafot. Various manuscripts refer to his commentary on piyyutim.

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]

bibliography:

D. Rosin, R. Samuel ben Meir (Rašbam) als Schrifterklaerer (1880); S. Poznański (ed.), Perush al Yeḥezkel ve-Terei-Asar le-R. Eliezer mi-Belganẓi (1913), xxix–l (introd.); Margalioth, in: Sefer Assaf (1953), 357–69; Moses b. Isaac, Sefer ha-Shoham, ed. by B. Klar (1946), vii (foreword); Gross, Gal Jud, 229, 542, 637; A.I. Bromberg (ed.), Perush ha-Torch la-Rashbam (1965), 7–19 (introd.); Kasher, in: De'ot, 30 (1966), 269–74; Esh, in: Textus, 5 (1966), 84–92. As tosafist: E.E. Urbach (ed.), Arugat ha-Bosem, 4 vols. (1939–63), index; Urbach, Tosafot, index; Dienemann, in: Festschrift… Israel Lewy (1911), 259–69 (Ger. section); Epstein, in: Tarbiz, 4 (1932/33), 185–6; Ta-Shema, in: ks, 42 (1966/67), 507–8.

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