SAMUEL BEN ABIGDOR:
Russian rabbi; born about 1720; died 1793 at Wilna, where his father, who had been rabbi in Pruzhani, Rushany, and Wilkowyszky, spent his last years (see Abigdor ben Samuel). His father-in-law, Judah ben Eliezer, surnamed "Yesod," was probably the most influential citizen of Wilna in his time, and contributed much to Samuel's advancement. The latter was at first engaged in business; and several financial agreements between him and the "ḳahal" (communal council) of Wilna (c. 1745) are recorded. In 1750, while still a young man, he was chosen rabbi of the old community of Wilna, but for several years his father-in-law administered the office, which, in those times of rabbinical jurisdiction over all secular Jewish affairs, was one of great responsibility. Later Samuel became rabbi of Smorgony, and there is a record of his having held also (c. 1777) the rabbinate of Königsberg (Epstein, "Geburot ha-Ari," p. 29, Wilna, 1870).
In 1777 the ḳahal of Wilna decided to remove Samuel from the rabbinate. The community was divided on the matter, and a quarrel ensued, which was conducted with much bitterness. The Gentile authorities also took sides, Prince Radziwill, the waywode of Wilna, agreeing with the views of the ḳahal, which represented the secular authority of the Jewish community, while Archbishop Masolski took the part of the rabbi. Samuel and many of his partizans removed to the suburb of Antokol, which was under the bishop's jurisdiction, in order to be safe from the persecutions of Radziwill, who ruled the city. Many were subjected to imprisonment or exile; and it may be said that both sides lost in the end. The power of the ḳahal was broken, and under the new Russian dominion it was unable to regain its former status.
Samuel remained rabbi in name only. The office died with him; and in the strict sense of the word Wilna has not since had a rabbi or "ab bet din." Samuel is not known to have left any writings; but he is mentioned in contemporary rabbinical works with the highest respect.
- Fuenn, Ḳiryah Ne'emanah, pp. 126-132, Wilna, 1860.