SAMUEL B. MEÏR (RaSHBaM):
French exegete of Ramerupt, near Troyes; born about 1085; died about 1174; grandson of Rashi on his mother's side, and eldest son of the family. He was a pupil of his grandfather, and was at first an adherent of haggadic interpretation, although he subsequently approached more closely to the school of Menahem b. Ḥelbo. He was one of the first realistic exegetes, and is also frequently mentioned as a tosafist. His Biblical commentaries include the following: (1) On the Pentateuch, of which the section from Gen. xviii, to Deut. xxxiii. 3 was first printed, with several other commentaries, under the title "Ha-Rashbam" in the edition of the Hebrew Pentateuch published in Berlin in 1705, while the portion on Gen. i. 1-31 was edited in "Kerem Ḥemed," viii. 44 et seq. (2) On Judges and Kings (Perles, in "Monatsschrift," 1877, pp. 363, 367 et seq.; Berliner's "Magazin," i. 2-5). (3) On Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets. (4-7) On Ezra and Nehemiah (many notes in the existing commentary on these books which is ascribed to Ṛashi, appear to be by RaSHBaM). (8) On Job, beginning, in De Rossi MS. No. 181, with Ch. xi. 27, but extending, in "Cat. Munich," No. 2 (according to Lilienthal), from ch. xxxviii. to the end. (9) On the Five Megillot, of which the portion on Canticles and Ecclesiastes has been published by A. Jellinek (Leipsic, 1855), together with some fragments from the other three Megillot (see, however, Rosin, "R. Samuel ben Meïr," pp. 17-21, Breslau, 1880). (10) On the Psalms, said to have been discovered by Isaac ha-Levi of Satanow in the Berlin Library and published by him in 1793 (reprinted at Vienna, 1816).
One of the earliest writings of Samuel is undoubtedly his commentary on Canticles, which he regards as the representation of a dialogue between God and the Jewish people, and as a description of the condition of Israel in times of misery and of happiness. In his other Biblical commentaries, on the contrary, he opposes all haggadic interpretation. His sources for this commentary were: the Bible, the Masoretic text of which he closely followed, and with which he compared French, German, and Spanish manuscripts; the Targum Onḳelos; the Babylonian Targum to the Prophets; the Jerusalem Targum to the Pentateuch; the Palestinian Targum to the Hagiographa; the Vulgate, in so far as he objected to its renderings; the Mishnah, Mekilta, Sifra, and Sifre; the Baraita of R. Eliezer; Seder 'Olam; Pirḳe Rabbi Eli'ezer; the "Dibre ha-Yamim shel Mosheh" (Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 1-11); Eleazar Ḳalir; Menahem ibn Saruḳ; Dunash ben Labraṭ; Kalonymus of Rome (on Num. xi. 35); and Menahem b. Ḥelbo.
Rashbam explains his aim in Biblical exegesis thus: "Those who love pure reason should always remember that the sages have said a Biblical passage must not be deprived of its original meaning [on Gen. xxxvii. 1]. Yet as a consequence of the opinion expressed by them, that theconstant study of the Talmud is one of the most laudable pursuits, commentators have been unable, by reason of such study, to expound individual verses according to their obvious meaning. Even my grandfather Solomon was an adherent of this school; and I had an argument with him on that account, in which he admitted that he would revise his commentaries if he had time to do so." It is subsequently related that Rashbam so thoroughly convinced his grandfather that the latter burned his own works.
Briefly Rashbam may be said to have had the following objects in view in his exegesis: to harmonize his comments with the progress made by the exegesis of his time; to simplify exegesis and investigate the inner meaning of the Scriptural text; to preserve the traditional interpretation when it agrees with the literal sense; to show the connection of disconnected passages of the Bible; and to defend Judaism (). In regard to form, he advances, adopts, or rejects explanations with a brief and pointed statement of his reasons therefor (see Rosin, l.c. pp. 92-98).
The following passage on Gen. xxxiv. 25 may be quoted as an example of the simplicity of Samuel's exegesis: "'They [Simeon and Levi] came upon the city [Shechem].' This certainly means that they came upon the city when it felt itself secure, since the Hebrew word 'beṭaḥ' can be applied only to an object at rest." This explanation is at the same time a criticism of Rashi, who first refers "beṭaḥ" to the inhabitants and not to the city, and then interprets the passage haggadically. Rashbam was himself attacked by Ibn Ezra in "Iggeret Shabbat" because in his interpretation of Gen. i. 5 he tries to prove that the Jewish day, even the Sabbath, begins at dawn and not at evening.
In his comment on Ex. ii. 14 Rashbam shows his mastery in determining the most evident meaning. The names of God are explained as verb-forms, the first one, , as placing in the mouth of God Himself the declaration of eternal existence, , and the second, , as placing in the mouth of man the same declaration. Equally obvious is the connection he finds between the Feast of Tabernacles and the festival of ingathering (Lev. xxiii. 43), basing it on the sentiment of humility and gratitude; the humble hut being occupied during the most beautiful outdoor festival of the year, and being a reminder at the same time of the ancient tent life. He explains the threefold repetition of the word in Num. xv. 39 by saying that a notable play on words underlies its third occurrence. The obscure use of in Deut. xxvi. 17, 18, he explains, as no commentator before him had done, by the passages Num. xv. 41 and Ex. xix. 6. On other philosophical explanations, some of which are untenable, comp. Rosin, l.c. pp. 104-108.
The most radical of Rashbam's commentaries is that on Ecclesiastes. For instance: (1) He declares that the words "vanity of vanities" were not spoken by the preacher, but were prefixed by the editor who arranged the book in its present form. (2) He draws a distinction between practical wisdom, which is not speculative (Eccl. ii. 3), and theoretical wisdom, which must not be confounded with it. (3) In opposition to all the earlier commentators—unless the comments of this nature were added by a later editor (comp. Rosin, l.c., p. 108, note 4)—he explains according to their natural literal meaning all the sentences of the preacher relating to doubts and to pessimism (Eccl. iii. 21, v. 7).
Rashbam's attitude toward science may be considered from two points of view, (1) the theological, and (2) the secular. In regard to theology he clings to the doctrine of the spirituality and omniscience of God (Gen. i. 26; "Kerem Ḥemed," viii. 45), holding that neither the former nor the latter is in any way circumscribed. In his views on angels, prophecy, and the miracles mentioned in the Bible he falls short of the religious philosophers both of his own and of a later epoch. Nor does he rise superior to the superstitions of his time and country, explaining many Biblical passages (e.g., Gen. xxxi. 19; Ex. xxxi. 1) according to the prevailing ideas. He bases the Biblical laws (e.g., Gen. xxxii. 33 [A. V. 32]; Ex. xii. 8, 9, 17; xxv. 31) not only on ethical but also on other grounds. Occasionally he offers to his reader extraneous ideas suggested by some occurrence or train of thought. As regards his secular attainments, he gives evidence of being conversant with Old French (see the Old French philological explanations which he quotes, given in alphabetical order in Rosin, l.c. pp. 92-97). He knew Latin also, and could even read the Vulgate (see on Ex. xx. 13, in reference to the translation of "Non occides" = "Thou shalt not kill," and "Ego occidam," Deut. xxxii. 39).
Some correct geographical notes (on Gen. xxxv. 21; Num. xxi. 28; Deut. ii. 3) show that Rashbam was conversant also with the geography of Palestine. In his knowledge of Hebrew grammar and lexicography not only was he the equal of his contemporaries, but he even surpassed Menahem and Dunash in point of general scholarship, although he could not make use of Saadia's works, as he did not know Arabic (this topic is treated in detail in Rosin, l.c. pp. 120-144, 145-155).
Among Rashbam's Talmudical works are the following commentaries: (1) On the treatise Baba Batra (iii. 29a to the end). (2) On Pesaḥim (x. 99b to the end). (3) On 'Abodah Zarah, of which only a few passages are quoted in "Temim De'im," ed. Venice, iii. 19b, 20b, 28c. (4) On the treatise Niddah, as appears from the "Or Zarua'" (Berliner's "Magazin," i. 100a). (5) Additions to Alfasi (Ahaba, ed. Amsterdam, i. 136b). (6) Additions to Rashi's commentary (Zunz, "Z. G." p. 32). (7) "Teshubot," in R. Eliezer b. Nathan's "Eben ha-'Ezer," ed. Prague, 143b-146c, and in the "Pardes," ed. Constantinople, fol. 4a (Berliner's "Magazin," 1876, p. 60; "Or Zarua'," i. 79b; "Mordekai" on Ket. viii. 300, fol. 108b, in "Haggahot Maimuniyyot," "Ishot," iii.). (8) On the treatise Abot (Zunz, "Z. G." pp. 124 et seq.); also the work "Ba'al ha-Ma'or" (according to Rieti), and the conclusions of the commentaries on the Talmud left incomplete by Rashi.
Rashbam is, however, much weaker than Rashi in his Talmudic commentaries, and he occasionally becomes prolix in attempting detailed explanations, while the simplicity of Rashi is at once evident. As a tosafist Rashbam is quoted in B. K. 6b, 10a, and in B. M. 96b, while additions of his to the PirḳeAbot are found also in the "Migdal 'Oz" of Shem-Ṭob Gaon.
Few details of Rashbam's life are known. He is said to have been so modest that he always walked with downcast eyes; and Mordecai b. Hillel says ('Erubin, end) that he was so absent-minded that once, while traveling, he climbed into a wagon loaded with cattle.
- Zunz, Z. G. pp. 32, 57, 70, 124;
- Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah, ed. Amsterdam, p. 39b;
- Rieti, Miḳdash Me'at, p. 100;
- Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim, i. 776. ii. 162;
- Dukes, in Zion, ii. 104;
- D. Rosin, R. Samuel b. Meïr als Schrifterklärer, Breslau, 1880;
- Geiger, Beiträge, p. 29;
- idem, Parschandatha, p. 20, Leipsic, 1855;
- Jellinek, in Monatsschrift, iii. 116;
- Orient, Lit. viii. 354;
- Franz Delitzsch, Zur Gesch. der Jüdischen Poesic, p. 115;
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 2452;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica. pp. 179, 229, 259, 542, 637;
- Winter and Wünsche, Jüdische Literatur, ii. 278, 286-288.