BENJAMIN B. SAMUEL OF COUTANCES:
By: Louis Ginzberg
Talmudist and French liturgical poet of the first half of the eleventh century. The name of the place of his residence, Coutances (department of the Manche, Normandy), was formerly Coustances, in Hebrew ; and Grätz ("Gesch. der Juden," 3d ed., vi. 53) incorrectly transfers this Benjamin to Constance on the Lake of Constance. The old scholars conferred on Benjamin the honorable title "payyeṭan"; for he was one of the most prolific and most gifted of the payyeṭanim. In the various ritual collections thirty-one of his liturgical pieces are preserved.
The fact that most of his poems occur in the French ritual, while the old German and Polish rituals contain each but one of his poems, suffices to show that Grätz's conjecture is wrong. Benjamin wrote in the main for the three festivals and New-Year's Day, and some few poems for the Day of Atonement. It is doubtful whether certain liturgies containing "Benjamin" in acrostic are to be attributed to him or to his younger contemporary, Benjamin b. Zeraḥ.
Benjamin was considered, also, a great Talmudic authority; and one of his decisions, cited by Isaac ha-Levi, Rashi's teacher, is of some importance. In this he shows the connection between Midrash and piyyuṭ, explaining that both originated in public readings, and drawing the conclusion that the opposition to the insertion of piyyuṭim in the prayers is unfounded. Benjamin's preference for Akiba's "Alphabet," which he uses in his liturgical poems, reveals a certain inclination toward mysticism.
- Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, p. 174;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, p. 553;
- Kohn, Mordecai b. Hillel, pp. 103, 153, Breslau, 1878;
- Landshuth, 'Ammude ha-'Abodah, p. 53;
- Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, p. 610;
- Rapoport, in Bikkure ha-'Ittim, x. 121;
- Zunz, Literaturgesch. pp. 115-120, 240.