The Medieval Rabbi Who Championed Literalism

Nov. 29 2022

The grandson of the famed French Bible and Talmud commentator Solomon ben Isaac (better known as Rashi), Samuel ben Meir (ca. 1080–1174) was himself the author of commentaries on these texts, not all of which have survived. In his introduction to his glosses to the Pentateuch, Rashbam (as Samuel is called in rabbinic literature) portrayed himself as carrying on his grandfather’s legacy by analyzing the plain sense of the text, without reference to traditional rabbinic exegesis, or midrash. Tamar Marvin takes stock of his life and work:

It’s been argued that living in the shadow of Rashi—not to mention that of his less-prickly, overachiever younger brother Rabbi Jacob ben Meir Tam—laid upon Rashbam a burdensome anxiety of influence: that it’s this that impelled him toward staking a claim of his own, or what we moderns would term originality. It couldn’t have been otherwise, but I don’t see Rashbam’s personality as dominated by his grandfather’s legacy; he’s nothing if not self-possessed. And had good reason to be. . . . Rashbam felt himself, rightly, at the very center of Ashkenazi high culture, his piety unimpeachable, his yiḥus (lineage) sterling, his hall of study bustling.

Rashbam lived his whole life in the dusty Champagne town of Ramerupt. He was apparently there, as recent research indicates, because of exclusive rights granted to his brother by local officials. This meant that Rashbam had a potential vector of close interaction with local Christians, which is evidenced in his writings. Some scholars have argued that this is how Rashbam caught wind of the so-called 12th-century renaissance, the outburst of knowledge production centered in the burgeoning church schools of Paris. Others have emphasized that it gave Rashbam familiarity with Christian readings of the Bible, which he answered explicitly with anti-Christological readings of his own.

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Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Biblical commentary, Middle Ages, Midrash, Rashbam, Rashi

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror