The Medieval Rabbi Who Championed Literalism

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.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

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


Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security