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From the Pages of Jewish History: Rabbeinu Tam Print E-mail

Rabbeinu TamThe 4th of Tammuz is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov ben Meir (Rabbeinu Tam). (1100-1171) The most famous of Rav Meir ben Shmuel’s sons, one of Rashi’s grandsons. He studied under his father and his older brother, Shmuel (the Rashbam), who was 15 years his senior. His other older brother Yitzchak (Rivam) was 10 years older than Rav Yaakov. Born in Ramerupt, Reb Yaakov was only 5 (or 9, according to others) when Rashi was niftar, and thus was not zocheh to learn with him. He succeeded his father as Rosh Yeshiva in the Ramerupt. He was quite wealthy as a wine merchant and financier. On the 2nd day of Shavuos of 1146, Crusaders entered and pillaged the city of Ramerupt, taking all of his possessions and inflicting five knife wounds in his head. He was saved by a nobleman, who promised the mob that he would convert the rabbi. After this incident, Rabbeinu Tam moved to Troyes and opened a teshiva. On 20 Sivan,1771, the Jews of Blois, France were subject to a blood libel, the first in Jewish history. And 32 Jews were killed. Rabbeinu Tam established that day as a fast day. Some of Rabbeinu Tam’s responsa are collected in Sefer Hayashar.


Rabbeinu Tam, “Our Perfect Teacher,’ a reference to the fact that the patriarch Jacob was described as, Tam, lived during the worst times of the Crusades in France, and suffered personal violence from a group of Crusaders, who wounded him and would have killed him, had he not been rescued by some noblemen.

Among the decrees he passed was one stating that the Ban should be issued against all Jews who failed to bring their disputes before the Jewish courts, but had recourse to the secular courts. Another decree ordained that whoever questioned the validity of a divorce on the basis of technical flaws in its text should be placed in Cherem. This was a vital decision in those tumultuous times, when husbands might give a divorce, then perhaps disappear. If the divorce were questioned and invalidated after the woman remarried, the second marriage could be declared adulterous and the children born of it illegitimate.

Rabbeinu Tam’s authority was so great that he was deemed of equal authority, if not greater than his grandfather, Rashi and even the Rambam. (Yam shel Shlomo; Introduction to Bava Kama). The Maharil ruled that a Mezuzah be placed at an angle because Rashi thought that it should be vertical and Rabbeinu Tam thought that  it should be horizontal, and we want to carry out the rulings of both (Minhagei Maharil, Rabbi Zalman of St. Goar). [Rabbi Yissachar Frand pointed out that we consistently follow one opinion or another, rarely combining two conflicting opinions. However, Mezuzah, which goes on the doors of our homes, is the exception, because to build a home of peace we must combine opinions and work together.]

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