Rabbenu Tam

(c. 1100—1171)

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The name given to Jacob ben Meir (1100–71), the foremost French authority of the Middle Ages. The name is based on Genesis 25: 27: ‘Jacob was a mild man [ish tam], dwelling in tents’, interpreted in the Rabbinic tradition to mean that Jacob was a ‘perfect’ man, dwelling in the tents of the Torah; hence this famous teacher is known universally as Rabbenu Tam, ‘Our Teacher the Perfect One’. A daughter of the great French sage, Rashi, married Rabbi Meir of Ramerupt and Tam was the youngest of their three sons; the other two were Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) and Rabbi Isaac ben Meir (Ribam). Tam studied under his father, his much older brother Rashbam, and Jacob ben Samson, a pupil of Rashi, eventually to become the acknowledged spiritual leader of French Jewry and the most outstanding contributor to the Tosafot glosses to the Talmud.

Tam established a Yeshivah in Ramerupt, teaching the Torah to scores of distinguished Talmudists. (The report that each of Tam's students was a particular expert in a chosen tractate of the Talmud is now seen to be legendary.) Tam's fame spread beyond France. Questions were addressed to him from other parts of the Jewish world and he was known as far as Spain as a great Halakhist, teacher, and liturgical poet, corresponding with Abraham Ibn Ezra, who visited Tam during his stay in France.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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