While Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak 1040-1105) is considered the premier commentator on the Torah and the Talmud, he is also noted as the grandfather of Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir (1100-1171). Also known as Rabbeinu Tam (our teacher, the complete*), Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir was one of the most important of the Talmudic scholars known as the Tosafists and a leader of his generation.
A successful wine merchant and financier, Rabbeinu Tam dedicated his life to Torah study. He received questions on halacha (Jewish law) from all over the world and scholars traveled great distances to hear his Talmudic discourses at his yeshiva in Ramerupt, France. He was also a noted authority on Hebrew grammar and a poet whose work drew the attention of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra.
Alas, 12th century France was not the easiest place for Jews to live. In 1147, Rabbeinu Tam survived being stabbed five times in a pogrom during the Second Crusade. He then moved to Troyes.
In addition to his scholarship, Rabbeinu Tam is known for his rabbinic disagreements with his grandfather, Rashi–most famously about mezuzah and tefillin. Rashi stated that a mezuzah should be affixed vertically on the doorpost, Rabbeinu Tam said horizontally. While Sephardim follow Rashi and affix the mezuzah straight up and down, Ashkenazim place it at an angle as a compromise between the two opinions. Rabbeinu Tam also believed that the verses in the tefillin boxes should be written and placed in a different order than that stated by Rashi. Although all standard tefillin are made according to Rashi’s opinion, many who are concerned for Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, also put on an additional pair of tefillin that contain scrolls that are written according to his viewpoint. These are known, not surprisingly, as Rabbeinu Tam Tefilllin.
Today, 4 Tammuz, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbeinu Tam.
*Tam, complete, is used to describe our forefather Jacob in Genesis 15.
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