Samuel ben Nahman

Samuel ben Nahman (Hebrew: שמואל בן נחמן) or Samuel Nahmani was a rabbi of the Jewish Talmud, known as an amora, who lived in the Land of Israel from the beginning of the 3rd century until the beginning of the 4th century. He was a pupil of R. Jonathan ben Eleazar (Pes. 24a) and one of the most famous haggadists of his time (Yer. Ber. 12d; Midr. Teh. to Ps. ix. 2). He was a native of the Land of Israel and may have known the patriarch Judah I (Gen R. ix.). It appears that he went to Babylon in his youth but soon returned to Palestine (Sanh. 96b).

Relations with Diocletian

Samuel ben Nahman seems to have gone to Babylon a second time in an official capacity in order to determine the intercalation of the year, which, for political reasons, could not be done in Palestine (Yer. Ber. 2d; Pes. 54b). As an old man he went to the court of Empress Zenobia (267-273) to petition her to pardon an orphaned youth who had committed a grave political crime (Yer. Ter. 46b). In the days of Judah II, Samuel ben NaḤman appears among the most intimate associates of the patriarch, with whom he went (286) to Tiberias at Diocletian's order; later he joined the emperor at Paneas (Yer. Ter. ix., end; Gen. R. lxiii.).

In the school Samuel held a position of authority; to him is ascribed the rule that during the heat of the day instruction should be suspended (Lam. R. i. 3, end; Midr. Teh. to Ps. xci. 6). On account of his fame as a haggadist questions were addressed to him by such authorities as the patriarch Judah II (Gen. R. xii., end), Simeon ben Jehozadak (Gen. R. iii., beginning; Lev. R. xxxi.; Pes. 145b; Midr. Teh. to Ps. civ.; Tan. to Wayaḳhel, beginning; Ex. R. l., beginning), Ammi (Lev. R. xxxi., beginning; Lam. R. i. 13), Ḥanina ben Pappa (Pes. 157a; Midr. Teh. to Ps. lxv.; Lam. R. iii. 45; Yer. Sheb. 35b), and Ḥelbo (B. B. 123a, b).

Among the transmitters of Samuel's sayings were Ḥelbo, the haggadist Levi, Abbahu (Lev. R. xxxv., end; Yer. Ta'an. iii.), and Eleazar ben Pedaṭ (Pes. 159b). Of Samuel's sons two are known by name—Naḥman and Hillel; sayings of both have been preserved (Gen. R. x., xxxii.; Midr. Teh. to Ps. lii.; Yer. Sheb. 36b; Yer. Ḳid. 61c; Eccl. R. i. 4; Midr. Shemu'el xv., on Neh. viii. 17).

Samuel ben Naḥman's decisions and sayings concern the study of dogma (Yer. Peah 17a; Meg. 74d; Ḥag. 76d), prayer (Pes. 157a, b; Deut. R. ii.; Yer. Ber. 7a; Gen. R. lxviii.), and Sabbath regulations (Gen. R. xi., end; Pesiḳ. R. 23; Yer. Shab. 15a); the history of Israel and the nations and empires (Pes. 15b, 151b; Lev. R. ii., beginning, xxiv., end, xxix.; Num. R. ii., end; Yer. Sheb. 35b; Yer. Ab. Zarah 44b); the ordinances regarding proselytes (Cant. R. vi. 2; Yer. Ber. 5b, c); Scripture ('Ab. Zarah 25a; B. B. 15a; Gen. R. vi., end; Cant. R. i. 1, end), halakic exegesis (Yer. Sheḳ. 45d; Yer. Shab. 9b; Yer. Ḥal. 57b), and Biblical characters and narratives (B. B. 123a; 'Ab. Zarah 25a; Yer. Yeb. 9c; Yer. Ber. 4b; Tosef., Shab. vii., 25; Gen. R. xlii., xlix., lxii., xcviii.; Ex. R. xliii.; Lev. R. xi.; Pes. vi.; Eccl. R. vii. 1; Midr. Shemu'el xxiii.).

His dirges

Especially noteworthy is Samuel b. Naḥman's description of the grief of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and of Rachel, over the destruction of the Temple (Lam. R., Pref. 24, end). It is written in beautiful Hebrew prose, and is accompanied by dramatic dirges in Aramaic. Then follow the dirges of all the Patriarchs, which they intone when Moses for the second time has communicated to them the sad tidings. Finally, Moses himself chants a lament, addressed partly to the sun and partly to the enemy.

Other utterances of Samuel b. Naḥman's refer to homiletics (Gen. R. xiv., xx., xliii.; B. B. 123b; Ḥul. 91d; Shab. 113b), to God and the world (Gen. R. xxxiii.; Pes. 139a; 'Er. 22a; B. Ḳ. 5a, b), and to eschatology (Gen. R. viii.; Midr. Teh. to Ps. lxxiii., end; Pes. 156b; Midr. Shemu'el xix.; Eccl. R. i. 8).

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

*Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. i. 477-551, ii., and iii. (see Index);
*Frankel, Mebo, pp. 146 et seq.;
*Weiss, Dor, iii. 66;
*Jellinek, B. H. vi. 104.


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