History of Rabbinic Studies in France, Rabbi Menahem ben Zerah’s Zeidah la-Derekh


There were in France, since the days of old, outstanding Torah scholars, who had a great understanding of Talmudic dicta. Even before the time of our teacher from Troyes, Rabbi Solomon [Rashi], the people of France studied the teachings of the Light of the Exile, Rabbenu Gershom. Yet, the holy spirit descended upon Rabbi Solomon, and he became a great talmudic scholar; he created a commentary on the Babylonian Talmud in a short and concise manner, which had never been done before his time. If Rabbi Solomon had not created his great work, then surely the Babylonian Talmud would have been forgotten by all of Israel.

Rabbi Solomon taught his Talmudic interpretation to his grandchildren, his daughter’s children, specifically Rabbi Jacob from the city of Ramerupt, which is three parsaot from the city of Troyes. Rabbi Jacob is known otherwise as Rabbeinu Tam, and he created a work titled Sefer ha- Yashar, the Book of the Straight Path, which has never been surpassed by another work. Rabbenu Samuel [Rashbam] was another of Rabbi Solomon’s grandchildren, and he composed a Talmudic commentary on Tractate Bava Batra.

Rabbi Isaac, the nephew of Rabbeinu Tam was one of the first of the Tosafists, and he learned and taught in the yeshiva all the days of his life. It was told to me by the great rabbis of France in the name of their teachers that it was known by all that Rabbi Isaac had sixty students study before him, so that every single one of them listened to the words of Torah that Rabbi Isaac repeated before them. Each one of the sixty studied one tractate of the Talmud each, so that no two students were studying the same tractate. The students studied the tractate until they knew it by heart, and Rabbi Isaac would not issue a single law from the talmudic text he was studying unless he first resolved all of the contradictions from other talmudic texts. Rabbi Isaac resolved every law or saying of a Tanna or an Amora that seemed contrary to the accepted practice or contradictory to another law.

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