SOLOMON BEN ABRAHAM BEN SAMUEL:
French Talmudist of the first half of the thirteenth century. He was rabbi at Montpellier, and leader of the movement against Maimonides. When Ibn Tibbon's translation of the "Moreh Nebukim" became known in southern France, it was freely accepted by the liberal Jews; but the strictly orthodox, who adhered firmly to the Talmud, regarded it askance and secretly condemned it. No one, however, dared to express open disapproval of the study of this book until Solomon threw down the gauntletto the Maimonists. It would be natural to infer from this proceeding, which divided Judaism into two hostile camps, that Solomon had had a philosophical training which enabled him to recognize the import of Maimonides' ideas, and the contradictions existing between the latter's conception of Judaism and that of the Talmud.
Solomon, however, as Luzzatto has definitively proved, while a prominent Talmudic authority and a pious, upright character, who had taken up the quarrel with the best intentions, was unable to comprehend Maimonides' views correctly, and had no idea of a philosophical conception of Judaism. He attacked Maimonides on minor, incidental points, e.g., for his refusal to take the haggadic opinions of the Talmud in their simple, often offensive, literal sense; for his explauation of many miracles by means of natural processes; for his description of paradise and hell in other than haggadic colors; and for his conception of the Godhead on other than anthropomorphic lines. As Graetz happily remarks, Solomon, with his childish views and his clumsy ideas, regarded nearly every word of Maimonides as un-Jewish and heretical. Solomon knew enough, however, to understand that single-handed he would be powerless to make headway against Maimonides' great authority, which prevailed even after his death, and against his numerous adherents. He therefore sought allies; but his demands for the interdiction of scientific studies found little support among the scholars of southern France, only two of his pupils, Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi (Naḥmanides' relative) and David ben Saul, joining him. These three pronounced (in the beginning of the year 1232) a sentence of excommunication on Maimonides' works, on those who studied them, and on those who construed the Scripture otherwise than literally and interpreted the Haggadah at variance with Rashi. Several rabbis of northern France subsequently confirmed this sentence.
This proceeding aroused a storm of indignation among the followers of Maimonides. The communities of Provence, which stood foremost in point of culture, now excommunicated Solomon and his two disciples and hastened to find allies. The controversy became more fierce, the adherents of both parties increasing and growing more bitter; and the discord threatened to spread throughout all Jewry. Many of the rabbis of northern France, frightened at the unexpected consequences, retired from the controversy; but Solomon, whose bigotry knew no bounds, decided upon a shameful and dangerous step. He went to the Dominican monks; and on a certain day in 1233 the citizens of Montpellier saw servants of the Church, filled with hatred of the Jews and incited by an overpious rabbi, publicly burn the works of the greatest rabbi of post-Talmudic times. The news of this event filled all the Jews with horror; and Solomon and his pupils were universally condemned, his follower Al-Fakhkhar trying vainly to excuse him. But the matter did not rest there; Solomon, believing that he had gained nothing by destroying the works of Maimonides so long as his admirers were still in the field, denounced them to the authorities. It seems, however, that the Maimonists, with the help of friends in favor at the court of King James of Aragon, paid Solomon back in his own coin; for several of the calumniators in his party had their tongues cut out. The fate of Solomon himself is not known. Luzzatto infers from the epithet "Ḳadosh" applied to him that he also suffered this shameful mutilation.
- Halberstam, in Kobak's Jeschurun, viii. 98;
- Abraham Maimuni, Mitḥamot, pp. 12, 16, 17, 21;
- Luzzatto, in Kerem Ḥemed, v. 1 et seq.;
- Grätz, Gesch. vii., ch. ii.;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, p. 326.