- SAMUEL (Mar or Samuel Yarhina'ah; end of second century to mid-third century), Babylonian amora. Samuel was born at Nehardea and studied with his father, abba b. abba ha-kohen (Zev. 26a) and also with Levi b. Sisi (Shab. 108b),who had emigrated to Babylonia from Ereẓ Israel. His principal teachers, however, are unknown. From the story that Samuel cured Judah ha-Nasi of an eye ailment (BM 85b) some scholars infer that he attended the latter's bet midrash in Ereẓ Israel, and that Judah ha-Nasi was his main teacher. This is not conclusive evidence; Samuel could have sent the medicine to Judah ha-Nasi by a messenger. In any event, Samuel quotes no halakhot which, it may be asserted, he would have heard from Judah ha-Nasi, nor does he report any custom he saw in the latter's home, although this was a practice of the scholars of both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. D. Hoffmann contends that Samuel studied in Ereẓ Israel under Ḥanina b. Ḥama, inasmuch as both used the drawing of a palm branch as their signatures (TJ, Git. 9:9, 50d) and prescribed identical cures. However, there is no conclusive evidence for this assertion, as the same was true of different people living in widely separated areas. Samuel's sons died in their youth (Shab. 108a; MK 18a), two of his daughters were taken captive and later ransomed in Ereẓ Israel (Ket. 23a), and another daughter married a non-Jew (who was subsequently converted to Judaism: see rashi , Ber. 16a). His economic circumstances were extremely good, his father having left him fields (Ḥul. 105a) and plantations which were cultivated by tenant-farmers and laborers (BK 92a), and the household chores were attended to by maidservants (Nid. 47a). Samuel was the head of an important bet midrash-bet din at Nehardea in the middle of the third century (Git. 36b). He was the outstanding authority of his day in civil law (Bek. 49b), in which sphere later generations accepted his pronouncements as decisive (ibid.). Samuel was the author of the momentous principle that in civil matters "the law of the state is the law (for its Jews)" (BK 113b), which has influenced the entire Diaspora. Other principles of his are: "The obligation of producing proof rests on the claimant" (ibid. 46a) and "In pecuniary cases we do not follow the majority" (ibid. 46b). His concern for orphans led him to rule that their money may be lent out on interest (contrary to the rule that money was not to be lent to Jews on interest; BM 70a). As a dayyan he was on his guard against even the slightest taint of bribery. Thus, he refused to act as a judge in the case of a man who had put out his hand to assist him in fording a river on a board (Ket. 105b). His integrity is revealed in other instances. He refused to take advantage of a seasonal scarcity to obtain higher prices for his products (BB 90b), and he vigorously opposed those who arbitrarily raised prices. When after Passover the merchants, reacting to an increased demand, raised the prices of pots (the Babylonian Jews not using those in which leaven had been cooked before the festival), Samuel warned that, unless they took fair prices, he would permit the use of the old pots (Pes. 30a). Similarly, when those who sold myrtle branches (for the Four Species in the Festival of Tabernacles) charged exorbitant prices, Samuel warned that, unless they asked a reasonable price, he would declare permissible even such myrtle branches whose tips were broken off (Suk. 34b). The great authority enjoyed by his bet din was entirely owing to his prestige; only his bet din and that of Rav at Sura were allowed to write a prosbul (a declaration, made in a bet din, that the limitation of the Sabbatical Year shall not apply to the loan about to be made; Git. 36b). He held that in certain cases dayyanim were entitled to use their discretion in judging (BB 35a, and Tos. to ibid.), and he would order lashes (Er. 44b), as well as arrest and detention in prison (Nid. 25b), indicating his great authority. Samuel had many contacts with his distinguished colleague, Rav, who appreciated his erudition (Ḥul. 59a), showed him every respect (Meg. 22a), and, when on a visit to Nehardea, observed the customs instituted by Samuel (Er. 94a). After Rav's death in 247 C.E., Samuel became the preeminent authority and was recognized as such by all the Babylonian sages (Iggeret Rav Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 81), whereas during Rav's lifetime the Jews of Sura and its neighborhood had adopted the usages laid down by Rav, while the Jews of Nehardea and its neighborhood adopted those of Samuel (Ket. 54a). Samuel was close to the exilarch and his officials (TJ, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a) and would sit in front of Mar Ukva, the exilarch, when the latter judged a case (MK 16b). He was also personally acquainted with Sapor, the king. Samuel's extensive knowledge of medicine and astronomy assisted him in the establishment of various halakhot. He discovered a salve, known as "killurin de-Mar Shemu'el," for curing eye ailments (Shab. 108b), and asserted that he could cure all maladies except three (BM 113b). He was known as Samuel Yarḥina'ah ("Samuel the Astronomer": BM 85b), and such was his knowledge of astronomy that he declared: "The paths of heaven are as familiar to me as the streets of Nehardea" (Ber. 58b). Though his knowledge of this science enabled him to fix and draw up a calendar (RH 20b), according to his own testimony he did not devote much time to its study (Deut. R. 8:6). It may have been his knowledge of astronomy which brought him into contact with non-Jewish Babylonian scholars, with one of whom, Avlet, he dined (Av. Zar. 30a) and discussed nature (Shab. 129a, 156b). Samuel also met non-Jewish scholars in the Bei-Avidan (ibid. 116a, and Rashi ibid.). But because his chief activity centered on his industrious acquisition and dissemination of the knowledge of the Torah, he was called shoked (TJ, Ket. 4:2, 28b) or shakud (TB, ibid. 43b), that is, "the industrious Torah scholar." He ruled that it was forbidden to deceive non-Jews as well as Jews (Ḥul. 94a), and that whoever puts a slave to shame must compensate him accordingly (Nid. 47a). Samuel made some interesting observations on the past and future of the Jewish people. He traced the ascendancy of Rome and the subsequent destruction of the Temple to Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter, who introduced idolatry into Jerusalem (Shab. 56b). In his view the Messiah will come only after the Jewish people will have suffered cruel persecutions (Ket. 112b), and he maintained that the only difference between present and messianic times will be freedom from oppression by foreign powers in the latter period (Ber. 34b). Samuel was opposed to a life of mortification (Ta'an. 11a) and declared even those who imposed restrictions upon themselves in fulfillment of a vow to be wicked (Ned. 22a). He favored the enjoyment of the things of this world (Er. 54a), provided that it is preceded by the appropriate blessing (Ber. 35a). Rav and Samuel were accorded the honorable title of "our rabbis in Babylonia" (Sanh. 17b) or "our rabbis in the Diaspora" (TJ, Shab. 5:4, 7c). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Bader, Jewish Spiritual Heroes, 3 (1940), 78–90; D. Hoffmann, Mar Samuel (Ger., 1873); Bacher, Bab Amor, 37–45; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), passim; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 2 (1893), 354–61; Hyman, Toledot, 1120–31; Weiss, Dor, 3 (19044), 146–56. (Moshe Beer)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.