Rabbenu Yakov ben Meir Tam, or, as he is generally called, Rabbenu Tam, was born in the French city of Ramerupt in the year 4860 (1100), when his famous grandfather Rashi was 60 years old. His mother was Jochebed, Rashi's daughter. (Rashi had no sons, if you remember). His father, Rabbi Meir, was a great scholar, and he was Rabbenu Tam's instructor in Scripture and Talmud. Another one of Yakov's early teachers was his older brother Rashbam (Rabbenu Shmuel ben Meir), 15 years his senior, who was an equally famous Talmudist and commentator. Yakov was a good student. He was as clever as he was diligent and he became one of the greatest Talmudists of his age.

Rabbenu Tam was a wealthy financier and a personal friend of the Governor of the province. After his father's death, Rabbenu Tam became the head of a great Yeshivah in his native town. He had numerous disciples, and at one time his Yeshivah included 80 of the authors of the Tosefoth, noted Talmudists and Rabbis of large communities.

In his middle age he had a terrible experience and a narrow escape from death. It was in the year 4907 (1147), on the second day of Shovuos, when the Crusaders forced their way into town and pillaged and massacred many Jews. They broke into Rabbenu Tam's house, plundered all his wealth, and wounded Rabbenu Tam five times. He was, however, saved in the nick of time by one of the leaders of those wicked men.

After that shattering experience, Rabbenu Tam went to live in Troyes, the native town of his grand-father Rashi. There he continued his studies and his work. The town of Troyes was a famous center of learning in those days. Many Rabbis of repute frequently gathered there to confer about the Jewish problems, and Rabbenu Tam was the recognized head of them all.

In the year 4909 (1149) he completed his famous book called Sefer Hayoshor. He was also an authority on the Hebrew language and grammar, and a poet and composer. Some of his piyutim were included in the machzorim of many communities. The famous poet and commentator, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra of Spain, was a great admirer of Rabbenu Tam's poetical genius and carried on a friendly correspondence with him.

In his later days Rabbenu Tam again saw troubled times for his brethren, who were cruelly persecuted. Many Jews sacrificed their lives, preferring to burn at the stake rather than give up their faith. About a month before Rabbenu Tam passed away in Troyes in the year 4931 (1171), three prominent Jews sacrificed their lives at the stake in the city of Bloyes al kiddush Hashem, and Rabbenu Tam proclaimed that day as a day of fast and mourning, and it was observed throughout France and England.

Rabbenu Tam passed away on the 4th of Tammuz in the year 4931, at the age of 71.

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To conclude this story in a more cheerful strain, I am going to tell you an anecdote here. But first I want to know if you have heard of 'Rabbenu Tam's Tefillin?' Well, Rabbenu Tam introduced a slight change in the Tefillin, and Tephillin so prepared are called "Rabbenu Tam's Tefillin". However, the Tefillin universally used by all Jews are called Rashi's Tefillin, but some pious Jews also put on "Rabbenu Tam's Tefillin" at the conclusion of the morning-service. Outwardly, both Rashi's and Rabbenu Tam's Tefillin appear identical- (except for a tiny indication left by the sopher for distinction). Now you will be able to follow the anecdote:

A Jew came into school in great haste one morning and asked the, shamosh to lend him a pair of Tefillin to pray in.

"I am sorry", said the Shamosh, "they are all in use. I have only Rabbenu Tam's Tefillin left".

"No matter", said the newly arrived worshipper, "by the time he comes in, I shall be through"...