Hacham Samuel de Medina

A Short Tribute

Hacham Samuel de Medina, son of Moshe, was born in 1506 in Salonica, in Ottoman Greece. He lost his father at a young age and was raised by his eldest brother. He first learned Torah from Hacham Levi Ben Habib, author of Ein Ya'akov, and his main teacher was Hacham Joseph Taitachak, who headed the senior yeshiva in Salonica. Both were first generation descendants of the Sephardi Jews who, expelled from Spain, reached Salonica following the invitation extended by Sultan Beyazit II, who opened the gates of the Ottoman Empire to the exiled Jews.

In 1531, he was head of the yeshiva in Salonica and presided over its rabbinic court. He was in contact with the great rabbis of his time, some of whom studied in the yeshiva of his teacher, Hacham Joseph Taitachak: Hacham David Ben Zimra, Hacham Bezalel Ashkenazi – author of Shita Mekubetzet, from Egypt, Hacham Yosef Caro from Safed and Hacham Joseph Ben David Ben Lev, one of the sages of Salonica.

His book of responsa, collated by his son, contains close to a thousand of his numerous responsa to questions sent to him from all over the world. The influence of his rulings extended for generations after him and continues to our day. The educational method in his yeshiva was unique; students were encouraged to study independently and to develop critical thinking. His students sat in the courtroom with him and studied Torah as it was applied in practice. Among his numerous students one counts Torah scholars such as Hacham Menachem di Lunzano, author of Shtei Yadot and Hacham di Botton, author of Lechem Mishneh; merchants, physicians and scientists also studied with him.

Hacham Samuel de Medina passed away on 2 Heshvan, 5350 (1589) and was buried in Salonica.

His works include Piskei HaGaon Our Master Teacher Rabbi Samuel De Medina, published during his lifetime in Salonica (1580 – 1582) in several volumes; Responsa of Rabbi Samuel de Medina was published by his son Hacham Moshe (1594 – 1598); Ben Shmuel – sermons, published by his grandson, Shma'aya, in 1622.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches that the definition of public leadership is to be found in giving to each and every faction what it requires

In a large group of individuals one finds people, some of whom are wise, knowledgeable and understand science, some who are naïve and lacking in knowledge, and some who are average. You can see that the Torah spoke of four sons. Should a speaker address the public with profound words, appropriate for the wise, the person will discover that the rest of the group is wasting its time. And this cannot be. And should the person choose the other option, and speak in the simple terms appropriate for most people, the group of wise people will be wasting its time. On this matter, King Solomon, may he rest in peace, said "The lips of the righteous sustain many." It is known that the definition of a righteous person is one who gives to each his due, as the master instructs, and this is how it is possible for a person to lead many: by knowing to give each and every faction what it requires. Those, indeed, whose sight is limited and do not distinguish whom they are addressing will at times tire the public with their words, causing useless damage and loss, and at times will speak simple words before the wise, and be mocked.

Ben Shmuel, Sermon 11 to Those Entering Public Office, p. 44b, Judah Samuel Saporta, Montova, 1622