He was born in the vicinity of Troyes, in around 1085 in France to his father Meir ben Shmuel and mother Yocheved, daughter of Rashi. He was the older brother of the Tosafists Isaac ben Meir (the "Rivam") and Jacob ben Meir ("Rabbeinu Tam"), and a colleague of Rabbi Joseph Kara.
Like his maternal grandfather, the Rashbam was a biblical commentator and Talmudist. He learned from Rashi and from Isaac ben Asher ha-Levi ("Riva"). He was the teacher of his brother, Rabbeinu Tam, and his method of interpretation differed from that of his grandfather.
His commentary on the Torah is renowned for its stress on the plain meaning (peshat) of the text. He sometimes disputes his grandfather's interpretation and indicates that his grandfather concurred with his approach. He adopted a natural (as distinct from a homiletical and traditional) method. This approach often led him to state views that were somewhat controversial. Thus Rashbam (on Genesis 1:5) maintained that the day began at dawn and not from the previous sunset (as later Jewish custom assumed). Another famous interpretation was Rashbam's view that the much disputed phrase in Genesis 49:10 must be rendered “Until he cometh to Shiloh,” and refers to the division of the kingdom of Judah after Solomon's death.
His stance resulted in the omission of his commentary on the first chapters of Genesis in many earlier editions of the Pentateuch. Parts of his commentary on the Talmud have been preserved, and they appear on the pages of most of tractate Bava Batra (where no commentary by Rashi is available), as well as the last chapter of tractate Pesachim. Rashbam's notes on the Bible are remarkable for brevity, but when he comments on the Talmud he is equally noted for prolixity.
Rashbam earned a living by tending livestock and growing grapes, following in his family tradition. Known for his piety, he defended Jewish beliefs in public disputes that had been arranged by church leaders to demonstrate the inferiority of Judaism.
- The Commentary of R. Samuel Ben Meir (Rashbam) on Qoheleth, by Sara Japhet and Robert B. Salters, The Hebrew University Magnes Press 1985
- Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir's Commentary on Genesis: An Annotated Translation by Martin I. Lockshin, Edwin Mellen Press, 1989.
- Rashbam's Commentary on Exodus: An Annotated Translation by Martin I. Lockshin, illustrations by Channa Lockshin, Brown Judaic Studies 310, 1997.
- The commentary of R. Samuel ben Meir, Rashbam, on Qoheleth ed. Sara Japhet, Robert B. Salters - 1985 "This book, designed for students of the Hebrew Bible and medieval exegesis, presents a small part of the work of R. Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), the grandson of Rashi and one of the leading figures in Rashi's school of exegesis in northern ..."
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rashbam". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- See Comentary to Genesis 37:2.