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 Solomon the grammarian as well as 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 creation of day began with light (the morning). This does not contradict halacha (Jewish law) as Rashbam's comments refer to the creation timing and not to the halacha, as Rashbam was a strict observer of halacha. 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.
One of the only two versions of the known manuscripts of Rashbam on the Chumash had missing parts of the commentary. Thus, many published versions of Rashbam's commentary on the Chumash don't include his commentary on the beginning of the book of Genesis. Portions of his commentary on the Talmud have been preserved, such as on the tractate Bava Batra (on large portions of the tractate 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. He wrote two versions of his commentary on parts of the Bavli (Babylonian) Talmud, a long version and a short version. Generally, only his long version has been published, although the shorter version has sometimes been published in part. It is unfortunate that most of the shorter version has either never been completely published or has not been published since the 19th century.
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.