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RASHI (Solomon ben Isaac ; 1040–1105), leading commentator on the Bible and Talmud.

His Life

Rashi was born at Troyes, France. (See Chart: Rashi Family).His mother was the sister of the liturgical writer, *Simeon b. Isaac. His father was a scholar whom Rashi quoted in his writings (Av. Zar. 75a). Few facts are known about his early life, although many legends are told about this period. A legend tells that his father cast a precious gem into the sea rather than surrender it to Christians who desired it for idolatrous purposes. A heavenly voice then foretold the birth of a son who would enlighten the world with his wisdom. It is also related that his mother was imperiled in a narrow street during her pregnancy. She pressed against a wall which formed a niche to rescue her.

Troyes was then the capital city of Champagne which attracted merchants from many countries. Rashi learned about different currency standards, banking, and trade. He knew of soldering, engraving, weaving figures into material, and the embroidering of silk with gold. He also learned much about agriculture and husbandry. After his initial education in Troyes, Rashi was attracted to the great academies of Mainz and Worms where he studied after his marriage. His main teachers were *Jacob b. Yakar and *Isaac b. Judah at Mainz, and *Isaac b. Eleazar ha-Levi at Worms. At about the age of 25, Rashi returned to Troyes. He maintained close relations with his teachers, occasionally returning to the academies to discuss unclear talmudic texts with them.

Rashi's return to Troyes was notable, since, due to his influence, henceforth the schools of Champagne and northern France were destined to rival and finally supplant those of the Rhenish provinces. Around 1070, he founded a school which attracted many pupils and became even more important after the death of his own teachers. His most gifted pupils were his relatives, *Simḥah b. Samuel of Vitry, Shemaiah, *Judah b. Abraham, Joseph b. Judah, and *Jacob b. Samson. Nothing is known about Rashi's wife. Although the couple had no sons, they are generally believed to have had three daughters, all of whom married prominent scholars. One of them, Jochebed, married R. *Meir b. Samuel who attended the Mainz academy with Rashi. Four sons were born to Jochebed and Meir and they all became famous scholars: *Samuel (Rashbam), *Isaac

(Ribam), *Jacob, popularly known as Rabbenu Tam, and *Solomon (the actual birth order is unclear, although Jacob was certainly younger than Samuel). They all belonged to the outstanding group of French scholars of the following generation who founded the school of *tosafot. Another daughter, Miriam, was married to *Judah b. Nathan, whose commentary to the end of Makkot is included in all editions of the Talmud (19b–24b). This couple also had a learned son, Yom Tov, and a daughter, from whom *Dulcea, the wife of R. Eleazar of Worms, was descended. A third daughter, Rachel, was known as Belle Assez. Her marriage to a certain Eliezer (Jocelyn or Vasselin in the vernacular) ended in divorce.

Rashi's last years were aggrieved by the massacres committed at the outset of the First Crusade (1095–96), in which he lost relatives and friends. Tradition relates that he foretold the defeat of the expedition of Godfrey of Bouillon, correctly predicting that Godfrey would return to his native city with only three horses remaining from his entire massive army. It is only a legendary tradition that during this period Rashi transferred his school to Worms; there the house called his bet ha-midrash, which was located next to the city's synagogue, is a construction of the 16th century. He is reported to have died while writing the word "pure" in his commentary to Makkot, (19b) on 29 Tammuz. His burial place is not known.

[Aaron Rothkoff]

Biblical Exegesis

Rashi commented on most, if not all, the books of the Bible. The comments ascribed to him on Job, from 40:25, on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles are not his, being different in style and method of exegesis. According to Poznański, Rashi did not manage to comment on these, since in writing his commentary he followed the order of the books in the Bible. Lipschuetz, however, contends that the exegesis on these books is substantially Rashi's but was recast and augmented by his pupils. Comments of pupils of Rashi, who studied with him, are embodied in his biblical commentary, which contains (1) explanations that Rashi himself accepted and included in his commentary, and (2) annotations written alongside Rashi's commentary by others, and later interpolated into the text by copyists.

Rashi incorporated in his comments that of *Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam) on Exodus 15:6 ("Thy right hand, O Lord, glorious in power"), even referring to this and other verses expounded by the latter as "the verses of Samuel" (Tosafists' Commentary on the Pentateuch, in Ms.). Writing to the rabbis of Auxerre in connection with his commentary on Ezekiel, Rashi declared: "At all events I made a mistake in that comment… I have now gone through it with our brother Shemaiah and have corrected it" (A. Geiger, Melo Chofnajim (1840), Heb. pt. 36). A third pupil whose explanations are embodied in Rashi's commentary is Joseph *Kara (the passages are enumerated by A. Berliner in Peletat Soferim (1872)). There is evidence that the latter two, Shemaiah and Joseph Kara, studied the Book of Ezekiel under Rashi, while he was writing his commentary to it. The copyists' interpolations, now part of Rashi's commentary, can be identified by the aid of manuscripts, in which these are written between the lines, accompanied by the word "addition."

Main Characteristics of His Commentary

The main distinguishing characteristic of Rashi's commentary is a compromise between the literal and the midrashic interpretations; to the latter, which was the principal method of exposition in French biblical exegesis, he added the former. At least three-quarters of Rashi's comments are based on rabbinic sources. The few that are original are mainly philological explanations. When basing his comment on the Midrashim, Rashi chose from the available material those that were closest to the literal interpretation of the biblical text, or solved the difficulties presented by it. Thus, for example, in commenting on Leviticus 19:3 ("Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father"), Rashi, instead of using the Sifra, the halakhic Midrash on Leviticus, as he had done in interpreting the preceding verses, now resorted to the Mekhilta, the halakhic Midrash on Exodus. The latter explains the twofold difficulty in the verse, namely, the prior mention of the mother and the use of the verb "fear" rather than "honor" as in the Ten Commandments, whereas the Sifra explains only the first difficulty.

Another characteristic aspect of Rashi's exegesis is the manner in which he formulated his comment. In many instances he did not quote a Midrash literally but either augmented or abridged it, or even altered its wording (cf. Gen. 1:5, 6, 7 with Gen. R.), his aim being to make for easier understanding and lucidity, and to adapt the language of the Midrash to that of the text. In this way Rashi obviated a patchwork impression and instead achieved a uniform style. The criterion on which he based his choice of comment is clearly stated by him: "As for me, I am only concerned with the literal meaning of the Scriptures and with such aggadot as explain the biblical passages in a fitting manner" (Gen. 3:8). In many instances where he departs from this latter principle he adds the comment that these aggadot do not give the literal interpretation. But it is not to be assumed that where he failed to add this comment he regarded such Midrashim as providing a literal exposition of the text (thus, for example, the Midrash quoted without this comment in his explanation on Gen. 1:6 ("Let there be a firmament") does not accord with his exegesis of Gen. 1:1). While Rashi based his comment on the halakhic part of the Pentateuch on talmudic literature, his purpose was not to lay down the halakhah, and he therefore quoted only some of the many halakhot dealing with the subject in question. Sometimes he states that the halakhic Midrash does not give the literal interpretation of a passage (Ex. 16:29, 22:8); at others he interprets a verse contrary to the decided halakhah (Lev. 13:6). His partiality for the literal explanation is further attested by the fact that, having revised his commentary several times, he wished at the end of his days to improve it "on the basis of the plain meanings which appear daily" (Rashbam, to Gen. 37:2).

Generally, Rashi did not state his sources but these have been given in detail by Zunz in his book on Rashi, the most important of his sources being the Targums. In his Pentateuch commentary, Rashi derived much help from Targum Onkelos. Not only did he expound many verses according to it, but on occasion dwelt at length on its rendering (Gen. 49:24; Ex. 24:14); interpreted the words of Targum Onkelos; quoted from the Talmud in support of them, and dealt with the etymology of some Aramaic word in the Targum (Deut. 14:5). He laid down general rules explaining Onkelos' choice of words (Gen. 43:15), but in many instances rejected his translation where he found this unacceptable (Gen. 15:11). On several passages Rashi had a different version of Targum Onkelos (Gen. 27:36; Ex. 23:27), which was subsequently emended by publishers in accordance with his version. In his commentary on the Prophets and the Hagiographa he made much use of Targum Jonathan and even quotes Targum Sheni on Esther but apparently did not know the Palestinian Targum on the Pentateuch nor the Targum on the Hagiographa. Some of his sources he heard from others (Deut. 29:3). On one occasion he even declared: "I have had no one to help me, nor a teacher, in all this edifice, but it is as revealed to me from Heaven."

[Avraham Grossman]

Rashi as Grammarian

Rashi centers his commentaries on meticulous analysis of the language of the text. He was both philologist and linguist and derived his grammatical principles from rabbinic literature and the Hebrew works of the Spanish grammarians, *Menahem b. Jacob ibn Saruq and *Dunash b. Labrat (Ps. 39:7, 55:22). Since he knew no Arabic, Rashi never learned of Judah b. David Ḥayyuj's and Jonah *Ibn Janaḥ's work on triconsonantalism. Like Menahem, Rashi sometimes assumes the existence of roots of one consonant (like hoga), although, following Dunash, he generally regards the verbs primae waw as being tri-consonantal. Verbs tertiae he are in his view biconsonantal. To support this view Rashi calls attention to the nominal derivation from the root (such as ẓadah-ẓedi'ah in Ex. 21:13). Verbs primae nun are bi-consonantal (e.g., nihatu, Ps. 38:3), as are those mediae waw as the middle letter, and the geminates like yegudennu (Gen. 49:19). By turns, he utilizes the terms yesod, ikkar, and shoresh to indicate the root; yesod nofel (omitted root) to represent a consonantal root which falls away in conjugation; and pa'ol and asoh to indicate the conjugation of the verb. For the names of vowels he utilizes pathaḥ (a), pathaḥ qatan or segol (e (or: ae)), ḥireq (i), qameṣ or qameṣ gadol (a), ṣereh (e), melopum (o), šuruq (u). Scattered throughout his commentaries are many remarks on syntax, tenses, moods, conjugations (such as the privative use of the pi'el–Ex. 27:3), collective nouns (Gen. 32:6), deletion of parts of the sentence, prepositions required by certain verbs (Judg. 6:32), and changes in word order (Gen. 2:19). Occasionally he formulates rules on linguistic usage (Jer. 51:12), and discusses the shades of meaning of various synonyms (Gen. 1:11; Micah 5:7). He discriminates clearly between biblical Hebrew and mishnaic Hebrew (e.g., Ps. 76:11), even though he sometimes interprets the verse in accordance with the rabbinic literature (Ex. 12:7), for which he was criticized by his grandson, Samuel b. Meir. Rashi often resorts to the vernacular French in order to explicate difficult words and phrases, for example, about 1,000 such words and phrases are so explained in his commentary on the Bible. This practice has proven invaluable for the study of Old French glosses (see *La'az). He wrote a small number of glosses in German. However, some of the existing German glosses, and all of the Slavonic glosses, were added by other scholars in subsequent generations (i Kings 6:7).

[Menahem Zevi Kaddari]

His language is concise and straightforward. At times his terseness is due to his assuming that the reader is fully acquainted with the relevant details (Deut. 1:3, 18), and it is therefore a mistake to hold, as some do, that his commentary was intended for the masses. He explained many difficult problems with a word or a mere hint. Thus, for example, he did not deal explicitly with the difficulty raised (in view of the belief in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai) by the passage "And the Canaanite was then in the land" (Gen. 12:6), but contented himself with the brief comment: "He [i.e., the Canaanite] was increasingly conquering Ereẓ Israel from the descendants of Shem." In many instances he even refrained from entering into the detailed proof of his comments hinted at in the verses he cites. A thorough study of his statements is thus necessary to reveal the problems that faced him, his manner of solving them, and the support for his comments that he derived from scriptural verses and rabbinic sources. His honesty led him in many instances to declare: "I do not know what it is" (Ex. 22:28; Is. 13:21).

Other Characteristic Aspects of Rashi's Commentary

(1) He placed great reliance on the cantillation signs: "Had I not seen the accent zakef gadol on the word u-feneihem, I would not have been able to explain it" (Ezek. 1:11), but also on occasion he disagreed with them (Gen. 20:16).

(2) Sometimes he combined verses (Deut. 4:44), or explained apparently superfluous details in order to throw light on events mentioned elsewhere (Ex. 13:18), two methods that were later developed and elaborated by his French pupils in their exegesis.

(3) On occasion, as at the beginning of his commentary on Zechariah and Song of Songs, he prefaced his comments with the principles underlying his exegesis, or added illustrations for greater clarity (i Kings 6:31), some of which were omitted by copyists and publishers (Rashbam Num. 34:2: "Our teacher, my grandfather, explained and made a drawing of the borders").

(4) He refrained from dealing with problems associated with philosophy which had not penetrated into German Jewish culture, and thus the question of reconciling philosophy with the biblical concept of the universe did not arise. In many instances he did not even deal with moralistic appreciations of the Patriarchs' actions, e.g., the driving out of Hagar), nor was he concerned with mysticism.

(5) On various occasions he referred to contemporary events (Ex. 28:41; Job 19:24). Here and there one can detect in his comments an echo of the persecution of the Jews in his day (Isa. 53:9; Ps. 38:18). He also disputed the christological interpretation of biblical passages (e.g., Isa. 9:6), a course also adopted by his pupils in Germany in their exegesis.

Rashi's commentary on the Bible, and particularly that on the Pentateuch, enjoyed an enormous circulation. More than 200 supercommentaries were written on his Pentateuch commentary, some even by distinguished halakhists, such as, for example, Joseph *Caro, the author of the Shulḥan Arukh. Of particular importance is Elijah Mizraḥi's supercommentary. The study of Rashi's commentary spread to such an extent that he was accorded the title of "Parshandata" ("the expounder of the law," "the commentator par excellence," a pun on Esther 9:7). It was even laid down in the halakhah that the reading of the weekly portion with his commentary could take the place of the obligatory reading "twice in the original and once in the Targum." Christian scholars were also influenced by his commentary. As early as the 12th century Nicholas of Manjacoria mentions him. Nicholas de Lyra (1279–1340) in particular was so greatly influenced by him that his critics called him "the ape of Rashi." This interest of Christian scholars in Rashi grew in the 15th century, and from the 17th century onward his commentary began to be translated into other languages. Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch is the first known Hebrew work to have been printed (1475), and since then hardly an edition of the Hebrew Bible for Jewish use has appeared without his commentary. An excellent edition was issued by A. Berliner (19052) who examined more than a hundred manuscripts and printed books, indicated Rashi's sources, and added annotations of his own. Part of Rashi's commentary to the Prophets and Hagiographa was edited by I. Maarsen, Isaiah (Jerusalem, 1933), the Minor Prophets (Amsterdam, 1932), and Psalms (Jerusalem, 1936). I. Elbogen published fragments from his commentary to Ezekiel from manuscripts in the S. Poznański jubilee volume (Warsaw, 1927) and by A. Levy in Rashi's commentary on Ezekiel (Philadelphia, 1931). J. Rosenthal edited his commentary to Song of Songs, on the basis of manuscripts and various printed versions (S. Mirsky jubilee volume (New York, 1958), 130–88). An English translation of Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch was made by M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silbermann (5 vols., London, 1929–34).

Commentary to the Babylonian Talmud

The summit of Rashi's creative work was his commentary to the Babylonian Talmud. His commentary on most of the tractates of the Talmud has been preserved, but those to tractates Ta'anit, Nedarim, Nazir, and Horayot ascribed to him are not his. The commentary to Mo'ed Katan which bears his name is not by him, but his commentary to this tractate has been published by A. Kupfer (1961). His commentary to Bava Batra was completed by his grandson and pupil, Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam), and to Makkot by his pupil, *Judah b. Nathan. Rashi's commentary to the Talmud was published with the first printed edition of the Talmud, and except for modern editions of a few tractates no edition of the Talmud has appeared without it. There are extant whole or fragmentary manuscripts of his commentary on most tractates but no critical and scientific edition of his commentary to even one tractate had appeared by the end of the 1960s. Rashi's commentary on the Talmud had been preceded by others, both of the Franco-German school, including his own teachers, and of other centers. His commentary, however, superseded them all and caused them to be virtually forgotten. The language of his commentary is variegated but nevertheless accurate. In his explanations of words he does not confine himself to dry lexicographical data; his explanation is often colorful and the commentary is replete with realistic concrete descriptions. He adduces reasons for halakhot and talmudic argumentations, and often provides psychological and realistic backgrounds to talmudic times. In manifold ways he aids the student in the understanding of the text. He provides introductions to themes, intersperses the commentary with the words of the text, and combines recurring statements. With an excellent feeling for the methodology of the Talmud, he points out difficulties in the construction of the passages and unusual terminology. In all this his commentary is unique. In Rashi's view, the only acceptable explanation of the Mishnah is that given to it by the Gemara (see bm 33a and b et al.), with the result that he does not give an independent explanation of the Mishnah. Rashi did not write commentaries to those tractates that have no Babylonian Talmud (the commentary to Avot ascribed to him is not his).

Although carefully planned, the linguistic variety led many scholars to point to inconsistencies and contradictions, but most of these have no real substance and can be explained against the background of his methods. From the statements of medieval scholars it is known that Rashi emended his commentary here and there after it had already been issued. However, there are only a few emendations which are definitely from Rashi's pen and an examination of the manuscripts proves that Rashi did not write his commentary more than once, i.e., there were no revised editions of it. The commentary circulated rapidly, and from the beginning of the 13th century almost every talmudic scholar made use of it and pointed out difficulties which he answered or explained. Some even worked over his commentary to various tractates, e.g., to Sukkah, Ketubbot, Bava Kamma, and Sanhedrin. Rashi's corrections of the Talmud text were for the most part introduced into the standard editions and became the accepted text.

[Jona Fraenkel]

As a Halakhist

Despite the fact that Rashi's main aim in his commentary to the Talmud was not to determine the halakhah, practical halakhic rulings are scattered here and there, and at times even at length, and he was regarded as a halakhic authority of the first rank in Germany during a very long period. In the same way as his commentary on the Talmud became the basis for all later literary activity in this field in France and Germany, even though his pupils and their pupils did not hesitate to query his comments, disagree with them, and suggest alternatives, so with regard to his halakhic rulings. They based themselves upon his oral teachings and his practices as testified to by those who witnessed them, though they did not hesitate to differ from him in practice from time to time. His grandson Jacob already disagreed with him on halakhah, and did not even refrain from criticizing him sharply (cf. Sefer ha-Yashar, novellae no. 449). To such an extent was he regarded as a halakhic authority that shortly after his death his responsa, teachings, communications, and practices were assembled in different collections. This literature, the greater part of which has survived, both published and in manuscript, is very ramified, and has acquired the general title of "the school of Rashi." The published collections are: Sefer ha-Pardes (Constantinople, 1807, ed, by H.L. Ehrenreich, 1924), Sefer ha-Orah (ed. by S. Buber, 1905), Siddur Rashi (ed. by S. Buber, 1911), Maḥzor Vitry (ed. by S. Hurwitz, 19232), Likkutei ha-Pardes (Venice, 1519), Sefer Issur ve-Hetter (printed in part c. 1925), and the one published by Urbach (see bibl.). The connection of the Sefer ha-Sedarim (ed. by S. Elfenbein, in: Horeb, 11 (1951), 123–56) with Rashi is very much closer. Apart from all these there are extant about 350 of Rashi's responsa, collected from various sources by S. Elfenbein (1943). On the other hand, the works of "the school of Rashi" include additions of a very varied and diversified nature, from the teaching of the geonim, from the great Spanish scholars (chiefly in accordance with the Sefer ha-Ittim of *Judah b. Barzillai al-Bargeloni), as well as from the early teaching of Ereẓ Israel. It is still somewhat of a riddle how the teaching of Ereẓ Israel was preserved and in what manner it found its way into various works of "the school of Rashi."

The special character of the books of "the school of Rashi" as halakhic collections caused them to pass through many hands, involving additions and omissions, so that the traditions and the practices have become confused. The many parallels existing among these books themselves show considerable differences. Rashi's influence as a ruling authority is also discernible upon the Italian authorities, both among the pupils of *Isaiah di Trani I and also upon Zedekiah *Anav, whose Shibbolei ha-Leket depends upon the work of Rashi and his school.

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]

Rashi's Daughters

Legends about the exceptional piety and learning of Rashi's daughters include the claim that they wore tefillin. There is no direct evidence for this assertion but it may have arisen from the likelihood that Rashi's daughters, like other daughters of learned men who had no sons, were better educated than most women in the Jewish communities of their time. Moreover, Jewish women of medieval Ashkenaz, who played a significant role in the economic success of their households and community, had an unusually elevated social position. As A. Grossman has demonstrated, this high status was reflected, in part, by women's increased involvement in Jewish religious life, including their voluntary assumption of religious practices from which they were exempt in talmudic Judaism. Certainly, Rashi's grandson, Rabbenu Tam, knew of women who chose to recite blessings over the performance of time-bound commandments, including donning tefillin. Like many contemporaneous sages in Ashkenaz, he accepted these practices (Tosafot to Er. 96a, s.v.dilma).

A legend also survives that one of Rashi's daughters had significant rabbinic scholarship. This may be based on a report in Shem ha-Gedolim that when Rashi fell ill he called upon his daughter to write an involved responsum. While this reading was accepted by the 19th-century historian Heinrich *Graetz, most contemporary scholars believe it stems from a scribal error which made its way into Sefer ha-Pardes. They suggest that instead of "ve-lakhen bitti karati" ("and thus I called my daughter"), the text should be read "u-le-ven bitti karati" ("and I called the son of my daughter") (Berger, 167, n. 46). The claim that one of Rashi's daughters wrote a commentary on Nedarim probably stems from confusion over the commentary on that tractate written by Judah b. Nathan, Miriam's husband.

However, Rashi's daughter Miriam is cited as an authoritative source on ritual practice in the Teshuvot Maimoniot of R. Isaac b. Samuel (the Ri) to Hilkhot Kedushah, Ma'akhalot Asurot, par. 5, which states, "This is how it was done at the home of Miriam, the daughter of our teacher Solomon." The citation adds, "We rely upon our logic and upon the testimony of the daughters of the leading lights of the generation." (See E. Urbach, Ba'alei ha-Tosafot (1955), 1:38, who cites manuscript evidence that "daughter," not "granddaughter," is the correct reading.) In medieval and early modern Ashkenaz, women were often invoked as authoritative witnesses of the domestic practices of their learned fathers and husbands.

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]


A. Marx, in: Rashi Anniversary Volume (1941), 9–30; A. Owen, Rashi, his Life and Times (1952); H. Hailperin, Rashi and his World (1957); M.W. Glenn, in: Rashi, his Teachings and Personality, ed. by S. Federbush (1958), 131–55; S.A. Poznański, Mavoal Ḥakhmei Ẓarefat Mefareshei ha-Mikra, in: idem (ed.), Perush al Yeḥezkel u-Terei Asar le-Rabbi Eliezer mi-Belganẓy, introd. (1913), xiii–xxii (extensive bibl. in xiii n. 2); Sonne, in: huca, 15 (1940), Heb. pt. 37–56; M. Liber, Rashi (Eng., 1906); E.M. Lipschuetz, R. Shelomo Yiẓḥaki (1912); J.L. Maimon (Fishman) (ed.), Sefer Rashi (19401, 19562); (American Academy for Jewish Research), Rashi Anniversary Volume (1941); M. Waxman, in: S. Federbush (ed.). Rashi, his Teaching and Personality (1958), 9–47; J. Bloch, ibid., 49–61; H. Englander, Rashi's View of the Weak ע״ע and פ״ן Roots, in: huca, 7 (1930), 399–437; idem, Grammatical Elements and Terminology in Rashi's Biblical Commentaries, in ibid., 11 (1936), 367–89; 12–13 (1937–38), 505–521; 14 (1939), 387–429; N. Šapira, Die grammatische Terminologie des Solomon be Isaak (Raschi) (1930?); J. Pereira-Mendoza, Rashi as Philologist (1940); Ḥ. Yalon, in: Sefer Rashi (1956), 515–22; Urbach, ibid., 322–65; I. Schapiro in: Bitzaron, 2 (1940), 426–37 (published separately with additions, same year); D.S. Blondheim, in: rej, 91 (1931); Epstein, in: Tarbiz, 4 (1933), 189–92; Shunami, Bibl. 755–757; J. Fraenkel, "Rashi's Methodology in his Exegesis of the Babylonian Talmud" (Ph.D. thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1969); S.N. Blumenfeld, in: S. Noveck (ed.), Great Jewish Personalities in Ancient and Medieval Times (1959), 233–52; H. Hailperin, Rashi and the Christian Scholars (1963); Y. Avineri, Heikhal Rashi (4 vols. 1940–60). add. bibliography: I. Berger, "Rashi be-Aggadah ha-Am," in: S. Federbush (ed.), Rashi: Torato ve-Ishiyyuto (1958); A. Grossman, Pious and Rebellious (Heb. 2001, Eng. 2004); E. Shereshevsky, Rashi: The Man and His World (1982).


views updated May 23 2018


RASHI , acronym (RaSHI) of Rabbi Shelomoh ben Yitsaq of Troyes (10401105) was the most influential Jewish commentator on the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud. Nine hundred years after his death, Rashi's writings remain the standard commentaries for any serious student of the Hebrew Bible or the Babylonian Talmud, and new scholarly studies of his achievement continue to be published.

Rashi was born in Troyes, the political center of the county of Champagne, in northeastern France, but outside the close-knit rabbinical circles of the founding families of German Jewry. After pursuing his preliminary studies in Troyes, including studies with his father, he married and around 1060 traveled to the yeshivot of the Rhineland, then the most advanced in northwestern Europe. He studied there with the two heads of the Mainz academy, Yaʿaqov ben Yaqar, whom he considered his most important teacher of Talmud and Bible, and after the master's death in 1064, his successor, Yitsaq ben Yehudah, for a short time. Almost immediately, he went to Worms to study with Yitsaq ha-Levi, whose academy was superseding the Mainz school in advanced Talmud instruction. By the end of the decade he was back home, but he continued to correspond with Yitsaq ben Yehudah and Yitsaq ha-Levi.

Rashi attracted his own students in Troyes, and he served as the local rabbinical authority there. Though he wrote answers (responsa ) to hundreds of questions sent to him, he was not a professional rabbi. He made a living some other way; however, the often repeated assertion that he was a vintner has been disputed.

Rashi had no sons. His well-educated daughters married learned men; their sons became eminent rabbinical authorities. Yokheved married Meʾir ben Shemuʾel, and among their four sons were Shemuʾel ben Meʾir (known by the acronym Rashbam), one of the most important commentators on the Hebrew Bible and developer of the literal method of interpretation, and Yaʿaqov ben Meʾir (known as Rabbenu Tam), who dominated the new scholastic method of Talmud study in the form of additions (tosafot ) of questions and answers to his grandfather's running gloss. Rashi's daughter Miryam married Yehudah ben Natan, whose commentary to the end of Makkot is printed in the standard editions of the Babylonian Talmud. In this way, Rashi created his own French rabbinical family elite.

Rashi lived through the devastation of Jewish rabbinical leadership in the Rhenish academies of Mainz and Worms caused by the First Crusade riots of 1096, and some traces of early anti-Crusade polemic have been detected in his writings. Thus he says that the Bible begins with the creation of the world and not with the first law given to the Jewish people (Ex. 12:1), in order to teach that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and not to the Christians or Muslims who were fighting over it in the First Crusade. Why? Since God created the world, the entire earth belongs to him, including the Land of Israel, which he first gave to the nations of Canaan and then gave to Israel (Rashi on Gn. 1:1).

Rashi's major achievement was his composition of comprehensive running commentaries to most of the Hebrew Bible and Babylonian Talmud. Of the biblical commentaries attributed to him, those to Job from 40:25, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles are not his but may be based on his approach. Of the Talmudic commentaries, those to Taʿanit, Moʿed Qaan, Nedarim, Nazir, and Horayot are not his. The gloss he began to Bavaʾ Batraʾ was finished by his grandson Shemuʾel ben Meʾir, and the one to Makkot was completed by his student and son-in-law Yehudah ben Natan.

In his Talmud commentary, Rashi focused on each difficult term or passage in sequence and supplied punctuation or logical transitions that were not clear from the text itself. He used his profound knowledge of the Talmud and Jewish law to help the student by briefly introducing the general topic that the text is about to discuss in detail, and he provided reasons for particular laws and mentioned historical conditions in ancient times. At times, he indicated that he preferred a particular version of a passage, and later copyists corrected the text so that there is no difference between the Talmud and Rashi's correction. His commentary became widely used from the beginning of the thirteenth century and has been printed with the Talmud from the first editions to this day.

Although Rashi based about three fourths of his commentary to the Pentateuch on earlier Midrashic works, he integrated into his work a newer method of Jewish biblical exegesis that focused on the plain meaning of the text. When an ambiguity in the text created the possibility of different interpretations, Rashi explicitly contrasted a straightforward textual interpretation (pe-shuto shel miqraʾ )which could be arrived at through (1) a literal reading of the text, (2) a contextual approach, or (3) the use of a midrash that explains the plain meaning of the words as writtento an interpretation which he paraphrased from a Midrashic source. This dual method of interpretation is Rashi's most characteristic innovation, but it has sometimes been misunderstood. Whereas later twelfth-century French commentators like Shemuʾel ben Meʾir and Yosef ben Yitsaq (Bekhor Shor) developed a method of interpretation based on the systematic inquiry into the literal meaning of the text (pesha ) in preference to one based on earlier rabbinical homilies (derash ), Rashi himself did not explicitly distinguish between the two methods of reading; he did not use the terms pesha and derash and so certainly did not prefer the former. In his glosses to the other books of the Bible, such as Isaiah and Psalms, scholars have detected explicit or implied anti-Christian polemics. While there is no evidence that Rashi read Latin, he could have heard many Christological arguments and arguments derived from scriptural proof texts from Christian neighbors and introduced counterinterpretations for the benefit of his students.

From Rashi's commentaries and responsa, it is obvious that Jews and Christians lived in the same towns, walked the same streets, bought their household goods in the same markets, and paid for them with the same coinage. Although the medieval fairs at Troyes began only in the twelfth century, the town was already a manufacturing center and commercial depot in Rashi's day, and many travelers passed through. His commentaries include remarks about the city of Venice and about German currency. He observed firsthand in Troyes embroidery of silk with gold, soldering and engraving techniques, and the manufacture of parchment. He also comments about popular customs and street life: some women pierced their ears; butchers sometimes used their hands for scales, putting the meat in one hand and a weight in the other; the well-to-do slept in four-poster beds or else had rods constructed to support a tentlike curtain to keep flies away when they slept.

In addition to noting hundreds of such concrete references to everyday life, Rashi uses approximately a thousand medieval French terms or phrases to explain or illustrate Hebrew or Aramaic terms; these lexical items, written in phonetic Hebrew characters, have preserved important evidence about linguistic characteristics of eleventh-century French.

Apart from its value as a source for Jewish intellectual history and early French, Rashi's biblical commentary also influenced Christian biblical exegesis. Already in the twelfth century, Hugh of Saint-Victor and other Victorine scholars in Paris were interested in the Hebrew text and reflect familiarity with Rashi. But it was especially the Franciscan Nicholas of Lyra (c. 12701349), writing in Paris at the very time that a chair in Hebrew had been established in accordance with the Council of Vienne (1312), who made systematic use of Rashi's biblical commentary in his own running gloss on the whole Bible, the Postilla litteralis.

The immense influence of Rashi's commentaries in shaping the religious culture of European Judaism still awaits proper historical treatment. As a bridge between the Rhenish center of Jewish learning in Mainz and Worms and the newer dialectical methods of Bible and Talmud study that were developed in the twelfth century based on Rashi's own commentaries, his place in Jewish cultural history is secure. Through Nicholas of Lyra, Rashi also influenced subsequent Christian Hebraists down to Martin Luther and beyond.

See Also

Biblical Exegesis, article on Jewish Views; Tosafot.


Rashi's commentary to the Pentateuch has been translated into English by Morris Rosenbaum and Abraham M. Silbermann as Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Prayers for the Sabbath, and Rashi's Commentary, 5 vols. (London, 19291934).

An important interpretive sketch about him is Alexander Marx's "Rashi," in his Essays in Jewish Biography (Philadelphia, 1947) and the most comprehensive, if dated, biography is still Maurice Liber's Rashi, translated by Adele Szold (Philadelphia, 1906).

Rashi's influence on Christian Bible commentaries in the early Middle Ages is discussed in Beryl Smalley's The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 2d ed. (1951; Notre Dame, 1964) and for the later period in Herman Hailperin's Rashi and the Christian Scholars (Pittsburgh, 1963). An illustration of Rashi as anti-Christian polemicist is Michael A. Signer's "King/Messiah: Rashi's Exegesis of Psalm 2," Prooftexts 3 (September 1983): 273278.

Esra Shereshevsky's Rashi: The Man and His World (New York, 1982) is of particular interest for his compilation of data from Rashi's oeuvre about everyday life.

Rashi's methodology as Bible exegete is discussed in Benjamin J. Gelles's Peshat and Derash in the Exegesis of Rashi (Leiden, 1981) and assessed in a review essay by Sarah Kamin in the Journal of Jewish Studies 36 (Spring 1985): 126130, based on her own sophisticated study of this tricky problem which she has summarized in "Rashi's Exegetical Categorization with Respect to the Distinction between Peshat and Derash," Immanuel 11 (1980): 1632.

New Sources

Banitt, Menahem. Rashi, Interpreter of the Biblical Letter. [Tel Aviv], Israel, 1985.

Berman, Scot A. Learning Talmud: A Guide to Talmud Terminology and Rashi Commentary. Northvale, N.J., 1997.

Bonchek, Avigdor. What's Bothering Rashi? A Guide to In-depth Analysis of His Torah Commentary. Jerusalem and New York, 19972002.

Doron, Pinhas. Rashi's Torah Commentary: Religious, Philosophical, Ethical, and Educational Insights. Northvale, N.J., 2000.

Ivan G. Marcus (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated Jun 08 2018


The Medieval scholar and commentator Rashi (1040-1105) wrote the greatest commentaries in Jewish exegeses on the Old Testament and the Talmud. His commentaries are still important in Jewish life.

Rashi was born Shelomoh Yitzhaki in Troyes, France. The name he is known by is an abbreviation of Rabbi Solomon bar Isaac. Rashi's father died when the boy was young, and his family's circumstances did not allow him to pursue his ambition of spending his life studying at Talmudic schools in Germany. After studies at Mainz and Worms, he returned to Troyes in 1065, when he was 25 years old. Forced by economic circumstances to manage his father's vineyards, Rashi limited his scholarly activities to reading and writing. In the next years he created his famous commentaries on the Old Testament (except for a few books) and on the Talmud. These exegeses were received and read with great attention, and Rashi's reputation was established by them.

After 1096 Rashi's commentaries became even more popular because during the zeal that surrounded the First Crusade rabbinic centers of learning in the Rhineland were destroyed, their teachers killed, and their students dispersed. Students gradually were attracted to Troyes, and Rashi then opened his own academy. It rapidly became one of the most important and celebrated rabbinic centers in Europe; simultaneously it became a rallying point for Ashkenazic Jewry and a center of Jewish scholarship.

Rashi then entered the high period of his achievement. He altered several rabbinic traditions of learning; he induced his students to commit many oral traditions to writing; he developed a personal style of exegesis; and he fostered many Jewish scholars who later spread across Europe. Rashi had no sons, but his three daughters married outstanding scholars. His students of special note included two sons-in-law, Rabbi Judah ben Nathan, commentator of the Talmud, and Rabbi Meir ben Semuel; his grandson Rabbi Semuel ben Meir, known as Rasbam, also a commentator; Rabbi Shemaiah, compiler of the Sefer ha-Pardes (The Book of Paradise); and Rabbi Simcha, compiler of the Mahzor Vitry.

Rashi's commentaries and tractates spread throughout Europe and the Near East after his death at Troyes on July 13, 1105. His commentary on the Talmud has been in universal use among Talmudic students and scholars since then. The text of the Talmud is usually printed side by side with Rashi's commentary and with the tosaphist additions dating from the two subsequent centuries. Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch (printed 1475) has enjoyed a similar popularity. It has been the subject of numerous commentaries by both Jewish and Christian scholars. Nicholas of Lyra, whose work was one of Martin Luther's main sources in composing his Bible translation, used Rashi's commentary extensively. Rashi's school at Troyes produced custumals (collections and digests of customs and habits) and rabbinic tractates that maintained a wide influence among Jews of later generations.

Because of the wide range of Rashi's commentaries and the unique and personal character of his exegeses, he more than any other Jewish scholar has molded modern rabbinic commentary and interpretation of the Bible. He ranks as high as any ancient scholar as theologian, Bible commentator, and Talmudist.

Further Reading

An older study of Rashi is Maurice Liber, Rashi (trans. 1906). More recent studies include Samuel M. Blumenfield, Master of Troyes: A Study of Rashi, the Educator (1946), and Herman Halperin, Rashi and the Christian Scholars (1963). Harold Louis Ginsberg, ed., Rashi Anniversary Volume (1941), contains biographical material and commentary on Rashi. See also Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature, vol. 1 (1930; rev. ed. 1943).

Additional Sources

Pearl, Chaim, Rashi, New York: Grove Press, 1988.

Shereshevsky, Esra, Rashi, the man and his world, Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson, 1996.

Shulman, Yaacov Dovid, Rashi: the story of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, New York: CIS Publishers, 1993. □


views updated May 29 2018

Rashi (acronym of Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac; 1040–1105). Jewish biblical and Talmudic commentator. He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible with the exception of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and the final chapters of Job. The commentaries as they have been handed down include annotations by his students. His biblical commentaries were enormously popular, and he was influential on Christian as well as Jewish scholars. His commentary on the Pentateuch was the first Hebrew book to be printed (1475).