1902 Encyclopedia > Rashi

(also known as: Rabbi Shelomo Yitzchaki; Solomon ben Isaac)
Jewish exegete and grammarian
(c. 1040 - 1105)

RASHI (_____), that is, RABBENU SHELOMOH YISHAKI (Solomon, son of Isaac), whence by Christian writers he is also called Isacides (1040-1105), was the greatest rabbi of the Middle Ages. He is equally important for Biblical and Talmudic study, and in the former connexion as interesting to Christians as to Jews from the influence of his exegesis on Luther's Bible (through De Lyra; see vol. xi. p. 601) and on the English version of the Old Testament (mainly through Ibn 'Ezra, and still more through Kimhi). Rashi is the most eminent of the "sages" or "great men of Lothaire " (_____, i.e., Lorraine) in whom culminated that movement of Jewish scholarship to which Charlemagne had given the first impulse. From the Jew Isaac, first interpreter and then ambassador in his famous mission to Hartin ar-Bashid, Charlemagne had doubtless learned how superior in literary attainments the Jews of the East were to those of the West, and therefore he gave great privileges to the accomplished Makhiritess who were introduced into the south of France, and spread Jewish culture and literature there. Later on he brought from Rome to Mainz the Kalonymites, a family of distinguished Talmudists, poets, &c, of Lucca; and soon Spires, Worms, and Mainz (spoken of as Shum, _____ ) became famous seats of Jewish learning; their ordinances (Takkanoth Shum) were of norm-ative authority for centuries, and the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Babylonian Talmud steadily spread from southern Germany to northern France. Though Spires, Worms, and Mainz by the partition treaty of Verdun in 843 belonged to East Frankland, yet in Jewish literature Lothaire includes these cities ; and all the greatest doctors of Jewish lore in the south of Germany or north of France belong to the " great men " or " sages of Lothaire." Rashi was born, in the year in which the last nominal gaon of Pumbaditha died, at Troyes, where his father Yishak was no doubt rabbi. R. Yishak was probably a disciple of R. Gershom ; certainly he was an eminent Talmudist." His wife, Rashi's mother, was a sister of R. Shime'on hazzaken.s

Her name is unknown, as is also that of the wife whom Rashi, according to Mishnic precept (Aboth, v. 21), married at the age of eighteen. Soon after his marriage, and with his wife's consent, he left her to prosecute his studies in Germany, returning home only from time to time. She bore him no sons, but three daughters.

Rashi had at least six teachers,—(1) his father; (2) R. Ya'akob b. Yakar (chief rabbi at Worms) for Bible and Talmud (Rashi on T. B., Pesahim, 111a), a disciple of B. Gershom (Rashbam, ibid., and Siddur, ii. leaf 10a) and friend of R. Eli'ezer haggadol ; (3) his successor, R. Yishak Segan Leviyyah (T.B., Besah, 24b), a pupil of R. Eli'ezer haggadol ; (4) his mother's brother, already named (T.B., Shabbath, 85b) ; (5) R. Yishak b. Yehudah, also a pupil of R. Eli'ezer, and head of the community at Mainz (Pardes, xxi.) ; (6) R. Elyakim, head of the community at Spires (ibid., clix., clxxxi., cexe, cccvi.). Besides the oral instruction of his teachers, Bashi had and used copies of, and commentaries on, sundry parts of the Talmud written by these scholars themselves or by their teachers or disciples (T. B., Berakhoth, 39a, 57b; Shabbath, 10b; R. Hasshanah, 28a ; Sidclcah, 45b ; Siddur, ii. leaf 10a). He had also before him all the Jewish literature existing and known at his time, as the Bible, part of the Apocrypha, all the Targums, sundry cabbalistic works (Sejiher Yefirah, Hekhaloth, etc.11), both Talmuds, the Midrashim, Sheeltoth, Halakhoth Gedoloth, Teshuboth Ilaggeotiim, the works of R. Mosheh Haddarshan, the lexicographical works of Menahem b. Seruk and Donash b. Labrat, and, last but not least, the commentaries of R. Gershom, which he used largely, but mostly silently.12 He also used the works of his own contemporaries, such as the lArukh.vi His studies completed, Rashi returned to his native town and opened a school for Bible and Talmud. His fame quickly rose ; disciples gathered round him from the whole north of Franco and south of Germany, and men in office, who had grown grey in study, addressed to him "religious ques-tions," his "answers" to which give us insight into his character, piety, and ability.14 He died on 13th (not 26th) July 1105,15 having already seen two of his grandsons "interpreting' in his presence, and the budding intelligence of a third, who became the greatest Talmudist of his age.

Rashi, though not the originator of all that he teaches in his commentary on the Talmud, had so digested the whole literature bearing on that stupendous work that his teaching, even when it appears to be imitative, is really creative. In his Biblical commentaries he has not, of course, grammatical and philological knowledge of the modern type, but he had a very fine sense for linguistic points, which was not equalled, much less surpassed, by the greatest rabbis who followed him. He gave satisfaction, if not to all, at least to the best of his time, and, as the great German poet says, " he who has given satisfaction to the best of his time lives for all ages."


A. Bible Commentary (____).— Rashi commented on the whole of the Hebrew Bible except Job, chaps, xl. 21 to the end, and the books of Chronicles. Kimhi's is the only Rabbinical commentary which can be said to have successfully approached this great work in its influence on Jewish scholarship ; and on the Pentateuch Rashi had no rival. For centuries too his was the text-book in boys' schools throughout the Jewish world—and in some countries it is so still, its depth and subtilty being com-bined with simplicity of exposition. Its currency is attested by more than a hundred supercommentaries, translations, extracts, and the like, of which there are about fifty in print. An eminent rabbi declares that Rashi may be substituted for the Targum " in the reading of the weekly pericope " (Reshal, Yam shel Shelomoh on Kiddushin, ii. § 14). Bashi's influence on Christian scholars has already been alluded to. N. de Lyra copied him so closely as to be called his "ape."

Translations.—The whole commentary was rendered into Latin by PELLICANUS (q.v.), but never printed, and again by Breithaupt (3 vols. 4to, Gotha, 1710-14). This version includes the spurious commentary on Chronicles and is accompanied by notes. Of separate parts there are printed versions of Gen. i.-vi. (Scherzer, 1663), Gen. vi.-xi. (Abicht, 1705), Gen. xlix. (Loscani, 1710), Hosea (Mercier, 1621), Joel, Jonah (Leusden, 1656), Joel (Genebrard, 1563), Jonah, Zephaniah,Obadiah (Pontac, 1556), Obadiah (Crocius, 1673), Malachi (S. de Muis, 1618), Ps. xix. (Id., 1620), Proverbs (Giggams, 1620), Canticles (Genebrard, 1570), Ruth (Carpzov, 1703), Esther (Aquinas, 1622). The Pentateuch was translated into German by L. Dukes (Prague, 1833-38, 8vo); Genesis was done by L. Haymann (Bonn, 1833, 8vo). Editions, especially of the Pentateuch, are very numer-ous. Only some of the chief can here be named,—(a) on the whole Bible, with the sacred text—Venice, 1545, 1595, 1607 (all three in 4to) ; Cracow, 1610, 4to ; Basel, 1618, folio ; (b) Pentateuch with text (all sm. folio) — Bologna, 1482 ; Ixar, 1490 ; Lisbon and Naples, 1491; (e) Pentateuch without text—Reggio, 1475, folio (the first Hebrew book printed with date); s. I. et a., but before 1480, 4to ; Soncino, 1487, folio. MSS. of Rashi on the whole Bible are very rare, and even those which are supposed to be such turn out, on examination, to be either incomplete or defective, or both. There lies a precious MS. in Leyden (1 Seal.) ; but it is a trifle defective in Exodus. St John's College, Cambridge, possesses a still more ancient and precious MS. (A. 3 ; dated 1239); but it lacks the Penta-teuch and Ezra(-Nebemiah), and is defective in the end (though, it is true, only in Chronicles, which is not Rashi's, as mentioned before). But MSS. of Rashi on the Pentateuch, both old and good, abound. There are few libraries in Europe that have not one or two of this commentary. It is to be hoped, therefore, that Dr A. Berliner, who has already edited critically Rashi on the Pentateuch (Berlin, 1S66, 8vo), although not on the faith of a sufficient number of MSS., will soon issue a second and superior edition.

B. Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, ______. —Rashi had not been dead a hundred years when it was felt in the learned world that no such master in the Talmud had ever existed before him, and that without his aid and especially his corrections of the text (then only embodied in his commentary), the sea of the Baby-lonian Talmud could not safely be sailed on. He became now the teacher even of the Jews in the East. He commented on the whole of the Talmud to which Gemara is attached (see MlSHNAH), except on JVedarim from leaf 22b to the end, Nazir and Tamid from begin-ning to end, Baba Batiird from 29a to the end, and Makkoth from leaf 19b to the end. In commenting on the two last-named massekhtoth death surprised him. Rashi on the Talmud has never been printed apart from the text, and so the first complete edition is that contained in the editio princeps of the Babylonian Talmud (Venice, 1520-23, folio). Portions had come out before with parts of the Talmud (Soncino, 1483, and elsewhere later). There are MSS. containing Rashi on isolated Talmudic treatises in various libraries: the Cambridge University Library and British Museum have six each, the Bodleian twelve, the Paris National Library seven.

C. The Religious Decisions (_____) given by Kashi are to be found in various works, principally in the so-called Siddur (i. and ii.) and Happardes (Warsaw, 1870, folio)—called Happardcs Haggadol to distinguish it from the abridgment by R. Shemuel of Bamberg (13th century) called Likkute Happardes (Venice, 1519, 4to)—a work of which Rashi himself seems to have laid the foundation, though other literature on other subjects is now mixed up with it. Of the same nature are "inm "11DX (kindly lent to the writer by Dr Merzbacher of Munich) and Haorah (only in part printed). Various halakhoth, &c, are also to be found in various mahzoriiu (e.g., the Cambridge MS. Add. 667, leaves 153-156, and elsewhere), the Shibbole Hallekct, ii. (by R. Sidkiyyahu b. Abraham Harophe, Cambridge MS. Add. 653).

D. Poems (_____)— Rashi was no poet by profession and much less by genius; but he had a tenderly feeling heart, and saw the horrors of the first crusade ; and he wrote Selihoth (propitiatory and penitential prayers), which are by no means without their value. One is embodied in the additional service of the day of atonement and begins " Tannoth Saroth" (Reslial's Responsa, § xxix.), and several more, which form the acrostic Shelomoh bar Yishak, are found in the collection of the Selihoth of the Ashkenazic rite. It is not improbable also that the Aramaic Rcshuth iv. to the Haphtarah in Targum (introduction to the prophetic portion as given in Yonathan b. 'Uzz'iel's Aramaic paraphrase), which is to be found in the Reuchlinian Codex (De Lagarde, Prophctm chaldaice, Leipsic, 1872, 8vo, leaf 492), is his. It is much his style, and the acrostic is Shelomoh (and not _____). It is also very probable that Reshuth v. is his. If so, he must have composed it when very young, as several expressions in it testify.

E. Le'azim (_____).—In his commentaries Rashi, like R. Gershom before him and others after him, often introduces French words (chiefly verbs and nouns) to give precision to his explanations. Of these Le'azim there are certainly more than 3000, and they aro most valuable to the student of old French. Unfortunately copyists, notably in Italy, and printers subsequently, have often substituted their own vernacular for the original French ; there are now even Russian words to be found in Rashi. Four hundred years ago explanations of some of these Le'azim and of those of Kimhi were ottered by the author of Makre Dardeke (Naples, 1488). Other contributions have followed intermittingly down to the present time (Brothers Bondi in Or Esther, Dessau, 1812; Dormitzer and Landau in Marpe Lashon, Odessa, 1865, 12mo). The labours of M. Arsene Darmesteter promise to be exhaustive, and are based on ex- tensive collations, see Romania, April 1872, p. 146 sq.

There is no satisfactory life nf Rashi; most recent accounts rest on a Life by Z"unz (1822), which has not been reprinted in his collected works. (S. M. S.-S.)


9 See Hophes Matmonim, ed. Goldberg, p. 2 (TlEW D"mi

10 They married three of their father's disciples. The husband of the eldest was, according to Schiller-Szinessy (Camb. Cat, ii. 88 sq., note 1), R. Simhah of Vitry-le-Français (ob. 1105), reputed author of the Mahzor Vitrl, which, if the other MSS. so called have no better title to the name than that in the British Museum, Add. 27200-1, must now be regarded as lost (Taylor, Catal. MSS. of Aboth, &c., No. 20; Schiller-Szinessy, op. cit., ii. 61 sq.). The issue of this marriage was (1) R. Shema'yah of Soissons (see MISHNAH, vol. xvi. p. 506) ; (2) R. Shemuel, who married his cousin, Rashbam's only sister. Rashi's second daughter, Yokhebed, married R. Meir of Rameru (b. Shemuel), a brother of R. Simhah. He was father of four sons,— (1) Ribani (R. Yishak b. Meir), who died in his father's lifetime ; (2) RASHBAM (q.v.) ; (3)R.Tham or Rath; (4) R. Shelomoh (Br. Mus., Add. 27200,leaf 158b). The third daughter, Miryam, married R. Yehudah b. Nathan, who sup- plemented his father-in-law's commentary on Makkoth, and wrote the commentary that .goes by Rashi's name on T.B., Nazir, &c. Their son's name was R. Yom Tob (Sepher Jlayyashar, Vienna, 1810, § 599). 13 See T.B., Shabbath, 13b, catchword ^INri.

14 See Hophes Matmonim, p. 8.

15 See MS. De-Rossi (Roy. Libr., Parma) 175 (Catal, p. 116), and MS. Luzzatto (Literaturbl. d. Orients, vii. p. 418). This precious MS., which subsequently belonged to Halberstam of Bielitz, is now the property of the master of St John's College, Cambridge.

The above article was written by: S. M. Schiller-Szinessy, M.A., Ph.D., Reader in Talmudic Literature, University of Cambridge.

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