Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi)
(1040 - 1105)
Rashi was the outstanding Biblical commentator
of the Middle Ages. He was born in Troyes, France,
and lived from 1040 to 1105, surviving the massacres of the First
Crusade through Europe. He was a fantastic scholar and studied with
the greatest student of Rabbenu
Gershom of Mainz
At twenty-five, he founded his own
academy in France. Rashi's commentary on the Bible was unique. His concern was for every word in the text which need
elaboration or explanation. Moreover, he used the fewest words
possible in his commentaries.
Most of his explanations were not
written by him. Apparently, students would ask him questions about
the text, or he would rhetorically ask questions about specific
words, and a student would write his short, lucid answers in the
margin of the parchment text. These answers comprise Rashi's
commentary. We now have the answers, but the trick to studying Rashi
is to figure out what the problem was with the text or the grammar of
a given word.
Besides explaining individual
words, Rashi also made use of the the great oceans of midrash.
However, instead of just quoting the early rabbis, Rashi applied the
stories specifically to the Bible text; often abridging them. He
assumed that his students knew the midrash; he just emphasized its
immediate relevance to the TaNaCH.
Rashi is also important for
students of French. Many words in the Bible were unknown to Rashi's
students, and obviously there would ask what a particular word meant
and Rashi would give the answer in Old French using Hebrew
transliteration. These transliterations provide important insights
into the development of French and its pronunciation.
The original printed Bible text by
Daniel Bomberg in 1517 included Rashi's commentary. That commentary
became so popular that there are now more than 200 commentaries on
his commentary. It is assumed in traditional circles that when you
read the TaNaCh, you also read Rashi.
Rashi's commentary on the Talmud was even more important than his TaNaCh commentary. The Talmud was
written in legalese: terse, unexplained language with no punctuation.
Rashi provided a simple explanation of all Gemarra discussions. He explained all of the terse phrases; he explained
the principles and concepts assumed by the sages who put together the
His simple, brief explanations for
practically every phrase of the Gemarra made the Talmud understandable to the non-scholar. It became an instant best seller,
and, to this day, it is unthinkable to study Talmud without studying Rashi's commentary at the same time.
Rashi's explanations and
commentaries on the Talmud were so important that for almost a hundred years after his death, Talmud students in France and Germany concentrated their brilliant minds on
discussing and elaborating on Rashi's commentary. Just as the monks
were concentrating on deep philosophical discussions of Christian
theology, France's Jewish scholars were focusing on the Talmud and its text. Their complicated (and sometimes convoluted)
commentaries were called Tosafot (Additions). The scholars who
created these additions were called the Tosafists (Those Who Added).
The most famous of these Tosafists
was Rashi's grandson, Rabbenu Tam, who frequently disagreed with his
grandfather. Today on every page of Talmud you can find Rashi's commentary surrounding the text on the inside of
the page, and the Tosafot surrounding the text on the outside of the
to Jewish Heritage