1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rashi

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RASHI (1040-1105), Jewish scholar. Rabbi Solomon Izḥaqi (son of Isaac), usually cited as Rashi from the initials of those words, was born at Troyes in 1040 and died in the same town in 1105. Legends concerning him are many. Isaac's wife, shortly before the birth of their famous son, was walking one day down a narrow street in Worms, when two vehicles moving in opposite directions seemed about to crush her. As she leant hopelessly against a wall, it miraculously fell inwards to make a niche for her. So with his education. Legend sends the student to southern France, and even on a tour of the world. At an inn in the Orient he cured a sick monk, who later on, as bishop of Olmütz, returned the kindness by saving the Jews from massacre. In fact, Rashi never went farther than from the Seine to the Rhine; the utmost limit of his travels were the academies of Lorraine. Situated between France and Germany, Lorraine was more French than German, and French was the common language of Jew and Christian. This is shown by the glosses in Rashi's works, almost invariably in French. He seems to have passed the decade beginning with 1055 in Worms, where the niche referred to above is still shown. Within this, it is said, Rashi was wont to teach. A small edifice on the east of the synagogue is called the “Rashi Chapel,” and the “Rashi Chair,” raised on three steps in the niche, is one of the objects of the pious admiration of pilgrims. At Worms Rashi worked under Jacob ben Yaqar, and at Mainz under Isaac ben Judah, perhaps combining at the same time the functions of teacher and student. Besides the oral tuition that he received, the medieval schools habitually kept the notes of former teachers. From these Rashi learned much, and probably he incorporated some of these notes in his own works. In the middle ages there was a communism in learning, but if Rashi used some of the stones quarried and drafted by others, it was to his genius that the finished edifice was due.

Rashi was twenty-five years of age when he returned to Troyes, which town thenceforward eclipsed the cities of Lorraine and became the recognized centre of Jewish learning. Rashi acted as rabbi and judge, but received no salary. Not till the 14th century were Jewish rabbis paid officials. Rashi and his family worked in the vines of Troyes (in the Champagne); in his letters he describes the structure of the wine-presses. His learning and character raised him to a position of high respect among the Jewries of Europe, though Spain and the East were long outside the range of his influence. As was said of him soon after his death: “His lips were the seat of wisdom, and thanks to him the Law, which he examined and interpreted, has come to life again.” His posterity included several famous names, those of his grandchildren. Rashi had no sons, but his three daughters were women of culture, and two of the sons of Jochebed (see Rashbam and Tam), as well as others of his descendants, carried on the family tradition for learning, adding lustre to Rashi's fame. The latter part of Rashi's life was saddened by the incidents connected with the first Crusade. Massacres occurred in the Rhinelands. According to legend, Rashi and Godfrey of Bouillon — of the foremost leaders of the Crusade — were intimate friends. Rashi died peacefully in Troyes in 1105.

Rashi was the most conspicuous medieval representative of the Jewish spirit. A century later Maimonides was to give a new turn to Jewish thought, by the assimilation of Aristotelianism with Mosaism, but Rashi was a traditionalist pure and simple. He was in no sense a philosopher, but he exemplified in his person and in his works the stored up wisdom of the Synagogue. Yet through all that he wrote there runs a vein of originality. Besides minor works, such as a recension of the Prayer-Book (Siddur), the Pardes and ha-Orah, Rashi wrote two great commentaries on which his fame securely rests. These were the commentaries on the whole of the Hebrew Bible and on about thirty treatises of the Talmud. His commentary on the Pentateuch, in particular, has been printed in hundreds of editions; it is still to Jews the most beloved of all commentaries on the Mosaic books. More than a hundred supercommentaries have been written on it. Rashi unites homily with grammatical exegesis in a manner which explains the charm of the commentary. His influence in Christian circles was great, especially because of the use made of the commentary by Nicolaus de Lyra (q.v.), who in his turn was one of the main sources of Luther's version. Even more important was Rashi's commentary on the Talmud, which became so acknowledged as the definitive interpretation that Rashi is cited simply under the epithet of “the Commentator.” It is no exaggeration to assert that the modern world owes its power to understand the Talmud to Rashi. In this field the “Commentator” is supreme. He practically edited the text of the Talmud besides explaining it, and the Talmud is never printed without Rashi's commentary on the margin. An important feature of Rashi's commentaries is the frequency of French translations of words. These glosses (lo'azim) have now been in part edited from the manuscripts of the late Arsène Darmesteter.

Bibliography. — M. Liber, Rashi (1906), published as a memorial of Rashi on the 800th anniversary of his death. Rashi's commentary on the Bible has been translated into Latin by Breithaupt (1710-1714); and into German (Pentateuch) by Dukes (1833-38) and others. The foundation of recent investigation into Rashi's life is Zunz's Salomon b. Isaac (1823), to which I. H. Weiss added much in his (Hebrew) biography (in Bet Talmud ii., Nos. 2-10. See also Graetz, History of the Jews (Engl. trans., vol. iii. ch. ix.). A critical edition of Rashi's Pentateuch commentary was published by A Berliner (2nd ed., 1905). (I. A.)