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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Shlomo Yitzḥaki
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Hebrew Name(s): שלמה בן יצחק יצחקי מטרויש; רש׳׳י
Other Names: Rashi, Shlomo ben Yitzchak Yitzchaki, Shlomo Ben Yitzchaki, Rashi of Troyes, Solomon ben Yitzchak, Solomon Yitzḥaki, Solomon ben Isaac
Period: Rishonim — 11th Century
Location: France
Dates: 1040–1105

Biography:
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzḥaki (Rashi) is outstanding among the meforshim (commentators of the Bible and Talmud) of the Middle Ages. Born in Troyes in 1040, Rashi studied under Yaakov ben Yakar at Worms, and in Mainz under Isaac ben Judah. He founded his own academy in Troyes, France c. 1070 and died there in 1105.
 
Rashi's commentary on the Bible was unique in that he concentrated on every word in the text that called for explanation. His explanations are noted for their brevity and his ability to ask and answer questions raised in the text. The challenge embedded in Rashi's commentary is to find the question or problem in the text that Rashi answers.
 
Much of Rashi's biblical commentary and explanations arose from the questions posed by Rashi's students. Rashi not only explicated the meaning of words but also used targeted midrash emphasizing its connection with the text of the TaNaKh. It is generally said of Rashi that his exegesis and commentary focused on the peshat (simple) meaning of the text—his commentary was grounded in the words of the bible and its relevance.
 
Rashi's commentary has been taken as a primary guide to exegesis for generations and is a standard inclusion in many bibles. The original Daniel Blomberg Bible (1517) included Rashi's commentary.
 
Rashi did not limit his commentary to the Bible. He provided a commentary to the Talmud which has had lasting impact on Talmud studies and is considered to have a greater importance than his bible commentary. Rashi's approach in providing a simple explanation to the Gemara and its sometimes terse and complicated phrases and concepts provided the means for students of the Talmud, especially those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Biblical Hebrew, to access the wisdom of the sages.
 
Rashi's commentary on the Talmud excited so much scholarly interest that scholars studied, discussed and elaborated on Rashi's commentary. Their commentaries (Tosafot, meaning "additions") along with Rashi's commentary are included in copies of the Talmud. Talmudic scholarship would be incomplete without the study of Rashi's commentary and that of the Tosafists' along side the Gemara.
 
Rashi's had two daughters, Yocheved and Miriam, both of whom married Talmudic scholars, and tradition remembers a third daughter, Rachel. Rashi's daughters are reputed to have put on tefillin (although this fact is unproven) and legend relates that one of them wrote is commentary on Tractate Nedarim (Roth, (2003) Medieval Jewish Civilization: An Encyclopedia.)
 
Yocheved (Joheved), married Meir ben Samuel—they had four sons and a daughter. Each of their four sons became leading Baalei Tosafot (authorities on Talmudic commentary) and expanded Rashi's commentary through glosses and critical commentary. Their works "Tosafot" accompany Rashi's commentary in each edition of the Talmud. These four sons were: Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) who later assumed leadership of Rashi's yeshivah, Yitzchak ben Meir (Rivam), Shlomo the Grammarian, and Jacob ben Meir (Rabbeinu Tam.) Rabbeinu Tam who frequently disagreed with his grandfather, became a leader in Ashkenazi Jewry.  Yocheved and Samuel ben Meir's daughter, Channah, was a teacher of laws and customs which were relevant for women and is credited with writing a Responsum which explained the lighting of Sabbath lights ritual. Channah married Samson ben Simcha. Their son was Isaac of Dampierre (The Ri), an outstanding Talmudic scholar.  
 
Rashi's daughter, Miriam, married Judah ben Nathan, who completed the commentary on Talmud Makkot which Rashi was working on when he died. Legend remembers their daughter Alvina as a learned woman and whose customs served as the basis for later halakhic decisions. Their son Yom Tov (Yom Tov ben Judah of Paris) later moved to Paris and headed a yeshiva there, along with his brothers, Samson and Eliezer. Both Meir ben Samuel (Yochaved's husband) and Judah ben Natan (Miriam's husband) were Rashi's students.
 
It is thought that Rashi's third "daughter," Rachel, married  Eliezer ben Shemiah and that they later divorced. This knowledge is gleaned from a letter sent by Rabbeinu Tam to his cousin Yom Tov.
 
Rashi's commentaries have been valuable for students of Old French because of his method by which obscure biblical Hebrew words were explained in French using Hebrew transliteration for his students. His commenatries have also been used by Christian scholars and were cited by Nicholas de Lyra (a French Franciscan, 1292-1340) in Postillae Perpetuae.

Works:
Commentary on the Talmud; Commentary on the Tanakh; Responsa

 

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