Rashi

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Rashi : biography

1040-2-22 – 1105-7-13

Rashi wrote commentaries on all the books of Tanakh except Chronicles I & II. Scholars believe that the commentary which appears under Rashi’s name in those books was compiled by the students of Rabbi Saadiah of the Rhine, who incorporated material from Rashi’s yeshiva. Rashi’s students, Rabbi Shemaya and Rabbi Yosef, edited the final commentary on the Torah; some of their own notes and additions also made their way into the version we have today.

Today, tens of thousands of men, women and children study "Chumash with Rashi" as they review the Torah portion to be read in synagogue on the upcoming Shabbat. According to halakha, a man may even study the Rashi on each Torah verse in fulfillment of the requirement to review the Parsha twice with Targum (which normally refers to Targum Onkelos) This practice is called in Hebrew: "Shnayim mikra ve-echad targum". Since its publication, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah is standard in almost all Chumashim produced within the Orthodox Jewish community.

Commentary on the Talmud

Rashi wrote the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud. Rashi’s commentary, drawing on his knowledge of the entire contents of the Talmud, attempts to provide a full explanation of the words and of the logical structure of each Talmudic passage. Unlike other commentators, Rashi does not paraphrase or exclude any part of the text, but elucidates phrase by phrase. Often he provides punctuation in the unpunctuated text, explaining, for example, "This is a question"; "He says this in surprise," "He repeats this in agreement," etc.

As in his commentary on the Tanakh, Rashi frequently illustrates the meaning of the text using analogies to the professions, crafts, and sports of his day. He also translates difficult Hebrew or Aramaic words into the spoken French language of his day, giving latter-day scholars a window into the vocabulary and pronunciation of Old French.

Rashi exerted a decisive influence on establishing the correct text of the Talmud. Up to and including his age, texts of each Talmudic tractate were copied by hand and circulated in yeshivas. Errors often crept in: sometimes a copyist would switch words around, and other times incorporate a student’s marginal notes into the main text. Because of the large number of merchant-scholars who came from throughout the Jewish world to attend the great fairs in Troyes, Rashi was able to compare different manuscripts and readings in Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Midrash, Targum, and the writings of the Geonim, and determine which readings should be preferred. However, in his humility, he deferred to scholars who disagreed with him. For example, in Chulin 4a, he comments about a phrase, "We do not read this. But as for those who do, this is the explanation…"

Rashi’s commentary, which covers nearly all of the Babylonian Talmud (a total of 30 tractates), has been included in every version of the Talmud since its first printing in the fifteenth century. It is always situated towards the middle of the opened book display; i.e., on the side of the page closest to the binding.

Some of the other printed commentaries which are attributed to Rashi were composed by others, primarily his students. In some commentaries, the text indicates that Rashi died before completing the tractate, and that it was completed by a student. This is true of the tractate Makkot, the concluding portions of which were composed by his son-in-law, Rabbi Judah ben Nathan, and of the tractate Bava Batra, finished (in a more detailed style) by his grandson, the Rashbam. There is a legend that the commentary on Nedarim, which is clearly not his, was actually composed by his daughters.

Responsa

About 300 of Rashi’s responsa and halakhic decisions are extant. These responsa were copied and preserved by his students. Siddur Rashi, compiled by an unknown student, also contains Rashi’s responsa on prayer. Other compilations include Sefer Hapardes, edited by Rabbi Shemayah, Rashi’s student, and Sefer Haoraah, prepared by Rabbi Nathan Hamachiri.