R. Shelomo Yitzchaki (Rashi)

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See also: Rashi's Torah Commentary

Rashi
Name
Rashi, R. Shlomo Yitzchaki,
רש"י, ר' שלמה יצחקי
Dates1040 – 1105
LocationFrance
WorksCommentaries on Tanakh and Talmud, Sifrut Debei Rashi
Exegetical Characteristics
Influenced byR. Yaakov ben Yakar, R. Yitzchak HaLevi, R. Yitzchak ben Yehuda
Impacted onEveryone

Background

Life

  • Name – R. Shelomo b. Yitzchak (ר' שלמה בן יצחק), of which Rashi (רש"י) is an acronym.
  • Dates – c. 10401 – July 13, 1105.2
  • Location – Rashi lived in Troyes for most of his life, although he studied in both Mainz and Worms.
  • Occupation – 
  • Family – Rashi’s uncle, the brother of his mother, was ר' שמעון הזקן, a student of R. Gershom. Rashi had four daughters: Yocheved, Miriam, Rachel,3 and a daughter who died during Rashi's lifetime.4 Yocheved married R. Meir b. Shemuel, and had four sons (Rashbam, R. Tam, R. Yitzchak, and Shelomo) and one daughter5. Miriam married R. Yehuda b. Natan (Rivan), and had a son named R. Yom Tov.
  • Teachers – Rashi studied at Mainz under R. Yaakov b. Yakar, and following R. Yaakov's death in 1064, he learned under R. Yitzchak b. Yehuda. He then moved to Worms, and studied under R. Yitzchak HaLevi. All of his teachers were students of R. Gershom.
  • Contemporaries – 
  • Students – R. Yosef Kara, Rashi's son-in-law R. Yehuda b. Natan, Rashi’s grandsons Rashbam and R. Tam, his secretary R. Shemayah, R. Simcha MiVitri.
  • Time period – 
  • World outlook – 

Works

  • Biblical commentaries – Rashi wrote commentaries on all of Tanakh.
  • Rabbinics
    • Talmudic commentaries – Rashi wrote commentaries on most, if not all,6 of the tractates of the Talmud Bavli.
    • Halakhic codes – Rashi did not write any halakhic codes himself. However, his students did author a number of halakhic works based on his teachings, including Machzor Vitri, Siddur Rashi, Sefer HaPardes, Sefer HaOreh, and others.
    • Responsa – In modern times, some of Rashi's surviving responsa were collected into a single work.7
  • Piyyutim – Rashi wrote a number of piyyutim. Although we don't know of any commentaries on piyyutim that Rashi wrote himself, his exegesis was incorporated into R. Shemayah's commentaries on the piyyutim.
  • Misattributed works – Commentaries on the end of Iyyov (from Iyyov 40:25 onward), Ezra, Nechemyah, and Divrei HaYamim; Commentaries on Moed Katan, Ta'anit, Nedarim, Nazir, and Horayot.

Torah Commentary

Characteristics

  • Verse by verse / Topical – Rashi's Torah commentary is a local, verse by verse commentary, marked by its succinct and clear style. Rashi comments on a selection of phrases in almost every verse, providing the lemma (citation from the verse)8 and then a gloss.9 As his units of study are small, he tends not to focus on structural issues or comparisons of parallel stories. This stands in contrast to commentaries like that of Ramban, which are much broader in scope and might address several verses at once.10  
  • Language of the commentary – Rashi wrote his commentary in Hebrew.  When explaining difficult Biblical words, he often translates them into French (לעז) to aid his audience.11
  • Peshat and derash – Rashi lays out his attitude towards peshat and derash in a number of programmatic statements, perhaps the most important being his comments to Bereshit 3:8, where he writes: " יש מדרשי אגדה רבים... ואני לא באתי אלא לפשוטו של מקרא, לאגדה המישבת דברי המקרא, ופשוטו ושמועתו, דבר דבור על אופני".‎12   As even a quick glance at Rashi's commentary betrays that much of it stems from Midrashic sources,13 Rashi's supercommentaries and modern scholars debate how to read Rashi's statement and to what extent he achieved the stated goal.14
    • Pure exegete – According to some,15 Rashi's statement should be taken at face value. He brings Midrashic explanations only when they serve to answer a textual or conceptual question.16
    • Also educator – Others disagree17 suggesting that sometimes Rashi will incorporate Midrashim only for their pedagogic value, even when there is no textual difficulty. Rashi's goal was not only to explain the text but to educate his audience to proper values, combat Christian claims, and give an oppressed people hope.
    • Did not go far enough – It is also possible that Rashi aimed to explain the text according to "פשוטו של מקרא", but did not totally achieve his goal.  See Rashbam Bereshit 37:2Bereshit 37:2About R. Shemuel b. Meir, who famously says of his grandfather: " והודה לי שאילו היה לו פנאי היה צריך לעשות פרושים אחרים לפי הפשטות המתחדשים בכל יום".‎18 
  • Humility – Rashi's commentary betrays his humility.  He writes "איני יודע" over a dozen times, noting how he does not know what a certain word means, a verse comes to teach, or how a rabbinic source reached its conclusions.19

Methods

  • Selective use of Midrash – Rashi incorporates much Midrashic material into his commentary,20  to the extent that it might even be termed a "Midrashic anthology".21 Rashi's goal, however, is clearly not to simply collect and preserve such material, as he is extremely selective in what he chooses to incorporate, moving, combining, and reworking Midrashim for his purposes:22
    • At times, Rashi simply references a Midrash, without discussion.23
    • Sometimes Rashi cites a Midrash originally brought to elucidate a certain verse and uses it to explain a totally different verse.24
    • Rashi might refer to a Midrash in his comments to only one verse even though the original discussed more than one.25
    • Rashi may choose only one from several possible Midrashim on a verse.26
    • Often too, Rashi will rework a Midrash or combine several into one explanation.
  • Way of the text (דרכי המקראות) – In explaining linguistic or grammatical apparent anomalies, Rashi will often note that these are simply "the way of the text" and not really difficult forms at all. Several examples follow:
    • Androgynous nouns – Rashi notes that many nouns might be treated as both masculine and feminine. See his comments to Rashi Bereshit 32:9, Shemot 35:17Shemuel I 1:9, Yeshayahu 35:9, Yechezkel 2:9.
    • ה' הידיעה in a double name – Rashi explains that when a name has two parts (such as Beit El or Kiryat Arba), it is the second word which takes the definite article. See his comments to Bereshit 35:27.
    • Truncated Verses (מקרא קצר)27 – Rashi notes many examples in which a verse is missing either a subject,28 object,29 part of the predicate,30 or part of a conditional statement.31 In some cases he explicitly notes that the verse is a  "מקרא קצר", while in other cases he simply fills in the missing section.32
  • Way of the World (דרך ארץ) – Rashi often points to the realia of the time of Tanakh,33 his own day,34 or to general human behavior/modes of speech35 to understand the actions of Biblical characters or the nature of unfamiliar objects, practices or terminology.
  • Issues of Chronology
      • ‎אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה‎‎36 – Rashi often remarks when a story or verse is not recorded in its proper place,37 noting that "אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה".‎38   He generally explains the difficulty in the verses which leads him to such conclusions, but only rarely explains why Tanakh chose to veer from the proper order.  In the few places which he does, he offers a homiletical reason rather than a literary one.39 In the vast majority of cases, Rashi is drawing off earlier Rabbinic sources who similarly claim achronology.40
      • סמיכות פרשיות
  • Omnisignificance –
  • Analysis of grammar and language
    • Meaning-minimalist – When defining words, Rashi tends to assume that each root has only one basic meaning (from which any other contextual meanings are derived).41  This is evident in his oft-used formulas, "every occurrence of the term "x" has the meaning "y" or "the word "x" means nothing other than "y".42
  • Character consolidation – Rashi often identifies anonymous43 or lesser known Biblical figures with more well known characters44 or figures with the same or similar names one with another.45 

Themes

  • Love of the Nation and Land of Israel – This theme is prevalent throughout the commentary. For example, in his first comment to four of the five books of Torah, Rashi mentions Hashem's love for the nation.
  • Positive portrayal of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs
    • Defense – Rashi consistently attempts to explain away apparent faults or sins of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. 
      • Often he will reinterpret the apparent misdeed. For instance, see his understanding of Avraham's apparent lack of faith in questioning, "במה אדע כי אירשנה",‎46 his defense of Yaakov for his deceit in taking the blessing,47 his explanation of Rachel's jealousy48 and stealing of her father's idols,49 his explanation of Yehuda's marriage to a Caananite,50 or his minimizing of Reuven's sin with Bilhah.51
      • At times, too, Rashi defends the Patriarchs not by minimizing their deeds, but by aggravating the sins of others.  For example, see his justifying of Sarah's banishment of Yishmael and Yaakov's buying of the birthright by depicting both Yishmael and Esav as grave sinners.52
    • Praise – Rashi also emphasizes positive evaluations or behavior not explicit in the text.
      • For example, see Bereshit 18:1 where Rashi highlights Avraham's love of guests,  Bereshit 25:27 where he describes Yaakov's learning of Torah, Bereshit 47:21 where he praises Yosef's economic policies, Shemot 3:1 regarding Moshe's concerns to prevent theft,53 or Vayikra 10:3 where Rashi presents Nadav and Avihu as holier than Moshe and Aharon.
  • Negative attitude towards Gentiles – Rashi's commenatry often betrays a negative attitude towards Gentiles:
    • Biblical characters –  See Rashi's negative portrayal of Lot (Bereshit 13:7-14, 18:4, 19:16), Yishmael (16:12, 21:9,14, 17), Esav (Bereshit 25:27-34, 26:34, 30:22, 31:12, 32:11-12, 35:8, 36:2), and Bilam.54
    • Gentiles at large – See Rashi on Bereshit 15:10 (on how other nations will be destroyed), Shemot 7:3 (on the inability of idolators to sincerely repent) Bemidbar 27:17 (on the difference between the willingness of Israelite and foreign kings to take the lead in battle).
  • Educating towards values – Rashi's commentary includes many lessons for his readers. Some themes which appear repeatedly include: the evils of slander or gossip,55 the importance of compassion for the disadvantaged, the need for humility and dangers of pride.56
  • Christian polemics

Textual Issues

  • Manuscripts
    • At least 240 manuscripts of Rashi's Torah commentary are extant.57 [For a list of those available online, see here.] There is significant variation between these manuscripts as medieval scholars and copyists often added their own marginal glosses to the text.  This makes it difficult to determine which sections are original to Rashi and which are merely later accretions.
    • As such, probably the most important manuscript of Rashi's commentary is Leipzig 1 (Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, B.H.1), written in the 13th century by R. Makhir b. Karshavyah.  The scribe states that he produced it from a copy of the commentary transcribed and annotated by Rashi's own secretary, R. Shemayah, making it an extremely valuable textual witness which comes very close to the original source.58 R. Makhir not only copied Rashi's base commentary from R. Shemayah's manuscript, but he also reproduced many of the marginal glosses contained in R. Shemayah's text, a good number of which R. Shemayah explicitly attributes to Rashi himself. For further discussion and to see the digitized text and images of the manuscript, see Leipzig 1.
  • Printings – 
  • Textual layers – As mentioned above, there are many layers to Rashi's commentary as both Rashi and others, including his scribe R. Shemayah and his student and colleague, R" Kara, updated the text.
    • Rashi's own glosses – Many glosses in the Leipzig 1 manuscript are marked ר' (רבי)  or מ"ר (מפי רבי),  clearly attributing them to Rashi himself.59 Most of these were collected and analyzed by Prof. Jordan Penkower,60 who categorizes them into several groups, including: (1) additions based on Rabbinic literature (2) linguistic and lexicographic clarifications (3) elaboration on the original comment (4) additional French glosses. A comprehensive database of all of the various additions to Rashi's commentary is currently being assembled here.
    • Glosses of R. Shemayah – See Additions of R. Shemayah.
    • Glosses of R"Y Kara – See Additions of R"Y Kara

Sources

Significant Influences

  • Earlier Sources – 
  • Teachers – 
  • Foils – 

Occasional Usage

Possible Relationship

Impact

Later exegetes

Supercommentaries

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