Reconstructing the Lost Parts of
Rashbam's Torah Commentary1


The reconstructed interpretations of Rashbam presented on these pages are based on analysis conducted by Hillel Novetsky on interpretations from Rashbam which he discovered in various manuscripts. The reconstructed text presented on these pages is a preliminary 2015 edition. An updated version of the text was published in his dissertation completed in 2020, and it can be accessed at All comments, additions, and corrections would be greatly appreciated and can be sent to him here.

The Missing Chapters

Rashbam was one of the most innovative medieval Biblical commentators, and his Torah commentary packs more peshat per verse than perhaps any other. Despite this, or possibly as a consequence of this, Rashbam's Biblical commentaries did not achieve anywhere near the widespread popularity as those of his grandfather Rashi. In contrast to Rashi's Torah commentary which was one of the first Hebrew books to ever be printed (c.1470) and of which hundreds of manuscripts are extant today, Rashbam's commentary was first printed only in 17052 from a sole surviving manuscript (MS Breslau 103), whose fate has remained unknown since being plundered during the Shoah.

Even this single manuscript (before being lost) was missing almost twenty-four chapters. It was truncated on both ends and hence was missing Rashbam's commentary on both Bereshit 1-17 and from Devarim 33:4 until the end of the Torah, and it also was missing Rashbam's commentary on Parashat Pinechas (Bemidbar 25:10 – 30:2). Fortuitously, Rashbam's commentary on two of these chapters survived in two other manuscripts. His commentary on Bereshit 1 (until the middle of the last verse of the chapter) is appended to the end of MS Munich 5,3 and his commentary on Devarim 34 is inserted at the end of Rashi's Torah commentary in MS Oxford Opp. 34.4 However, each one of these contains only one folio, and the remaining missing sections still total about ten percent of the complete commentary.

Sources for Reconstruction

There are several sources which can be utilized in attempting to reconstruct the lost sections of Rashbam:

  • Rashbam's own works – In the extant portion of Rashbam's Torah commentary and in his other works, he sometimes discusses verses from the missing chapters or notes that these chapters contained an explanation of a certain topic. D. Rosin's critical edition of Rashbam's commentary (1882) collected many of these cases, and some new ones are added here.
  • Citations by others – Rosin also began the work of gathering the citations of the missing sections of Rashbam's commentary found in various Tosafist compilations. The collection here significantly adds to this pool from many additional manuscripts and printed works.5
  • Chizkuni – Many scholars have noted that a significant portion of Chizkuni is taken from Rashbam.6 The corollary of this is that Chizkuni can also serve as a valuable source for reconstructing the missing parts of Rashbam's commentary. I. Kislev7 provides two examples, and the reconstructed text presented here offers additional ones.
  • MSS Munich 252 and Oxford Marsh 2258 – Our recent analysis of these manuscripts indicates that they contain a treasure trove of material from Rashbam in almost verbatim form. The next section will elaborate on this.

MSS Munich 252 and Oxford Marsh 225

The Munich 252 and Oxford Marsh 225 manuscripts constitute two textual witnesses of a Tosafist compilation which moves back and forth between peshat exegesis and Midrashic interpretations.9 This feature is characteristic of most later Tosafist collections. However, this particular compilation is unique in that its peshat portion incorporates massive amounts of Rashbam.

A statistical analysis of Bereshit 18-22 (Parashat Vayera, or the first full Parashah on which Rashbam's commentary is extant) reveals that a full 60% of the peshat interpretations in the Munich 252 – Oxford Marsh 225 compilation derive from Rashbam and that they generally preserve Rashbam's own language with only minimal modifications. The extent of Rashbam's impact on the content of this compilation can readily be seen from the Rashbam – Munich 252 Comparison Table which juxtaposes the relevant sections of these manuscripts with the printed edition of Rashbam. The linguistic similarity is also highlighted by a Three Way Comparison Table which compares its degree of fidelity to Rashbam's words with that of Chizkuni.10 The full text of MS Munich 252 on Parashat Vayera with the identified sources for each lemma is available here.11

In addition to the three-fifths of the peshat interpretations which are derived from Rashbam, approximately one-fifth is taken from R. Yosef Bekhor Shor.12 The extent of Rashbam's influence also does not end at Bereshit 22. A study of the rest of these manuscripts is currently underway, and preliminary analysis shows a similar pattern of heavy use of Rashbam through Shemot 24.13

These findings indicate that the texts of the Munich and Oxford manuscripts are of significant value for a number of different purposes:

  • Reconstructing missing Rashbam – They constitute what may be the single most important source for reconstructing the missing portion of Rashbam on Bereshit 1-17, as once one eliminates the R"Y Bekhor Shor layer, the vast majority of what remains is likely from Rashbam.
  • Improving our text of Rashbam – They provide a valuable and accurate textual witness for the rest of Rashbam's commentary, enabling a proper evaluation of the now lost Breslau MS and facilitating the filling in of some of its lacunae.14
  • Improving our text of R"Y Bekhor Shor – They serve as an additional textual witness for the commentary of R"Y Bekhor Shor which was also published from a lone manuscript, and are relevant for the question of the provenance of the הגהות found in the commentary.15
  • Historical – They provide evidence for and shed light on the use of the commentaries of both Rashbam and R"Y Bekhor Shor in later time periods.

Challenges and Methods

There are difficulties, however, which need to be surmounted before using Munich 252 – Oxford Marsh 225 or any of the above sources for reconstructing the missing sections of Rashbam.

  • Rashbam's other works – Passages from Rashbam's own works which refer to interpretations in the missing chapters provide references but not the actual missing text.
  • Citations by others – These citations of Rashbam rarely preserve his original formulations, and very often are significant abridgments of his interpretations. In addition, it is not always clear if a citation in the name of "ר' שמואל" or "ר"ש" refers to Rashbam or to someone else.
  • Chizkuni – Chizkuni never identifies Rashbam as his source, and he also abridges and modifies his sources.
  • MSS Munich 252 and Oxford Marsh 225 – While the statistics indicate that the majority of the peshat interpretations in these manuscripts are likely from Rashbam, it is only on rare occasions that these manuscripts explicitly identify Rashbam as their source.

To overcome these challenges, the reconstructed text of Rashbam on Bereshit 1-17 presented here employs a combination of methods whenever possible, and the critical apparatus under each individual interpretation details the various factors supporting its identification as from Rashbam. The following are some of the general principles utilized in distilling potential Rashbam material from MS Munich 252 and Chizkuni:

  • References and citations – When an interpretation found in MS Munich 252 matches what Rashbam himself references or what is cited in his name by others, this material can almost definitely be attributed to Rashbam. There is a slightly lesser degree of certitude when the content is found in Chizkuni.
  • Distinctive content or language – When the content or language of an interpretation found in MS Munich 252 is distinctive to Rashbam,16 there is a strong probability that it should be attributed to Rashbam. Here, too, there is a slightly lesser probability when the content is found in Chizkuni.
  • Ibn Ezra's Long Commentary – R. Merdler17 demonstrated that Ibn Ezra in his Long Commentary on Bereshit is responding to Rashbam's Sefer HaDayyakot. There are also a number of cases in which Ibn Ezra may be responding to or influenced by Rashbam's Torah commentary18 which can be viewed at this Rashbam – Ibn Ezra Table. The presence of this factor may also raise the likelihood of a particular interpretation being from Rashbam.
  • Clustering – There is a phenomenon of clustering in MS Munich 252 and some other manuscripts in which streaks of several interpretations in a row all come from the same source. In some cases, this factor can add to the chances that a particular interpretation is from Rashbam.

By its very nature, the labor of reconstruction is often limited to degrees of probability. Thus, we have divided the reconstructed interpretations of Rashbam into the categories of כמעט וודאי (almost definite) and סביר (probable).19 These two categories can be accessed by selecting either or both of the check boxes at the top of the Reconstructed Rashbam page. A third group of interpretations, which likely contains much additional material from Rashbam, but for which more evidence is necessary before making an identification, can be viewed on the separate Possible Candidates page.

It should be emphasized that, somewhat paradoxically, because the interpretations in the "almost definite" category are mostly limited to explicit citations of Rashbam, they may reflect Rashbam's original language less than the other categories. In other words, while the evidence for their content being from Rashbam may be stronger, they are more likely to be a paraphrase than a direct quote from his commentary.

The Shabbat Controversy and Censoring of Rashbam

Rashbam's interpretations of Bereshit 1:4-8 appear to say that, in the Days of Creation, the day preceded the night, and each new day began only at dawn. As a result, some have concluded from here that Rashbam maintained a similar position regarding the 6th and 7th days of Creation and that he thought that the Shabbat of Creation began only at dawn.20 Indeed, many scholars have assumed that Ibn Ezra's famous Iggeret HaShabbat was written to combat this position of Rashbam and to prevent anyone from entertaining the notion that the Shabbat of Creation began only at sunrise.21 Moreover, some publishing houses have even gone so far as to censor Rashbam's comments on these verses, contending that these "heretical" interpretations were interpolated by someone other than Rashbam.22 New evidence, though, from MS Munich 252 illuminates Rashbam's position and dispels these concerns.

The Munich 5 manuscript which is the source of Rashbam's commentary on Bereshit 1 breaks off after the first few words of his interpretation of 1:31, the very verse which apparently contained Rashbam's position on when Shabbat begins:

ויהי ערב ויהי בקר – אז נגמר יום הששי והתחילה...

As a result, Rashbam's stance on whether the Shabbat of Creation began at night or during the day has remained unknown until now.23 However, the Munich 252 manuscript provides us with the continuation of Rashbam's long lost interpretation and makes an invaluable contribution to understanding Rashbam's position. Fitting like a glove, it begins with the first few words ("אז נגמר יום הששי והתחילה") already known from MS Munich 5,24 and it then brings the missing portion of Rashbam's interpretation:25

ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום הששי – אז נגמר יום הששי

והתחילה מנוחה בשבת בערב שפסקה המלאכה,

כדכתו' זכור את יום השבת לקדשו, כי ששת ימים עשה י"י וכו'.

לכך נכתב בששי מה שלא כתוב בחמשה ימים.

This passage makes it abundantly clear that Rashbam himself did not believe that Shabbat of Creation began only on the morning of the seventh day. Rather, Rashbam explicitly states that it began already on the previous evening (at sunset of the sixth day), or as soon as Hashem ceased His creative activity ("בערב שפסקה המלאכה"). Thus, this passage alone suffices to remove any objections to Rashbam's interpretations, as even according to the prevalent assumption that Rashbam did maintain that the five earlier nights of creation belonged to the days which preceded them, this would have no bearing on the starting point of Shabbat, as the system changed upon the completion of the sixth day of Creation.

Moreover, it is possible that a closer reading and synthesis of all of Rashbam's relevant comments on this chapter can facilitate a more comprehensive and precise understanding of his position:

  • According to Rashbam 1:1,26 the entire purpose of the story of Creation was to show that there were six distinct days of Creation which preceded Shabbat, thereby serving as the supporting backdrop for the reason given for the commandment of Shabbat in the Decalogue: "כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה י"י אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ אֶת הַיָּם וְאֶת כׇּל אֲשֶׁר בָּם וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי".
  • In interpreting the phrase of "וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר", Rashbam 1:5 notes that "עֶרֶב" and "בֹקֶר" do not have the same connotation as the terms "לָיְלָה" and "יוֹם", and thus cannot refer to night and day. Furthermore, in 1:4, Rashbam points out that the first day could not have begun with the night, as the period of darkness before the creation of light was indistinguishable from the pre-creation chaotic state.27 Consequently, in verses 1:4-5, light and day are always mentioned before darkness and night.28
  • Building on the previous two points, Rashbam in 1:5 and 1:8 emphasizes that the Torah's purpose in the six-fold repetition of "וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר" was merely to clarify that the six days plus Shabbat were discrete units (as stated in the Decalogue),29 separated from each other by the intervening nights (which lasted for the duration of "עֶרֶב" through "בֹקֶר")‎.30 According to Rashbam, the phrase cannot be coming to tell us that a 24 hour day is composed of an "עֶרֶב" and "בֹקֶר",‎31 as "עֶרֶב" and "בֹקֶר" are the bookends of only the twelve hours of nighttime.
  • In 1:14, Rashbam notes that a precise demarcation between the periods of day and night became possible only after the creation of the luminaries on the fourth day. Until then, the boundaries between day and night were much more nebulous, and only the gradual fading out of the light ("וַיְהִי עֶרֶב") followed by its gradual fading in ("וַיְהִי בֹקֶר") differentiated between days.32 Consequently, until the fourth day, there was no exact point at which either day or night began, and thus also no precise point at which a 24 hour cycle (יממה) began.
  • According to Rashbam, the six days of Creation and the seventh day of rest, enumerated in Bereshit ("יוֹם אֶחָד",‎ "יוֹם שֵׁנִי", ‎... "יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי", ‎"יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי") and referred to in the Decalogue ("כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה י"י... וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי"), refer exclusively to the seven sets of twelve daylight hours ("יוֹם") and not to the six periods of twelve nighttime hours in between them.33 This is true because it was during the daytime only that Hashem created the world, while darkness was simply the absence of creation,34 and existed only to separate the seven discrete stages. And thus, Rashbam's intent and focus in 1:4-8 was not to establish that the nights were connected in any halakhic way to the days which preceded them,35 but solely to prove that they constituted interludes which ensured that each day which followed them would be counted as a new one.
  • On this backdrop, as soon as the sixth day was over and there was no further creation, the set of six days of Creation was complete36 and Shabbat (or the 24 hour period of cessation from creative activity) then began immediately at sunset,37 as Rashbam says in his above reconstructed comment on 1:31.38

Historical Interest

  • Rashbam and Ibn Ezra – Reconstructing Rashbam on Bereshit 1–17 has the potential to enhance our understanding of the relationship between Rashbam and Ibn Ezra. As noted above,39 it appears likely that Ibn Ezra had (or was at least aware of) Rashbam's commentary when he wrote his Long Commentary on Bereshit.40 Until now, though, study of the points of contact have been limited by the fact that Ibn Ezra's Long Commentary exists precisely on the chapters (Bereshit 1–17) which were missing from Rashbam's commentary.41 The accumulation of more material from Rashbam on these chapters will enable a sharper analysis.
  • Rashbam in Provence – Citations of Rashbam's Torah commentary from the medieval era are found almost exclusively in Tosafist literature.42 Recently, though, Y. Tzeitkin43 noted that two citations of Rashbam are found in a 14th century Provencal work, raising the possibility that Rashbam's commentary (or at least some of his interpretations) may have had wider dissemination than previously known. The concentration of Rashbam material in Munich 252 and Oxford Marsh 225 adds to this issue, as the marginal glosses in the Oxford manuscript were written by a student of ר' פראט מימון מלוניל‎44 which would likely place also this use of Rashbam (albeit in mediated form) in 14th century Provence.
  • Rashbam and Ramban – While it is difficult to prove direct influence of Rashbam's commentary on Ramban,45 there are some likely or possible Rashbam interpretations in Munich 252 and Chizkuni which find parallels in Ramban's commentary. Further examination will be required to see if Rashbam's interpretations may have been transmitted to Ramban through the filter of Tosafist collections or Chizkuni.46

Acknowledgments and Manuscript List

We express our appreciation to the following libraries for granting us permission to publish texts found in their manuscripts:

  • Munich 5, 50, 252 – Bayerische Stadtbibliothek
  • Oxford Marsh 225 (Neubauer 284), Oppenheimer 31 (Neubauer 271/1,2,8), 34 (Neubauer 186), 225 (Neubauer 970/4), Opp. Add. Qu. 127 (Neubauer 2343/1)
  • London - British Library Add. 22092, 27128 – © The British Library Board
  • Lutzki 749 – Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary
  • Vatican 52 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
  • Vienna 23 (Cod. Hebr. 220) – Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek

Finally, we express our appreciation to the staff of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts for all of their assistance.