|Rashi's parents were
childless for many years. One day, his father, a poor vintner, found a
valuable gem (some versions say a pearl). A bishop (or mighty lord)
wished to acquire this jewel for decorating the church (or his
vestments), however rather than have this jewel be used for such a
purpose, Yitzchak threw it into the Seine. When he arrived home, a man
was waiting for him. "You threw the gemstone into the water so it
wouldn't be used for idolatry," the man told him. "Now your wife will
have a son who will illuminate the world with his Torah." This
harbinger was none other than the Prophet Elijah; the following year,
Yitzchak and his wife were blessed with a son.
Another legend tells that Yitzchak decided to move temporarily to the
city of Worms, Germany. He and his wife lived in the Jewish quarter
and attended the small synagogue there, awaiting the birth of their
child. One day, as Yitzchak's wife was walking down the narrow alley,
two large carriages came charging through the alley. There was no room
to escape; she turned to the wall and pressed herself against it.
According to legend, the wall softened and accommodated her pregnant
form. The carriages rushed by and she was unscathed. To this day, an
indentation in the size , height and shape of a woman's pregnant belly
in the wall of the Rashi Shul (1175) is shown to visitors to the
According to tradition,
Rashi was first brought to learn Torah by his father on Shavuot day at
the age of five. His father was his main Torah teacher until his death
when Rashi was still a youth. At the age of 17 Rashi married, and in
the manner of young Torah scholars of the time, soon after went to
learn in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yaakov ben Yakar in Worms, returning to
his wife at the end of each semester. When Rabbi Yaakov died in 1064,
Rashi continued learning in Worms for another year in the yeshiva of
his relative, Rabbi Isaac ben Eliezer Halevi, who was also chief rabbi
of Worms. Then he moved to Mainz, where he studied under another of
his relatives, Rabbi Isaac ben Judah, the rabbinic head of Mainz and
one of the leading sages of the Lorraine region straddling France and
Rashi's teachers were students of Rabbeinu Gershom and Rabbi Eliezer
Hagadol, leading Talmudists of the previous generation. From his
teachers, Rashi imbibed all the oral traditions pertaining to the
Talmud as they had been passed down for centuries, as well as an
understanding of the Talmud's unique logic and form of argument.
Rashi's fellow yeshiva students contributed to the learning with their
knowledge of international business, commodities production, farming,
craftsmanship, sailing and soldiering. Rashi took concise, copious
notes of everything he learned in yeshiva, incorporating much of this
material in his later commentaries.
Return to Troyes
He returned to Troyes at the age of
25, after which time his mother died, and he was asked to join the
Troyes beth din (rabbinical court). He also began answering halakhic
questions. Upon the death of the head of the beth din, Rabbi Zerach
ben Abraham, Rashi assumed the court's leadership and answered
hundreds of halakhic queries.
About 1070, he founded a yeshiva which attracted many disciples. It is
thought by some that Rashi earned his living as a vintner since Rashi
shows an extensive knowledge of its utensils and process, but there is
no evidence for this. Although there are many legends about his
travels, Rashi likely never went further than from the Seine to the
Rhine; the utmost limit of his travels were the yeshivot of Lorraine.
In 1096, the People's Crusade swept through the Lorraine, murdering
12,000 Jews and uprooting whole communities. Among those murdered in
Worms were the three sons of Rabbi Isaac ben Eliezer Halevi, Rashi's
teacher. Rashi wrote several Selichot (penitential poems) mourning the
slaughter and the destruction of the region's great yeshivot. Seven of
Rashi's Selichot still exist, including Adonai Elohei Hatz'vaot",
which is recited on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and Az Terem Nimtehu,
which is recited on the Fast of Gedalia.
Rashi returned to help rebuild the destroyed Jewish Community of
Worms, and rededicated the synagogue. He composed a liturgical poem,
Titnem Leherpa, cursing those responsible for the destruction: "Make
them a mockery, a curse, a disgrace; heap upon them a furious wrath
and hateful vengeance; cast fear and panic upon them; send angels of
destruction against them. and cut them down to the last man." Marching
through Hungary the Crusaders came into repeated conflict with the
local population, and lost a quarter of their number.
Rashi had no sons, but his three
daughters, Yocheved, Miriam and Rachel, all married Talmudic scholars.
Yocheved married Meir ben Shmuel—their four sons were Shmuel (the
Rashbam) (1085-1174), Yaakov (Rabbeinu Tam) (c. 1100- c. 1171), and
Yitzchak (the Rivam)—who were known as the Baalei Tosafos—and the
grammarian Shlomo, who died young. Yocheved's daughter, Chanah, was a
teacher of laws and customs relevant to women. Rashi's daughter Miriam
married Judah ben Nathan; their daughter, named Alvina, was a learned
woman whose customs served as the basis for later halakhic decisions.
Their son Yom Tov later moved to Paris and headed a yeshiva there.
Rachel married (and divorced) Eliezer ben Shemiah.
An early printing of the Talmud(Ta'anit 9b); Rashi's commentary is at
the bottom of the right column, continuing for a few lines into the
Commentary on the Talmud
Rashi wrote the first comprehensive
commentary on the Talmud. His 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 also 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. Rashi compared different manuscripts and readings in Tosefta,
Jerusalem Talmud, Midrash, Targum, and the writings of the Geonim, and
determined 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 his commentary on Nedarim, which is clearly not
his, was actually composed by his daughters.
Rashi's commentary on the Talmud continues to be a key basis for
contemporary rabbinic scholarship and interpretation.
Commentary on the Tanakh
A modern translation of Rashi's commentary on the Chumash, published
by ArtscrollRashi's commentary on the Tanakh and especially the
Chumash is the essential companion for any study at any level,
beginning, intermediate and advanced. Drawing on the breadth of
Midrashic, Talmudic and Aggadic literature (including literature that
is no longer extant), as well as his knowledge of grammar, halakhah,
and how things work, Rashi clarifies the "simple" meaning of the text
so that a bright child of five could understand it. At the same
time, his commentary forms the foundation for some of the most
profound legal analysis and mystical discourses that came after it.
Scholars debate why Rashi chose a particular Midrash to illustrate a
point, or why he used certain words and phrases and not others. Rabbi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi wrote that “Rashi’s commentary on Torah is the
‘wine of Torah.’ It opens the heart and uncovers one’s essential love
and fear of G-d."
Legend also surrounds the writing of this commentary, which is seen by
many to have been written with Ruach Hakodesh - Divine inspiration -
to explain its mass appeal. Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai wrote in
his Shem HaGedolim: "Apparently, Rashi wrote his commentary by using a
secret [technique to gain Godly inspration], and therefore he fasted
613 times [before undertaking this project]". According to others,
Rashi wrote three versions of his commentary—one long, one short, and
one mid-length; the latter version is the one we have today.
Scholars believe that Rashi's commentary on the Torah grew out of the
lectures he gave to his students in his yeshiva, and evolved with the
questions and answers they raised on it. Rashi only completed this
commentary in the last years of his life. It was immediately accepted
as authoritative by all Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi
The first dated Hebrew printed book was Rashi's commentary on the
Chumash, printed by Abraham ben Garton in Reggio di Calabria, Italy,
18 February 1475 (This version did not include the text of the Chumash
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.
Voluminous supercommentaries have been published on Rashi's work,
including Gur Aryeh by Rabbi Judah Loew (the Maharal), Sefer ha-Mizrachi
by Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi (the Re'em), and Yeri'ot Shlomo by Rabbi
Solomon Luria (the Maharshal). Almost all rabbinic literature
published since the Middle Ages discusses Rashi, either using his view
as supporting evidence or debating against it.
Rashi's explanations of the Chumash were also cited extensively in
Postillae Perpetuae by Nicholas de Lyra (1292-1340), a French
Franciscan, earning that author the name Simius Solomonis ("the ape of
Solomon (Shlomo)"). De Lyra's book was consulted in preparing the
first English translation of the Bible (the King James version).
Of note in recent times is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's "novel
interpretation" of Rashi's commentary, which was delivered in a series
of public talks that began in 1964 and continued for over 25 years
(these talks are printed for the most part in Likkutei Sichos), and
compiled in Hebrew in the 5 volume set of Biurim LePirush Rashi.
Schneerson formulated many basic principles for use in interpretation
of Rashi's commentary.
The Schottenstein Edition interlinear translation of the Talmud based
its English-language commentary primarily on Rashi, and described his
continuing importance as follows:
It has been our policy throughout the Schottenstein Edition of the
Talmud to give Rashi's interpretation as the primary explanation of
the Gemara. Since it is not possible in a work of this nature to do
justice to all of the Rishonim, we have chosen to follow the
commentary most learned by people, and the one studied first by
virtually all Torah scholars. In this we have followed the ways of our
teachers and the Torah masters of the last nine hundred years, who
have assigned a pride of place to Rashi's commentary and made it a
point of departure for all other commentaries.
Similarly, the Gutnick Edition of the Chumash includes Rashi’s
commentary in parentheses.
Without Rashi's commentary, the Talmud would have remained a closed
book. With it, any student who has been introduced to its study by a
teacher can continue learning on his own, deciphering its language and
meaning with the aid of Rashi.
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). Since its publication, Rashi's commentary on the Torah is
standard in almost all Chumashim produced within the Orthodox Jewish
About 300 of Rashi's responsa and
halakhic decisions are extant. These responsa were copied and
preserved by his students. Machzor Vitry contains Rashi's responsa on
prayer; this work was edited by Rabbi Simchah of Vitry, whose son,
Rabbi Shmuel, married Rashi's granddaughter Hannah(daughter of
Yocheved). 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.
Main article: Rashi script
The complete Hebrew alphabet in Rashi script [right to left].The
semi-cursive typeface in which Rashi's commentaries are printed both
in the Talmud and Tanakh is often referred to as "Rashi script." This
does not mean that Rashi himself used such a script: the typeface is
based on a 15th century Sephardic semi-cursive hand. What would be
called "Rashi script" was employed by early Hebrew typographers such
as the Soncino family and Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer in
Venice, in their editions of commented texts (such as the Mikraot
Gedolot and the Talmud, in which Rashi's commentaries prominently
figure) to distinguish the rabbinic commentary from the text proper,
for which a square typeface was used.
Death and legacy
Rashi died on the 29th of Tammuz 4865
(July 13, 1105) at the age of 65. He was buried in Troyes. The
approximate location of the cemetery in which he was buried was
recorded in Seder Hadoros, but over time the location of the cemetery
was forgotten. A number of years ago, a Sorbonne professor discovered
an ancient map depicting the site of the cemetery, which now lay under
an open square in the city of Troyes. After this discovery, French
Jews erected a large monument in the center of the square—a large,
black and white globe featuring a prominent Hebrew letter, Shin (ש)
(presumably for "Shlomo (שלמה)," Rashi's name). The granite base of
the monument is engraved: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki — Commentator and
In the summer of 2005, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Gabbai, who renovates and
repairs neglected gravesites of Jewish leaders around the world,
erected an additional plaque at this site to alert visitors to the
fact that the unmarked square was also a burial ground. The plaque
reads, The place you are standing on is the cemetery of the town of
Troyes. Many Rishonim are buried here, among them Rabbi Shlomo, known
as Rashi the holy, may his merit protect us.
Jewish historian Rabbi Berel Wein has estimated that 80% of today's
Ashkenazi Jews descend from Rashi.
In 2006, the Jewish National and University Library at Hebrew
University put on an exhibit commemorating the 900th anniversary of
Rashi's death (2005), showcasing rare items from the library
collection written by Rashi, as well as various works by others