29 Tammuz 5777
23 July 2017
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LSJS
London School of Jewish Studies

Rashi: the Greatest Biblical Commentator

On the 13th of July 1105, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak returned his soul to the Creator. Generally known as Rashi he became the greatest commentator of all time on the Bible and the Talmud.

Rashi was born in Troyes (France) in 1040.Very little is known about his early childhood. Neither do we know much about his father’s life. Folklore has it his father died as a martyr during Rashi’s early years. His mother originated from a rabbinic family and her brother was Rabbi Simeon ben Isaac the Elder, the author of several liturgical poems.

Rashi’s initial education was in Troyes, where he also learned many trades since Troyes attracted many merchants from different countries. He then went to Mainz and Worms where he studied under Rabbi Isaac ben Eleazar Ha-Levi of Worms as well as Rabbi Jacob ben Yakar and Rabbi Isaac ben Judah in Mainz. In about 1065 he returned to Troyes where around 1070 he established a school,which attracted many students.

Although Rashi had no sons, he had three daughters who married prominent scholars. His daughter Yocheved married Rabbi Meir ben Samuel who studied in Mainz with Rashi.They had four sons who all became famous scholars. The youngest of them, Jacob, became known as the famous Rabbenu Tam. Rashi’s grandsons were all of outstanding ability and they laid the foundation for the school of Tosafists. Rashi’s last years were troubled by the First Crusade (1095/6). He lost many family members and friends. He died on the 29th of Tammuz 4865.

Apart from being a Biblical exegate of the highest standards, he also produced an outstanding commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. His commentary on the Bible and particularly on the Pentateuch proved extremely popular. Rashi explains the text according to the literal interpretation as well as following a midrashic explanation. He also quotes grammetical clarifications from the works of the grammarians Rabbi Menachem ben Jacob Ibn Saruq and Rabbi Dunash ben Labrat whom he mentions in his commentary. There are more than 200 commentaries on Rashi’s commentary of which the most well known is Rabbi Eliyah Mizrachi’s.

In addition to his monumental commentaries of the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud, Rashi also authored several other works dealing with legal matters. These are Sefer  Pardes, Sefer Ha-Orah and Siddur Rashi.The most important of his Halachic works is a collection of about 350 Responsa dealing with questions of Jewish Law.

Our library at LSJS possesses many different editions of his Biblical and Talmudic Commentaries.The above mentioned titles are also available in our collection. However his prominence becomes apparent with the introduction of Hebrew Printing. The very first Hebrew book to be printed was Rashi’s commentary on the Pentateuch. It was printed in Reggio de Calabria in 1475. The Rashi script in which the commentary was published was really just the printer’s device.The first edition of Rashi (1475) appeared in this letter type and it consequently became known as Rashi Script. The printer probably used this type to differentiate the text from the commentary and it was then used for all commentaries.

In the 1970s a facsimile edition of the only copy in the world (from the Bibliotheca Palatina in Parma) was published by the Makor Press in Jerusalem in a limited edition of 200 copies. The library possesses this facsimile edition and it is available for consultation.