Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition (1911)

RashiRASHI (1040-1105), Jewish scholar. RABBI SOLOMON IZHAQI (son of Isaac), usually cited as Rashi from the initials of those words, was born at Troyes in 1040 and died in the same town in 1105. Legends concerning him are many. Isaac's wife, shortly before the birth of their famous son, was walking one day down a narrow street in Worms, when two vehicles moving in opposite directions seemed about to crush her. As she leant hopelessly against a wall, it miraculously fell inwards to make a niche for her. So with his education. Legend sends the student to southern France, and even on a tour of the world. At an inn in the Orient he cured a sick monk, who later on, as bishop of Olmütz, returned the kindness by saving the Jews from massacre. In fact, Rashi never went farther than from the Seine to the Rhine; the utmost limit of his travels were the academies of Lorraine. Situated between France and Germany, Lorraine was more French than German, and French was the common language of Jew and Christian. This is shown by the glosses in Rashi's works, almost invariably in French. He seems to have passed the decade beginning with 1055 in Worms, where the niche referred to above is still shown. Within this, it is said, Rashi was wont to teach. A small edifice on the east of the synagogue is called the "Rashi Chapel," and the "Rashi Chair," raised on three steps in the niche, is one of the objects of the pious admiration of pilgrims. At Worms Rashi worked under Jacob ben Yaqar, and at Mainz under Isaac ben Judah, perhaps combining at the same time the functions of teacher and student. Besides the oral tuition that he received, the medieval schools habitually kept the notes of former teachers. From these Rashi learned much, and probably he incorporated some of these notes in his own works. In the middle ages there was a communism in learning, but if Rashi used some of the stones quarried and drafted by others, it was to his genius that the finished edifice was due.

Rashi was twenty-five years of age when he returned to Troyes, which town thenceforward eclipsed the cities of Lorraine and became the recognized centre of Jewish learning. Rashi acted as rabbi and judge, but received no salary. Not till the 14th century were Jewish rabbis paid officials. Rashi and his family worked in the vines of Troyes (in the Champagne); in his letters he describes the structure of the winepresses. His learning and character raised him to a position of high respect among the Jewries of Europe, though Spain and the East were long outside the range of his influence. As was said of him soon after his death: "His lips were the seat of wisdom, and thanks to him the Law, which he examined and interpreted, has come to life again." His posterity included several famous names, those of his grandchildren. Rashi had no sons, but his three daughters were women of culture, and two of the sons of Jochebed (see RASHBAM and TAM), as well as others of his descendants, carried on the family tradition for learning, adding lustre to Rashi's fame. The latter part of Rashis life was saddened by the incidents connected with the first Crusade. Massacres occurred in the Rhinelands. According to legend, Rashi and Godfrey of Bouillon--of the foremost leaders of the Crusade--were intimate friends. Rashi died peacefully in Troyes in 1105.

Rashi was the most conspicuous medieval representative of the Jewish spirit. A century later Maimonides was to give a new turn to Jewish thought, by the assimilation of Aristotelianism with Mosaism, but Rashi was a traditionalist pure and simple. He was in no sense a philosopher, but he exemplified in his person and in his works the stored up wisdom of the Synagogue. Yet through all that he wrote there runs a vein of originality. Besides minor works, such as a recension of the Prayer-Book (Siddur), the Pardes and ha-Orah, Rashi wrote two great commentaries on which his fame securely rests. These were the commentaries on the whole of the Hebrew Bible and on about thirty treatises of the Talmud. His commentary on the Pentateuch, in particular, has been printed in hundreds of editions; it is still to Jews the most beloved of all commentaries on the Mosaic books. More than a hundred supercommentaries have been written on it. Rashi unites homily with grammatical exegesis in a manner which explains the charm of the commentary. His influence in Christian circles was great, especially because of the use made of the commentary by Nicolaus de Lyra (q.v.), who in his turn was one of the main sources of Luther's version. Even more important was Rashi's commentary on the Talmud, which became so acknowledged as the definitive interpretation that Rashi is cited simply under the epithet of "the Commentator." It is no exaggeration to assert that the modern world owes its power to understand the Talmud to Rashi. In this field the "Commentator" is supreme. He practically edited the text of the Talmud besides explaining it, and the Talmud is never printed without Rashi's commentary on the margin. An important feature of Rashi's commentaries is the frequency of French translations of words. These glosses (lo'azim) have now been in part edited from the manuscripts of the late Arsene Darmesteter.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. M. Liber, Rashi (1906), published as a memorial of Rashi on the 800th anniversary of his death. Rashi's commentary on the Bible has been translated into Latin by Breithaupt (1710-1714); and into German (Pentateuch) by Dukes (1833-38) and others. The foundation of recent investigation into Rashi's life is Zunz's Salomon b. Isaac (1823), to which I. H. Weiss added much in his (Hebrew) biography (in Bet Talmud ii., Nos. 2-10. See also Graetz, History of the Jews (Engl. trans., vol. iii. ch. ix.). A critical edition of Rashi's Pentateuch commentary was published by A. Berliner (2nd ed., 1905).

Israel Abrahams

Rashi on Genesis 1:1 (1)

Bereshith -- In the beginning. Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah, which is the law book of Israel, should have commenced with the verse (Exodus 12:1) "This month shall be unto you the first of the months," which is the first commandment given to Israel. What is the reason, then, that it commences with the account of the creation? Because of the thought expressed in the text (Psalm 111:6) "He declared to his people the strength of his works (i.e. He gave an account of the work of creation) in order that he might give them the heritage of the nations." For should the peoples of the world say to Israel, "You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan," Israel may reply to them, "All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom he pleased. When he willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us." (Yalk. Exod. 12:2).

Bereshith bara. In the beginning God created. This verse calls aloud for explanation (2) in the manner that our Rabbis explained it: God created the world for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Proverbs 8:22) "the beginning (reshith) of His way," and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jeremiah 2:3) "the beginning (reshith) of His increase." If, however, you wish to explain it in its plain sense, (3) explain it thus: At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth when the earth was without form and void and there was darkness, God said, Let there be light. The text does not intend to point out the order of the acts of Creation -- to state that these (heaven and earth) were created first; for if it intended to point this out, it should have been written Barishona bara, "At first God created..." Because wherever the word reshith occurs in Scripture, it is in the construct state. (4) For example, Jeremiah 26:1, "In the beginning of (reshith) the reign of Jehoiakim," Genesis 10:10, "The beginning of (reshith) his kingdom," Deuteronomy 18:4, "The firstfruit of (reshith) thy corn." Similarly here you must translate bereshith bara elohim as though it read bereshith bero, at the beginning of God's creating. A similar grammatical construction (of a noun in the construct followed by a verb) is in Hosea 1:2, tehillat dibber [yahweh] behosheah, which is as much to say, "At the beginning of God's speaking through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea." Should you, however, insist that it does actually intend to point out that these (heaven and earth) were created first, and that the meaning is, "At the beginning of everything He created these, admitting therefore that the word reshith is in the construct state and explaining the omission of a word signifying 'everything' by saying that you have texts which are elliptical, omitting a word, as for example Job 3:10, "Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb" where it does not explicitly explain who it was that closed the womb; and Isaiah 8:4 "He shall take away the spoil of Samaria" without explaining who shall take it away; and Amos 6:12 "Doth he plough with oxen," and it does not explicitly state, "Doth a man plough with oxen"; Isaiah 46:10 "Declaring from the beginning the end," and it does not explicitly state, "Declaring from the beginning of a thing the end of a thing" -- and if it is so (that you assert that this verse intends to point out that heaven and earth were created first), you should be astonished at yourself, because as a matter of fact the waters were created before heaven and earth, for lo, it is written, "The Spirit of God was hovering on the face of the waters," and Scripture had not yet disclosed when the creation of the waters took place -- consequently you must learn from this that the creation of the waters preceded that of the earth. And a further proof that the heavens and the earth were not the first thing created is that the heavens were created from fire (esh) and water (mayim), from which it follows that fire and water were in existence before the heavens. (5) Therefore you must needs admit that the text teaches nothing about the earlier or later sequence of the acts of creation.

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1. English translation from M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silberman, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Prayers for Sabbath and Rashi's Commentary, Translated into English and Annotated (London: Shapiro, Vallentine and Co., 1946), vol. 1, pp. 2-3. The notes below are my own. --M.D.M.

2. Lit., "This verse says nothing but -- Expound me!" (darsheniy). Rashi means that the peculiarity of the grammar (noted below) calls for a derash interpretation from the midrash aside from the peshat or simple grammatical explanation given below. This is typical of Rashi's commentary. He mentions a midrashic interpretation with apparent approval before going on to a more sober grammatical explanation. The Rabbis of old held that any unusual feature of the text was a clue that some extraordinary meaning lay hidden in the text. For more information see my introductory article on Jewish interpretation. --M.D.M.

3. "According to its simple meaning" (kipshuto) or the peshat interpretation. Rashi's real contribution to Jewish exegesis was his ability to explain the text as a grammarian, according to its plain sense, without getting lost in the traditional derash interpretations. --M.D.M.

4. Rashi's interpretation is sensible and it has been adopted by many modern scholars and some recent versions of the Bible (see for example the New JPS translation at Genesis 1:1 -- "When God began to create heaven and earth..."). But it is by no means necessary. The traditional interpretation "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" can be maintained because in fact bereshith does not need to be understood as being in the construct state with "heavens and earth," and because the phrase "heavens and earth" may be understood as an idiom meaning "the universe." Verse 1 may therefore be seen as a title or summary for the chapter. For a good discussion of the matter see Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary vol. 1. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp. 11-13. --M.D.M.

5. In a comment on verse 8 Rashi asserts that "God mingled fire with water and of them made the heavens" on the basis of an etymological analysis of the Hebrew word for "heavens" (shamayim). He explains it as a compound of the words for fire (esh) and water (mayim). In traditional Jewish interpretation, speculative etymologies like this were often employed to draw conclusions. --M.D.M

English Editions of Rashi's Commentaries

M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silberman, eds., Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Prayers for Sabbath and Rashi's Commentary, Translated into English and Annotated. 2 volumes (London: Shapiro, Vallentine and Co., 1946). Recently reprinted in one volume as Chumash with Rashi's Commentary (Philipp Feldheim, 1985). This is a good interpretive translation that helps readers understand the commentary with a minimum of notes.

Abram Davis, ed., The Metsudah Chumash-Rashi. 5 volumes (Hoboken, New Jersey: KTAV Publishing House, 1983). Reprinted 1999. A literal "linear" translation with Hebrew and English side by side.

Israel Herczeg, ed., Sapirstein Edition Rashi: The Torah with Rashi's Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. 5 volumes. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1998). Gives a literal translation with generous annotations. Excellent edition. See some sample pages of this edition at the publisher's website.

Mayer I. Gruber, ed., Rashi's Commentary on Psalms. Brill Reference Library of Judaism, vol. 18. (Brill Academic Publishers, 2004). This is too expensive for most people to buy, but it can be obtained on loan from major academic libraries.