by Maurice Liber
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NOTES: ... bracket italics in the original

... bracket English transliterations of Hebrew terms which appeared in this location in the original text. The transliterations were created with the aid of Rabbi Manes Kogan of Beth Israel Synagogue in Roanoke, Virginia during fall, 2000. Occasionally no transliteration was available. When transliterating a multi word phrase, the transliteration is done using the Hebrew word ordering of right to left. Following the transliteration, if present, but still within the brackets, are the parenthesized names of the Hebrew letters. The name of each letter is capitalized, and multiple words are separated by commas.

In all cases, the closing bracket will include any punctuation that immediately followed the associated textual material.

The Hebrew letters, vowels and punctuation are named according to the Unicode standard (which is itself based upon ISO 8859-8) as follows: (The Unicode value is in hexadecimal).

Vowel Unicode Letter Unicode Sheva 05B0 Alef 05D0 Hataf Segol 05B1 Bet 05D1 Hataf Patah 05B2 Gimel 05D2 Hataf Qamats 05B3 Dalet 05D3 Hiriq 05B4 He 05D4 Tsere 05B5 Vav 05D5 Segol 05B6 Zayin 05D6 Patah 05B7 Het 05D7 Qamats 05B8 Tet 05D8 Holam 05B9 Yod 05D9 05BA Final Kaf 05DA Qubuts 05BB Kaf 05DB Dagesh 05BC Lamed 05DC Meteg 05BD Final Mem 05DD Maqaf 05BE Mem 05DE Rafe 05BF Final Nun 05DF Paseq 05C0 Nun 05E0 Shin dot 05C1 Samekh 05E1 Sin dot 05C2 Ayin 05E2 Sof Pasuq 05C3 Final Pe 05E3 Pe 05E4 Other punctuation Final Tsadi 05E5 Geresh 05F3 Tsadi 05E6 Gershayim 05F4 Qof 05E7 Resh 05E8 Shin 05E9 Tav 05EA

[#] bracketed #s are superscripts in the original and note identification numbers. There are some problems with these. Note #4 (Chapter 1) is not referenced in the text. Note #36 appears twice (Chapter 4) and #102 appears twice in Chapter 7.

hyphenation of terms is suppressed, so any hyphens appearing at the end of the line are infix grouping operators from the original.

Two spaces or eol follow each sentence terminator.

One blank line separates each paragraph.

Multiline quotations (that are in a different font in the original), are here indented 3 spaces

Reference 3 is at the bottom of page 20 in the original, Reference 5 is at the top of page 23, I cannot find Reference 4 anywhere.

Spelling errors are denoted by [correct_spelling sic]. Most of these are just variants and currently archaic terms, but some appear to be actual errors. Correct version is from my on line dictionary, or when in doubt, from my printed Collegiate Dictionary. This is also used when, IMHO, there is an error in the text.

The index is not included, as the pagination used in it is irrelevant.

The duplication of reference [36], ([36],[37],[36],[38]) in chapter 4 is in the original.

There are many places (see especially chapter 6) where an unbalanced right square bracket appears, often after either an italicized phrase or a Hebrew phrase. These are in the original.












Some months ago the Jewish world celebrated the eight hundredth anniversary of the death of Rashi, who died at Troyes in 1105. On that occasion those whose knowledge authorizes them to speak gave eloquent accounts of his life and work. Science and devotion availed themselves of every possible medium-lectures and books, journals and reviews-to set forth all we owe to the illustrious Rabbi. The writer ventures to express the hope that in the present volume he has made at least a slight contribution toward discharging the common debt of the Jewish nation-that it is not utterly unworthy of him whose name it bears.

This volume, however, is not a product of circumstances; it was not written on the occasion of the centenary celebration. It was designed to form one of the series of the biographies of Jewish Worthies planned by the JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA, the first issue of which was devoted to Maimonides. The biography of Rashi is the second of the series. It is not for the author to endorse the order adopted, but he hazards the opinion that the readers will find the portrait of Rashi no unfitting companion-piece even to that of the author of the Moreh.

Jewish history may include minds more brilliant and works more original than Rashi's. But it is incontestable that he is one of those historical personages who afford a double interest; his own personality is striking and at the same time he is the representative of a civilization and of a period. He has this double interest for us to an eminent degree. His physiognomy has well-marked, individual features, and yet he is the best exponent of French Judaism in the middle ages. He is somebody, and he represents something. Through this double claim, he forms an integral part of Jewish history and literature. There are great men who despite their distinguished attributes stand apart from the general intellectual movements. They can be estimated without reference to an historical background. Rashi forms, so to say, an organic part of Jewish history. A whole department of Jewish literature would be enigmatical without him. Like a star which leaves a track of light in its passage across the skies, Rashi aroused the enthusiasm of his contemporaries, but no less was he admired and venerated by posterity, and to-day, after the lapse of eight centuries, he is, as the poet says, "still young in glory and immortality."

His name is most prominently connected with Rabbinical literature. Whether large questions are dealt with, or the minutest details are considered, it is always Rashi who is referred to-he has a share in all its destinies, and he seems inseparable from it forever.

It is this circumstance that makes the writing of his biography as awkward a task for the writer as reading it may be for the public. To write it one must be a scholar, to read it a specialist. To know Rashi well is as difficult as it is necessary. Singularly enough, popular as he was, he was essentially a Talmudist, and at no time have connoisseurs of the Talmud formed a majority. This is the reason why historians like Graetz, though they dilate upon the unparalleled qualities of Rashi's genius, can devote only a disproportionately small number of pages to him and his works.

Though the writer has throughout been aware of the difficulties inherent in his task, yet he is also conscious that he has sometimes succeeded in removing them only by eluding them. In parts, when the matter to be treated was unyielding, it became necessary to dwell on side issues, or fill up gaps and replace obscurities by legends and hypotheses. The object in view being a book popular in character and accessible to all, technical discussions had to be eschewed. Many knotty points had to be brushed aside lightly, and the most debatable points passed over in silence. These are the sacrifices to which one must resign himself, though it requires self-restraint to do it consistently. The reader may, therefore, not expect to find new data in these pages, new facts and texts not published before. If the book has any merit, it is that it presents the actual state of knowledge on the subject, and the author anticipates the charge of plagiarism by disclaiming any intention of producing an original work. Recondite sources have not always been referred to, in order not to overload a text which at best is apt to tax the reader's powers of attention. Such references and special remarks as were deemed necessary have been incorporated either in Notes placed at the end of the book, or in an Appendix containing a bibliography. There the works are mentioned to which the author is chiefly indebted, and which his readers may profitably consult if they desire to pursue the subject further.

The author desires to express his appreciation of the work of the translator, whose collaboration was all the more valuable as the revision of the book had to be made, after an interval of almost two years, under most unfavorable conditions, aggravated by the distance between the writer and the place of publication. The readers will themselves judge of the skill with which the translator has acquitted herself of her task, and the author gladly leaves to her the honor and the responsibility for the translation.

But how can I express all I owe to M. Israel Levi, my honored master? Without him this work would never have been begun, without him I should never have dared carry it to completion. I have contracted a debt toward him 'which grows from day to day, and I discharge but the smallest portion of it by dedicating this volume to the memory of his never-to-be-forgotten father-in-law, the Grand-Rabbin Zadoc-Kahn. M. Zadoc-Kahn made a name for himself in Jewish letters by his Etudes sur le livre de Joseph le Zelateur, dealing with one of the most curious domains of that literature in which Rashi was the foremost representative. One of his last public acts was the appeal which he issued on the occasion of the Rashi centenary. It is not a slight satisfaction to me to know that these pages passed under his eyes in manuscript.




PREFACE (page 3)




THE JEWS OF FRANCE IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY Dispersion of the Jews-Their Appearance in Gaul.

I. Material and Political Condition of the Jews of France in the Eleventh Century-Their Occupations-Their Relations with the Christians-General Instruction and Religious Life-Limitations of their Literature.

II. Rabbinical Culture—Part played by Italy-The Kalonymides- The Schools of Lorraine-Rabbenu Gershom, Meor ha-Golah-His Work and Influence—Contemporaries and Disciples of Gershom-Movement reaches its Climax with 17


THE YOUTH AND EDUCATION OF RASHI Difficulties of Writing a Biography of Rashi-History and Legend.

I. The Periods into which Rashi's Life may be divided-His Names-Rashi and Yarhi-Troyes in the Middle of the Eleventh Century-The Fairs of Champagne-The Community of Troyes-The Family of Rashi and its Fame in Legend-Childhood-Education of Children among the Jews of France in the Middle Ages-Higher Instruction among the Jews and the Christians-Alleged Journeys and Adventures of Rashi.

II. Rashi in Lorraine—Position of the Jews in Lorraine—Their Relations with the Jews of France-Schools of Worms and Mayence- Masters of Rashi and their Influence upon him-His Colleagues and 31


RASHI AT TROYES-LAST YEARS Rashi settles in his Birthplace.

I. New Centre [center sic] of Studies-Rashi and the City of Troyes-Spiritual Activity and Authority of Rashi-Rashi founds a School-His Authority and Teachings-His Relations with his Teachers-He writes his Commentaries-Marriage of his Three Daughters-His Sons-In-law and Grand-children-A Jewish Marriage in the Middle Ages-The Domestic Virtues-The Education and Position of Woman among the Jews.

II. The Crusades-What they actually were-Massacres in the Jewries along the Moselie and the Rhine-Rashi and the Apostates- Rashi and Godfrey of Bouillon-Consequences of the Crusades-End of Rashi's Life—Legends connected with his Death-Rashi's Death at 53



Rashi's Spiritual Physiognomy-Sources.

I. The Man and his Intellect-Depth and Naivete of his Faith-His Goodness, Extreme Modesty, and Love of Truth-Attitude in Regard to his Masters-His Correspondents and his Pupils.

II. The Scholar-Alleged Universality of his Knowledge-Wherein his Knowledge was limited, and wherein extended-Rashi's Library- The Authors he cites, and the Authorities to whom he appeals- Lacunae in his Knowledge—Sureness of his 73



Composition of the Commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud-Their Character and their Limitations-The Explanations-Clearness, Accuracy, Brevity-The French Glosses, or Laazim-Their Function-Their Philologle Importance—The Works treating of 89


Rashi, the Commentator par excellence of the Bible-His Authorities-The Targumim, the Massorah-The Talmud and the Midrash-Exegesis before Rashi-The Peshat and the Derash (Literary Method and Free Method)-The Study of the Bible among the Christians and among the Jews-The Extent to which Rashi used the Two Methods-Various Examples-Anti-Christian Polemics- Causes of the Importance attached to Derash-Rashi and Samuel ben Meir-Rashi's Grammar-Rashi and the Spaniards-His Knowledge of Hebrew-Rashi compared with Modern Exegetes and with Abraham Ibn Ezra-Homely Character of the Biblical Commentaries-Their 104


Differences between the Biblical and the Talmudic Commentaries- Composition-Wherein Rashi imitates and wherein he is Original- His Predecessors-His Method-Establishment of the Text-The Commentary a Grammatical Guide—Accuracy and Soundness of his Explanations-Examples-Rashi as an Historian-Rashi and the Halakah-Rashi and the Haggadah-Citations-Value and Fortune of the Talmudic 135


Rashi decides Questions of Law-Rabbinical Responsa as a Form of Literature-Historic Interest attaching to those of Rashi- Relations between Jews and Christians-Rashi and the Apostates- He preaches Concord in Families and Communities-Rashi's Character as manifested in his Responsa-The Naivete, Strength, and tolerance of his Faith.......................... page 159


Character of these Works-The Sefer ha-Pardes and the Sefer ha-Ora-The Mahzor Vitry-The Elements and the Redactors of these Works-Their Interest and their 169


Liturgical Poetry at the Time of Rashi-The Selihot attributed to Rashi-Their Technique—Sentiments therein expressed-Quotations-Their Poetic 173



Rashi's Influence upon Biblical and Talmudic Literature.

I. Rashi and the Talmudic Movement in France-His Principal Disciples-Shemaiah-His Two Sons-in-law, Judah ben Nathan and Meir ben Samuel-The School of Rameru-The Four Sons of Meir-Samuel ben Meir, his Intellect and his Work-Jacob Tam, his Life and Influence—His Disciples and Works-The Tossafot-Method of the Tossafists and their Relation to Rashi-The School of Dampierre- Isaac ben Samuel the Elder and his Disciples-The School of Paris- Judah Sir Leon; his Chief pupils-Jehiel of Meaux and his French and German Disciples-Redaction of the Tossafot.

II. Rashi and the Biblical Movement in France—The Commentary on the Pentateuch by Samuel ben Meir-His Disciples-Joseph Kara and Joseph Bekor-Shor-Their Rational Exegesis-Decadence of Biblical Exegesis-The Tossafot on the Pentateuch; Chief Collections; their Character-Rashi and Christian Exegesis- Nicholas de Lyra and Luther-Decadence of French Judaism from the Expulsion of 1181 to that of 1396.

III. Rashi's Influence outside of France-Rashi in the Orient; in the Provence-Evidences of his Reputation: in Italy: in Spain- How Abraham Ibn Ezra judged Rashi-David kimhi-Kabbalistic Exegesis-Nahmanides-Solomon ben Adret, Nissim Gerundi, and Asher ben Jehiel.............................................. page 183


Rashi In Foreign Countries-Rashi's Influence on the Italians; on Elijahst Spanish Talmudists-Elljah Mizrahi-Rashi's Popularity- His Descendants-The Family of Lurla-The Authors of Super- Commentaries and of Hiddushim-Rashi and Printing-The Renaissance—Rashi and the Hebrew Scholars among the Christians of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries- Breithaupt-Rashi in the Eighteenth Century-Moses Mendelssohn and the Blurists-Rashi In the Nineteenth Century-The Eighth Centenary of his 210

CONCLUSION (page 222)





NOTES (page 241)

INDEX (page 261)


A people honors itself in honoring the great men who have interpreted its thought, who are the guardians of its genius. It thus renders merited homage and pays just tribute to those who have increased the treasures of its civilization and added a new feature to its moral physiognomy; it establishes the union of ideas that assures the conservation of the national genius, and maintains and perpetuates the consciousness of the nation. Finally, it manifests consciousness of its future in taking cognizance of its past, and in turning over the leaves of its archives, it defines its part and mission in history. The study of men and facts in the past permits of a sounder appreciation of recent efforts, of present tendencies; for "humanity is always composed of more dead than living," and usually "the past is what is most vital in the present."

No people has greater need than the Jews to steep itself again in the sources of its existence, and no period more than the present imposes upon it the duty of bringing its past back to life. Scattered over the face of the globe, no longer constituting a body politic, the Jewish people by cultivating its intellectual patrimony creates for itself an ideal fatherland; and mingled, as it is, with its neighbors, threatened by absorption into surrounding nations, it recovers a sort of individuality by the reverence it pays to men that have given best expression to its peculiar genius.

But the Jewish people, its national life crushed out of it, though deprived of all political ambitions, has yet regained a certain national solidarity through community of faith and ideals; and it has maintained the cohesion of its framework by the wholly spiritual bonds of teaching and charity. This is the picture it presents throughout the middle ages, during the period which, for Christianity, marked an eclipse of the intellect and, as it were, an enfeeblement of the reason to such a degree that the term middle ages becomes synonymous with intellectual decadence. "But," said the historian Graetz, "while the sword was ravaging the outer world, and the people devoted themselves to murderous strife, the house of Jacob cared only that the light of the mind burn on steadily and that the shadows of darkness be dissipated. If a religion may be judged by its principal representatives, the palm must be awarded to Judaism in the tenth to the thirteenth century." Its scholars, therefore, its philosophers, and its poets render Judaism illustrious, and by their works and their renown shed a radiant light upon its history.

Maimonides is one of those eminent spirits in whom was reflected the genius of the Jewish people and who have in turn contributed to the development of its genius.[1] Maimonides, however, was also more than this; perhaps he presents as much of interest from the point of view of Arabic as of Jewish culture; and expressing more than the Jewish ideal, he does not belong to the Jews entirely. Of Rashi, on the contrary, one may say that he is a Jew to the exclusion of everything else. He is no more than a Jew, no other than a Jew.





Great men - and Rashi, as we shall see, may be counted among their number - arrive at opportune times. Sometimes we congratulate them for having disappeared from history in good season; it would be just as reasonable, or, rather, just as unreasonable, to be grateful to them for having come at exactly the right juncture of affairs. The great man, in fact, is the man of the moment; he comes neither too soon, which spares him from fumbling over beginnings and so clogging his own footsteps, nor too late, which prevents him from imitating a model and so impeding the development of his personality. He is neither a precursor nor an epigone, neither a forerunner nor a late-comer. He neither breaks the ground nor gleans the harvest: he is the sower who casts the seed upon a field ready to receive it and make it grow.

It is, therefore, of some avail for us to devote several pages to the history of the Jews of Northern France in the eleventh century, especially in regard to their intellectual state and more especially in regard to their rabbinical culture. If another reason were needed to justify this preamble, I might invoke a principle long ago formulated and put to the test by criticism, namely, that environment is an essential factor in the make-up of a writer, and an intellectual work is always determined, conditioned by existing circumstances. The principle applies to Rashi, of whom one may say, of whom in fact Zunz has said, he is the representative par excellence of his time and of his circle.

* * * * *

In the great migratory movement beginning at the dawn of the Christian era, which scattered the Jews to the four corners of the globe, and which was accentuated and precipitated by the misfortunes that broke over the population of Palestine, France, or, more exactly, Gaul, was colonized by numbers of Jews. If we believe in the right of the first occupant, we ought to consider the French Jews more French than many Frenchmen. Conversions must at first have been numerous, and the number of apostates kept pace with the progress of Christianity.

In the south of France, there were Jewish communities before the fifth century; in Burgundy and Touraine, in the first half of the sixth century; and in Austrasia, at the end of the same century. From the Provence, they ascended the Rhone and the Saone. Others reached Guienne and Anjou.[2]

Although disturbed at times by the canons of various distrustful Church councils, or by the sermons of a few vehement bishops, the Jews on the whole led a peaceful, though not a very prosperous, existence, which has left scarcely any traces in history and literature. Aside from a few unimportant names and facts, these centuries mark a gap in the history of the Jews of France, as in that of their Christian neighbors; and literature, as it always does, followed the political and economic destinies of the nation. From the fifth to the tenth century, letters fell into utter decay, despite the momentary stimulus given by Charlemagne. The human intellect, to borrow from Guizot, had reached the nadir of its course. This epoch, however, was not entirely lost to civilization. The Jews applied themselves to studies, the taste for which developed more and more strongly. If as yet they could not fly with their own wings, they remained in relation with the centres [centers sic] of rabbinical life, the academies in Babylonia, exchanging the products of the mind at the same time that they bartered merchandise. This slow process of incubation was perforce fruitful of results.


It was in the tenth century, when the political and social troubles that had agitated Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire were calmed, that the Jews came forth from their semi- obscurity, either because their numbers had increased, or because their position had become more stable, or because they were ready, after mature preparation, to play their part in the intellectual world.

At this time, the Jews of Northern France nearly without exception enjoyed happy conditions of existence. From their literature, rather scholarly than popular, we learn chiefly of their schools and their rabbis; yet we also learn from it that their employments were the same as those of the other inhabitants of the country. They were engaged in trade, many attaining wealth; and a number devoted themselves to agriculture. They possessed fields and vineyards, for neither the ownership of land nor residence in the country was forbidden them; and they were also employed in cattle raising. Often they took Christians into their service.

But the Jews, although they attached themselves to the soil and tried to take root there, were essentially an urban population. They owned real estate and devoted themselves to all sorts of industries. They were allowed to be workmen and to practice every handicraft, inasmuch as the guilds, those associations, partly religious in character, which excluded the Jews from their membership rolls, did not begin to be established until the twelfth century. Sometimes a Jew was entrusted with a public office, as a rule that of collector of taxes. Not until later, about the twelfth century, when forced by men and circumstances, did the Jews make a specialty of moneylending.

The strength of the Jews resided in the fact that they were organized in communities, which were marked by intense solidarity, and in which harmony and tranquillity [tranquility sic] were assured by the rabbinical institutions. Failure to respect these institutions was punished by excommunication-a severe penalty, for the excommunicated man encountered the hate of his co-religionists and was driven to baptism.[3]

At the head of the communities were provosts (praepositi), charged with surveillance over their interests, and doubtless their representatives before the civil authority. Many Jews were highly esteemed by the kings or seigneurs, holding positions of honor and bearing honorific titles; but in general the Jews of France, unlike those of Spain, were not permitted to take part in the government, or even have a share in the political life of the nation. They contented themselves with the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor and the peaceful practice of their religion. They were the less disturbed because they lived under a special regime. Being neither French nor Christian, they were therefore not citizens; they formed a state within the state, or rather a colony within the state, and, being neither nobles nor serfs, they did not have to render military service. They administered their internal affairs, and in general were not amenable to civil or ecclesiastical legislation. For the solution of their legal difficulties they applied to the rabbinical tribunals. In all other respects they were dependent upon the lord of the lands upon which they established themselves, provided they were not under the tutelle et mainbournie of the king. In either case they had to pay taxes and constitute themselves a constantly flowing source of revenues for their protectors.

The Jews lived on a basis of good understanding with their neighbors, and came into frequent intercourse with them. Even the clergy maintained relations with Jewish scholars. It was the incessant efforts of the higher ecclesiastics and of the papacy that little by little created animosity against the Jews, which at the epoch of Rashi was still not very apparent. The collections of canonical law by force of tradition renewed the humiliating measures prescribed by the last Roman emperors.

The Jews throughout France spoke French; and they either had French names or gave their Hebrew names a French form. In the rabbinical writings cities are designated by their real names, or by Hebrew names more or less ingeniously adapted from the Latin or Romance. With the secularization of their names, the Jews adopted, at least partially, the customs and, naturally, also the superstitions of their countrymen. The valuable researches of Gudemann and Israel Levi show how much the folklore of the two races have in common. Moreover, when two peoples come in contact, no matter how great the differences distinguishing them, they are bound to exert mutual influence upon each other. No impervious partitions exist in sociology.

It would thus be an anachronism to represent the Jews of the eleventh century as pale and shabby, ever bearing the look of hunted animals, shamefaced, depressed by clerical hate, royal greed, and the brutality of the masses. In the Jewries of France at this time there was nothing sad or sombre, [somber sic] no strait-laced orthodoxy, no jargon, no disgraceful costume, none of that gloomy isolation betokening distrust, scorn, and hate.

The practical activity of the Jews, their business interests, and their consequent wealth did not stifle intellectual ideals. On the contrary, thanks to the security assured them, they could devote themselves to study. Their rich literature proves they could occupy themselves at the same time with mental and material pursuits. "For a people to produce scholars, it is necessary that it be composed of something other than hard-hearted usurers and sordid business men. The literary output is a thorough test of social conditions."[5] Moreover, the intellectual status of a people always bears relation to its material and economic condition, and so, where the Jews enjoyed most liberty and happiness, their literature has been richest and most brilliant.

From an intellectual point of view the Jews resembled the people among whom they lived. Like them, they were pious, even extremely devout; and they counted few unbelievers among their number. Sometimes it happened that a religious person failed to obey precepts, but no one contested the foundations of belief. In the matter of religion, it is true, outward observance was guarded above everything else. The Jews, settled as they were on foreign soil, came to attach themselves to ceremonials as the surest guarantees of their faith. Naturally superstitions prevailed at an epoch marked by a total lack of scientific spirit. People believed in the existence of men without shadows, in evil demons, and so on. The Jews, however, were less inclined to such conceptions than the Christians, who in every district had places of pilgrimage at which they adored spurious bones and relics.

It would be altogether unjust not to recognize the ethical results of the constant practice of the law, which circumscribed the entire life of the Jew. Talmudic legislation must not be regarded, as it sometimes is, as an oppressive yoke, an insufferable fetter. Its exactions do not make it tyrannical, because it is loyally and freely accepted, accepted even with pleasure. The whole life of the Jew is taken into consideration beforehand, its boundaries are marked, its actions controlled. But this submission entails no self-denial; it is voluntary and the reason is provided with sufficient motives. Indeed, it is remarkable what freedom and breadth thought was able to maintain in the very bosom of orthodoxy.

"The observance of the Law and, consequently, the study of the Law formed the basis of this religion. With the fall of the Temple the one place disappeared in which the Divine cult could legitimately be performed; as a result the Jews turned for the expression of their religious sentiment with all the more ardor toward the Law, now become the real sanctuary of Judaism torn from its native soil, the safeguard of the wandering race, the one heritage of a glorious and precious past. The recitation and study of the Law took the place of religious ceremonies-hence the name "school" (Schul) for houses of worship in France and in Germany. The endeavor was made to give the Law definite form, to develop it, not only in its provisions remaining in practical use, such as the civil and penal code, regulations in regard to the festivals, and private observances, but also in its provisions relating to the Temple cult which had historical interest only. This occupation, pursued with warmth and depth of feeling for a number of centuries, appealed at once to the intellect and the heart. It may be said that the entire Jewish race shared in the work, the scholar being removed from the general mass only in degree, not in kind."[6]

The high level of general instruction among the Jews was all the more remarkable since only a small number of literary works were known. Though copies were made of those which enjoyed the greatest reputation, the number of manuscripts was limited. Nevertheless, soon after their appearance, important productions in one country came into the hands of scholars of other countries. Just as Christendom by force of its spiritual bond formed a single realm, so two strong chains bound together Jews of widely separated regions: these were their religion and their language. Communication was difficult, roads were few in number and dangerous; yet, countervailing distance and danger was devotion to religion and to learning.

But religion and learning were one and the same thing. As was the case in Christianity, and for the same reasons, religion filled the whole of life and engrossed all branches of knowledge. There was no such thing as secular science; religion placed its stamp on everything, and turned the currents of thought into its own channels. One must not hope therefore to find, among the Jews of Northern France, those literary species which blossomed and flourished in Spain; philosophy did not exist among them, and poetry was confined to a few dry liturgic poems. Their intellectual activity was concentrated in the study of the Bible and the Talmud; but in this domain they acquired all the greater depth and penetration. Less varied as were the objects of their pursuits, they excelled in what they undertook, and inferior though they were in the fields of philosophy and poetry, they were superior in Biblical exegesis, and still more so, possibly, in Talmudic jurisprudence.


The history of the beginnings of rabbinical learning in France is wrapped in obscurity. Tradition has it that Charlemagne caused the scholar Kalonymos to come from Lucca to Mayence. With his sons he is said to have opened a school there, which became the centre [center sic] of Talmudic studies in Lorraine. Legends, however slight their semblance to truth, are never purely fictitious in character; they contain an element of truth, or, at least, symbolize the truth; and this tradition, which cannot be accepted in the shape in which it has been handed down, seeing that Kalonymos lived in the tenth century, is nevertheless a fairly exact representation of the continuity of the intellectual movement. If the fact is not established that Charlemagne accomplished for the Jews what he did for the Christians, that is, revived their schools and promoted their prosperity, it seems more certain that rabbinical learning penetrated into the northwest of Europe through the intermediation of Italy, which bridged the gap between the Orient and the Rhine lands.

As is well known, Christian Italy during the early middle ages, despite the successive invasions of the barbarians, remained the centre [center sic] of civilization and the store-house of Occidental learning. It is in Italy, without doubt, that the Romanesque style of architecture had its origin, and in Italy that the study of the Roman law was vigorously resumed. It is to Italy also that Charlemagne turned when he sought for scholars to place at the head of his schools. Moreover, it was on Italian soil, in the fifteenth century, that the magnificent blossom meriting its name, the Renaissance, was destined to open and unfold its literary and artistic beauties.

Italy owes its glorious part in the world's history both to its geographical position and its commercial importance. So likewise with the Jews of Italy, their commercial activities contributed to their intellectual prosperity. In the ninth century they possessed rabbinical authorities, and in the tenth century, centres [centers sic] of Talmudic study. At this period, the celebrated family of the Kalonymides went to Lorraine to establish itself there. For some time Mayence was the metropolis of Judaism in the Rhine countries; and by its community the first academies were established, the first Talmudic commentaries were composed, and decisions were made which were accepted by all the Jews of Christian Europe. Soon this intellectual activity extended to Worms, to Speyer, and a little later to the western part of Germany and the northern part of France.[7] A veritable renaissance took place, parallel with the movement of ideas which went on in the schools and convents of the eleventh and fourteenth centuries;[8] for Jewish culture is often bound up with the intellectual destinies of the neighboring peoples.

For some time the schools of Lorraine stood at the head of the Talmudic movement, and it was to them that Rashi came a little later to derive instruction.

One of the most celebrated offspring of the family of the Kalonymides is Meshullam ben Kalonymos, who lived at Mayence in the second half of the tenth century. He was a Talmudist held in high regard and the composer of liturgic poetry. He devoted himself to the regulation of the material and spiritual affairs of his brethren. Although he stood in correspondence with the Babylonian masters, he was in a position to pass judgment independently of them. Communication with the East was frequent. The communities of France and Germany sent disciples to the Babylonians and submitted difficulties to them. Tradition relates that the Gaon Natronai (about 865) even visited France. However that may be, the Jews of France at an early period were acquainted with Babylonian works, both the chronicles and the legal codes.

Other Talmudists of the tenth century are known, but rabbinical literature may be said to have commenced only with Gershom ben Judah (about 960-1028). According to tradition his master was his contemporary Hai Gaon; in reality he was the disciple of Judah ben Meir ha-Cohen, surnamed Leontin (about 975). Originally from Metz, Gershom established himself at Mayence, to which a large number of pupils from neighboring countries soon flocked in order to attend his school. Thus he was the legatee of the Babylonian academies, the decay of which became daily more marked. In his capacity as head of a school as in many other respects, he was the true forerunner of Rashi, who carried on his work with greater command of the subject and with more success.

Rabbenu Gershom not only gave Talmudic learning a fresh impetus and removed its centre [center sic] to the banks of the Rhine, but he also exerted the greatest and most salutary influence upon the social life of his co-religionists, through his "Decrees," religious and moral, which, partly renewing older institutions, were accepted by all the Jews of Christian countries. Among other things, he forbade polygamy. He merits consideration in two aspects, as a Gaon and as one to whom his disciples gave the surname which still attaches to him, "the Light of the Exile," Meor ha-Golah. Rashi said of him: "Rabbenu Gershom has enlightened the eyes of the Captivity; for we all live by his instruction; all the Jews of these countries call themselves the disciples of his disciples."

Gershom seems to have been the first Rhenish scholar who resorted to the written word for the spread of his teachings. He devoted himself to the establishment of a correct text of the Bible and the Talmud, and his chief work is a Talmudical commentary.

Since his time the continuity of learning has been uninterrupted. The seed sown by Rabbenu Gershom was not long in germinating. Schools began to multiply and develop in Lorraine. The one at Mayence prospered for a long time, and was eclipsed only by the schools of Champagne.

A rabbi, Machir, the brother of Gershom, by his Talmudic lexicon contributed likewise to the development of rabbinical knowledge. His four sons were renowned scholars, contemporaries and doubtless fellow-students of Rashi.

The disciples of Gershom, who continued the work of their master, are of especial interest to us, because one of them, Simon the Elder, was the maternal uncle of Rashi, and three others were his masters. These were Jacob ben Yakar, Isaac ha-Levi, and Isaac ben Judah. The latter two were disciples also of Eliezer ben Isaac the Great, of Mayence. Jacob ben Yakar and Isaac ha-Levi went to Worms, where they became rabbis, while Isaac ben Judah remained at Mayence, and directed the Talmudic school there.

About the middle of the eleventh century, then, an intellectual ferment took place in France and Lorraine, earnest literary and scientific activity manifested itself, and above all elements of profound rabbinical culture became visible. But one who should regulate these forces was lacking, a guide to direct these activities and to serve as a model to others. In order that the movement might not come to a premature end, a master was needed who would give it impetus and define its course, who would strike the decisive blow. Such a man there was, a man who impressed his contemporaries as a scholar of high degree and noble character, and whose memory as such is still cherished by posterity. This man was Rashi.



Little is known concerning the life of Rashi. Owing to various causes not a single work is extant that might be used as a guide for the establishment of minor facts. Generally speaking, Jewish literature in the middle ages was of an impersonal character; practically no memoirs nor autobiographies of this period exist. The disciples of the great masters were not lavish of information concerning them. They held their task to be accomplished when they had studied and handed on the master's works; regard for his teachings ranked above respect for the personality of the author. But the figure of Rashi, as though in despite of all such obstacles, has remained popular. People wanted to know all the details of his life, and they invented facts according to their desires. Fiction, however, fell short of the truth. Legend does not represent him so great as he must actually have been. In the present work, too, I shall be obliged to resort to comparisons and analogies, to supplement by hypotheses the scanty information afforded by history, yet I shall distinguish the few historic facts from the mass of legends in which they are smothered.

As of old many cities in Greece asserted that they were the birthplace of Homer, the national poet, so a number of cities disputed for the honor of being the birthplace of Rashi, or of having been his residence, or the scene of his death. Worms claimed him as one of its rabbis, Lunel, thanks to a confusion of names, has passed as his birthplace, and Prague as the city of his death. One historian set 1105 as the year of his birth, though in fact it is the year of his death. Others placed it in the thirteenth century, and still others even in the fourteenth.

In the course of this narrative other such instances will occur - of fables, more or less ingenious, collected by chroniclers lacking discrimination. They may make pleasant reading, although they contain no element of authenticity. Besides, they are of relatively recent date, and emanate to a large extent from Italy and Spain, whose historians could count upon the credulity of their readers to impose their inventions upon Jews and Christians alike.

Confusion of this sort reigned in regard to Rashi's life until 1823, the year in which the illustrious Zunz published the essay which established, not only his own, but also Rashi's reputation, and brought Rashi forth from the shadow of legend into the full light of history. We owe a debt of gratitude to Zunz and other scholars, such as Geiger, Weiss, Berliner, and Epstein, because, with the legendary often superimposed upon the true, they have made it easy to pick out the genuine from the false. Now that the result of their labors is before us, no great difficulty attaches to the task of casting off legend from history, and extracting from the legendary whatever historic material it contains.


In brushing aside all the myths with which the biography of Rashi is cobwebbed, one finds, not a varied life, rich in incident, but an entirely intellectual life, whose serenity was undisturbed by excitement.

An event dividing Rashi's life into almost equal parts is his taking up his residence at Troyes. During the earlier period he received his education, at first in the city of his birth, then in the academies of Lorraine. On his return to Troyes, he had matured and was thoroughly equipped. In the school he founded there, he grouped pupils about him and wrote the works destined to perpetuate his influence.

First of all, it is necessary to make Rashi's acquaintance, as it were, to know the names he bore and those he did not bear. An example of the fantastic stories of which he was the hero is afforded by the name Yarhi, which is sometimes still given to him. It does not date further back than the sixteenth century, before which time he was called R. Solomon (Shelomo) by the Jews of France, and R. Salomon ha-Zarfati (the Frenchman) by Jews outside of France. Christian scholars likewise called him R. Salomo Gallicus, and also briefly R. Solomon, as the most celebrated rabbi who ever bore that name. So said Abbe Bartolocci, one of the first and most eminent bibliographers of rabbinical literature, explaining that the short appellation had the same force as when Saint Paul is designated simply as "the apostle."

The usual name applied to Rashi (R Sh I) is formed, in accordance with a well-known Jewish custom, from the initials of his name and patronymic in Hebrew, Rabbi Shelomo Izhaki[9], which the Christians translated by Solomon Isaacides, just as they made Maimonides of Moses ben Maimon. Raymond Martini, the celebrated author of the Pugio fidei, seems to have been the first who saw in Rashi the initials of the words, R. Solomon Yarhi. He confused Rashi either with a Solomon of Lunel, mentioned by the traveller [traveler sic] Benjamin of Tudela, or with a grammarian, Solomon ben Abba Mari, of Lunel, who lived in the second half of the fourteenth century. Sebastian Munster, the German Hebraist (1489-1552), and the elder Buxtorf (1564-1629), the humanist and highly esteemed Hebrew scholar, popularized the mistake, which soon gave rise to another. L'Empereur, also a scholar in Hebraica, of the seventeenth century, went even further than his predecessors, in holding Lunel [10] to have been the birthplace of Rashi, while Basnage (1653-1725), the celebrated historian of the Jews, spoke of "Solomon the Lunatic."

Though as early a writer as Richard Simon (1638-1712) protested against the error of making Lunel the native city of Rashi, the mistake crept even into Jewish circles. Since this city of Languedoc was one of the principal centres [centers sic] of Jewish learning in the Provence during the middle ages, Rashi, in most unexpected fashion, came to swell the number of "scholars" of Lunel, of whom mention is frequently made in rabbinical literature. It even seems that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jews of Bordeaux went to Lunel on a pilgrimage to his tomb.

In point of fact Rashi was neither a German nor a Provencal; he was born and he died in Champagne, at Troyes. At that time France was divided into a dozen distinct countries, one of the most important of which was the countship of Champagne, to the northeast, between the Ile-de-France and Lorraine. There were Jews in all the important localities of the province, especially in the commercial cities. In the period with which we are dealing, fairs took place every year successively at Lagny, Bar- sur-Aube, Provins, Troyes, and again Provins and Troyes. The principal city was Troyes, which at the end of the ninth century, when it contained about twelve thousand inhabitants, was chosen as their capital by the counts of Champagne.

In a wide plain, where the Seine divides into several branches, rises the city of Troyes, maintaining to some extent its medieval character, with its narrow, illpaved streets, which of old swarmed with geese and porkers, and with its houses of wooden gables and overhanging roofs. Manufactures prospered at Troyes. Many tanneries were established there, and parchment was exported from all parts of the district. In fact it has been suggested that the development of the parchment industry at Troyes furthered the literary activity for which the province was noted, by providing writing material at a time when in general it was so rare. But manufactures in that period had not attained a high degree of perfection, and the main instrument for obtaining wealth was commerce, chiefly the commerce carried on at fairs, those great lists periodically opened to the commercial activity of a whole province or a whole country. Troyes, celebrated for its fairs, was the scene of two a year, one beginning on St. John's Day (the warm fair), and one beginning on St. Remy's Day (the cold fair). They covered a quarter so important that it constituted two large parishes by itself.

Although religon [religion sic] had already begun to intervene in the regulation of the fairs, Jews took a large part in them, and somewhat later, like the Jews of Poland in the seventeenth century, they used them as the occasions for rabbinical synods. In the Jewish sources, the fairs of Troyes are frequently mentioned. The relations that sprang up among the great numbers of Jews that went to them were favorable to the cause of science, since the Jews in pursuing their material interests did not forget those of learning. Thus the fairs exercised a certain influence upon the intellectual movement.

Troyes was also the seat of a permanent Jewish community of some importance; for a Responsum of the first half of the eleventh century declared that the regulations of the community should have the force of law for each member, and when the regulations deal with questions of general import they were to hold good for neighboring communities as well. Another Responsum dating from the same period shows that the Jews of France owned land and cultivated the vine. Troyes no longer bears visible traces of the ancient habitation of the Jews. It is possible that the parish of St. Frobert occupies the ground covered by the old Jewry; and probably the church of St. Frobert, now in ruins, and the church of St. Pantaleon were originally synagogues. But in Rashi's works there are more striking evidences that Jews were identified with Troyes. Certain of his expressions or other indications attach them to the city of Troyes, "our city," as he says.

Rashi, then, was born at Troyes in 1040-the year of Gershom's death, some authors affirm, who are more concerned with the pragmatism of history than its truth, more with scientific continuity than with the sequence of events. But if it is almost certain that the rabbi, who, as I said, was the precursor of Rashi, had been dead for twelve years, 1040 (possibly 1038) is probably the year of the death of another authority, no less celebrated, Hai Gaon, whose passing away marks the irreparable decadence of the Babylonian Gaonate. The French rabbi and his Spanish colleagues were destined to harvest the fruits of this Gaonate and carry on its work, exemplifying the words of the Talmud: "When one star is extinguished in Israel, another star rises on the horizon."

In order that Rashi should have a setting in accord with so high a position, legend has surrounded his family with a nimbus of glory. History, it is true, does not make mention of his ancestors, and this silence, joined to the popularity which Rashi came to enjoy, inspired, or was an added stimulus to, the fantastic genealogic theories of those who in their admiration of him, or through pride of family, declared him to have been descended from a rabbi of the third century, Johanan ha- Sandlar.[11] All that can be said with certainty is, that his maternal uncle was Simon the Elder, a disciple of Gershom and a learned and respected rabbi. Rashi's father Isaac appears to have been well-educated. Rashi on one occasion mentions a certain bit of instruction he had received from him. Tradition, fond of ascribing illustrious ancestors to its heroes, would see in this Isaac one who through his knowledge and godliness deserved to share in the renown of his son, and to whom his son, moreover, rendered pious homage by quoting him in the opening passage[12] of the commentary on Genesis. We would willingly believe Rashi capable of a delicate attention of this kind, only we know that the Isaac cited is a certain Talmudic scholar.

Tradition, letting its fancy play upon the lives of great men, delights also in clothing their birth with tales of marvels. Sometimes the miraculous occurs even before they are born and points to their future greatness. The father of Rashi, for instance, is said to have possessed a precious gem of great value. Some Christians wanted to take it away from him, either because they desired to put it to a religious use, or because they could not bear the sight of such a treasure in the hands of a Jew. Isaac obstinately refused their offers. One day the Christians lured him into a boat, and demanded that he give up his gem. Isaac, taking a heroic stand, threw the object of their ardent desires into the water. Then a mysterious voice was heard in his school pronouncing these words: "A son will be born to thee, O Isaac, who will enlighten the eyes of all Israel." According to a less familiar tradition, Isaac lived in a seaport town, where he earned a poor livelihood as stevedore. Once he found a pearl in the harbor, and went in all haste to show it to his wife, the daughter of a jeweler. Realizing the value of the pearl, she could not contain herself, and went forthwith to a jeweler. He offered her ten thousand ducats, double its value, because the duke was anxious to buy it as an adornment for the bishop's cope. The woman would not listen to the proposition, and ran back to her husband to tell him to what use the pearl was going to be put. Rather than have it adorn a bishop's vestment, Isaac threw it into the sea, sacrificing his fortune to his God.

The scene of another tradition is laid at Worms. One day his wife, who had become pregnant, was walking along a street of the city when two carriages coming from opposite directions collided. The woman in danger of being crushed pressed up close against a wall, and the wall miraculously sank inward to make way for her. This made Isaac fear an accusation of witchcraft, and he left Worms for Troyes, where a son was born to him, whom he named Solomon.

To turn from the mythical to the hypothetical-the young Solomon probably received his early education in his own family, and what this education was, can easily be conceived. It was the duty of the father himself to take charge of the elementary instruction of his son and turn the first glimmerings of the child's reason upon the principles of religion. This instruction was concentrated upon the observance of laws and customs. "From the tenderest age," says Dr. M. Berliner, "the child was initiated into the observance of religious precepts, and was put upon his guard against their transgression. His parents had but one aim, to inculcate in him the religion of his ancestors and render the Law, the source of this religion, accessible to him. He was thus inured to the struggle of life, in which his shield was belief in God. The mother also took part in the rearing of her child. Her lullabies were often prayers or Biblical hymns, and although the women, as a rule, did not receive a thorough education, they effectually helped to make observant devotees of the Law of their children."[13] Five or six was the age at which Hebrew was begun to be taught to the child, and the occasion was usually celebrated by a picturesque ceremony full of poetic feeling. On the morning of the Pentecost, the festival which commemorates the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, or on the morning of the Rejoicing of the Law, the day devoted above all others to honoring the Law, the child, dressed in his holiday clothes and wrapped in a Tallit, was led to the synagogue by his father or by a scholar who acted as sponsor. In the synagogue the child listened to the reading of the Law; then he was led to the house of the teacher to whom his education was to be entrusted. The teacher took him in his arms, "as a nursing-father carrieth the sucking child," and presented him with a tablet, on which were written the Hebrew alphabet and some verses from the Bible applicable to the occasion. The tablet was then spread with honey, which the child ate as if to taste the sweetness of the Law of God. The child was also shown a bun made by a young maiden, out of flour kneaded together with milk and with oil or honey, and bearing among other inscriptions the words of Ezekiel: "Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." Other Biblical passages were inscribed on the shell of an egg, and after they were read, the bun and the egg as well as apples and other fruit were eaten by the pupils present.

This ceremony, marred only by the introduction of superstitious practices, such as the conjuring up of evil demons, was well adapted to stamp itself on the child's mind, and its naive symbolism was bound to make a profound impression upon his imagination. Pagan antiquity knew of nothing so delicate and at the same time so elevated in sentiment. Pindar, and Horace after him, conceived the fancy that the bees of Hymettus alighted on the child's brow and dropped rich honey upon it. The Jewish celebration of a new period in childhood, though not a poetic fiction, is none the less charming and picturesque. It shows how precious was the cultivation of the mind to a people whom the world delights to represent as absorbed by material interests and consumed by the desire for wealth. Education has always been highly valued among the Jews, who long acted up to the saying of Lessing: "The schoolmaster holds the future in his hands." The religious law is a system of instruction, the synagogue is a school. It will redound to the eternal honor of Judaism that it raised the dissemination of knowledge to the height of a religious precept. At a time when among the Christians knowledge was the special privilege of the clergy, learning was open to every Jew, and, what is still finer, the pursuit of it was imposed upon him as a strict obligation. The recalcitrant, say the legalists, is compelled to employ a tutor for his child. Every scholar in Israel is obliged to gather children about him; and the rabbinical works contain most detailed recommendations concerning the organization of schools and methods of instruction. One comes upon principles and rules of pedagogy unusually advanced for their time. For instance, teachers were forbidden to have more than forty pupils, and were not to use a more severe means of punishment than whipping with a small strap. In Christian schools, on the contrary, pedagogic methods were backward and barbarous. It was considered an excellent plan to beat all pupils with the ferule [ferrule sic], in order to make knowledge enter the heads of the bad and to keep the good from the sin of pride.

Among the Jews instruction was tempered to suit the faculty of the learner. First the child was taught to read Hebrew, translate the daily prayers, and recite the more important of them by heart. Then the Pentateuch beginning with Leviticus was explained to him, and, if necessary, it was translated into French. It was read with a special chant. Rashi, be it said parenthetically, by his commentary gave this Bible instruction a more solid basis. Not until the pupil was a little older did he study the Talmud, which is so well qualified to develop intelligence and clear-headedness. His elementary education completed, and provided he had shown taste and inclination for the more difficult studies, the young man went to special schools. But if he had not shown signs of progress, he was taught simply to read Hebrew and understand the Bible.

The author of a curious pedagogic regulation in the middle ages fixes the whole term of study at fourteen years: the seven years preceding the religious majority of the child are spent in the local school, at the study of the Pentateuch (two years), at the study of the rest of the Bible (two years), and at the study of the easier Talmudic treatises (three years). The remaining seven years are devoted to the higher study of the Talmud in an academy outside the birthplace of the youth. This education was obtained sometimes from private teachers, and sometimes in schools founded and maintained at the expense of the community or even of educational societies.

A sufficiently clear idea may thus be obtained of Rashi's early education; and in assuming that he soon distinguished himself for precocity and for maturity of thought, we shall not be shooting wide of the mark. But legend will not let its heroes off so cheaply; legend will have it that Rashi, in order to complete his education, travelled [traveled sic] to the most distant lands. Not satisfied with having him go to the south of France, to Narbonne, to the school of Moses ha-Darshan (who had doubtless died before Rashi's coming to his school was a possibility), or to Lunel, to attend the school of Zerahiah ha-Levi (not yet born), tradition maintains that at the age of thirty-three Rashi made the tour of almost the whole world as then known, in order to atone for a mistake made by his father, who regretted having lost a precious object, and also in order to assure himself that his commentaries had not been surpassed. He is said to have traversed Italy, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, and Persia, returning by way of Germany.

So long a voyage must, of course, have been marked by a number of events. In Egypt, Rashi became the disciple-the more exigent say, the intimate friend-of Maimonides, who, as we all know, was born in 1135, nearly a century later than Rashi. Maimonides, as fiction recounts, conceived a great affection for Rashi, and imparted to him all his own learning. Not to fall behind Maimonides in courtesy, Rashi showed him his commentaries, and Maimonides at the end of his life declared that he would have written more commentaries, had he not been anticipated by the French rabbi.

While in the Orient Rashi is represented as having met a monk, and the two discussed the superiority of their respective religions. At the inn the monk suddenly fell sick. Rashi, caring for him as for a brother, succeeded in curing him by means of a miraculous remedy. The monk wanted to thank him, but Rashi interrupted, saying: "Thou owest me nothing in return. Divided as we are by our religions, we are united by charity, which my religion imposes upon me as a duty. If thou comest upon a Jew in misfortune, aid him as I have aided thee." Fictitious though the story be, it is not unworthy the noble character of Rashi. He was noble, therefore noble deeds are ascribed to him.

On his return Rashi is said to have passed through Prague, whither his reputation had preceded him. On his entrance into the synagogue, the declamations of the faithful proved to him the admiration they felt for the young rabbi of only thirty-six years. The pleasure manifested by the Jews irritated Duke Vratislav, who had the famous rabbi arrested, brought before him, and questioned in the presence of his counsellor [counselor sic], the Bishop of Olmutz. The bishop raising his eyes recognized in the prisoner the Jew who had saved his life, and he told the story to the duke. The order was immediately given to set Rashi free; but the people, thinking the Jews lost, had fallen upon the Jewish quarter. Rashi threw himself at the feet of the sovereign, and begged protection for his brethren. Provided with a safe-conduct, Rashi went forth to appease the mob. The Jews in their great joy saluted him as their savior. Tradition adds that the duke conceived great admiration for the Jewish scholar, and made him one of his advisers.

Another, even sweeter reward, awaited him. Rebecca, the daughter of his host, fell in love with him, and, as Rashi returned the feeling, her father consented to the marriage.

But all this is on the face of it romance. Certain passages in Rashi's works give abundant proof that Rashi never visited either Palestine or Babylonia, and his conception of the geography of the two countries is utterly fantastic. For instance, he believed that the Euphrates flowed from the one land into the other. Moreover, he himself admitted that his ideas concerning them were gathered only from the Bible and the Talmud.[14]

Though Rashi did not let his curiosity carry him to all parts of the globe, he did not confine himself to his birthplace. He went first to Worms and then to Mayence, remaining some length of time in both places. He was moved to the step, not by taste for travel, but by taste for study, in accordance with the custom of his time, by which a student went from school to school in order to complete his knowledge. Of old, it was customary for the workman to make the tour of France for the purpose of perfecting himself in his trade and finding out the different processes of manufacture. Similarly, the student went from city to city, or, remaining in the same place, from school to school, in order to study a different subject under each master according to the manuscripts which the particular master happened to possess, and which he made his pupils copy. So far from being disqualified from entering a school on account of vagabondage, the stranger student was accorded a warm welcome, especially if he was himself a scholar. Strangers found open hospitality in the community, and were sometimes taken in by the master himself. Knowledge and love of knowledge were safe-conducts. In every city the lettered new-comer found hosts and friends.

Rashi probably stood in need of such hospitality and protection, for, if an obscure remark made by him may be relied upon, his life as a student was not free from care, and he must have suffered all sorts of privations. Nor was it rare that fortune failed to smile upon the students, and-not to give a list of examples-cases of poverty were fairly frequent in the Christian universities, at which mendicancy itself was almost respectable. The temptation might be legitimate to sentimentalize over this love of knowledge, this zeal for work, as they manifested themselves in Rashi, causing him to brave all the evil strokes of fortune for their sake; but one must strain a point to take him literally when he says, as he does in a certain somewhat involved passage, that he studied "without nourishment and without garments." However that may be, the same passage shows that while still a student whose course was but half completed, he married, in conformity with the Talmudic maxim, which recommends the Jew to marry at eighteen years of age. From time to time he went to visit his family at Troyes, always returning to Worms or Mayence.

The fact that the academies of Lorraine which Rashi frequented were in his day the great centres of Talmudic learning, is due to the happy lot which the Jews enjoyed in that country. The chief trading route of Europe at that time connected Italy with Rhenish Germany, and the Jews knew how to render themselves indispensable in the traffic along this route. Moreover, they lived on good terms with their neighbors. The explanation of the cordial relations between Jews and Christians lies in the ease with which the Jews rose to the level of general culture. The architecture of their synagogues is a striking example. The cathedral of Worms was built in 1034, at the same period as the synagogue there. The two structures display so many similarities that one is tempted to believe they represent the handiwork of the same builders. At all events, it is clear that the Jews cultivated the Romanesque style, so majestic in its simplicity.[15]

Lorraine was not at that time a province of the German Empire; and Rashi leaving the banks of the Seine for those of the Rhine did not expatriate himself in the true sense of the word. Lorraine, or, as it was then called, Lotharingia, the country of Lothair (this is the name that occurs in the rabbinical sources), was more than half French. Situated between France and Germany, it came within the sphere of French influence. French was the language in current use, spoken by Jew and Christian alike. German words, in fact, were gallicized in pronunciation. In Rashi's day the barons of Lorraine rendered homage to the king of France, Henry I. Naturally, then, the Jews of Lorraine and those of Northern France were in close intellectual communion. The academies along the Rhine and the Moselle formed, as it were, the link between France and Germany. In general, and despite the rarity and difficulty of communication, the Jews of France, Germany, and Italy entered freely into relations with one another.[16]

No testimony exists to prove that Rashi, as has been said, studied at Speyer, at which, without doubt, R. Eliakim had not yet begun to teach. Possibly, Rashi did go to Germany, if confidence is to be placed in some information he gives concerning "the country of Ashkenaz," and if the fact may be deduced from the occurrence in his commentaries of some dozen German words, the authenticity of which is not always certain.

Though doubt may attach to Rashi's journeys, it is certain that Rashi passed the larger number of his years of study (about 1055- 1065) in Worms. For a long time it was thought-and the belief still obtains-that he also gave instruction in Worms; and recently a street in the city was named after him. Tradition has connected many things with this alleged stay of Rashi as rabbi at Worms. Even in our days visitors are shown the school and the little synagogue attached to it as recalling his sojourn in the place, and a small building touching the eastern wall of the great synagogue is also supposed to perpetuate his memory, and it is still called the "Rashi Chapel." At the bottom of the wall a recess is visible, miraculously caused in order to save his mother when her life was endangered by the two carriages.[17] Some say that Rashi taught from this niche, and a seat in it, raised on three steps, called the Rashi Chair, is still pointed out.

These traditions do not merit credence. Moreover, they are of comparatively recent origin. For a long time the school bore the name, not of Rashi, but of Eleazar of Worms, and it was not built until the beginning of the thirteenth century. Destroyed in 1615, it was restored in 1720 through the generosity of Loeb Sinzheim, of Vienna, and at present it is the Jewish hospital. Alongside the school was a little chapel, belonging to it, which was destroyed in 1615, restored several years later, and finally burned by the French in 1689. The other chapel, the so-called "Rashi Chapel," his Yeshibah (school), is so tiny that it could hardly have held the crowd of hearers who thronged there, as tradition has it, in order to listen to him. Besides, the building did not bear the name of Rashi when in 1623 David Joshua Oppenheim, head of the community, erected the school and adjoining chapel, as a Hebrew inscription in the southern wall of the chapel declares. The chapel having lost its utility was closed in 1760, and from this time on it has been consecrated to the memory of Rashi. It was restored in 1855.

At Worms Rashi first studied under the head of the Talmudic academy there, Jacob ben Yakar, by that time a man well on in years. His age doubtless explains the respect and veneration paid him, to which his disciple gave touching expression. But we know besides how sincere was his piety, his humility, and his spirit of self-denial. One day a Christian delivered several tuns [tons sic] of wine to a Jew of Worms under peculiar conditions. Jacob did not want to decide so complicated and delicate a question, and he fled. Rashi and another disciple pursued and overtook him. Then he authorized the use of the wine.

Once when the community was going to pay its respects to the emperor or the governor, Jacob declined the honor of heading the procession. "I am nothing but a poor man," he said. "Let others bring their money, I can offer only my prayers. Each should give of that which he has." Other characteristics of his are mentioned. Once he and his colleague, Eliezer, surnamed the Great, took an animal they had bought to the slaughter house. There it was found that there was an imperfection in its body; according to Eliezer the imperfection rendered it unfit for eating; according to Jacob it was of no importance. The animal having been divided, Eliezer threw his share away. Then Jacob did the same, saying that he would not eat the meat of an animal when another denied himself the enjoyment of it. Later it is told of Jacob that in his humility he swept the floor of the synagogue with his beard. To cite Rashi himself, "I never protest against the usages in the school of my master, Jacob ben Yakar: I know that he possessed the finest qualities. He considered himself a worm which is trodden underfoot, and he never arrogated to himself the honor-though he would have been justified in so doing-of having introduced any innovation whatsoever."

It seems that Rashi, who spoke of Jacob ben Yakar with the utmost respect, and called him "my old master," studied not only the Talmud but also the Bible under his guidance.

The scholar who desired to obtain a grasp on all the studies, if not in their full content, at least in all their variety, had to devote many years to study at a school, not necessarily the same school, throughout his student years, for since the celebrity of a school depended upon the knowledge and renown of its head, it gained and lost pupils with its master.

Thus, on the death of Jacob ben Yakar, Rashi studied under the guidance of his successor, Isaac ben Eleazar ha-Levi,[18] though not for long, it seems. Wishing in a way to complete the cycle of instruction, he went to Mayence, the centre [center sic] of great Talmudic activity. The school here was directed by Isaac ben Judah (about 1050-1080), sometimes called the "Frenchman." Rashi considered Isaac ben Judah his master par excellence. In this school were composed the Talmudic commentaries generally attributed to R. Gershom and sometimes cited under the title of "Commentaries of the Scholars of Mayence." Isaac ben Judah - not to be confounded with Isaac ha- Levi, both having been the disciples of Eliezer the Great-was scrupulously pious, and absolutely bound by traditional usage.

Rashi, it thus becomes apparent, was not content to learn from only one master, he attended various schools, as if he had had a prevision of his future task, to sum up and, as it were, concentrate all Talmudic teachings and gather the fruits of the scientific activities of all these academies. Similarly, Judah the Saint, before he became the redactor of the Mishnah, placed himself under a number of learned men, "as if," says Graetz, "he had had a presentiment that one day he would collect the most diverse opinions and put an end to the juridical debates of the Tannaim."

Rashi's intellectual status during these years of study must not be misunderstood. Pupil he doubtless was, but such a one as in course of time entered into discussions with his teachers, and to whom questions were submitted for decision. It may even be that toward the end of his school period, he commenced to compose his Talmudic commentaries, or, rather, revise the notes of his masters.

At Worms as at Mayence, his fellow-students probably counted among their number those young scholars who remained his friends and correspondents. Such were Azriel ben Nathan, his kinsman Eliakim ha-Levi ben Meshullam, of Speyer (born about 1030), Solomon ben Simson, Nathan ben Machir and his brothers Menahem and Yakar, Meir ha-Cohen and his son Abraham, Samuel ha-Levi and, chief of all, his brother David, Nathan ben Jehiel and his brothers Daniel and Abraham, Joseph ben Judah Ezra, Durbal, and Meir ben Isaac ben Samuel[19] (about 1060), acting rabbi and liturgical poet, mentioned by Rashi in terms of praise and several times cited by him as an authority. Meir of Rameru, later the son-in-law of Rashi, also studied at the academies of Lorraine, though probably not at the same time as Rashi, but a short while after.

As is natural, it was of his teachers that Rashi preserved the most faithful recollections, and he refers to them as authoritative even after he had surpassed them in knowledge and reputation. He does not always mention their names in repeating their opinions. If it were possible to make a distinction and decide the authorship of each sentence, it would be found that we are not far from the truth in asserting that the greater part of the pupil's work was the work of his masters.[20]

But in literature, as elsewhere, honor does not redound to the workmen who have gotten the material together, but to the architect, wise and skilful [skillful sic], who conceives and carries out the plan for the entire edifice, and, with the stones others have brought, constructs a monument of vast proportions.



The youth Rashi has now completed his apprenticeship; in his studies and travels he has amassed a vast store of information, which he will use for the profit of his contemporaries and of posterity; and he now believes himself in possession of sufficient knowledge and experience to strike out for himself. Moreover, he must now provide for his family-we have seen that he married while still a student. But he does not give up his studies.

His change of abode was the only change in his life, a life of remarkable unity, the life of a student. Rashi gave himself up entirely to study, to study without cessation, and to teaching; but teaching is only a form of pursuing one's studies and summing them up.


Detailed and comprehensive though the Talmudic studies were, nevertheless the student, especially if he was gifted, completed the course when he was not much more than twenty years of age. Rashi, then, was probably close to twenty-five years old when he returned from Mayence. This return marks an epoch in the history of rabbinical literature. From that time, the study of the Talmud was cultivated not alone upon the banks of the Rhine, but also in Champagne, which came to rival and soon supplant Lorraine, and having freed itself from the subjection of the Rhenish schools, radiated the light of science. Jews from all over Christian Europe gathered there to bask in the warmth of the new home of Jewish learning. Less than ten centuries earlier, the same thing had happened when Rab transplanted the teaching of the Law from Palestine to Babylonia, and founded an academy at Sura, which, for a while rivalling [rivaling sic] the Palestinian schools, soon eclipsed them, and finally became the principal centre [center sic] of Jewish science. The Kabbalist was not so very far from the truth when he believed that the soul of Rab had passed into the body of Rashi.

It is noteworthy that this upgrowth of Talmudic schools in Champagne coincides with the literary movement then beginning in Christian France. In emerging from the barbarous state of the early middle ages, it seems that the same breath of life quickened the two worlds. The city of Troyes played an especially important role in matters intellectual and religious. A number of large councils were held there, and the ecclesiastical school of Troyes enjoyed a brilliant reputation, having trained scholars such as Olbert, Pierre Comestor, Pierre de Celle, and William of the White Hands. And it was near Troyes that the mighty voices of Abelard and Saint Bernard resounded.

There is a curious reminder of Rashi's sojourn at Troyes. As late as 1840 an ancient butcher shop was still standing, into which, it was remarked, flies never entered. Jewish tradition has it that the shop was built on the spot previously occupied by Rashi's dwelling-hence its miraculous immunity. The same legend is found among the Christians, but they ascribe the freedom from flies to the protection of Saint Loup, the patron saint of the city, who himself worked the miracle. Rashi is linked with Troyes in ways more natural as well. As I have said, certain expressions occur in his works which he himself says refer to his city. Some scholars have even stated that they recognized in the language he used the dialect of Troyes, a variety of the speech of Champagne, itself a French patois.

It is probable that Rashi-who was never at the head of the Talmudic schools of Worms or Prague, as the legends go-exercised the functions of a rabbi at Troyes, that he never kept himself exclusively within the confines of his school, 'and that he felt it his duty to instruct all his fellow-Jews. In conjunction with his intellectual endowments, he possessed faith and charity, the true sources of strength in religious leadership. He was the natural champion of the weak,[21] the judge and supervisor of all acts. He pronounced judgment in cases more or less distantly connected with religion, that is, in nearly all cases at a period so thoroughly religious in character. Either because he had been appointed their rabbi by the faithful, or because he enjoyed great prestige, Rashi was the veritable spiritual chief of the community, and even exercised influence upon the surrounding communities. The man to preside over the religious affairs of the Jews was chosen not so much for his birth and breeding as for his scholarship and piety, since the rabbi was expected to distinguish himself both in learning and in character. "He who is learned, gentle, and modest," says the Talmud, "and who is beloved of men, he should be judge in his city." As will soon be made clear, Rashi fulfilled this ideal. His piety and amiability, in as great a degree as his learning, won for him the admiration of his contemporaries and of posterity. At Troyes there was no room for another at the head of the community.

Like most of the rabbis of the time, Rashi accepted no compensation from the community for his services, and he probably lived from what he earned by viticulture. Once he begs a correspondent to excuse the shortness of his letter, because he and his family were busy with the vintage. "All the Jews," he said, "are at this moment engaged in the vineyards." In a letter to his son-in-law Meir, he gives a description of the wine- presses of Troyes, in the installation of which a change had been made. It was deemed fitting that the scholar should provide for the needs of his family; the law in fact imposed it upon him as a duty. "Religious study not accompanied by work of the hands is barren and leads to sin." The functions of a rabbi were purely honorific in character, dignifying, and unrelated in kind to' mercantile goods, for which one receives pay. It was forbidden to make the law a means of earning one's living or a title to glory. "He who profits by his studies or who studies for his own interest, compromises his salvation."

When the religious representative showed such devotion and disinterestedness, the pious willingly submitted themselves to his authority. The spiritual heads of the communities had as great ascendency [ascendancy sic] over believing Jews as a king had over his subjects; they were sovereigns in the realm of the spirit. And Rashi in his time, because of his learning and piety, exercised the most undisputed authority. His influence though not so great was comparable, in the sphere in which it could be exercised, with that of the great Saint Bernard upon the entire Christian world, or with that of Maimonides upon Judaism in the Arabic countries.

People in all circumstances and from all the surrounding countries addressed themselves to him; and to the list of his correspondents in Lorraine may be added the names of several French rabbis, the "wise men" of Auxerre, the scholar Solomon of Tours, whom Rashi calls his dear friend, his kinsman Eleazar, and R. Aaron the Elder. His correspondence on learned questions was so large that sometimes, as when he was ill, for instance, he would have his disciples or relatives help him out with it.[22]

About 1070 Rashi founded a school at Troyes, which soon became the centre [center sic] of instruction in the Talmud for the whole region. As we have seen, Gershom trained a number of disciples who directed schools, each of which pursued a particular course. Rashi united these various tendencies, as, later, his work put an end to the activity of the commentators of the Talmud. An explanation is thus afforded of the legend repeated by Basnage in these words: "He made a collection of the difficulties he had heard decided during his travels. On his return to Europe he went to all the academies and disputed with the professors about the questions which they were discussing; then he threw to the floor a page of his collections, which gave a solution of the problem, and so ended the controversy, without, however, mentioning the name of the author of the decision. It is alleged that these leaves scattered in thousands of places were gathered together, and that from them was composed the commentary on the Talmud." The legend attests Rashi's great reputation. While he was still quite young, his renown had rapidly spread.

When in Lorraine, he had from time to time paid a visit to Troyes, and so, later, when definitely established in Champagne, he maintained relations with his masters, especially with Isaac ha-Levi, whom he visited and with whom he corresponded in the interim of his visits. Isaac ha-Levi was no less fond of his favorite pupil, and he inquired of travellers [travelers sic] about him. He addressed Responsa to Rashi on questions of Talmudic jurisprudence. In fact, Rashi continued to solicit advice from his teachers and keep himself informed of everything concerning schools and Talmudic instruction. In this way he once learned that a Talmudic scholar of Rome, R. Kalonymos (ben Sabbatai, born before 1030) had come after the death of Jacob ben Yakar to establish himself at Worms, where he died, probably a martyr's death, during the First Crusade. Kalonymos, who enjoyed a great reputation, wrote Talmudic commentaries and liturgical poems. His was a personality rare in that period.

Rashi's masters, in turn, often applied to their pupil for advice, choosing him as arbiter and consulting him with a deference more fitting toward a colleague than a disciple. Isaac ha-Levi wrote the following words, in which one detects real esteem and admiration underlying epistolary emphasis and the usual exaggeration of a compliment: "Blessed be the Lord who willed that this century should not be orphaned, who has steadied our tottering generation by eminent teachers, such as my dear and respected friend, my kinsman R. Solomon. May Israel boast many another such as he!" Equally sincere seems the salutation of a letter written to Rashi by Isaac ben Judali: "To him who is beloved in heaven and honored on earth, who possesses the treasures of the Law, who knows how to resolve the most subtle and profound questions, whose knowledge moves mountains and shatters rocks, etc."

After the death of Rashi's teachers (about 1075) his school 'assumed even more importance. It eclipsed the academies of Lorraine, and from all the neighboring countries it attracted pupils, who later went forth and spread the teachings of their master abroad. Rashi came to be considered almost the regenerator of Talmudic studies, and in the following generation Eliezer ben Xathan said with pious admiration: "His lips were the seat of wisdom, and thanks to him the Law, which he examined and interpreted, has come to life again."

In this school, justly renowned as the centre [center sic] of Jewish science, master and pupil were animated by equal love for their work. Entire days were spent there in study, and often, especially in winter, entire nights as well. The studies were regulated by a judicious method. The teacher began to explain a treatise of the Talmud on the first of the month, in order that the students might take their measures accordingly, and not delay coming until after the treatise had been begun. The pupils took notes dictated by the teacher, and thus composed manuscripts which are still of great value. In so doing they fixed all the minutiae of a detailed process of argumentation. On the other hand, books were rare, and students poor. The master himself, in order to facilitate his task, wrote explanations during the lesson, and these served as textbooks, which, like the students' notebooks, became treasure houses for later generations.

Rashi not only imparted knowledge to his pupils, but received knowledge from them in turn. He set great store by their observations. His grandson Samuel ben Meir once drew his attention to a certain form of Biblical parallelism, in which the second hemistich completes the first, as in the following verse from Psalm xciii:

"The floods have lifted up, O Lord, The floods have lifted up their voice."

After this, each time Rashi came across a similarly constructed verse, he would say with mock gravity: "Here's a verse for my Samuel."

The Jewish student led a pure, regulated existence, with only wholesome distractions, such as the little celebrations when the study of a Talmudic treatise had been completed. His greatest pleasure he found in the swordplay of mind against mind, in the love of knowledge and religion.

Rashi did not content himself with giving instruction only to students under his immediate influence. He desired that his teachings should not be lost to men unknown to him and to unborn generations. He realized that everything so far accomplished in the field of Talmudic and even Biblical exegesis was inadequate, and he therefore undertook the works that were to occupy him the rest of his life. His school was, so to speak, the laboratory of which his Biblical and Talmudic commentaries were the products. They involved a vast amount of toil, and though death overtook him before his task was accomplished, he doubtless began the work early in life.[23] A legend goes that he was forbidden to write commentaries on the Bible before he was a hundred years old. Rashi with all his ardor for learning could not curb himself and postpone his activity for so long a time, and he turned the prohibition in his own favor by explaining that the sum of the Hebrew letters forming the word "hundred" amounted to forty-six.

Rashi's disciples were in very truth his sons, for no sons were born to the illustrious rabbi. But he had three daughters, who each married a Talmudist, so that Rashi's descendants, no less than himself, were the bearers of rabbinic learning in France. Rashi did not limit his association with his pupils to the school-house, but invited them to enter his family circle. Indeed, this was the highest honor to which they could aspire. It has always been the greatest piece of good fortune for a Jew to marry the daughter of a learned and pious man, and the suitors most desired by and for young girls were scholars. In this way arose veritable dynasties of rabbis, who cherished learning as a heritage, a family treasure, and the Rashi "dynasty" was one of the greatest and most renowned among them.

Tradition has delighted in representing Rashi's daughters as highly endowed. Unfortunately, it seems that the education of women among the Jews of the middle ages was greatly neglected, though they were taught the principles of religion and the ordinances which it was their special duty to fulfil [fulfill sic]. They possessed the domestic virtues, and above all modesty and charity. They helped their husbands in business, thus enabling them to devote themselves more freely to study, and though the women themselves lacked learning, they concerned themselves with the learning of their men-folk, and were eager to contribute to the support of schools and pupils. They were extremely pious, often scrupulously so. The women in a family of scholars had sufficient knowledge to be called upon in ritual questions, as, for instance, Bellette, sister of Isaac ben Menahem the Great, of Orleans, a contemporary of Rashi, who appealed to her authority. Other cases of the same kind are mentioned, some occurring in Rashi's own family, his granddaughter Miriam having been asked to adjudicate a doubtful case. One of Rashi's daughters, also called Miriam, married the scholar Judah ben Nathan. Rachel, another daughter, given a French epithet, Bellassez,[24] also seems to have been learned. Her union with a certain Eliezer, or Jocelyn, was unhappy. Not so the marriage of the third daughter of Rashi, Jochebed, whose husband was the scholar Meir, son of Samuel, of Rameru, a little village near Troyes. She had four sons, named Samuel, Jacob, Isaac, and Solomon. The three first, and in a less degree the fourth, too, continued in glorious wise the traditions of their grandfather. I shall have occasion again to mention them, their life, and their work.

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