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Rashi by Maurice Liber

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charm which illuminated the dry juridic discussions. All this
forms an attractive whole, and everyone may feel the attraction;
for the commentaries on the Bible, which can be read with
pleasure and without mental fatigue, are intelligible to persons
of most mediocre mind and cultivation. The words of a certain
French critic upon another writer of Champagne, La Fontaine,
might be applied to Rashi, though a comparison between a poet and
a commentator may not be pressed to the utmost. "He is the milk
of our early years, the bread of the adult, the last meal of the
old man. He is the familiar genius of every hearth."

For many centuries the Biblical commentaries held a position -
and still hold it - similar to that of La Fontaine's Fables. Few
works have ever been copied, printed, and commented upon to the
same extent. Immediately upon their appearance, they became
popular in the strongest sense of the word. They cast into the
shade the work of his disciples, which according to modern
judgment are superior. Preachers introduced some commentaries of
his into their sermons, and made his words the subject of their
instruction; and Rashi was taught even to the children. The mass
of readers assimilated the Halakic and Haggadic elements. Those
who were not students, through Rashi got a smattering of a
literature that would otherwise have been inaccessible to them;
and the commentaries threw into circulation a large number of
legends, which became the common property of the Jews. Rashi's
expressions and phrases entered into current speech, especially
those happy formulas which impress themselves on the memory. His
commentary is printed in all the rabbinical Bibles; it has become
to the Jews inseparable from the text, and even Mendelssohn's
commentary, which has all of Rashi's good qualities and none of
his faults, did not succeed in eclipsing it. In short, it is a



The commentaries on the Bible, especially those on the
Pentateuch, constitute a work for general reading and for
devotion as well as for scientific study. Their general scope
explains both their excellencies and their defects. On the other
hand, the commentary on the Talmud is an academic work. It
originated in the school of Rashi, and was elaborated there
during a long time. The one is a popular work for the use of the
masses, the other, a learned treatise for the use of students.
The explanation of the Scriptures was written for the benefit of
the faithful in popular, attractive, and comprehensible form; the
explanation of the Talmud constituted matter for serious study in
the academies. Or, rather, after the long, exhaustive, and often
dry-as-dust Talmudic discussion, the master took pleasure in
interrupting his instruction in the school to give his
interpretation of Biblical passages.

This is the reason why the Talmudic commentaries,[94] which are,
as it were, the summing-up of Rashi's teachings, of his own
studies, and of the observations of his pupils, have a more
mature, more thoughtful character than the Biblical commentaries.
They undoubtedly represent a greater amount of labor. It seems
that Rashi himself made two or three recensions of his
commentary, at least for many of the Talmudic treatises.
Testimony to this fact is given by the variations of certain
passages in the extant text and that cited by the ancient
authors, notably the Tossafists. Moreover, the Tossafists
explicitly mention corrections made by Rashi in his own work.
The query naturally arises whether the corrections indicate that
Rashi worked the entire commentary over and over again. The
answer is no; for certain treatises remained incomplete, and
others seem never to have been begun. Presumably, then, Rashi
revised a treatise according to the needs of the occasion, as,
for instance, when it came under his eyes in the course of
instruction. However that may be, the work that we now possess
is a mixture of the first and the last recension, though we
cannot always tell which is the later and which the earlier.

Another fact explains the difference I have pointed out between
the Biblical and the Talmudic commentaries. For the Biblical
commentaries there had been no precedent, and if they possess the
merit of originality, they also illustrate the errors of a man
who tries his powers in a field of work devoid of all tradition.
For the Talmudic commentaries, on the contrary, models were not
lacking. The example of Gershom was sufficiently notable to evoke
imitation, though his work was not so complete as to discourage
it. We must not forget Rashi's predecessors because he eclipsed
them. This would be contrary to his intentions, since he
frequently cites them, rendering value in return for value
received. In fact, he knew well how to use their works to
advantage. He submitted them to a judicial and minute
examination, collecting all the material he needed furnished by
the Geonim as well as by his immediate masters. It would be as
inexact to assert that he only made a resume of their
works as to say that he worked along entirely original lines and
relied solely upon his own resources. If we could compare his
commentaries with previous commentaries (for some this comparison
has been made), we should be forced into the admission that his
part is smaller than one would suppose. The best proof of this
fact is that the usual basis of his commentary for each treatise
was the explanation of the master under whom he had studied it.
He often cites the writings of his masters, to which he gives the
title Yesod, "Foundation," probably either collections
made by the teachers themselves or notebooks edited by their
pupils. As a result of the love of brevity which is one of
Rashi's marked characteristics, he does not quote in its entirety
the source upon which he draws, but more frequently reproduces
the sense rather than the exact words.

I must hasten to add that the Talmudic commentaries of Rashi's
masters were inadequate, and did not meet all needs. We can judge
of the lacunae in them both from the commentaries that have been
preserved and from the criticisms which Rashi frequently added as
an accompaniment to his citations. Sometimes the commentaries
were too diffuse, sometimes too concise; their language was
obscure and awkward; no stress was laid upon explaining all
details, and the commentaries themselves stood in need of
explanation; they addressed themselves to accomplished Talmudists
rather than to students. Rashi's commentaries, on the contrary,
could be understood by men of small learning-hence their
influence and popularity. Moreover, the commentaries of his
masters often contradicted one another, coming as they did from
scholars who did not shrink from discussion. Rashi wished to put
an end to these debates and introduce some unity into rabbinical
tradition, and generally his purpose in refraining from a
quotation of his predecessors was exactly to avoid an opening
into the field of controversy. Finally, their commentaries, it
seems, were not comprehensive; they bore upon only one or several
treatises; whereas Rashi's bore on all or nearly all the
treatises of the Gemara.[95] With Rashi execution rose to the
height of his conception.

Rashi availed himself so little of the work of his masters that
he began by establishing a correct text of the Talmud and
subjecting it to a severe revision. The mistakes of his
predecessors oftenest arose from the faultiness of the texts,
marred by ignorant copyists or presumptuous readers. What is
more, the use to which the Talmud was put in the academies and
the discussions to which it gave rise, far from sheltering it
from alterations made by way of correction, modified it in every
conceivable fashion, according to the views of the chiefs of the
schools. Like every book in circulation, the Talmud was exposed
to the worst changes, and this all the more readily, because at
that time no one had a notion of what we call respect for the
text, for the idea of the author. As rigidly as the text of the
Bible was maintained intact in the very minutest details, so lax
was the treatment of the Talmud, which was at the mercy of
individual whim. Naturally, the less scrupulous and less
clearsighted allowed themselves the most emendations.
Accordingly, Rabbenu Gershom felt called upon to put a severe
restriction upon such liberties. Though he succeeded in
moderating the evil, it could not be suppressed retroactively.
Rashi realized that corrections made wittingly were
indispensable, and that it was necessary to clear the Talmudic
forest of entangling briers. Moreover, as we learn from Rashi
himself, Gershom had already undertaken the task. Rashi also
tells us that he had Gershom's autograph manuscript before him,
not to mention other copies he was consulting and collating.
Further testimony, apart from this internal evidence, is provided
by Rashi's references to texts parallel to the Talmud, among them
the Tosefta. Sometimes he records two readings without giving
either the preference, though as a rule the reasoning or the
context shows that he leans one way or the other, so that his
alterations, which are usually correct, do not necessarily
represent the early text. When Rashi has good cause for deciding
a point in a certain way, he does not pay attention to possible
errors or contradictions on the part of the Talmudists. In other
words, though his text may be the most rational, it is not always
the most authentic.

Rashi exercised this criticism of the text to a wide extent, yet
prudently. I have already mentioned what Isaac of Vienna said
concerning the numerous erasures that covered an autograph
manuscript of his.[96] Many readings that Rashi rejected might
have been kept - in fact they sometimes were kept - by force of
finesse and subtlety. His method affords a striking contrast to
that of the Talmudist Hananel,[97] who either eliminates the
phrases unacceptable to him or preserves them only by doing
violence to the sense. Rashi, on the contrary, compared the
different versions of difficult or suspicious passages and
prefers the one not requiring a subtle explanation. It is only
when no reading satisfies him that he assumes an interpolation or
an error, in this event frequently resorting to the Responsa of
the Geonim. Needless to say, he also paid heed to the revision
of Gershom; but since he deemed that Gershom had himself
preserved faulty readings, he took up the work again, despite
Gershom's prohibition. He realized that this careful and
detailed critical revision of his predecessor, however ungrateful
the soil might appear, was nevertheless fertile ground, and might
serve as the solid basis of a thorough commentary.

He acquitted himself of the task with such success that his has
become the official text, the "Vulgate," of the Talmud. In fact,
his disciples inserted into the body of the Gemara the greater
part of his corrections or restitutions (but not all; and one
does not always comprehend the reasons for their choice), which
have now become an integral part of the text. Thus a single,
definite, and official text was established - a thing of great
value in assuring the stability of rabbinical tradition in France
and Germany.

From what I have already said, the reader can gather how
individual was Rashi's method. The foundation for his
commentaries, it is true, was provided by tradition and by the
instruction he received from his masters. But over and above the
circumstance that he preserved only what seemed fitting to him,
is the fact that value attached rather to the setting given the
material than to the material itself. Herein resides Rashi's
merit - and the merit is great. He was occupied not so much in
extracting from the discussion of the Talmud the essential ideas,
the principles indicating rules of practice, as in rendering the
discussion comprehensible both in its entirety and in its
details. He wrote a grammatical commentary which provides the
exact meaning, not only of the opinions set forth, but also of
the phrases and expressions employed. A Jewish scholar of our
day, I. H. Weiss, who has accomplished much toward acclimatizing
the scientific study of the Talmud in Eastern Europe, justly
remarked - and what he says is a lesson to the rabbis of his

How many Talmudists are there nowadays who take pains to
understand exactly the meaning of such and such a passage of
the Talmud, or who are capable of explaining it grammatically?
They do like the predecessors of Rashi, whose method it was to
give an exposition of an entire discussion merely by
simplifying its terms. They wrote consecutive commentaries,
not notes; and they often failed to explain difficult words.
Rashi, on the contrary, always definitely determined the
meaning of the various terms.

He does this with a sure touch, and the precision of his
explanations is all the more remarkable as he did not know -
whatever one may say to the contrary - the Talmudic lexicon of
Nathan ben Jehiel, of Rome, which was not brought to a conclusion
until four years after Rashi's death. It is a favorite trick of
legend to establish relations between illustrious contemporaries,
especially when their activities were exercised in the same
field, and tradition has made Rashi the pupil of Nathan. The
idea of such a relationship, however, is purely fantastic, the
two rabbis probably not having ever known each other.[98]

Rashi carried the same spirit of exactness and precision into the
whole of this work - qualities indispensable but difficult of
attainment; for as A. Darmesteter well says:

Whoever has opened a page of the Talmud understands how
necessary is a commentary upon a text written in Aramaic and
treating of often unfamiliar questions in concise,
exasperatingly obscure dialectics. The language, too, is
obscure, and the lack of punctuation renders reading difficult
to novices. No mark separates question from answer,
digressions from parenthetical observations. The phrases form
only a long string of words placed one after the other, in
which one distinguishes neither the beginning nor the end of
the sentences.

The difficulty presented by the obscurity of the style is
increased by allusions to facts and customs which are no longer
known and cannot always be guessed at. Now, thanks to Rashi's
commentary, a reader possessing a knowledge of the elements of
the language and some slight knowledge of Jewish law, can
decipher it without overmuch difficulty.

Rarely superficial, Rashi explains the text simply yet
thoroughly. He sifts his matter to the bottom. His reasoning is
free from subtleties and violations of the sense. This
characteristic comes out in bold relief when we compare Rashi
with his disciples, the Tossafists, who carry their niceties to
an excess. It would be wrong to hold Rashi responsible for the
abuse later made of controversy; while, on the other hand, praise
is owing to him for the happy efforts he made to unravel the
texts, not only for the purpose of explaining their meaning, but
also to indicate possible objections and reply to them in a few
words. One must marvel at the clearsighted intelligence, the
sureness, the mastery with which Rashi conveys the gist of a
discussion as well as the value of the details, easily taking up
each link in the chain of question and answer, pruning away
superfluities, but not recoiling before necessary supplementary
developments. In addition, rather than resort to forced
explanations, he did not hesitate to avow that certain passages
puzzled him, or that his knowledge was insufficient - a scruple
not always entertained by his successors.

To determine the meaning of a text, Rashi frequently referred to
parallel passages, contained not only in the Gemara itself, but
also in other collections, such as the Tosefta, or the Halakic
Midrashim.[99] Sometimes the Gemara cites them, or refers to
them, at other times it makes no allusion whatsoever to them. In
the latter case, it may be stated, Rashi, even when he does not
say so explicitly, himself found the text for comparison and was
inspired by it.

Moreover, on occasion, he points out general rules to which he
conforms, some of them indicated in the Talmud itself, others
provided by the Geonim, and others again evolved by himself in
the course of his studies. Those who are competent to judge
admire the precision with which he lays down these principles. By
combining them, an excellent, although very incomplete, Talmudic
methodology might be drawn up.

Some examples will give a better idea than a mere description of
Rashi's method. I will separate his commentary from the text of
the Gemara by square brackets, so as to show how he inserts his
commentary, and how perfectly he adapts it to the Gemara.

The following passages deal with the proclamation of the new
moon, made by the supreme tribunal, upon the evidence of two
persons who declare that they have seen the new moon.

Mishnah: If he is not known [if the tribunal does not know the
witness, does not know if he is honest and worthy of
confidence], they [the tribunal of his city] will send another
person with him [to bear witness concerning the new moon before
the great tribunal, which proclaims the new month]. At first,
evidence concerning the new moon was accepted from any and
every body; since the Boethusians[100] turned to evil [this is
explained in the Gemara], it was decided that only the
testimony of persons who were known would be taken.

Gemara: What does "another" signify? Another individual? Does
it mean that a single person is thought [worthy of confidence
in declaring the first night of the new moon]? Is it not
taught in a Baraita: "It once happened that a man came [to the
tribunal, on the Sabbath, in order to give evidence concerning
the new moon], accompanied by his witnesses, to testify
concerning himself" [to declare him worthy of confidence]? Rab
Papa replies: "Another" signifies "another couple of
witnesses." This explanation seems to be the true one; for
otherwise what would these words signify: "If he is not known?"
If this individual is not known? But does it mean that
a single person is believed [in bearing witness in regard to
the new moon]? In connection with this, do not the Scriptures
use the word law [in the verse: For this was a statute for
Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob[101]]? Here, then, "the
witness" signifies "the couple" of witnesses; similarly the
previous "another" signifies "another couple." But is it
quite certain that a single man is not enough? However, it is
taught in a Baraita: "It once happened on a Sabbath that R.
Nehoral accompanied a witness to give evidence concerning him
at Usha" [at the time when the Sanhedrin had its seat in that
city, and the new moon was proclaimed there]. R. Nehorai was
accompanied by another witness, and if this witness is not
mentioned, it is out of regard for R. Nehorai [for R. Nehorai
is mentioned only that we may infer from his case that so
prominent an authority inclined to leniency in the
circumstances stated; but it is not fitting for us to appeal
to the authority of his less important companion]. Rab Ashi
replies: There was already another witness at Usha [who knew
the one that was coming to give evidence], and R. Nehorai went
to join him. If this is so, what is it that is meant to be
conveyed to us? This: we might have thought in case of doubt
[possibly this second witness might not be at home], the
Sabbath must not be trangressed; we are thus taught that one
should do it, etc. (Rosh ha-Shanah 22a bottom).

The following passage deals with the Lulab, which is used
at the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, and must be

Mishnah: A Lulab [referring to the palm branch; farther
on it will be stated that the myrtle and the willow of the
brook are dealt with separately] that has been stolen [is
unfit; for it is said:[102] "And ye shall take you": what
belongs to you], or is dry [we demand that the ritual be
carried out with care, in conformity with the words of
Scripture:[103] "I will exalt Him "], is unfit. Coming from
an Ashera [a tree adored as an idol; the Gemara gives the
reason for the prohibition] or from a city given up to idolatry
[for it is considered as burnt down, as it is said: "And thou
shalt gather all the Spoil of it."[104] Now, the Lulab should
have the length of four palms, as will be said farther
on,[105] and since it is destined to be given up to the
flames, it no longer has the desired length, being considered
as burnt], it is unfit. If its end is cut [it is unfit; for
it is not "beautiful"], or if its leaves have fallen off [from
the central stem, and are united only by a band like the
broom, in French called "escoube."[106] In this case, also,
it is not "beautiful"], it is unfit. If its leaves are
separated [attached to the stem, but at the top separated on
each side, like the branches of a tree], it is good. R. Judah
says: It should be bound [if its leaves are separated, they
should be bound so that they are fixed to the stem as with
other Lulabim]. The stony palm of the mountain - of - iron
[the Gemara explains that these are palms] are good [they are
Lulabim, although their leaves are very small and do not
extend the length of the stem]. A Lulab having the length of
three palms, so that it can be shaken [the Gemara explains:
the stem should measure three palms, as much as the myrtle
branch, and, in addition, another palm for shaking, for we
require that the Lulab be shaken in the way told farther on
(37b): "It is shaken vertically and horizontally," so as to
exorcise the evil spirits and evil shades), is good.

Gemara: The Tanna is brief in showing [that the Lulab is
unfit] without distinguishing between the first day of the
festival [the celebration of which is made obligatory by the
Torah] and the second day [for which the ceremony of the Lulab
is prescribed only by the Rabbis, Scriptures saying "on the
first day"[102]]. It must certainly refer to the dry Lulab
[it may be unfit, even from a rabbinical point of view, for
since it is a rite instituted in commemoration of the Temple,
we require that it be practiced with care], for we require
that it be "beautiful," and in this case the condition is not
fulfilled. But so far as the stolen Lulab is concerned, I
understand that it should not be used the first day, for in
regard to the first day it is written: "And ye shall take
you:" of what belongs to you; but why not the second day
[whence does one know that one may not use it then?]? R.
Johanan replies in the name of R. Simon ben Yohai: because
then a regulation would be fulfilled through the commission of
a transgression, for it is said [for we find a verse which
forbids the fulfilment of a regulation through committing a
transgression]: "And ye brought that which was stolen, and the
lame, and the sick."[107] The stolen animal is likened to the
lame; and just as it is irremediably unfit [it can never be
offered as a sacrifice, because its imperfection is
perpetual], so the one that is stolen is irremediably unfit
[we deduce from this verse that it can never more become of
use, even if there has been a renunciation; that is, if we
have heard the owner renounce the object by saying, for
example, "Decidedly, I have lost this purse;" although in
regard to the ownership of the animal, we said, in the
treatise Baba Kama (68a), that the holder became the
possessor, if the first owner renounced it; however, he cannot
offer it as a sacrifice upon the altar], whether this be
before or after the renunciation. If before the renunciation,
because the Torah says, "If any man of you bring an
offering;[108] now, the stolen animal does not belong to him,
but after the renunciation the holder becomes the possessor of
it through the fact of this renunciation [why, then, does the
prophet forbid its being used as an offering?]. Is it not
exactly because this would be to fulfil [fulfill sic] a
regulation by committing a transgression? R. Johanan says
again in the name of R. Simon ben Yohai: what does this verse
signify: "For I the Lord love judgment, I hate robbery for
burnt offering"?[109] [for the burnt offering that you bring
me, I hate the theft of which you make yourself guilty in
stealing these animals, although everything belongs and always
has belonged to Me]. Let us compare this case with that of a
mortal king, who, passing before the house of a publican, says
to his servants: "Give the toll to the publican." They object
and say: "But is it not to thee that all the tolls return?"
To which the king replies: "May all travellers [sic] take an
example from me and not escape the payment of toll." In the
same way God says: "I hate robbery for burnt offerings; may My
children take an example from Me and escape the temptation to

It has likewise been shown [that the motive of the Mishnah in
declaring the stolen Lulab unfit for use on the second day of
the festival, is that It would be the fulfilment of a
regulation through the commission of a transgression]. Rabbi
Ammi says: etc., (Sukkah 29b).

From these two citations it is evident that Rashi does not shrink
from complicated explanations, and that he does not comment on
the easy passages. In the following quotation, the discussion is
somewhat more difficult to follow.

Mishnah: A slave [non-Jewish] who has been made
prisoner and ransomed [by other Jews] in order to remain a
slave, remains a slave [this will be explained by the Gemara];
In order to be free, becomes free. R. Simon ben Gamaliel
says: In the one case as in the other, he remains a slave.

Gemara: With which case do we concern ourselves? If it
is before the renunciation of the right of possession [by the
first master, who has bought him from the hands of the non-
Jew], ransomed in order to become free, why should he not
remain a slave? It is, then, after this renunciation. But,
bought to be a slave, why should he remain a slave?
[Understand: of his first master; why should he remain a
slave, since there was a renunciation by which rights upon him
as a slave have been renounced?]. Abaye says: The case under
debate is always that In which the first owner has not yet
renounced his rights upon the slave, and if the slave has been
bought to remain a slave [on condition of being restored to
his first master, or even upon condition of belonging to him
who bought him], he remains the slave of his first master [the
second, in fact, has not acquired him, for he knows that his
master remains his master, until the master has given him up;
he would, therefore, be stealing the slave]; if the slave is
ransomed to become free, he is the slave neither of the first
nor of the second; not of the second, since he ransomed the
slave to set him free, nor of the first who possibly abandoned
him and did not buy him back. R. Simon b. Gamaliel, on the
other hand, says: In one case as in the other he remains a
slave; in fact, he admits that just as it is a duty to ransom
free men, so it is a duty to ransom slaves [it is not,
therefore, to be supposed that the first master would have
abstained from buying back his slave].

Raba says: We are always dealing with the case in which the
first master has already renounced his right of possession.
And if the slave has been ransomed in order to be a slave, he
serves his second master [farther on the question will be
asked, from whom the second master bought him]; if ransomed to
be free, he serves neither his first nor his second master;
not his second master, since he bought the slave to give him
his liberty; and not the first, since he had already renounced
the slave. R. Simon b. Gamaliel, on the other hand, says: In
the one case as in the other he remains a slave [of his first
master], according to the principle of Hezekiah, who said: Why
is it admitted that he remains a slave in either case? So
that it should not be possible for any slave whatsoever to
deliver himself up to the enemy and thus render himself
independent of his master.

It is objected: R. Simon b. Gamaliel [we have been taught]
said to his colleagues: "Just as it is a duty to ransom free
men, so it is a duty to ransom slaves." This Baraita is to be
understood according to Abaye, who takes it that there had
been no renunciation [who applies the Mishnah to the case in
which there has been previous renunciation; then the first
paragraph of the Mishnah is motived by the abstention of the
owner, who did not ransom his slave]: we thus explain to
ourselves the expression "just as" [of R. Simon b. Gamaliel,
for he does not suppose that the owner abstained, granted that
it is a duty to ransom the slave]. But, according to Raba,
who takes it that there has been renunciation [who applies the
Mishnah to the case in which there was renunciation, and the
first paragraph of the Mishnah is motived by the abstention of
the owner, which is equivalent to a renunciation], this "just
as" [of R. Simon b. Gamaliel, what does it signify?], since R.
Simon b. Gamaliel bases his opinion upon the principle of
Hezekiah [since the reason of R. Simon b. Gamaliel is the
principle of Hezekiah: "so that the slave should not go and
deliver himself up to the enemy"]. Raba replies, etc.,
(Gittin 37b).

What one least expects to find in a Talmudist is historic
veracity. Yet it is not lacking in Rashi, either because he was
guided by ancient and authentic traditions, or because he was
inspired by his clear - sightedness, or - but this is apt to have
been the case less frequently because he was well served by his
power of divination. Rashi took good care not to confound the
different generations of Tannaim and Amoraim, or the different
rabbis in each. He knew the biographies of all of them, the
countries of their birth, their masters and disciples, the period
and the scene of their activity. Such knowledge was necessary
not only in order to grasp the meaning of certain passages, but
also in order to decide which opinion was final and had the force
of law. Rashi also tried to understand, and in turn render
comprehensible, the customs and the by-gone institutions to which
the Talmud alludes. He gave information concerning the
composition of the Mishnah and the Gemara, and the relations of
the Mishnahs and the Baraitas. Because it contains all these
data, Rashi's commentary is still a very valuable historical
document, and Jewish historians of our days continue frequently
to invoke its authority.

Yet in spite of this scattered information, the commentary is
marked by certain deficiencies which indicate a deficiency in his
mental make-up. When he explains an historical passage of the
Talmud, he is incapable of criticising [criticizing sic] it.
Apart from the fact that he would not believe legend to be
legend, nor the Gemara capable of mistakes, he had neither the
knowledge nor the scientific culture requisite for an historian.
To be convinced of this, it is necessary to read only the
following passage, in which the Talmud characteristically relates
the final events before the downfall of the Jewish State. As
before, I reproduce the Gemara along with the commentary of
Rashi; but in translating the Gemara I anticipate what Rashi
says. It must be borne in mind that Rashi explains in Hebrew -
in rabbinical Hebrew - text written in Aramaic.

R. Johanan says: what signifies this verse (Prov. xxviii. 14):
"Happy is the man that feareth always [who trembles before the
future and says to himself: provided that no misfortune befall
me if I do such and such a thing], but he that hardeneth his
heart shall fall into mischief"? For Kamza and Bar Kamza
Jerusalem was destroyed; for a cock and a hen the Royal
Tower[110] was destroyed; for the side of a litter (rispak
(Resh Yod Samech Pe Qof)
) [the side of a lady's chariot,
called reitwage (?) in German, as is said in the
chapter "The mother and her young":[111] If thou yokest the
mule to the litter rispak (Resh Yod Samech Pe Qof) for
me], Betar was destroyed. For Kamza and Bar Kamza [names of
two Jews] Jerusalem was destroyed. A man whose friend was
Kamza [the name of whose friend was Kamza] and whose enemy was
Bar Kamza prepared a banquet. He said to his servant: "Go,
invite Kamza." The servant went to Bar Kamza. Finding him
seated, the host said: "Since this man is (thou art) my enemy,
why comest thou hither? Go, leave me." The other replied:
"Since I have come, let me remain here, and I will give the
price of what I shall eat and drink." "No," he answered [I
will not let thee remain here]. "I will give thee," he [the
other] insisted, "the half of the cost of the banquet." "No."
"I will give thee the price of the entire banquet." But he
took him by the arm, and made him rise and go out. [The
expelled man] said to himself: "Since the rabbis present at
this scene did not protest, it must be that it pleased them.
Very well! I shall go and eat the morsel [of calumny] upon
them in the presence of the governor." He went to the
governor and said to Caesar: "The Jews are revolting against
thee." Caesar replied: "Who told it thee?" "Send to them,"
replied the other, "a victim [to sacrifice it upon the altar;
for we deduce from the repetition of the word "man" (in Lev.
xvii.) that the non-Jews can offer voluntary sacrifices, like
the Israelites]; thou wilt see if they sacrifice it." Caesar
sent a calf without a blemish, but in transit a blemish
appeared on the large lip [the upper lip], others say on the
lid of the eye (dokin (Dalet Vav Qof Yod Final_Nun))
["tela,"[112] as in Is. xl. 22 Dok (Dalet Vav Qof)],
which constitutes a blemish for us, but not for the Romans
[they could offer it to their gods on the high places,
provided it did not lack a limb]. The rabbis were in favor of
sacrificing the animal in the interest of public peace. Rabbi
Zechariah b. Eukolos objected: "It will be said that you offer
imperfect victims upon the altar." Then they wanted to kill
[the messenger] so that he could not return and report what
had happened. R. Zechariah objected: "It will be said that he
who causes a blemish on a victim should be condemned to death"
[it will be thought that because he caused a blemish on the
victim, and because he thus trangressed [transgressed sic] the
prohibition: "There shall be no blemish therein" (Lev. xxii.
21), he was put to death]. R. Johanan concluded: It is this
complaisance of R. Zechariah b. Eukolos [who did not wish to
put the messenger to death] which destroyed our Temple, burned
our Sanctuary, and exiled us from the land of our fathers
(Gittin 55b)

This passage is less historic than legendary in character; it
forms part of the Haggadic element of the Talmud, In the
explanation of the Haggadah Rashi has preserved its method, so
wise, yet so simple. Others have attempted to be more profound
in interpreting it allegorically. Rashi, with his fund of common
sense, was nearer to the truth. His conception of the naive
tales and beliefs was in itself naive. Moreover, before his time
it was the legislative part of the Talmud that received almost
exclusive attention. The rabbis occupied themselves with
questions of practice and with making decisions, and they tried
to unknot the entanglements of the discussions for the sake of
extracting the norm, the definitive law. This is the case with
Hananel, Rashi's predecessor, as well as with Alfasi,[113]
Rashi's contemporary. Although, as we shall see, the French
rabbi had studied the Talmud for the sake of practical needs, he
adopted, so to speak, a more disinterested point of view. He did
not pretend to write a manual of Talmudic law, but an
uninterrupted running commentary for the use of all who wanted to
make a consecutive study of the Talmud.

In the treatise Baba Batra (73a), the Gemara having
exhausted the few observations it had to present upon the
Mishnah, which speaks of the sail of a vessel and its rigging,
falls back upon some popular narratives, "Tales of the Sea."

Raba said [all the facts that will be recounted are in
illustration of the verse (Psalms civ. 24), "O Lord, how
manifold are thy works!" Some of the facts show that the
righteous are recompensed in the world to come, or they serve
to explain the verses of Job that speak of large birds, of the
Behemot, and of the large cetaceans; in fact, "even the simple
conversations of the rabbis must be instructive"]: Some
sailors reported to me what follows: "The wave which engulfs
[which tries to engulf] a vessel seems to have at its head
[seems to be preceded by] a ray of white fire [a white flame,
which is a wicked angel]. But we beat it with rods (alvata
(Alef Lamed Vav Vav Tav Alef
) [rods, as in these words
'neither with a rod ((Alef Lamed He)) nor with a lance'
in the treatise Shabbat (63a)], which bear these words graven
on them: 'I am He who is, Yah, Eternal Zebaet, Amen, Selah'
[such is the lesson of the text[114] and then it is laid to
rest" [from its agitation].

Raba recounts: Some sailors related to me that which follows:
"Between one wave and another wave there are three hundred
parasangs[115] [it is necessary to give us this detail, for
later on it will be said that the one wave raised its voice to
speak to the other; now, one can make oneself heard at a
distance of three hundred parasangs], and the height of a wave
is likewise three hundred parasangs. Once we were on a voyage,
when a wave raised us [up to the heavens, higher than its own
height; or the heat of the heavens is so great that it extends
to a distance which one could traverse in nearly five hundred
years, the distance of the heavens from the earth[116], so
high that we saw the encampment [the dwelling] of a little
star [of the smallest of stars]; it appeared so large to us,
that one would have been able to sow on its surface forty
measures of mustard seed [which is larger than other seeds],
and if it had raised us more, we would have been burned by its
fumes [by the heat of the star]. Then a wave raised its voice
[that is, called, just as it is said, "Deep calleth unto deep"
(Psalms xlii. 7); or it may mean angels placed over the stars]
and said to its companion: 'My companion, have you left
something in the world which you have not swallowed up [for it
had lifted itself so high, you might have thought it had
sprung from the bed of the sea and had engulfed the world]?
In that case I will go destroy it' [on account of the sins of
man] - It said [the one wave replied to the other]: 'Behold
the might of the Lord: I cannot by one thread [by the breadth
of a thread] go beyond the sand '[that is to say: I cannot
leave the bed of the sea]; thus it is said [it is the Gemara
that cites this verse]: 'Fear ye not me?' saith the Lord.
'Will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the
sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it
cannot pass it?'" (Jer. v. 22).

Raba says: Hormin appeared to me, the son of Lillit [Hormin
with an "n," such is the text which should be adopted, and
which I get from my father; but I have learned from my masters
that it should be read "Hormiz," with a "z," a word which
means demon, as we see in Sanhedrin (39a) "the lower
half of thy body belongs to Hormiz[117], running along the
edge of the wall of Mahuza [This account makes us realize the
goodness of God who loves his creatures and does not permit
evil spirits to injure them; it also teaches us that one must
not risk oneself alone on a voyage]; at the same moment a
horseman galloped by [without thinking of evil], and he could
not catch up to him [for the demon ran so quickly, that the
horseman could not think of overtaking him].

In conclusion I will give one more extract, from the last chapter
of Sanhedrin (92b), which contains a vast number of
curious legends.

Our rabbis taught: Six miracles occurred on that day [the day
on which Nebuchadnezzar threw the friends of Daniel into the
furnace]. These are: the furnace raised itself [for it was
sunk in the ground, like a lime-kiln; on that day it raised
itself to the surface of the ground, so that all could see the
miracle]; the furnace was rent in two [a part of its walls was
riven so that all could look in]; humak suro (He Vav Mem
Qof, Samech Vav Resh Vav)
[its height was lowered, as in
the phrase suro ka (Samech Vav Resh Vav, Resh Ayin)
(Kiddushin 82a); another reading humak duso (He Vav
Mem Qof, Dalet Vav Samech Vav)
like yesodo (Yod Samech
Vav Dalet Vav)
its base was thrown. This is the
explanation taught me by R. Jacob ben Yakar; but my
master[118] reads (He Vav Samech Qof, Samech Yod Dalet,
: the lime of the furnace melted as a result of the
great heat. Such are the explanations of my masters. It was
from the heat thrown out by the lime that those men were
consumed who cast Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into the
burning fiery furnace and that the golden image of the king
was transformed before his eyes]; the image of the king was
transformed before his eyes; the four empires were consumed by
the flames [the kings and their subjects, who aided
Nebuchadnezzar in casting Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into
the fire]; finally, Ezekiel brought the dead to life in the
plain of Dura.[119]

What has been said up to this point indicates the position taken
by Rashi with regard to the Halakah. Unlike Maimonides in his
commentary of the Mishnah, he did not as a rule concern himself
with the fixation of legal principles and practice, or with the
definite solution of questions under controversy. He confined
himself to his task of commentator and interpreter. The brevity
he imposed upon himself made it an obligation not to enter into
long and detailed discussions; for he would have had to dispose
of varying opinions and justify his choice. He carried his
principle to such an extent that it could be said of him, "Rashi
is a commentator, he does not make decisions."[120]

But there are numerous exceptions to the rule. Often Rashi deems
it necessary to state a definite solution, either because it has
been the subject of controversies on the part of his masters, or
because it was difficult to separate it from the rest of the
discussion, or because it served as the point of departure for
another discussion. Finally, the explanation of such and such a
passage of the Talmud presupposes the solution of a question,
unless the solution changes with the explanation of the passage.
When the question is left in suspense by the Talmud, Rashi
usually determines it in the strictest sense; but when it
receives contradictory solutions, he either falls back upon
analogous cases or adduces rules of Talmudic methodology. Often,
however, his conclusion is nothing else than a statement of the
practice observed in his time.

In all these cases Rashi's authority carries great weight; so
much so, in fact, as to overbalance that of Alfasi and
Maimonides. Frequent appeal was made to it by casuists of a later
date, and it would have been invoked still oftener had his
Decisions been gathered together, like those of the Spanish and
German rabbis, instead of having been scattered through a large
number of compilations.

* * * * *

By reason of these and other qualities the Talmudic commentaries
of Rashi without doubt outweigh his Biblical commentaries. I
should be inclined flatly to contradict the opinion ascribed to
Jacob Tam, Rashi's grandson: "So far as my grandfather's
commentary on the Talmud is concerned, I might do as much, but it
would not be in my power to undertake his commentary upon the
Pentateuch." The Biblical commentary is not always absolutely
sure and certain, and the defects are marked. The Talmudic
commentary remains a model and indispensable guide. Although
numerous Biblical commentaries have been composed with Rashi's as
a standard and in order to replace it, no one has dared provide a
substitute for his Talmudic commentary. From an historical point
of view, the value of the Talmudic commentary is no less great.
At the same period, in three countries, three works were composed
which complemented one another and which came to form the basis
of Talmudic studies. At the time when Rashi commented on the
Talmud, Nathan ben Jehiel[121] composed the Talmudic lexicon,
which is still used to a great extent, while Isaac Alfasi in his
Halakot codified all the Talmudic regulations. Of the three
works the first was the most celebrated. The exaggerated
statement was made of Rashi, that "without him the Talmud would
have remained a closed book."[122] And Menahem ben Zerah[123]
said: "There was no one so illuminating, and so concise as Rashi
in the commentary he wrote as if by Divine inspiration. Without
him, the Babylonian Talmud would have been forgotten in Israel."
The echo of this enthusiastic opinion is heard in the words of
the Hebrew scholar H. L. Strack, a Christian, and the modern
Jewish scholar A. Darmesteter. The one says: "Rashi wrote a
commentary which the Jews hold in extraordinarily high regard and
which all must concede is of the greatest value." Darmesteter
wrote: "Suppress the commentary of Rashi, that masterwork of
precision and clearness, and even for a trained Talmudist, the
Talmud becomes almost enigmatical."

Can more be said? The commentary has become, in brief,
The Commentary, the Commentary par excellence, Konteros



In the previous chapter we saw that Rashi, though chiefly
concerned with the mere explanation of the Talmud, nevertheless
intrenched sometimes upon the domain of practice. It must not be
forgotten that at that epoch the life of the Jews was based upon,
and directed by, rabbinical jurisprudence and discipline. The
study of the Talmud was taken up for the sake of finding in it
rules for the daily conduct of existence. Apart from certain
questions purely theoretic in character and having no practical
application, Talmudic studies, far from being confined to the
school, responded to the needs of life and were of real, vital
interest. But since the Talmud is not allcomprehensive, the
rabbis in drawing inspiration from its rules, from precedents it
had already established, and from analogous instances contained
in it, were justified in rendering decisions upon new points
arising out of circumstances as they occurred. Thus, measures
are cited passed by Rashi upon the payment of taxes, Christian
wine, the Mezuzah, phylacteries, etc. These measures
resulted not so much from his own initiative as from the requests
preferred to him by his disciples, or by other rabbis, or even by
private individuals.

The Responsa addressed by rabbinical authorities to individuals
or to communities who had submitted difficult cases and questions
to them for solution, constitute a special genus of post-Biblical
literature. Not to mention their legislative value, how precious
they are as documents in proof of the fact that no distances were
too long, no obstacles too great to prevent the people from
obtaining the opinion of a scholar! They even sent special
messengers to him, when there were no favoring circumstances,
such as a fair at the rabbi's place of residence, or a journey to
be undertaken thither for other reasons than the purpose of the
consultation. Thus lively relations were established among the
Jews of the most widely separated countries; and an active
correspondence went on between scholars of Babylon, Northern
Africa, Spain, France, Germany, and Italy.

The circle of Rashi's connections, however, was limited to France
and Lorraine. His chief correspondents were his teachers and
their disciples.[124] It was only after Rashi's day, when
communication between the Christian and the Moslem worlds became
more frequent, that rabbinical authorities were appealed to from
all the corners of Europe and Africa.

Though his correspondents were not so widely scattered, the
subjects touched upon by Rashi in his Responsa are very varied in
character. He was consulted on the meaning of a Biblical or a
Talmudic passage, on the text of the liturgy, on rules of
grammar, on Biblical chronology, and, especially, on new cases
arising in the practice of religion. These Responsa, inspired,
so to speak, by actualities, by the come and go of daily affairs,
introduce the reader to the material and intellectual life of the
Jews of the time, besides furnishing interesting information
concerning the master's method.

One of the questions most frequently agitated regarded wine of
the Gentiles, the drinking of which was prohibited to the Jews
because it was feared that the wine had been employed for
idolatrous libations. Cases of this kind turned up every day,
because the Jews occupied themselves with viticulture[125] and
maintained constant communication with the Christians. Rashi
showed himself rather liberal. Though, of course, forbidding
Jews to taste the wine, he permitted them to derive other
enjoyment from it, the Christians not being comparable to the
pagans, since they observed the Noachian laws. Rashi's grandson,
Samuel ben Meir, explicitly states in Rashi's name that the laws
set forth by the Talmud against the Gentiles do not apply to the

The brother of Samuel, Jacob Tam, tells us that Rashi forbade the
payment of a tax by using a sum of money left on deposit by a
Christian. This decision, Jacob Tam adds, was intended to apply
to the whole kingdom and, in fact, was accepted throughout
France. This testifies not only to the great authority Rashi
enjoyed, but also to the uprightness, the honesty of his
character. Another of his qualities becomes apparent in a second
Responsum treating of the relations between Jews and Christians.
They carried on trade with each other in wheat and cattle. Now,
the Mishnah forbids these transactions. "When this prohibition
was promulgated," wrote Rashi, "the Jews all dwelt together and
could carry on commerce with one another; but at present, when we
are a minority in the midst of our neighbors, we cannot conform
to so disastrous a measure." Rashi, it is therefore evident,
knew how to take into account the needs of the moment, and
accommodate rules to conditions.

Relations, then, between the Jews and their fellow citizens were
cordial. The horizon seemed serene. But if one looked closer,
one could see the gathering clouds slowly encroaching upon the
calm sky, clouds which were soon to burst in a storm of bloody
hate and murderous ferocity. Although the change came about
imperceptibly and the Jews enjoyed the calm preceding the
tempest, despite this and despite themselves, they entertained a
smothered distrust of the Christians. For instance, they used
ugly expressions to designate objects the Christians venerated.
The Christians responded in kind. The ecclesiastical works of
the time are full of insults and terms of opprobrium aimed at the
Jews. If one reads the narrative of the Crusades, during which
the blood of innocent massacred Jews flowed in streams, one must
perforce excuse, not so much real hostility toward the
Christians, as the employment of malicious expressions directed
against their worship. The feeling that existed was rather the
heritage of tradition, the ancient rivalry of two sister
religions, than true animosity. As for tolerance, no such thing
yet existed. It was difficult at that time for people to
conceive of benevolence and esteem for those who professed a
different belief. The effect of the First Crusade upon the inner
life of the communities was to create anomalous situations within
families, necessitating the intervention of rabbinical
authorities. The Responsa of Rashi dealing with martyrs and
converts no doubt sprang from these sad conditions. A woman,
whose husband died during the persecution, married again without
having previously claimed her jointure from the heirs of her dead
husband; but she wanted to insist on her rights after having
contracted the new union. Rashi, in a Responsum, the conclusions
of which were attacked after his death by several rabbis,
declared that the claim of the woman was entitled to

The echo of the Crusades is heard in other instances. I have
already spoken of the liberal, tolerant attitude[126] assumed by
Rashi in regard to the unfortunates who deserted the faith of
their fathers in appearance only, and sought refuge in that of
their persecutors. He excused the hypocrisy of these weak
beings, who accepted baptism only externally and in their hearts
remained Jews.

In general, so far as questions in regard to lending on interest,
to giving testimony, and to marriage relations were concerned,
Rashi held the apostate to be the same as the Jew. He was once
asked if the testimony of an apostate was valid in law. "It is
necessary," he replied "to distinguish in favor of those who
follow the Jewish law in secret and are not suspected of
transgressing the religious precepts which the Christians oblige
them to transgress outwardly. At bottom they fear God. They
weep and groan over the constraint put upon them, and implore
pardon of God. But if there is a suspicion that they committed
transgressions without having been forced to do so, even if they
have repented with all their heart, and all their soul, and all
their might, they cannot bring evidence ex post facto concerning
facts which they witnessed before they repented."

Rashi, then, was indulgent above all toward those who had been
converted under the compulsion of violence, and who sincerely
regretted their involuntary or imposed apostasy. On one
occasion, he was asked if the wine belonging to such unfortunates
should be forbidden, though they had proved their return to the
Jewish faith by a long period of penitence. Rashi replied: "Let
us be careful not to take measures for isolating them and thereby
wounding them. Their defection was made under the menace of the
sword, and they hastened to return from their wanderings."
Elsewhere Rashi objects to recalling to them their momentary
infidelity. A young girl was married while she and her
bridegroom were in the state of forced apostasy. Rashi declared
the union to be valid, for "even if a Jew becomes a convert
voluntarily, the marriage he contracts is valid. All the more is
this true in the case of those who are converted by force, and
whose heart always stays with God, and especially, as in the
present case, if they have escaped as soon as they could from the
faith they embraced through compulsion."

Since internal union is the surest safeguard against persecution
from without, Rashi earnestly exhorted his brethren to shun
intestine strife. "Apply yourselves to the cultivation of
peace," he once wrote. "See how your neighbors are troubled by
the greatest evils and how the Christians delight in them.
Concord will be your buckler against envy and prevent it from
dominating you." In a community, doubtless that of Chalons-
sur-Saone, in Burgundy,[127] there were two families that
quarrelled [quarreled sic] continually. The community had
intervened to stop the strife, but one of the two families
declared in advance that it would not submit to its decision. A
member of the other family, irritated, reproached one of his
enemies with having been baptized. Now Rabbenu Gershom, under
penalty of excommunication, had forbidden people to recall his
apostasy to a converted Jew. Rashi was asked to remove this
prohibition; but he declined, not wishing to intervene in the
internal administration of a strange community. "What am I that
I should consider myself an authority in other
places?... I am a man of little importance, and my
hands are feeble, like those of an orphan. If I were in the
midst of you, I would join with you in annulling the
interdiction." From this it is evident that the strongest weapon
of the rabbinical authorities against the intractable was, as in
the Church, excommunication; but that sometimes individuals
asserted, and even swore in advance, that they would not yield to
the decree against them. Rashi considered that this oath, being
contrary to law, was null and void.

Rashi, guided by the same feelings, was pitiless in his
condemnation of those who fomented trouble, who sowed discord in
families, sometimes in their own households. A man, after having
made promise to a young girl, refused to marry her and was upheld
in his intrigues by a disciple of Rashi. Rashi displayed great
severity toward the faithless man for his treatment of the girl,
and he was not sparing even in his denunciation of the
accomplice. Another man slandered his wife, declaring that she
suffered from a loathsome disease, and through his lying charges
he obtained a divorce from her. But the truth came to light, and
Rashi could not find terms sufficiently scathing to denounce a
man who had recourse to such base calumnies and sullied his own
hearth. "He is unworthy," Rashi wrote, "to belong to the race of
Abraham, whose descendants are always full of pity for the
unfortunate; and all the more for a woman to whom one is bound in
marriage. We see that even those who do not believe in God
respect the purity of the home, - and here is a man who has
conducted himself so unworthily toward a daughter of our Heavenly
Father." After indicating what course is to be pursued in case
of divorce, Rashi concluded: "But it would be better if this man
were to make good his mistake and take back his wife, so that God
may take pity on him, and he may have the good fortune to build
up his home again and live in peace and happiness."

The Responsa, providing us, as we have seen, with interesting
information concerning Rashi's character, are no less important
for giving us knowledge of his legal and religious opinions. As
a result of the poise of his nature, and in the interest of
order, he attached great importance to traditional usages and
customs. Innovations are dangerous, because they may foment
trouble; to abide by custom, on the contrary, is the surest
guarantee of tranquillity [tranquility sic]. In casuistical
questions not yet solved, he did not adopt as his principle the
one prevailing with so many rabbis, of rendering the strictest
decision; on the contrary, in regard to many matters, he was more
liberal than his masters or his colleagues. Nevertheless, he
congratulated those whose interpretation in certain cases was
more severe than his own. In his scrupulous piety, he observed
certain practices, although he refused to set them up as laws for
others, since, one of his disciples tells us, he did not wish to
arrogate to himself the glory of instituting a rule for the
future. He contented himself with saying: "Blessed be he who
does this." Since he stuck to the rigid observance of religion,
and feared to open the door to abuses, he advised his pupils not
to give too much publicity to certain of his easy interpretations
of the Law.

If he did not approve of laxity, he had still less sympathy with
the extreme piety bordering on folly of those whom he called
"crazy saints." Enemy to every exaggeration, he blamed those
who, for example, imposed upon themselves two consecutive fast
days. Once when the Fast of Esther fell on a Thursday, a woman
applied to Rashi for advice. She told him she was compelled to
accompany her mistress on a trip, and asked him whether she might
fast the next day. Rashi in his Responsum first recalled the
fact that the Fast of Esther was not mentioned either in the
Bible or in the Talmud, and then declared that the over-
conscientious Jews who fast on Friday in order to make a feast
day follow close upon a fast day, deserve to be called fools who
walk in darkness.[128]

Finally, although Rashi was very scrupulous in matters of
religion, he was tolerant toward faults and failings in others.
Sinners and, as I have shown, even apostates found grace with
him. He liked to repeat the Talmudic saying to which, in
generalizing it, he gave a new meaning, "An Israelite, even a
sinful one, remains an Israelite."

There is little to say concerning the style of Rashi's Responsa.
In the setting forth and the discussion of the questions under
consideration, his usual qualities are present - precision,
clearness, soberness of judgment. But the preambles - sometimes a
bit prolix - are written after the fashion prevailing among the
rabbis of the time, in a complicated, pretentious style, often
affecting the form of rhymed prose and always in a poetic jargon.
With this exception, the Responsa do not betray the least
straining after effect, the least literary refinement. The very
fact that Rashi did not himself take the precaution to collect
his Responsa, proves how little he cared to make a show with
them, though, it is true, the custom of gathering together one's
Responsa did not arise until later, originating in Spain, and
passing on to Germany. As I shall immediately proceed to show, it
was Rashi's disciples who collected the Responsa of their master
and preserved them for us, at least in part.



After having passed in review the works which are the result of
Rashi's own labor and which have come down to us in the shape in
which they emerged from his hands, or nearly so, several works
remain to be described that present a double character; they did
not spring directly from Rashi's pen, but were written by his
pupils under his guidance, or, at least, as the result of his
inspiration and influence. They have reached us in altered form,
amplified, and sometimes improved, sometimes spoiled by various
authors. The confusion reigning in these works has contributed
toward an inexact appreciation of their function. From the first
they were meant to be compilations, collections of rules, rather
than works having a specified object.

To point out the fact once again, Rashi's pupils became his
collaborators; and, it must be added, they established a
veritable cult of their master. They neglected nothing
concerning him; they carefully noted and piously recorded his
slightest deed and gesture, on what day they had seen him, under
what circumstances, how he felt that day, and how he conducted
himself at the table. When a case similar to some previous one
arose, they contented themselves with referring to the former and
reproducing the discussion to which it had given rise.

It is to this veneration, bordering on religious devotion, that
we owe the preservation of Rashi's Responsa and Decisions. Some
entered into the collections of the Babylonian Geonim, - a fact
which shows how highly people regarded the man who was thus
ranked with the greatest rabbinical authorities, - but most of
them formed the basis of several independent works: the Sefer
(Book of Paradise), the Sefer ha-Orah (Book
of Light?), the Sefer Issur-we-Heter (Book of Things
Prohibited and Things Permitted), and the Mahzor Vitry.
The first work was edited at the beginning, the last, at the end,
of the nineteenth century, and part of the second was introduced
into the first by the editor of the first. The whole of the
second has just been published by Mr. Solomon Buber. The third
work, which offers many resemblances to the Mahzor Vitry,
is still in manuscript; but Mr. Buber has recently promised us
its publication in the near future, as well as a Siddur,
or ritual, of Rashi, related to the Mahzor Vitry and to a
Sefer ha-Sedarim.

In all these collections it is sometimes difficult to determine
what is Rashi's handiwork, or which of his pupils is responsible
for certain passages. The composition of the works is, in fact,
original and merits brief characterization.

The Sefer ha-Pardes, though commonly attributed to Rashi
himself, cannot possibly have been his work, since it contains
rules, decisions, and Responsa made by several of his
contemporaries, and even by some of his successors. Among others
are additions by Joseph Ibn Plat or his disciples (second half of
the twelfth century). But in respect of one of its constituent
elements, it was a creation of Rashi's. It was formed, in fact,
by the fusion of two collections. The author of the one
containing the customs of the three cities of Speyer, Worms, and
Mayence, must have been one of the Machirites; while the author
of the other, comprising Rashi's practices and Responsa, must
have been his disciple Shemaiah.[129]

The Sefer ha-Pardes is a widely-read book, and it has been
used, sometimes under other titles, by the greater number of
legal compilations made in France and Germany. It passed through
various redactions, and the one now extant is not the most

The Sefer ha-Orah, the redaction of which is sometimes
attributed, though wrongly so, to Nathan haMachiri, is a
compilation of several works, which seem to have been written in
Spain at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It consists of
two principal elements; the first, German in origin, is similar
to the Pardes now extant; the second is the work of the Spaniard,
Judah ben Barzillai, of Barcelona (twelfth century). It is, of
course, in the first that one finds fragments of works which date
back to the disciples of Rashi.

The Mahzor Vitry is a more or less homogeneous work. It
contains rules of jurisprudence and of religious practice,
Responsa by Rashi, by his predecessors, and by his
contemporaries, prayers and liturgic poems, "Minor" Talmudic
treatises, the whole divided into chapters following the yearly
cycle, and bearing upon the various circumstances of life. The
work contains many additions due to Isaac ben Durbal, or Durbalo,
who visited the countries of Eastern Europe and was the disciple
of Rabbenu Tam (about 1150). He is wrongly considered to be the
redactor of the Mahzor Vitry. The author of the work is,
without doubt, Simhah ben Samuel, of Vitry, a disciple of Rashi
(about 1100), who availed himself, moreover, of the works of
other pupils of the master.

The Mahzor Vitry is of great importance not only for the
historian of Rashi, but also for the historian of Franco - Jewish
culture and literature at that time. The same may be said of the
Sefer ha-Pardes. Yet this material must be used with the
utmost caution; for it has come to us in a sad condition,
disfigured by the compilers and copyists, who introduced elements
from various sources and different epochs. The original works
disappeared during the persecutions and autos-da-fe which
followed one another in France and Germany. The redactions now
extant come from Spain and Italy.

These short analyses may give an idea of the collections not yet
edited; for they all stand in relation one with the other, and
are in great part formed of the same elements and derived from
the same material.



Almost immediately upon the birth of liturgical poetry in the
time of the Geonim, an illustrious representative arose in the
person of Eleazar ha-Kalir,[130] who came to exercise a profound
influence upon his successors, and in Rashi's day this poetry
attained a high degree of development. That was the time when
Jews, instead of merely listening to the officiating minister,
commenced to accompany him with their voices in antiphonal

Like most of the rabbis of his time, Rashi wrote liturgical
poems, the number of which Zunz, with more or less surety, places
at seven. Three are still preserved in some rituals. According
to Luria, Rashi composed more than this number.

It is fair to question whether a Talmudist is fashioned to be a
poet, and whether it is possible for love of discussion and
dialectics to accord with poetic sensibility and imagination.
Indeed, the liturgical poetry of the Jews of France and Germany
has not the least artistic value. It shows neither concern for
originality, nor knowledge of composition, and the poets were
strangers to the conception of art and beauty. Moreover, they
imposed upon themselves rather complicated rules, the most simple
forms adopted being rhyme and acrostic. Sometimes they
accomplished veritable feats of mental gymnastics, whose merit
resided in the mere fact that a difficulty was overcome. Too
often a play upon words or alliteration takes the place of
inspiration, and ideas give way to factitious combinations.

These defects disappear in a translation, which is all the more
acceptable for the very reason that it does not reproduce the
vivid coloring of the original. The following, recited on the
Fast of gedaliah (az terem nimteju (Alef zayin, Mem resh
Final_Mem, Nun mem Tav Het Vav)
), may serve as an example.
Rashi uses certain Midrashim in it which describe the throne of
God and the heavenly court. Such poetry as there is - and there
is some - is overlaid and submerged by the slow development of
the thought and the painfully detailed enumerations, strongly
reminiscent of the Bible. It should be said that the language of
Rashi is far simpler than that of his contemporaries.

Before yet the clouds were gathered in a canopy,
Before yet the earth was rounded as a sphere,
Thou didst prepare seven in Thy abode:
The sacred Law, the splendid throne, the backslider's return,
Paradise in all its beauty, and insatiable hell,
The atonement place for sacrificial offerings,
And the resplendent name of him who delays to come because of
all our sins.
Two thousand years before our globe were these,
Set as jewels in the sky, whence earthward gleamed their
In the realms above they ready stand round Him enthroned
between the Cherubim.
Firm established is the heavenly throne for the King supreme
Whose glory is shed upon all within His presence:
By His right hand the Law engraved with flaming letters
He caresses like a child beloved.
Toward the south lies the ever-fragrant Garden,
Hell with its ever-burning flames to the north,
Eastward Jerusalem built on strong foundations,
In the midst of it the sanctuary of God,
And in the sanctuary the altar of expiation,
Weighted with the corner-stone of the world,
Whereon is graven the Messiah's holy name
Beside the great Ineffable Name.
In the centre [center sic] before Him who is the source of all
blessings stands Repentance,
The healing balm for the suffering and afflicted soul,
Appointed to remove each blemish, array the repentant in
unsoiled garments,
And pour precious oil on the head of sorrowing sinners.
Thus we all, both old and young, appear before Thee.
Wash off our every taint, our souls refine from every sin.
Backsliding children, we come to Thee as suppliants,
Seeking Thee day by day with humble, urgent prayers.
Account them unto us as blood and fat of offerings,
Like sacrificial steers and rams accept our contrite words.
O that our sins might be sunk in abysmal depths,
And Thy brooding infinite mercy bring us near to Thee.

In the first part of this poem the imagination displayed cannot
be said to call forth admiration either by reason of fertility or
by reason of brilliance. Any ordinary student of the Talmud and
the Midrash might have produced it. Nevertheless Rashi awakens a
certain sort of interest, it may even be said that he touches the
emotions, when he pours out all his sadness before God, or rather
- for his grief is impersonal - the sadness of the Jew, the
humble sinner appealing to the mercy of God. When his feelings
rise to their most solemn pitch, their strong pulsations visible
through the unaccustomed poetic garb, the cloak of learned
allusions drops of itself, and emotion is revealed under the
strata of labored expressions. All the poems by Rashi belong
under the literary form called Selihot, penitential
psalms, recited on fast days.

What has been said of the first specimen quoted applies equally
to the next (Hashem Elohei Hatzevaot Bore Baolionim (Yod Yod,
Alef Lamed He Yod, He Tsadi Bet Alef Vav Tav, Bet Vav Resh Alef,
Bet Ayin Lamed Yod Vav Nun Yod Final_Mem)
), for the eve of
the Day of Atonement. It would have been more effective, had
there been less emphasis and a more consecutive development of
the thought.

... Of all bereft we appear before Thee, --
Thine is the justice, ours the sin, --
Our faces flushed with shame we turn to Thee,
And at Thy gates we moan like doves.
Vouchsafe unto us a life of tranquil joy,
Purge us of our stains, make us white and pure.
O that our youthful faults might vanish like passing clouds!
Renew our days as of old,
Remove defilement hence, set presumptuous sins at naught;
The purifying waters of truth sprinkle upon us,
For we confess our transgressions, we rebellious, faithless

* * * * *

O that a contrite spirit, a broken, repentant heart
Be acceptable to Thee as the fat of sacrifices!
Accomplish for the children Thy promise to the fathers.
From Thy celestial abode hearken unto us who cry to Thee!
Strengthen the hearts of those inclined to pay Thee homage,
Lend Thy ear unto their humble supplication.
Yet once more rescue Thy people from destruction.
Let Thy olden mercy speedily descend on them again,
And Thy favored ones go forth from judgment justified, --
They that hope for Thy grace and lean upon Thy loving-kindness.

The final specimen (tefilah lekadma (Tav Pe Lamed He, Lamed
Qof Dalet Mem Final_Nun
) is still more pathetic in its
tearful contrition. The last lines even rise to unusual beauty
when they point down a shining vista of happy, serene days.

At morn we order our prayers, and wait to offer them to Thee.
Not sacrificial rams we bring to Thee, but hearts contrite and
O that the tribute of our lips might plead our cause,
When suppliants we stand before Thy threshold, watching and
The early dawn awakens us, and our faces are suffused with
Our hearts beat fast, we whisper softly, hoarse and weary with
calling on Thee.
We are cast down, affrighted, -- Thy judgment comes.
To Thy teaching we turned deaf ears,
And unto evil were seduced.
Rebellious were we, when Thou camest to guide us aright,
And now we stand abashed with lowered eyes.

Our ruin Thou didst long past see --
Is Thy fiery wrath still unappeased?
We sinned in days agone, we suffer now, our wounds are open,
Thy oath is quite accomplished, the curse fulfilled.
Though long we tarried, we seek Thee now, timid, anxious,
--we, poor in deeds.
Before we perish, once more unto Thy children join Thyself.
A heavenly sign foretells Thy blessing shall descend on us.
Brute force is shattered, and with night all round about,
Thy affianced spouse, loving, yearning,
Calls on Thy faithfulness; she pleads with her eyes, and asks,
is still she Thine,
Is hers Thy love for aye?

The uniformity and monotony of this poetry, it must be admitted,
weary the reader. The author never goes beyond a narrow circle of
ideas, and general ideas at that. It is impossible to make out
whether the allusions are to contemporaneous events, the
persecutions connected with the First Crusade, for instance, or
whether they refer to the ancient, traditional wrongs and
sufferings. Nowhere is Rashi's poetry relieved by a touch of
personal bias. It cannot be denied, however, that the poems
testify to a fund of sincerity and enthusiasm, and that is
noteworthy in a period of literary decadence, when it often
happens that sincerity of sentiment fails by a good deal to find
sincere expression for itself. Esthetic inadequacy should by no
means be taken as synonymous with insincerity. Rashi proves,
that without being an artist one can be swayed by emotion and
sway the emotions of others, particularly when the dominant
feeling is sadness. "The prevailing characteristic of Rashi's
prayers," says Zunz, the first historian of synagogue poetry as
well as the first biographer of Rashi, "is profound sadness; all
of them are filled with bitter plaints." Finally, if the
Selihot by Rashi fall far short of our idea and our ideal
of poetry, they at least possess the interest attaching to all
that relates to their illustrious author.






The preceding chapters show how voluminous and varied was Rashi's
work. And yet we are far from possessing everything he wrote; a
number of texts have disappeared, perhaps are lost forever. But
this fertility is not Rashi's sole literary merit. If the
excellence of a work is to be measured not only by its intrinsic
value, but also by its historical influence, by the scientific
movement to which it has given the impulse, by the literature
which it has called into being, in short, by its general effect,
no work should receive a higher estimate than that of Rashi, for,
it may be said without exaggeration, no other work was ever the
occasion of so much comment and discussion, and none exerted an
influence so far reaching and enduring. From the moment of their
appearance his writings spread rapidly, and were read with
enthusiasm. After profoundly affecting his contemporaries, Rashi
continued to guide the movement he had started. His influence
upon rabbinical literature is comparable only with that of
Maimonides. Indeed, it was more wholesome than his. The
Talmudic codex established by Maimonides aimed at nothing less
than to shut off the discussions and to give the oral law firm,
solid shape. Rashi, on the contrary, safeguarded the rights of
the future, and gave his successors full play. Again, not having
introduced into his work philosophic speculations, he was
shielded against criticism, and his renown was therefore more
immaculate than that of the author of the Mishneh Torah, who had
to undergo furious attacks.

Rashi dominates the entire rabbinical movement in France and
Germany. Generally, the influence of a writer wanes from day to
day; but as for Rashi's, it may he said to have increased by
force of habit and as the result of events, and to have broadened
its sphere. Limited at first to French, Lotharingian, and German
centres [centers sic] of learning, it soon extended to the south
of Europe, to Africa, and even to Asia, maintaining its force
both in the field of Biblical exegesis and of Talmudic

Since it is impossible to mention all the authors and works
following and preceding Rashi, it must suffice to point out some
characteristic facts and indispensable names in order to bring
into relief the vitality and expansive force of his achievement,
and to show how it has survived the ravages of time, and, what is
more, how it has overcome man's forgetfulness - edax tempus,
edacior homo.
We shall see that Rashi directed the course of
the later development at the same time that he summed up in his
work all that had previously been accomplished.

"The example of a man as revered as Rashi for his piety, his
character, and his immense learning was bound to make a
profound and lasting impression upon his contemporaries. His
descendants and his numerous disciples, pursuing with equal
zeal the study of the Talmud and that of Scriptures, took as
their point of departure in either study the commentaries of
their ancestor and master, to which they added their own
remarks, now to enlarge upon and complete the first work, now
to discuss it, refute it, and substitute new views. Thus
arose the Tossafot, or additional glosses upon the Talmud, and
thus in the following generations arose new commentaries upon
the Pentateuch or upon the entire Bible, in which the rational
spirit evoked by Rashi assumed a more and more marked and
exclusive form."[131]

Finally, Rashi's influence was not confined either within the
walls of the Jewries or within the frontiers of France, but it
radiated to foreign lands and to ecclesiastical circles.


It may be said without exaggeration that Rashi's Talmudic
commentary renewed rabbinical studies in France and in Germany.
It propagated knowledge of the Talmud there and multiplied the
academies. In fact, schools were founded in all localities
containing Jewish communities no matter how insignificant; and it
is difficult for us to obtain any idea of the number and
importance of these "Faculties," scattered over the length and
breadth of Northern France, which thus became a very lively
centre [center sic] of Jewish studies and the chief theatre
[theater sic] of the intellectual activity of the Occidental
Jews. Its schools eclipsed those of the Rhenish countries and
rivalled [rivaled sic] in glory those of Spain.

What in the first instance contributed to the success of the
movement begun by Rashi, is the fact that he moulded [molded sic]
numerous disciples - in this more fortunate than Maimonides, who
was unable to found a school and who sowed in unploughed land.
It was only with the lapse of time that his work little by little
made its way, while Rashi through his teaching exerted an
absolutely direct and, as it were, living influence. Rashi's
authority was such that Troyes became the chief centre [center
sic] of studies. Many pupils flocked to it and there composed
important works, casting into sure and permanent form the
intellectual wealth they had gathered while with their master.
They put the finishing touches to his work and labored to
complete it, even during his life, and as though under his

I have already spoken of Simhah ben Samuel de Vitry, author of
the liturgical and ritual collection, Mahzor Vitry.[132]
Among other disciples not so well known are Mattathias ben Moses,
of Paris, Samuel ben Perigoros, Joseph ben Judah, and Jacob ben
Simson (1123), who lived at Paris or Falaise and wrote Responsa
at the dictation of his master, and, besides commentaries, a
Mahzor, and an astronomic work. He was in turn the master of
Jacob Tam.

Judah ben Abraham, of Paris, aided by suggestions from his
master, wrote a ceremonial for the Passover. In carrying out his
task, he availed himself of the notes of his older fellow
disciple Simhah, and his collaborator was Shemaiah, who had
already worked on Rashi's commentary on Ezekiel. Besides,
Shemaiah made additions to Rashi's Talmudic commentaries, and
composed several commentaries under his guidance. He also
collected and edited Rashi's Decisions and Responsa, serving, as
it were, as Rashi's literary executor. Moreover, he was a
relative of Rashi's, though the degree of kinship is not known,
the evidence of authors upon the subject being contradictory.
Some maintain he was Rashi's grandson, or son-in-law, or the son-
in-law of his sister; according to others - and this seems more
exact he was the father-in-law of a brother of Jacob Tam.

At all events, it was Rashi's relatives who contributed most to
his renown. "In regard to his family Rashi enjoyed unexampled
good fortune," says Zunz. "It was not only through his
disciples, but also through his family that the founder of
rabbinical literature in France and Germany established his
reputation, spread his works, and added to the lustre [luster
sic] of his name." A fact which no doubt helped to assure the
direction of the studies made by Rashi's descendants, is that
they possessed the manuscripts written and corrected by their
ancestor; and these autographs were veritable treasures at a time
when books were rare and copies inexact.

One of Rashi's sons-in-law, Judah ben Nathan,[133] was a
scholarly and highly esteemed Talmudist. At the suggestion of
his father-in-law, he completed Rashi's commentaries and
continued the work after Rashi's death, using as his chief aid
the oral explanations he had received from him. The son of
Judah, Yomtob, was also a good Talmudist.

The other son-in-law, Meir ben Samuel (about 1065-1135), was
originally from the little town of Rameru,[134] which through him
and his sons became an important intellectual centre [center sic]
for more than a half century. Meir was a distinguished scholar
whom his sons sometimes cite as an authority. He wrote Responsa
in association with his master and father-in-law. As I have
already stated, Meir ben Samuel married a daughter of Rashi,
Jochebed, by whom he had four sons and a daughter, Miriam, the
wife of Samuel of Vitry. One of the sons, Solomon, has been
known to us for only about twelve years, although he had a
reputation as a Talmudic and Biblical scholar, chiefly the
latter, having received the surname of "father of grammarians."
His reputation, however, was eclipsed by that of his three
brothers, who have poetically been called the three vigorous
branches of the tree of which Rashi was the trunk. These were
Samuel ben Meir, surnamed Rashbam, Jacob ben Meir, surnamed Jacob
Tam, or Rabbenu Tam, and finally Isaac ben Meir, surnamed Ribam.
The last, who lived without doubt at Rameru and there composed
Tossafot,[135] died during the life-time of his father,
leaving seven young children. He did not equal his brothers
either in knowledge or renown.

Samuel ben Meir (about 1085-1158) studied under his grandfather.
As we have seen[136] he discussed exegetic questions with Rashi,
and went so far as to express opinions in his presence concerning
points of casuistry. On Rashi's death, it seems, he assumed the
direction of the school at Troyes; but he was more prominently
identified with the academy which he, following in the steps of
his master, founded at Rameru, and which soon became prosperous.
It was at Rameru, too, that he wrote his valuable Talmudic
commentaries.[137] Among his pupils are said to have been Isaac
ben Asher ha-Levi, of Speyer, and Joseph Porat ben Moses, known
also as Don Bendit. Samuel ben Meir's was a bold, independent
spirit. In some instances he sacrificed a Talmudic explanation
for the sake of one that seemed more natural to him. In addition
he had a fair amount of scientific and philosophic knowledge, and
he was very productive in the field of literature.

But Rashbam's authority, if not his knowledge, was exceeded by
that of his younger brother Jacob. Jacob Tam, born about 1100,
was still a very young child when Rashi died. He studied under
the guidance of his father, on whose death he assumed the
direction of the academy of Rameru in his father's place. Then
he went to Troyes, where he was surrounded by numerous pupils,
some from countries as distant as Bohemia and Russia. One of his
best known disciples was Eliezer ben Samuel, of Metz (died about
1198), author of the Sefer Yereim (Book of the Pious).
Other pupils of his mentioned were Moses ben Abraham, of
Pontoise, to whom he wrote in particularly affectionate terms,
and Jacob of Orleans, a scholar held in high regard, who died at
London in 1189 in the riot that broke out the day of Richard I's
coronation. A year later, in 1190, the liturgical poet and
Biblical commentator Yomtob de Joigny died at York. It seems
that Jacob Tam, like his successors, had to suffer from the
popular hate and excesses. In fact he tells how, on one
occasion, on the second day of Pentecost (possibly at the time of
the troubles resulting from the Second Crusade), he was robbed
and wounded, and was saved from death only through the
intervention of a lord. The end of his life was saddened by the
auto-da-fe of Blois, at which numerous Jews suffered
martyrdom. He perpetuated the memory of that occasion by
instituting a fast day. He died in 1171, universally regretted
for his clear and accurate intellect, his piety, uprightness,
amiability, and modesty. His contemporaries considered him the
highest rabbinical authority, and he was consulted by persons as
remote as in the south of France and the north of Spain. He
possessed a remarkably original, broad yet subtle intellect, and
his writings display keen penetration and singular vigor of
thought. He devoted himself chiefly to Biblical exegesis; but in
this domain he obtained a reputation less through the purely
exegetical parts than through the critical work in which he
defended the grammarian Menahem against the attacks of
Dunash.[138] His liturgical compositions and the short poems
with which he sometimes prefaced his Responsa show that he was a
clever poet, an imitator of the Spaniards. Abraham Ibn Ezra
while on his rovings in France was one of his correspondents.

However, Jacob Tam, or, to call him by his title of honor,
Rabbeun Tam, - in allusion to Gen. xxv. 27, where Jacob is
described as "tam," a man of integrity - owed his renown to his
Talmudic activity, which he exerted in an original line of work
though he was not entirely free from the influence of Rashi. If
he was not the creator of a new sort of Talmudic literature, he
was at least one of its first representatives. Either because he
considered the commentaries of his grandfather impossible to
imitate, or because he could not adapt himself to their
simplicity and brevity, he took pleasure in raising ingenious
objections against them and proposing original solutions. These
explanations joined to his Decisions and Responsa were collected
by him in a work called Sefer ha-Yashar (Book of the
Just), of which he himself made two redactions. The one we now
possess was put together - rather inaccurately - after the death
of the author according to the second recension. The Sefer
was used a great deal by later Talmudists. It may
be said to have inaugurated the form of literature called

As the word signifies, the Tossafot are "additional notes,"
"Novellae," upon the Talmud. They display great erudition,
ingenuity, and forcible logic, and they represent a prodigious
effort of sharp analysis and hardbound dialectics. The authors
of the Tossafot, the Tossafists, were marvellously [marvelously
sic] skilful [skillful sic] at turning a text about and viewing
it in all its possible meanings, at discovering intentions and
unforeseen consequences. Their favorite method was to raise one
or more objections, to set forth one or more contradictions
between two texts, and then to propound one or more solutions,
which, if not marked by simplicity and verisimilitude, none the
less bear the stamp of singularly keen insight. In their hands
the study of the Talmud became a sturdy course in intellectual
gymnastics. It refined the intellect and exercised the sense of
logic. Yet it would be a mistake to see in the Tossafot nothing
but the taste for controversy and love of discussion for the sake
of discussion. The Tossafists, even more than Rashi, sought to
deduce the norm, especially the practical norm, from the Talmudic
discussions, and discover analogies permitting the solution of
new cases. Thus, while Rashi's commentary is devoted to the
explanation of words, and, more generally, of the simple meaning
of the text, the Tossafot enter into a searching consideration of
the debates of the Talmud. Moreover, Rashi composed short but
numerous notes, while the Tossafists wrote lengthier but less
consecutive commentaries. At the same time one of Rashi's
explanations is a fragment of the Tossafot explanation. Thus,
the commentary of the Tossafists exists in abridged form, as it
were, in germ, in the commentary of Rashi. Rashi was the
constant guide of the Tossafists. His commentary, "the
Commentary," as they called it, was ever the basis for their
"additions." They completed or discussed it; in each case they
made it their point of departure, and his influence is apparent
at every turn. The species of literature called Tossafot is not
only thoroughly French in origin, but, it may said, without Rashi
it would never have come into existence. The authors of the
Tossafot are as much the commentators of Rashi as they are of the
Talmud.[139] The Tossafot bear the same relation to his Talmudic
commentary as the Gemara to the Mishnah. Like the Amoraim in
regard to the Tannaim, the Tossafists set themselves the task of
completing and correcting the work of the master; for, despite
their veneration for Rashi, they did not by any means spare him
in their love of truth.

The first Tossafists, both in point of age and worth, were not
only the disciples, but also, as we have seen, even the
descendants of Rashi. "We drink," said R. Tam, "at the source
of R. Solomon." One of the most celebrated Tossafists was a
great-grandson of Rashi, Isaac ben Samuel (about 1120-1195)
surnamed the Elder, son of a sister of R. Tam and grandson, on
his father's side, of Simhah, of Vitry. Born without doubt at
Rameru, he attended the school of his two uncles, Samuel ben Meir
and Jacob Tam. When Jacob Tam left for Troyes, Isaac ben Samuel
took his place. Later he founded a school at Dampierre,[140]
where, it is said, he had sixty pupils, each of whom knew one of
the treatises of the Talmud by heart. Through his departure,
Rameru lost its importance as a centre [center sic] of study. He
collected and co-ordinated various explanations growing out of
Rashi's commentaries. Thus he established the foundations for
the Tossafot, on every page of which his name appears.

He was the teacher of the most learned Talmudists of the end of
the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century. His son
and collaborator Elhanan, a highly esteemed rabbi, died before
him, some say as a martyr. Among his disciples are said to have
been Baruch ben Isaac, originally from Worms, later resident of
Ratisbon, author of the Sefer ha-Terumah (Book of the
Heave-Offering), one of the first and most influential casuistic
collections (about 1200); Isaac ben Abraham, called the Younger
to distinguish him from his master, whom he succeeded and who
died a little before 1210; and the brother of Isaac, Samson of
Sens (about 1150-1230), whose commentaries, according to the
testimony of Asheri, exercised the greatest influence upon the
study of the Talmud. He was one of the most illustrious
representatives of the French school, and his authority was very
great. His usual abiding place was Sens in Burgundy, but about
1211 he emigrated to Palestine in the company of some other
scholars. He met his death at St. Jean d'Acre.

By this time Champagne had proved too contracted a field for the
activity of so many rabbis. Flourishing schools arose in Ile-de-
France and Normandy; and it is related that at Paris, in the
first half of the twelfth century, lived the scholarly and pious
Elijah ben Judah, who carried on a controversy about phylacteries
with his kinsman Jacob Tam. But the most celebrated Tossafist of
Paris without reserve was Judah Sir Leon, born in 1166 and died
in 1224, a descendant of Rashi. The school of Paris having been
closed after the expulsion of 1181, Judah went to study at
Dampierre under the guidance of Isaac and his son Elhanan. Among
his fellow-disciples, besides the rabbis already mentioned, were
Samson Sir of Coucy, Solomon of Dreux, Simon of Joinville,
Abraham ben Nathan, of Lunel, and others. In 1198 Philip
Augustus recalled the Jews he had expelled, and the community
again prospered. Judah re-established the school, which soon
assumed the first place in the list of academies. Among his
numerous pupils mention is made of Moses ben Jacob, of Coucy,
brother-in-law of Samson and 'author of the famous Sefer
Mizwot Gadol
(Great Book of Precepts), abbreviated to
Semag, which shows the mingled influence of the Mishneh
of Maimonides and of the Tossafot of the French
masters; Isaac ben Moses, of Vienna, who carried into Austria the
methods and teachings of his French masters, surnamed Or
after the title of his work, a valuable ritual
compilation; and Samuel ben Solomon Sir Morel,[141] of Falalse
(about 1175-1253), whose most celebrated pupil was Meir of
Rothenburg, the greatest authority of his country and his time,
known for his dramatic end as well as for his great intellectual
activity (1225-1293).

The successor of Judah Sir Leon was Jehiel ben Joseph, or Sir
Vives, of Meaux. At this time the school is said to have counted
three hundred pupils. In the disputation of 1240,[142] Jehiel
ben Joseph together with Moses of Coucy, Samuel of Falaise, and
another less well-known rabbi, Judah ben David, of Melun,
represented the Jews. A Christian source calls Jehiel "the
cleverest and most celebrated of all the Jews." When he left for
Palestine in 1260 the school of Paris was closed not to be opened

Jehiel left behind him in France two important disciples, his
son-in-law, Isaac ben Joseph, of Corbeil (died in 1280), who in
1277 published the "Columns of Exile," also called Sefer
Mizwot Katan
(Little Book of Precepts), abbreviated to
Semak, a religious and ethical collection, which enjoyed
great vogue; and Perez ben Elia, of Corbeil (died about 1295),
who mentions Isaac as his master also. Perez visited Brabant and
Germany, where he maintained relations with Meir of Rothenburg.
Among his pupils there was Mordecai ben Hillel, an authority
highly esteemed for his decisions, who died a martyr at Nuremberg
in 1298. Another master of his was Samuel ben Shneor, of Evreux
(about 1225), a much-quoted Tossafist, who studied under the
guidance of his elder brother Moses, editor of the "Tossafot of
Evreux," largely used for the present printed editions of the
Tossafot. In the second half of the thirteenth century, Eliezer
of Touques compiled the Tossafot of Sens, of Evreux, etc., adding
his own explanations on the margin. His work forms the chief
basis for our present Tossafot to the Talmud.

As always with redactions and compilations, these mentioned here
are a sign of the discontinuance of studies, worn threadbare by
two centuries of intense activity. Decadence, moreover, was
brought about more rapidly, as we shall see, by the misfortunes
that successively befell the Jews of France.


Rashi's influence was no less enduring and no less wholesome in
the province of Biblical exegesis. An idea of the impression he
made may be gained from the fact that more than fifty super-
commentaries were written on his commentary on the Pentateuch, to
explain or to complete it, to defend it, and occasionally to
combat it. But Rashi's influence was productive of still more
than this. It called into being original works superior even to
his own. His disciples shook off the yoke of Talmudic and
Midrashic tradition that had rested upon him. But even when they
surpassed him, it was nevertheless his influence that was acting
upon them and his authority to which they appealed.

Samuel ben Meir, diffuse as were his Talmudic commentaries, was
admirably brief in his commentary on the Pentateuch, which is a
model of simplicity and accuracy, and is marked by insight and
subtlety. It is possibly the finest product of the French
exegetic school. It sets forth general rules of interpretation,
as, for instance, that the Bible should be explained through
itself and without the aid of the Haggadic or even Halakic
Midrash. Literal exegesis, said Samuel ben Meir, is more
forceful than Halakic interpretation. He so resolutely pursued
the method of Pesbat, that Nahmanides felt justified in declaring
he sometimes overdid it. The same admirable qualities exist in
Rashbam's commentaries on the Prophets and the Hagiographa, in
which he everywhere turns to excellent account the works of his
ancestor, sometimes merely referring to them, but also combating
Rashi's explanations, though in this case he does not mention

Eliezer of Beaugency and Moses of Paris (middle of the twelfth
century) were doubtless among the disciples of Samuel ben Meir.
Moses of Paris, in turn, had a pupil by the name of Gabriel.

Occasionally Rashbam did not disdain the Midrash. But the same
cannot be said of his friend and collaborator Joseph ben Simon
Kara (born about 1060-1070, died about 1130-1140), a nephew and
disciple of Menahem ben Helbo, and the friend if not the disciple
of Rashi, to whom he acknowledges himself indebted. He wrote
additions to Rashi's commentaries, and on Rashi's advice wrote a
part of his Biblical commentaries, several of which have been
published. They enjoyed great vogue, and in certain manuscripts
they are set alongside of, or replace, Rashi's commentaries.
They fully deserve the honor; for, in fact, Joseph Kara surpasses
Rashi and rivals Rashbam in his fair-minded criticism, his
scrupulous attachment to the literal meaning, and his absolutely
clear idea of the needs of a wholesome exegesis, to say nothing
of his theological views, which are always remarkable and
sometimes bold. He frankly rejected the Midrash, and compares
the person making use of it to the drowning man who clutches at a
straw. Contrary to tradition he denies that Samuel was the
author of the Biblical book bearing his name.

Side by side with Joseph Kara belongs his rival and younger
contemporary Joseph Bekor-Shor, doubtless the same person as
Joseph ben Isaac, of Orleans, who was a disciple of Rabbenu Tam,
and must, therefore, have lived in the middle of the twelfth
century. His commentary on the Pentateuch, which has been
published in part, is frequently cited by later exegetes, and its
reputation is justified by its keen insight and its vein of odd
originality. Joseph Bekor-Shor had felt the influence of the
Spaniards, but he had yielded to the attractions of Talmudic
dialectics, which he had acquired at a good school, although,
like his master, he cites, in connection with the Bible, a
certain Obadiah.

Quae secutae sunt magis defieri quam narrari possunt. In
the works of the second half of the twelfth century this fault
becomes more and more perceptible, and signs of decadence begin
to appear. Moreover, the writings at this time were very
numerous, fostering, and, in turn, stimulated by, anti-Christian
polemics. The greater number of the Tossafists study the Bible
in conjunction with the Talmud. Citations are made of
explanations or Biblical commentaries by Jacob of Orleans, Moses
of Pontoise, Isaac the Elder, Isaac the Younger, Judah Sir Leon,
Jehiel of Meaux, and Moses of Coucy. All these rabbis wrote
Tossafot to the Bible as well as to the Talmud. This comparative
study of Bible and Talmud was continued for some time, untill
[until sic] at the beginning of the thirteenth century
intellectual activity was exhausted. Original works were
replaced by a large number of compilations, all related to one
another, since the authors copied without scruple and pillaged
without shame.

Chief among these works, which bear the general title of Tossafot
to the Torah and some of which have been printed, are
Hazzekuni, by Hezekiah ben Manoah (about 1240),
Gan[143] (Garden), by Aaron ben Joseph, (about 1250),
Daat Zekenim (Knowledge of the Ancients), in which many
exegetes are cited (after 1252), Paaneah Razah (Revealer
of the Mystery), by Isaac ben Judah ha-Levi (about 1300),
Minhat Yehudah (Offering of Judah), by Judah ben Eliezer
(or Eleazar), of Troyes (1313), Hadar Zekenim (Glory of
the Ancients; beginning of the fourteenth century), and Imre
(Pleasant Words), by Jacob of Illescas (middle of the
fourteenth century).

All these works were more or less inspired by Rashi, and some,
such as Hazzekuni, might be called super-commentaries to
Rashi. But these disciples were not true to the spirit of the
master. They gave themselves up to the Haggadah more than he
did, and also to a thing unknown to him, Gematria and mystical
exegesis. Thus this French school, which for nearly a century had
shone with glowing brilliance, now threw out only feeble rays,
and abandoned itself more and more to the subtleties of the
Midrash, to the fancifulness of the Gematria. It almost
consigned to oblivion the great productions in rational exegesis,
always excepting Rashi's commentaries, the popularity of which
never waned, as much because of the author's renown as because of
his concessions to the Midrash.

It remained for a Christian exegete to free rational exegesis
from the discredit into which it had fallen. The ecclesiastical
commentators even more than the authors of the Biblical Tossafot
were steeped in allegorism and mysticism; but among them were
some who cultivated the interpretation of the literal meaning of
Scriptures, and even appealed to Jewish scholars for
explanations'. Unfortunately, Rashi's works, written in a
language unintelligible to the Christians, could not in any
degree influence a general intellectual movement.

However, exception must be made of the celebrated Franciscan monk
Nicholas de Lyra (born about 1292, died in 1340), author of the
Postillae perpetuae on the Bible which brought him the
title of doctor planus et utilis. Nicholas de Lyra
possessed knowledge rare among Christians, knowledge of the
Hebrew language, and he knew Hebrew so well that he was thought
to be a converted Jew. In his works, polemical in character, he
comes out against the mystical tendencies in the interpretations
of the rabbis, and does not spare Rashi, even attributing to him
explanations nowhere existing in Rashi's writings. But these
criticisms of his, as he himself says, are "extremely rare."
Moreover he does not refrain from accepting for his own purposes
a large number of Midrashim borrowed from Rashi. It was from
Rashi's commentaries, in fact, that he learned to know rabbinical
literature - only to combat it. On one occasion he said, "I
usually follow Rabbi Solomon, whose teachings are considered
authoritative by modern Jews." He sometimes modified the text of
the Vulgate according to the explanations of the rabbi, and his
commentary on the Psalms, for instance, is often only a
paraphrase of Rashi's. For this reason Nicholas de Lyra was
dubbed, it must be admitted somewhat irreverently, simia
Rashi's Ape. Nevertheless, he exercised great
influence in ecclesiastical circles, comparable to that of Rashi
among the Jews. His commentary was called "the common
commentary." Possibly it was in imitation of Nicholas's work
that the name glosa hebraica (the Hebrew commentary), or
simply glosa, was bestowed upon Rashi's work by a
Christian author of the thirteenth century, who, if not the
famous scholar and monk Roger Bacon, must have been some one of
the same type. Another Christian exegete of the same period,
William of Mara, cites Rashi's commentary under the title of
Perus. The admiration felt for Nicholas de Lyra, which now seems
somewhat excessive, is expressed in the well-known proverb: Si
Lyra non lyrasset, totus mondus delirasset.
A modification
of the proverb, si Lyra non lyrasset, Lutherius non
is not an exaggeration; for the works of the
Franciscan monk were soon translated into German, and they
exercised a profound influence on the leader of the Reformation
when he composed the translation of the Bible, epoch-making in
the history of literature as well as of religion. It is known
that Luther had large knowledge of the Hebrew and a strong
feeling for it, a quality he owed to Nicholas de Lyra and,
through him, to the Jewish exegetes, although his scornful pride
would never permit him to concede that "Rashi and the Tossafists
made Nicholas de Lyra and Nicholas de Lyra made Luther."

At the time when Rashi's influence was thus extended to Christian
circles, the Jewish schools called into being by his work and his
teachings fell into decay on account of the persecutions that
shook French Judaism to its foundations and almost deprived it of
existence. This shows how firmly intellectual activities are
bound up with temporal fortunes - a truth manifested in the
period of growth and maturity and illustrated afresh in the
period of decadence.

Even after the First Crusade, the situation of the jews of
France had remained favorable. It did not perceptibly change as
a result of the various local disorders marking the Second
Crusade. Nevertheless, the second half of the twelfth century
witnessed the uprise of accusations of ritual murder and
piercings of the host. Popular hatred and mistrust were
exploited by the greedy kings. Philip Augustus expelled the Jews
from his domain in 1181, though he recalled them in 1198. Yet
the example had been set, and the security of the Jews was done
for. The lords and bishops united to persecute them, destroy
their literary treasures, and paralyze their intellectual
efforts. They found the right king for their purposes in St.
Louis, a curious mixture of tolerance and bigotry, of charity and
fanaticism. "St. Louis sought to deprive the Jews of the book
which in all their trials was their supreme consolation, the
refuge of their souls against outside clamor and suffering, the
only safeguard of their morality, and the bond maintaining their
religious oneness - the Talmud." In 1239 an apostate, Nicholas
Donin, of La Rochelle, denounced the Talmud to Gregory IX. The
Pope ordered the seizure of all copies, and an investigation of
the book. In France the mandate was obeyed, and a disputation
took place at Paris. Naturally, the Talmud was condemned, and
twenty - four cartloads of Hebrew books were consigned to the
flames. The auto-da-fe of 1242 marks the decadence of an
entire literature, the ruin of brilliant schools, and the check
to the movement so gloriously inaugurated by Rashi. All the
living forces of French Judaism were deeply affected.

But the fall was neither complete nor sudden. It was not until
1306 that the Jews were exiled from France by Philip the Fair,
and a hundred thousand persons had to leave the country in which
their nation had long flourished and to whose prosperity they had
materially contributed.

The expulsion of 1306 withdrew French Judaism to the provinces
directly attached to the crown. In vain were the Jews recalled
in 1315 "at the general cry of the people." Only a very few
profited by the tolerance shown them. After that their existence
was troubled by riots, and broken in upon by expulsions. The
schools, of old so flourishing, fell into a state of utter decay.

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