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14 Rashi Facts You Should Know

Art by Sefira Lightstone

1. His Father’s Name Was Yitzchak Rashi is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (son of Yitzchak). Little is known for certain about Rashi’s father, Rabbi Yitzchak, but we know he was learned, since Rashi quotes him as an authority.1 Some say the family may have had the name Yarchi (“of the moon”), since they originated in Lunel ( “moon” in Latin), a heavily Jewish settlement in Southern France.


2. He Wrote a Commentary on (Most of) the Bible

Rashi is known as the foremost commentator on the entire Chumash (Five Books of Moses) and most of the other books of Scripture. His carefully crafted commentaries rely heavily on Talmudic and Midrashic traditions to uncover the most straightforward meaning of the text (peshuto shel mikra).2 Read: Rashi’s Method of Biblical Commentary


3. He Also Elucidated the Talmud Rashi also composed what has become universally accepted as the primary commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. At times, he provides accurate copy of the texts, translates difficult words into the French of his day, punctuates, and otherwise provides invaluable background for the student. Rashi did not finish his commentary (of which he produced three editions), and there are some parts that have been completed by others, most notably his son-in-law, Rabbi Yehuda ben Natan (Rivan), and his grandson, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam). Read: What Is the Talmud?


4. He Did Not Write Rashi Script

A page from the only known nearly complete copy of the first dated print of Rashi, housed in the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma (image via University of Pennsylvania).

There is a widely used Hebrew font known as “Rashi script.” Contrary to popular belief, this was not invented—or even used—by Rashi. Rather, it is a form of Sephardic script that was adopted in 1475 to render Rashi’s commentary, in the first ever printed edition of Torah with Rashi. Read: Who Invented Rashi Script?


5. He Was a Native of Troyes Rashi lived in the French-German cradle of the then-emerging Ashkenazi culture and tradition. He was from Troyes, France, and from his commentary it is clear that French was his native tongue.

Interior of Rashi's home in Worms, Germany


6. He Studied Torah in Worms and Maintz Rashi learned in the great yeshivot in Worms (Vermaiza) and Maintz (Magentza), both of which are on the Rhine River in Germany. In addition to his father, many of his subsequent teachers were relatives of his, some of whom (such as Rabbi Yaakov ben Yakar) had studied under Rabbeinu Gershom, the “father” of Ashkenazic scholarship. Read: Rabbenu Gershom


7. He Composed Synagogue Music There are several synagogue hymns (piyyutim) attributed to Rashi. They follow the traditional format, with each line (or set of lines) beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and in the final lines, the acrostic spells out his own name and that of his father. They include Az Terem, which is recited, according to Chabad custom, in the Selichot prayers for the Fast of Gedalia. Read: What Are Selichot?

The Worms Synagogue, also known as Rashi Shul, was built in the 11th-century and destroyed and rebuilt several times since.


8. He Corresponded Widely In addition to teaching his students and writing his commentary, Rashi replied to queries from scholars on a wide range of subjects. They ranged from questions from the rabbis of Auxerre who wished to understand certain verses of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to halachic inquiries on the laws of not charging interest, how an ill person should pray, and baking egg matzah on Passover.


9. He Was a Descendant of King David Many rabbinic families (such as the Lurias) trace their lineage to Rashi, who, in turn, was a descendant of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar, a fourth-generation descendant of Rabbi Gamliel the Elder, a scion of the royal house of David. Read: The Story of King David


10. He Was Not Ashamed to Admit He Did Not Know In more than a dozen instances in his commentary on the Torah, Rashi writes that he does not know the meaning or explanation of a given verse. While there are scholarly debates regarding what exactly he did not know,3 the fact remains that he humbly paved the way for the rest of us to admit when we do not (yet) know something, and turn to others for guidance.


11. “His” Version of Tefillin Is Accepted

Tefillin, prayer boxes used every weekday by Jewish males, contain parchment scrolls inscribed with four portions of the Torah. Even before Rashi, there were differing opinions regarding the arrangement of the four Biblical passages inserted in the tefillin boxes. One approach was favored by Rashi, while another tradition was championed by his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam. The halacha follows the ruling of Rashi, and that has become standard. At the same time, many are particular to don a second set of tefillin each day, following the arrangement of Rabbeinu Tam. Read: Why Do Some Wear Two Pairs of Tefillin?


12. He Had Only Daughters Rashi had (at least) three daughters, who became the matrons of the most prominent Ashkenazi rabbinic families. There is reason to believe that they were learned, as one would expect. There is also a persistent urban myth that they wore tefillin. However, there does not appear to be any support for this notion, which surfaced in the 20th century. Read: 9 Tefillin Myths and Misconceptions


13. His Grandchildren Were Major Tosafists The standard page of Talmud has the actual Talmudic text in the center, surrounded by commentary. On one side, one finds the elucidations of Rashi. And on the other side is a Tosafot (“additions”) collection of commentaries written by a number of medieval Ashkenazi rabbis (known as Baalei Tosafot or Tosafists), some of whom are named and some of whom are anonymous. The most prominent and most prolific of these commentators are students and/or progeny of Rashi. This includes Rabbi Yaakov (known as Rabbeinu Tam) and Rabbi Shmuel (known as Rashbam)—both sons of Rashi’s daughter Yocheved, as well as Rabbi Yitzchak (Ri Hazaken), who came along two generations later. Read: The Tosafists


14. There Is Controversy About Where he Is Buried Rashi passed away on 11 Tammuz in 1105. Where this happened, however, is not entirely clear. It would stand to reason that he died in Troyes, where he lived, and where he is believed to have been buried. However, there is a competing tradition that says he passed away in Prague, nearly 600 miles from home. FOOTNOTES 1.This, as well as many of the facts that follow, has been culled from the entry on Rashi in Shem Hagedolim by Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, the Chida. 2.There is discussion whether the commentaries appearing under his name on some of the final books of Scripture were, in fact, written by Rashi (see Shem Hagedolim, ibid.). 3.See Likutei Sichot Vol. 5, page 1.By Menachem Posner

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