Maurice Liber

Part 1 out of 4

NOTES: ... bracket italics in the original

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two spaces or eol follow each sentence terminator.

One blank line separates each paragraph.

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

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

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

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

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

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












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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




(page 3)

(page 13)



Dispersion of the Jews-Their Appearance in Gaul.

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

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


Difficulties of Writing a Biography of Rashi-History and Legend.

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

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


Rashi settles in his Birthplace.

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

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



Rashi's Spiritual Physiognomy-Sources.

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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



Rashi's Influence upon Biblical and Talmudic Literature.

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

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

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


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

(page 222)


(page 227)


(page 231)

(page 241)

(page 261)


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

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

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

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





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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The renown of his posterity, far from dimming Rashi's brilliance,
only added fresh lustre [luster sic] to the name of him who was
both father and revered master. Even in his life-time Rashi
could reap the harvest of his efforts, and though death
intervened before his work was completed, he saw at his side
collaborators ready to continue what he had begun.

A marriage among the Jews of France of that epoch must have been
a charming and touching ceremony, to judge from a picturesque
description, given by an author of the fourteenth century, of a
wedding at Mayence, a city in which the community had preserved
ancient customs.

Several days before the ceremony the beadle invited all the
faithful; for it was a public festival, and everybody was
supposed to share in the joy of the bride and bridegroom. On the
day of the wedding, the bridegroom, attended by the rabbi and men
of standing in the community and followed by other members of the
congregation, proceeded to the synagogue to the accompaniment of
music. At the synagogue he was awaited by the bride, who was
surrounded by her maids of honor and by a number of women. The
rabbi presented the young girl to the bridegroom, and he took her
hand, while the by-standers showered grains of wheat upon them
and small pieces of money, which were picked up by the poor.
Then, hand in hand, the couple walked to the door of the
synagogue, where they paused a while. After this the bride was
led to her own home so that she might complete her toilet. Under
a large mantle of silk and fur, with puffed sleeves, she wore a
white robe, symbol of the mourning for Zion, the memory of which
was not to leave her even on this day of joy. The sign of
mourning adopted for the bridegroom was a special headgear.

After the bridegroom had returned to the synagogue and placed
himself near the Ark of the Law, the morning service was held.
Meanwhile the bride was led to the door of the synagogue, always
to the accompaniment of music, and the bridegroom, conducted by
the rabbi and the heads of the community, went to receive her
there. He placed himself on her left, and preceded by his mother
and the mother of the bride, he guided her to the pulpit in the
centre [center sic] of the synagogue. Here was pronounced the
nuptial benediction.

The ceremony over, the husband hastened to his home to meet his
wife and introduce her to the dwelling of which she was to be the
mistress. Here it was that the wedding feast was spread.
Festivities continued for several days, and the following
Saturday special hymns were inserted in the service in honor of
the newlywedded couple.[25] No parade or pomp marred the beauty
and grace of this ceremony, every act of which bespoke pure
poetry and religion.

From this it is evident how much domestic virtues were prized
among the Jews of the middle ages. The family was expected to be
a model of union and harmony, of tenderness of mate toward mate
and parents toward children. Gentleness and a spirit of trust
were to preside over the household. Rashi, as we shall see,[26]
speaks in moving terms of the high regard which a man owes his


But it was not given to Rashi to pass untroubled through his
fruitful life of study. A terrible shock surprised him. The
eleventh century set in a sea of blood.

Some legends have a hardy life. Not the least remarkable of these
is the myth that the Crusades were wholly inspired by religious
zeal. These great European movements are always represented as
having been called forth by enthusiasm and thirst for self-
sacrifice. A great wave of faith, we are told, swept over the
masses, and carried them on to the conquest of the Holy
Sepulchre. There is another side to the shield-faith fawning on
political expediency and egoism, and turning brigand. Without
doubt many Christians went on the Crusades impelled by religious
conviction. But how many nourished less vague ideas in their
hearts? Not to mention those whose only aim was to escape from
the consequences of their misdeeds and obtain absolution and
indulgences, not to mention those who were animated by a foolish
sense of chivalry, by love of adventure, of perilous risks, drawn
by the attraction of the unknown and the marvellous [marvelous
sic] - apart from these, there was the great mass, impelled by
greed and thirst for pillage.

Complaisant historians express their admiring wonder at these
"hundreds of thousands of men fighting with their eyes doggedly
fixed upon the Holy Sepulchre and dying in order to conquer it."
They pity these "multitudes of men who threw themselves on Islam
the unknown, these naive, trusting spirits, who each day imagined
themselves at Jerusalem, and died on the road thither." Would it
not be well for them to reserve a little of their admiration and
pity for the unfortunates that were the victims of these "naive"
multitudes? Ought they not to say that this religious fervor was
a mixture chiefly of blind hate and bloody fanaticism? After a
victory the Crusaders would massacre the populations of the
conquered cities, including in the slaughter not only the
Mohammedans but also the Oriental Christians. Then why should we
wonder if on the road to Palestine they laid violent hands on the
Jews they found by the way?[27]

It is known what an important part France played in the First
Crusade. From France issued the spark that set the entire
Occident aflame, and France furnished the largest contingent to
the Crusades.

However, the disorders in France were merely local. If the rage
for blood enkindled by the First Crusade scarcely affected the
Jews of France, it is because the population was concentrated on
the banks of the Rhine. But here its murderous frenzy knew no
bounds. The people threw themselves on the Jewish communities of
Treves, Speyer, Worms, Mayence, and Cologne, and put to death all
who refused to be converted (May to July, 1096). The noise of
events such as these perforce "found a path through the sad
hearts" of the Jews of Champagne; for they maintained lively and
cordial relations with their brethren in the Rhine lands, many
being bound to them by ties of kinship. Among the martyrs of
1096 was Asher ha-Levi, who was the disciple of Isaac ben
Eleazar, Rashi's second teacher, and who died together with his
mother, his two brothers, and their families. From a Hebrew text
we learn that the Jews of France ordered a fast and prayers in
commemoration of these awful massacres, the victims of which
numbered not less than ten thousand.

But all could not sacrifice their lives for the sake of their
faith. Though so large a number were slain by the pious hordes
or slew one another in order to escape violence, others allowed
themselves to be baptized, or adopted Christianity, in appearance
at least. After the Crusaders were at a distance, on the way to
their death in the Orient, the Jews left behind could again
breathe freely. Of many of them, Gregory of Tours might have said
that "the holy water had washed their bodies but not their
hearts, and, liars toward God, they returned to their original
heresy." The emperor of Germany, Henry IV, it seems, even
authorized those who had been forced into baptism to return to
Judaism, and the baptized Jews hastened to throw off the hateful
mask. This benevolent measure irritated the Christian clergy, and


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