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July 13: Rashi

Lawrence Bush
July 13, 2010

rashiRabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as Rashi, who wrote the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, died on this date in 1105 at age 65 in northern France. Rashi’s commentary covers thirty tractates and has been included in every edition of the Talmud since the invention of the printing press. His contribution was first and foremost translative rather than interpretive: he turned the cryptic, stylized, back-and-forth discussions of the Talmud into coherent narratives and organized a sprawling oral tradition of textual interpretation into an authoritative, written commentary that made the Talmud accessible even to beginning students. By comparing different hand-written copies of the Talmud, Rashi also helped standardize its language. Rashi’s writing, mostly in Old French using Hebrew transliteration, also provided historians of the French language insights into its development and pronunciation. When the First Crusade swept through northern France in 1096, taking the lives of 12,000 Jews, Rashi wrote several liturgical pieces that remain part of contemporary holiday services.
“I am only concerned with the literal meaning of the Scriptures and with such aggadot as explain the biblical passages in a fitting manner.” —Rashi

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.