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Rashi: the Man and the Stories

Rashi: A late born son who illuminated the world

Born on February 22, 977 years ago in Troyes, France. Shlomo Yitzchaki, generally known by the acronym Rashi, was a medieval French rabbi and author who lived in Worms, Germany. Acclaimed for his ability to present the basic meaning of the text in a concise and lucid fashion. His commentary on the Talmud, which covers nearly all of the Babylonian Talmud has been included in every edition of the Talmud since its first printing by Daniel Bomberg in the 1520s. His commentary on Tanakh – especially on the Torah – is an indispensable aid to students of all levels.

Writing primarily in Hebrew, he frequently translated Hebrew terms into French, in Hebrew script, as a way to instruct his French-speaking audience.

Rashi was subject to many legends.

One tradition contends that his parents were childless for many years. Rashi’s father, Yitzhak, a poor winemaker, once found a precious jewel and was approached by non-Jews who wished to buy it to adorn their idol. Yitzhak agreed to travel with them to their land, but en route, he cast the gem into the sea. He was then approached in his dream,  either by the God or the prophet Elijah, who told him that he would be rewarded with the birth of a son “who would illuminate the world”

Interestingly Rashi, who had no sons, educated his three daughters in the Torah and Talmud – and even permitted them to wear tefillin.

The renowned “Rashi” font was not known to Rashi himself – but was first used for the printing of his writings in Italy almost 400 years after his death.

An unverified tale claims that a cousin of Rashi’s named Elchanan converted to Christianity and became the Pope Andreas.

Interior of the Rashi Synagogue in Worms, Germany, 1966. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, the Sonnenfeld collection

Interior of the Rashi Synagogue in Worms, Germany, 1966. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, the Sonnenfeld collection

Drawing of Rashi Gate on the wall of the old city of Worms, Germany. Postcard published by Christian Herbst, Germany, 1922. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Malka Tenenbaum, Israel

Drawing of Rashi Gate on the wall of the old city of Worms, Germany. Postcard published by Christian Herbst, Germany, 1922. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Malka Tenenbaum, Israel

Beit Hatfutsot