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Biblical exegesis        

Rashi wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible. They are preserved in many manuscripts and printed editions, the first of which, on the Pentateuch, was printed in Reggio di Calabria in 1475. Usually his commentary accompanies the Biblical text, but not all the printed commentaries attributed to him are actually his. It is known that he did not write those on Ezra, Nehemia, Chronicles and Job, from Chapter 40 verse 25 onwards.

His exegesis on the Torah is based on literal and midrashic interpretations. Most of his comments are quoted from rabbinic sources and about a quarter of them are original. On the other hand the majority of his commentaries on the Prophets and Hagiographa are his own. The commentary on the Bible was widely acclaimed for its content, language and style. It seems that the manuscript now preserved in the Library of the University of Leipzig, was copied most probably in the first half of the 13th century, and based on the copy made by R. Shemaia, Rashi’s disciple. It is noteworthy for its fine textual formulations. An initial attempt to delve into the original or nearly original version of the Pentateuch commentary was made by the famous scholar Abraham Berliner in his interpretation of Rashi’s commentary, Berlin, 1867. It is based on various important manuscripts and early printed editions with citations of Rashi’s sources and other annotations; it is, however, not complete.

His commentaries on only a small number of books of the Prophets and Hagiographa have been published in critical editions. Grammar and lexicography play a large role in his Biblical commentaries, and his influence on later commentators in France was very significant. Over 150 interpretations of Rashi’s works have been published worldwide throughout the years, while some are still in manuscript form. The most important commentators on Rashi are: Eliyahu Mizrahi, Abraham Bukrat, the Maharal of Prague and Shabbetai Bass, author of Siftei Hakhamim His commentaries were studied with increasing interest also among Christian scholars from the 13th century onwards . From the 17th century onwards they have been translated into various European languages.

Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud

The crowning achievement of all of Rashi’s work is his comprehensive commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. Both the standard of Rashi’s commentary and its influence on the study of the Talmud are incomparable and it has been the authoritative source for many of the great commentators ever since the commentaries were copied by his disciples in various versions with glossaries and addenda written by Rashi himself. Rashi was given the title of “Ha-Kunteres” (“Booklet”) by his pupils and by the Tosaphists, because he wrote his thoughts in pamphlet form, called “Kunteressim” (booklets). Rashi’s commentaries eclipsed the Talmudic commentaries that preceded him, very few of which have survived.

Printed editions of the commentaries on tractates Ta’anit, Nedarim, Nazir and Horayot have been mistakenly attributed to him, and were most probably written by the scholars of Mainz or others. Likewise the printed commentary on Moed Katan is wrongly attributed to him. Two tractates have partial Rashi commentaries: Bava Batra (until 29b) and Makkot (until 20a). There is some conjecture as to whether Rashi was the author of the commentary on the Tractate Avot printed in the Siddur Tefila (daily prayerbook), edited by Netanel ben Peretz Halfan, Trino, 1525.

Selections of Rashi’s Talmudic commentaries were integrated with other commentaries on Yitzhak Alfasi’s work (Hilkhot ha-Rif) and also those of the Ein Yaakov by Yaakov Ibn Haviv, as well as in the Talmudic texts of early printed Spanish editions.

A comprehensive analysis of Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud was written by Y. Frankel, Darkho shel Rashi be-perusho le-Talmud ha-Bavli, Jerusalem, Magnes Press 1975.

Halakhic (legalistic) writings

Rashi wrote short halakhic rulings which were incorporated into the works of his pupils. They collected and edited his works from written or oral sources, some during his lifetime, under his guidance, and some after his death. The monographs on Orah Hayyim and Yore Dea were edited mainly by his most devoted student R. Shemaia.

The following lists some of these works:

Mahzor Vitry: A compilation of various halakhic works from the school of Rashi and from other sources edited by Simha of Vitry, a prominent pupil of Rashi. A manuscript close to the original from the mid 12th century exists in the editor’s own hand. (Sasson Ms. 535, today owned by V. Klagsbald). An expanded version of this text, with later additions by the school of Rashi, appears in the edition published by S. Halevy Horowitz, Berlin, 1896-1897.

Sefer Ha-Pardes: Includes responsa and halakhic rulings of Rashi and others. The first edition was published in Constantinople, 1807, and in 1924 a critical edition was published by Ch. L. Ehrenreich, Budapest. An abridged version of this work is also extant, author unknown, called “Likkutei ha-pardes asher hibber ha-nesher ha-gadol rabbenu Shelomo zz”l.” One of the 15th century manuscripts is in the Jewish National and University Library (Heb.80 6655, 60a-71a). This abridged edition first appeared in Venice, 1519.

Sefer ha-Orah: Includes halakhic rulings of Rashi with later additions. A critical edition of this work was published by S. Buber, Lemberg, 1805.

Siddur Rashi: Not specifically liturgical, this work includes halakhic rulings of Orah Hayyim and is similar to the Mahzor Vitry version in its original abridged form. It was first published by S. Buber and edited by J. Freimann, Berlin, 1912. Parts of this work entitled Sefer ha-Sedarim, were published by I. Elfenbein in Horeb, 11 (1951), p. 123-156; jubilee volume in honor of S. Federbush, Jerusalem, 1961, p. 52-68.

Issur we-heter: A collection of Halakha edited by Shemaia. This compilation is preserved almost in its entirety. An incomplete edition was published by J. Freimann, Berlin, Mekizei nirdamim, 1936.

Sheelot u-tshuvot (Responsa): Rashi responded to many inquiries from the Diaspora. Hundreds of responsa have been preserved, scattered among his pupils’ and their pupils’ various halakhic texts, some of which are incomplete. His pupils or copyists sometimes paraphrased his rulings. A collection containing 382 of his responsa and those of his teachers was published by I. Elfenbein, New York, 1943.

Piyyutim (liturgical hymns): Of the ten piyyutim attributed to Rashi, seven selihot (penitential prayers) are undoubtedly his work, three of which are included in various mahzorim and books of selihot in the Ashkenaz tradition. Four others were published by A. M. Habermann, Pyuttei Rashi, Jerusalem, 1941. In these selihot we see mention of the persecutions the Jews endured during his lifetime and their deep yearning for redemption. It is almost certain that some of them were written in connection with the massacres of 1096. Some of Rashi’s commentaries on the piyyutim were preserved in various manuscripts embodied in the commentaries of his pupil R. Shemaia.

His linguistic contributions: Rashi’s commentaries on the Bible and Talmud are replete with linguistic innovations in grammar and Hebrew lexicography. A comprehensive study of Rashi’s linguistic contributions was published by I. Avineri, Hekhal Rashi, vol. 1-4, Tel-Aviv, 1940-1960. Rashi’s special contribution was in his use of French and German terms throughout the texts of the Biblical and Talmudic commentaries, providing us with insight into the usage of the vocabularies of those languages during the which he lived.