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Rashi By Maurice Liber Characters: 36402

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

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 alike.

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 contains.


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 apostle."

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 says.

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 Solomon.

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 another.[16]

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 out.

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 wine.

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 whatsoever."

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 excellence. 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 Tannaim."

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 masters.

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.

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