Shoshanna Walker rosewalk at concentric.net
Fri Aug 5 13:12:58 EDT 2005

Arutz Sheva News Service

Friday, August 05, 2005, 29 Tammuz 5765

By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

Friday marks the 900th anniversary of the death of one of the Jewish
people's greatest Bible and Talmud commentators, Rabbi Shlomo
Yitzchaki, known as Rashi.

Rashi was born in Troyes, France and died in the same town on July 13,
1105, at the age of 65. The date of his passing on the Jewish
calendar, the 29th of Tammuz, falls on Friday, August 5, this year.

The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, a leading intellectual center in
Israel for the study and discussion of issues related to philosophy,
society, culture and education, held an international conference last
week in honor of the medieval scholar. Similar memorial gatherings are
taking place in various places around the United States, as well as
planned events for later this year in Germany. Throughout the year,
the town of Troyes and the Champagne area in France have hosted a
series of events in honor of Rashi, including a state ceremony in his
memory three weeks ago. Walking tours in Troyes feature an exhibition
on the Torah scholar, as well as on the town's Jewish history, at the
Rashi Institute on Rue Brunnevel. The exhibition is on display until
early September.

Rashi studied at the great Torah academies of Mayence (Mainz) and
Worms, in Germany, before his family's economic situation forced him
to return to Troyes in 1065. It was during this period, while helping
his widowed mother to manage the family vineyards, that Rashi produced
his famous commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud. While he
considered his Torah commentary to be appropriate for small children,
Rashi's illuminating and succinct explanations and collations of
rabbinical exegesis quickly became powerful study tools for scholars
of all ages.

The fact that Rashi was forced to return to Troyes may well have saved
his life and his life's work, as the First Crusade of 1095 decimated
the flowering scholarly communities of Worms and Mainz. Rashi's
commentaries contain some of the only records of the work of Talmudic
and Biblical scholars from the German centers of Jewish learning of
the time.

Within a century of his death, Rashi's commentaries on the Bible and
Talmud had spread from Western Europe to North Africa, Asia and
throughout the Middle East. Rashi's commentaries on the Torah and the
Talmud became such an inextricable part of the study of Jewish sources
that printers were forced to create a distinctive Hebrew font to
differentiate Rashi's words from those of the Torah, known until today
as "Rashi script".

In addition to the content of Rashi's works, he revitalized the Hebrew
language in a way that had not been done prior to his time. Chaim
Nachman Bialik, one of modern Israel's most respected poets, said that
Rashi "produced a wonderful linguistic achievement." Also thanks to
Rashi's commentaries, 3,000 ancient French words have been preserved
until today, as Rashi sometimes included translations of Hebrew
concepts into the local vernacular while explaining Biblical passages.

Typical of Rashi's work, and relevant for the Jewish predicament today
in Israel, is his first comment on the Torah. In it, Rashi quotes
Rabbi Yitzchak as asking why the Torah begins with the story of
creation, when, as an instructional-spiritual text for the Jews, it
would have been logical to begin with the first communal commandment,
the Sanctification of the New Moon at the beginning of each month,
which appears in Exodus. Rabbi Yitzchak, as quoted by Rashi, answers,
"It was to teach the world the principle stated by King David, in
Psalms 111:6; namely, 'He has declared to His people the power of His
works.' So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, 'You are
thieves, for you took possession of the land of seven nations by
force,' they will be able to answer, 'All the world belongs to G-d. He
created it, and gave it to whomever He wished. It was His will that it
first be allocated to those nations, and it was by His will that it be
taken from them and given to us.'"

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