Tag Archives: Talmud

Jew of the Week: Rashi

The Greatest Commentator

Illustration of Rashi from 1539

Illustration of Rashi from 1539

Shlomo Itzchaki (1040-1105) was born in Troyes, France, the only child of a rabbi. He began his Torah studies at age 5 under the tutelage of his father. At 17, he married and moved to Worms, Germany to study at the yeshiva of Rabbi Yakar. He later studied under several other rabbis, including his uncle, and the chief rabbi of Mainz. At 25, now himself a rabbi, Itzchaki returned to Troyes and was invited to serve on the town’s rabbinical court. Soon after, he took over as the head of the court, and the central authority on Jewish religious and legal matters. By 30, Rabbi Itzchaki had opened a yeshiva, which went on to become a centre of Torah study for countless Jews. Undoubtedly, the Rabbi is most famous for his profound commentaries on the Bible and Talmud. These are included in just about every publication of the Bible and Talmud since the 1500’s. In these texts, he is referred to simply as “Rashi”, an acronym of his initials. Rashi’s commentary on the Five Books of Moses alone inspired over 300 future commentaries. Even the Christian world studied his texts (here, Rashi was sometimes referred to by his Latinized name, Isaacides). In fact, many Christian commentaries on the Bible are based on Rashi’s texts. One of the more famous ones, that of the monk Nicolas de Lyre, was so heavily drawn from Rashi that de Lyre was nicknamed “Rashi’s ape”. Nonetheless, it was de Lyre’s commentary that inspired Martin Luther, the father of Protestant Christianity, and Luther used this text to produce his famous translation of the Bible. In addition to his commentaries, roughly 300 of Rashi’s other legal texts exist today. These texts are studied by linguistic scholars, too, who are looking to better understand both Hebrew and medieval French. According to tradition, Rashi also worked as a winemaker to support himself financially. He had three daughters who were scholars in their own right, with some suggesting that they completed a number of his unfinished commentaries, and possibly even donned tefillin. Rashi’s grandsons were some of the biggest rabbis of the following generation, including Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam. Recently, an ancient map was discovered showing the location of Rashi’s grave. It happens to be under a public square in Troyes. A monument now stands over the site.

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Words of the Week

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”
– Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein

In Memory of an Outstanding Rabbi

Rabbi Lichtenstein

Rabbi Lichtenstein

Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015) was born in Paris, France. His family fled the War in 1941, settling in the U.S., where Lichtenstein grew up. He went on to study at Yeshiva University, earning both a B.A. and rabbinic ordination, and continued his studies at Harvard, graduating with a Ph.D in Literature. He returned to Yeshiva University as a Talmud teacher, and then served as its dean (Rosh Yeshiva). After several years in that post, he made aliyah to Israel in 1971, and headed another Yeshiva, while quickly becoming a famed scholar and the central leader for Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist Jews. He soon became one of the world’s top authorities in Halakha (Jewish law), too. Working with the ‘Takana’ organization, Rabbi Lichtenstein helped to combat harassment within the religious world, while also supporting the cause of women and encouraging women’s Torah studies. His support and outreach efforts spread beyond the religious world, encompassing secular communities, and even non-Jewish communities. Rabbi Lichtenstein also wrote a number of highly-acclaimed texts and commentaries. A noted scholar, he could easily quote both Jewish wisdom and secular philosophy. Last year he was awarded Israel’s highest honour – the Israel Prize. Sadly, Rabbi Lichtenstein passed away last week. Upon news of his passing, religious and political leaders from across the spectrum united to eulogize and honour him, including both Ultra-Orthodox and Reform rabbis, as well as conservative and liberal politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as a “Zionist leader and Torah scholar of unparalleled stature… He loved the Land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Torah of Israel.”

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Words of the Week

God transcends all definitions, including the definition of “existence”.
Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon)