Chapters on Jewish Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 120 pages of information about Chapters on Jewish Literature.
Solomon, the son of Isaac, best known as Rabbi Shelomo Izchaki (Rashi), was born in 1040, and died in 1105, in Troyes, in Champagne.  From his mother, who came of a family of poets, he inherited his warm humanity, his love for Judaism.  From his father, he drew his Talmudical knowledge, his keen intellect.  His youth was a hard one.  In accordance with medieval custom, he was married as a boy, and then left his home in search of knowledge rather than of bread.  Of bread he had little, but, starved and straitened in circumstances though he was, he became an eager student at the Jewish schools which then were dotted along the Rhine, residing now at Mainz, now at Speyer, now at Worms.  In 1064 he settled finally in Troyes.  Here he was at once hailed as a new light in Israel.  His spotless character and his unique reputation as a teacher attracted a vast number of eager students.

Of Rashi’s Commentary on the Talmud something has already been said.  As to his exposition of the Bible, it soon acquired the widest popularity.  It was inferior to his work on the Talmud, for, as he himself admitted in later life, he had relied too much on the Midrash, and had attended too little to evolving the literal meaning of the text of Scripture.  But this is the charm of his book, and it is fortunate that he did not actually attempt to recast his commentary.  There is a quaintness and fascination about it which are lacking in the pedantic sobriety of Ibn Ezra and the grammatical exactness of Kimchi.  But he did himself less than justice when he asserted that he had given insufficient heed to the Peshat (literal meaning).  Rashi often quotes the grammatical works of Menachem and Dunash.  He often translates the Hebrew into French, showing a very exact knowledge of both languages.  Besides, when he cites the Midrash, he, as it were, constructs a Peshat out of it, and this method, original to himself, found no capable imitators.

Through the fame of Rashi, France took the leadership in matters Talmudical.  Blessed with a progeny of famous men, Rashi’s influence was carried on and increased by the work of his sons-in-law and grandsons.  Of these, Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam, 1100-1160) was the most renowned.  The devoted attention to the literature of Judaism in the Rhinelands came in the nick of time.  It was a firm rock against the storm which was about to break.  The Crusades crushed out from the Jews of France all hope of temporal happiness.  When Alfassi died in 1103 and Rashi in 1105, the first Crusade had barely spent its force.  The Jewish schools in France were destroyed, the teachers and scholars massacred or exiled.  But the spirit lived on.  Their literature was life to the Jews, who had no other life.  His body bent over Rashi’s illuminating expositions of the Talmud and the Bible, the medieval Jew felt his soul raised above the miseries of the present to a world of peace and righteousness, where the wicked ceased from troubling, and the weary were at rest.

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Chapters on Jewish Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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