RASHI, rā-shî': French rabbi, commentator on Bible and Talmud; b. at Troyes (90 m. e.s.e. of Paris) in 1040; d. there July 13, 1105. The name Rashi is made up of the vocalized initials of his title and name, Rabbi Solomon (bar) Isaac. Because of his great natural endowments, he was sent at a very early age to a talmudic school in Mainz, over which Gershom had presided, where Jacob ben Yakar became his teacher; later, in the high school at Worms, he was a pupil of Isaac ben Eleazar Ha-Levi and Isaac ben Judah. After his return to his native city he was appointed rabbi, filling this position without remuneration until his death, and becoming celebrated far and wide as an authority on the Talmud.
In Rashi's time the sources for a commentary on the books of the Old Testament were very meager; he was therefore compelled to utilize very imperfect studies of Menahem ben Saruk and Dunash ben Labrat. At that period the French language was still in its very beginnings, so that it was impossible for Rashi to translate the finished Hebrew into that idiom; he was therefore forced to choose Hebrew for the expression of his ideas and theories. He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Old Testament except I and II Chronicles, Nehemiah, and the second part of Job; these were annotated by the adherents of his school. Starting with the Massoretic text, which he scrupulously followed, Rashi treats the exegetical difficulties in a clear, literal, and simple manner. He solves lexicographical problems by analogous cases and grammatical difficulties by the citation of a similar or allied form. Repeatedly he emphazises his view that the simple natural sense of the Biblical passages should be accepted, and (on Gen. iii. 8) declares as his sole purpose to explain Scripture in its literal sense; even the Song of Solomon was so treated. His desire to give the natural sense explains his frequent reference to the targum of Onkelos; wherever "according to its targum" occurs, the targum of Onkelos is meant. The targum to the prophets is also used, and Rashi finds it far superior to Onkelos. Nevertheless, the influence of the traditional Midrash exegesis with its spiritualized and mystic interpretation was too powerful in France in the eleventh century for Rashi to escape its influence altogether; but his sound judgment and fine tact usually led him to choose the one among the many explanations which came nearest to the literal sense. In many cases, indeed, Rashi expressly requires the haggadic interpretation (e.g., in Gen. i. 1), but sometimes the simple exposition is followed by the most contradictory comments, so that Rashi seems only partly to have attained the high aim he proposed to himself. This is partly due to the minuteness of his exegesis. Moreover, since he clings closely to the literal sense of the words, he is not successful in interpreting continuous passages, neither does he attempt to explain any miracle. Karl Siegfried (in Archiv für wissenschaftliche Erforschung des A. T.'s, I., 428 sqq., II., 39 sqq.) has shown Rashi's influence over Nicolaus of Lyra and Luther, especially in the exposition of Genesis.
Rashi surpasses all his predecessors as an expositor of the Talmud. With a few well-chosen words he illuminates the obscurity of the often incomprehensible text. The readings he proposed are still authoritative and he is an indispensable aid to those who study the Talmud. Menahem ben Zerah justly remarks in his work Zedah la-Derek ("Viaticum"; Ferrara, 1554) that without Rashi the Babylonian Talmud would be as much neglected as is the Jerusalem Talmud. The commentary to Bereshith rabba ascribed to Rashi is not his work but that of an Italian contemporary. On his death in 1105, he left a flourishing school of disciples who continued his work and brought it to a c1ose, always in his spirit.