Rashi's Commentaries on the Talmud

The beloved Torah commentator also wrote a much-used commentary on the Talmud.

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As a rule, Rashi confined himself strictly to commentatorial activity, although he frequently deemed it necessary to indicate what was the halakhah, the definite solution of a problem in cases in which such a solution was the subject of controversy or doubt, or could not readily be discerned amid the mass of Talmudic controversy, or was indispensable for a clear comprehension either of a text under consideration or of passages relating to it.

In every case Rashi's authority carried a weight equal to that of the leading posekim [halakhic authorities], and it would have had still more influence if his rulings and his responsa [answers to halakhic questions], which his disciples carefully noted--as they did also even his slightest acts and gestures--had been united in one collection, as was the case with the Spanish and German Talmudists, instead of being scattered through a number of compilations…

If the merit of a work be proportionate to the scientific activity which it evokes, the literature to which it gives rise, and the influence which it exerts, few books can surpass those of Rashi. His writings circulated with great rapidity, and his commentary on the Talmud greatly extended the knowledge of the subject, thus increasing the number of Talmudic schools in France, which soon came to be of great importance, especially those at Troyes, Ramerupt, Dampierre, Paris, and Sens.

His two sons‑in‑law, Judah b. Nathan (RIBaN) and Meir b. Samuel, and especially the latter's three sons, Samuel (RaSHBaM), Judah, and Jacob (R. Tam), were the first of a succession of Tosafists who were closely identified in work and methods with Rashi… Rashi's commentaries on the Talmud became the textbook for rabbis and students, and his commentary on the Pentateuch the common study of the people. The popularity of the works extended to their author, and innumerable legends were woven about his name, while illustrious families claimed descent from him.

Rashi's lack of scientific method, unfortunately, prevents his occupying the rank in the domain of exegesis merited by his other qualities. Among the Jews, however, his reputation has suffered little, for while it is true that he was merely a commentator, the works on which he wrote were the Bible and the Talmud, and his commentaries carry a weight and authority which have rendered them inseparable from the text,

Even if his work is inferior in creative power to some productions of Jewish literature, it has exercised a far wider influence than any one of them. His is one of the masterminds of rabbinical literature, on which he has left the imprint of his predominant characteristics--terseness and clearness. His work is popular among all classes of Jews because it is intrinsically Jewish.

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Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916) was Jewish writer, historian, and folklorist. He lived in England until 1900, when he went to the United States to edit a revision of The Jewish Encyclopedia. He was later a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and editor of the American Hebrew. His major contributions to Jewish history include Jews of Angevin England (1893), An Inquiry into the Sources of the History of the Jews in Spain (1894), and Jewish Contributions to Civilization (1919), an incomplete fragment. His Story of Geographical Discovery (1899) went through a number of editions. From 1889 to 1900 he edited Folk-Lore, the journal of the Folk-Lore Society. He compiled several collections of fairy tales and edited scholarly editions of Aesop's fables (1889) and the Thousand and One Nights (6 vol., 1896)