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The Text of Rashi's Torah Commentary

by Deborah Abecassis, Dept. of Jewish Studies, McGill University

Rashi's Torah Commentary is textually problematic. A recent edition of the work, Rashi HaShalem, includes four printed editions in its publication, declaring its inability, and ours, to rely on just one version. A brief comparison of the three earliest printed editions, presented in parallel columns, reveals large blank areas and missing lines. It illustrates graphically the degree to which the commentary is not consistent from one edition to the next. A more detailed examination demonstrates that the types of variants range from changes in letters and words to whole paragraphs and comments that are present or missing from any given edition. Conjunctions are included or missing consistently, as are plene and defective spellings. Numbers are interchangeably written out in words or represented in their letter symbols; often both forms appear in the same comment. Prooftexts or additional examples differ from one text to another or are completely absent, or are partially absent. And comments expressing basically the same idea are often articulated in different words and phrases.

For very few of these variants is there any way of telling for sure which are authentic to the commentary, and which are the results of additions or omissions or general scribal corruption. As early as the fifteenth century, the first printers of the work acknowledged that they "corrected" the text before printing it in order to eliminate the errors. Unfortunately, neither they nor even Abraham Berliner, four centuries later, identified these alleged errors. Equally important, they failed to explain how they corrected them. The centuries of scribal activity that had altered the manuscripts of Rashi's commentary were thus compounded by many uncritical decisions of the printers.

One key to uncovering the most authentic version of Rashi's commentary is to examine texts written as close to his lifetime as possible. The earliest manuscript we have of Rashi's commentary is dated 1233, almost 130 years after Rashi's death. Both the frequency with which the work was copied and the number of individuals copying and studying the work, writing notes and corrections on the very text, preclude attributing unchallenged authenticity to a manuscript copied so far removed from the time of Rashi's death. Rashi's popularity and the extent of the commentary's circulation, even within his own lifetime, would have facilitated the introduction of countless changes. Over time, these changes have become virtually undetectable, and 130 years of unaccountable textual transmission have left us with no basis on which to evaluate preferred readings of the more than 200 existing manuscripts.

Examples provided in the presentation demonstrated that citations of Rashi in the Torah commentaries of the Tosafot offer the closest text to Rashi's own lifetime, and hence, the most reasonable alternative to Rashi's own copy. The Tosafot were twelfth- and thirteenth - century Franco - German exegetes who were primarily relatives and students and colleagues of Rashi. For the most part, their writings were explanations and criticisms of him, and additions to and expansions of his interpretations. As evidenced by their name, the Tosafot, meaning additions, saw themselves as part of Rashi's larger exegetical project. Since their relationship to Rashi and their citations of him precede, in some cases, the known representations of the commentary in even the oldest manuscripts, examining their treatment helps to recover the Rashi text closest to the original.

The examples suggest that the text of Rashi utilized by the Tosafot was significantly different from both the early and modern editions. They demonstrate the types of small nuances and changes that can enlighten the reader to the corruptions that have become untraceable and undistinguishable in the printed editions, and they show how portions of the printed interpretations attributed to Rashi are actually explanations and criticisms offered by the Tosafot that, through various processes, were attributed to Rashi himself.

By using the citations in Tosafot to eliminate the textual corruptions, we can isolate specific comments and use these reconstructed versions to evaluate the extant manuscripts of Rashi's commentary. With even just a handful of examples in which the Tosafot have demonstrated the correct Rashi, without all the layers, we can then isolate those manuscripts of Rashi that present the comments in conformity with the text in the Tosafot. These manuscripts will lead us towards a mechanism by which to judge the texts of the commentary and identify a preferred text for the base of a critical edition. An essential component of any effort to recover the original text of Rashi must therefore include the citations of Rashi in the Torah commentaries of the Tosafot.

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