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Celebrated Jews : Rashi
By Rafi Kleiderman - July 30, 2009


Rashi (Image: Chaim Freedman)
Rashi was a famed rabbi who was born Shlomo Yitzhaki in Troyes, in northern France in 1040. He is remembered as the author of the first comprehensive commentary on the Bible and the Talmud in the medieval period. In his teens Rashi studied at the Yeshivot of Mainz and Worms and established his own yeshiva in Troyes in 1067. His famous commentary which summarized all of the earlier Talmud has been included in every edition of the Talmud since its first printing in the 1500’s.

There are two common legends about Rashi’s birth that have entered the realm of Jewish folklore. The first is that his father found a precious jewel but instead of letting some powerful lord use it for decorating his church threw the gem into the river. When he arrived home a messenger was waiting for him who told him that because he would not led the jewel be used for idolatry that he would be rewarded with a son who “will illuminate the world with his Torah." That messenger was reported to be the Prophet Elijah and the next year Rashi was born.

The second legend took place in Worms where the family had temporarily relocated just before the birth of Rashi. According to legend Rashi’s mother was forced to press herself against the stone walls of an alley to avoid two on-coming carriages and to protect her unborn son. When she did the walls of the alley softened to meet her. An indentation that matches the size and shape of a pregnant woman’s belly still exists near the synagogue in Worms and is shown to Jewish tourists who visit the city.

Rashi learned the Torah first from his father at an early age before his formal education in Worms and Mainz. His teachers were leading Talmudists of the previous generation and Rashi learned the oral traditions pertaining to the Talmud as they had been passed down for centuries.
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