The Littman Library of
Avraham Grossman, professor emeritus of Jewish History at Hebrew University, has written a wonderful and comprehensive study of Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki (RaShI), the great medieval Ashkenazic Torah authority and communal leader, whose commentaries on the entire corpus of the Bible and Babylonian Talmud continue to be closely studied by scholar and layman alike to this day. Grossman carefully describes what can be currently determined about Rashi’s social milieu, his personality, and the Yeshiva that he established in Troyes. He also offers a careful study of the ideas, principles, and worldview that, based upon numerous examples, the author argues are inherent within this iconic Rabbinic personality’s various writings. The author draws many of his conclusions based upon nuances in Rashi’s interpretations of biblical verses, noting when, in his opinion, a comment appears unnecessary linguistically and therefore precipitates speculation as to the true purpose of the insight. Grossman presents his impressive learning and erudition gracefully, making the book both easy to read and vastly informative.
Rashi is depicted as a humble, yet strongly principled Rabbinic leader, who encouraged his students to be open-minded and analytically critical, even of their own teacher’s ideas and instruction. Grossman’s description of Rashi clearly shows him to be a product of his times defending the Talmud Bavli against variant local customs, but also as someone who was innovative in many ways that presaged the renaissance of intellectual life in general society in the twelfth century, following his passing. Since much of what we can learn about Rashi can only be inferred from his and his students’ writings, scholarly debates abound with respect to the commentator’s methodology and personal beliefs, and Grossman presents not only his own conclusions but also those of various other scholars, many with whom he takes issue to various extents. This allows the reader to appreciate the range of views with regard to topics such as whether Rashi adhered to a particular methodology when choosing Midrashim for his biblical commentary, the nature of the commentator’s pedagogical considerations in his written work, the extent to which tensions between the Christian and Jewish communities are reflected in his teachings, and his overall literary style. The author even posits that the reason why Rashi’s popularity has lasted so long is because his admirable personal characteristics are reflected in his writing, thereby causing him to resemble the goodness of Hillel and the students who attended Beit Hillel, the Yeshiva that he founded.
Grossman’s book should become an essential part of anyone’s library who studies and teaches Torah, and most certainly will prove to be of great interest to those desiring to understand the mindset and achievements of one of the great Jewish leaders of medieval Ashkenaz. Bibliography, Index of Scriptural References, Index of Rabbinic References, General Index.
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