Hebrew Language #14 Hebrew Literature #11 French school of the 11th century

The French school of the 11th century was hardly less important.
Gershom ben Judah, the “Light of the Exile” (d. in 1040 at Mainz), a famous Talmudist and commentator, his pupil Jacob ben Yaqar, and Moses of Narbonne, called ha-Darshan, the “Exegete,” were the forerunners of the greatest of all Jewish commentators, Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi), who died at Troyes in 1105.
Rashi was a pupil of Jacob ben Yaqar, and studied at Worms and Mainz. Unlike his contemporaries in Spain, he seems to have confined himself wholly to Jewish learning, and to have known nothing of Arabic or other languages except his native French. Yet no commentator is more valuable or indeed more voluminous, and for the study of the Talmud he is even now indispensable. He commented on all the Bible and on nearly all the Talmud, has been himself the text of several super-commentaries, and has exercised great influence on Christian exegesis. The biblical commentary was translated into Latin by Breithaupt (Gotha, 1710–1714), that on the Pentateuch rather freely into German by L. Dukes (Prag, 1838, in Hebrew-German characters, with the text), and parts by others.

Closely connected with Rashi, or of his school, are Joseph Qara, of Troyes (d. about 1130), the commentator, and his teacher Menahem ben Ḥelbō, Jacob ben Me’īr, called Rabbenū Tam (d. 1171), the most important of the Tosaphists (v. sup.), and later in the 12th century the liberal and rationalizing Joseph Bekhōr Shōr, and Samuel ben Me’īr (d. about 1174) of Ramerupt, commentator and Talmudist.

Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley


Taqqanah or takkanah: enactment which (1) revises an ordinance that no longer satisfies the requirements of the times or circumstances, or which (2), being deduced from a Biblical passage, may be regarded as new.
It is, therefore, the antithesis of the Gezerah. Taḳḳanot were framed even in the time of the Second Temple, those of unknown origin being ascribed to earlier leaders, and they have been promulgated at all subsequent periods of Jewish history. The term is applied also to the institution provided for in the enactment.

Gershom ben Judah = Rabbeinu Gershom:  Rabbeinu Gershom Me’Or Hagolah (“Our teacher Gershom the light of the exile“), eminent French rabbinical scholar who proposed a far-reaching series of legal enactments (taqqanot) that profoundly molded the social institutions of medieval European Jewry.
He was the founder of Talmudic studies in France and Germany. As he himself says in a responsum reported by R. Meïr of Rothenburg, he owed most of his knowledge to his teacher, French Talmudist Judah ben Meïr ha-Kohen (Sir Léontin), who was designated as “the grand” and “the gaon”, one of the greatest authorities of his time, and together with Eliezer ben Judah, addressed a teshubah to the Jewish community of Troyes concerning the validity of certain statutes.
Gershom ben Judah had many pupils from different countries, among whom should be mentioned Eleazar ben Isaac (ha-Gadol =”the Great”), nephew of Simeon ha-Gadol; and Jacob ben Yaḳar, teacher of Rashi. The fame of his learning eclipsed even that of the heads of the academies of Sura and Pumbedita.
He is celebrated for his works in the field of Biblical exegesis, the Masorah, and lexicography. He revised the text of the Mishnah and Talmud, and wrote commentaries on several treatises of the latter which were very popular and gave an impulse to the production of other works of the kind. His seliḥot were inspired by the bloody persecutions of his time. Gershom also left a large number of rabbinical responsa, which are scattered throughout various collections.

Solomon ben Isaac = Solomon bar Isaac = Shlomo Yitzchaki = Salomon Isaacides = Salomon de Troyes = Rashi: French commentator on Bible and Talmud; born at Troyes in 1040; died there July 13, 1105. His fame has made him the subject of many legends. The name of Yarḥi, applied to him as early as the sixteenth century, originated in a confusion of Solomon bar Isaac with one Solomon de Lunel, and a further error caused the town of Lunel to be regarded as Rashi’s birthplace. In reality he was a native of Troyes, where, a century ago, butcher-shops were still shown which were built on the site of his dwelling and which flies were said never to enter.
R. Simon the Elder was his maternal uncle; but a genealogy invented at a later date assigned this relationship to the tanna Johanan ha-Sandalar. According to tradition, Rashi’s father carried his religious zeal so far that he cast into the sea a gem that was much coveted by Christians, whereupon he heard a mysterious voice which foretold him the birth of a noble son. Legend states also that his mother, imperiled in one of the narrow streets of Worms (Germany) during her pregnancy, pressed against a wall, which opened to receive her. This miraculous niche is still shown there, as well as the bench from which Rashi taught. As a matter of fact, however, Rashi merely studied at Worms for a time, his first teacher being Jacob ben Yaḳar, of whom he speaks with great veneration. After Jacob’s death his place was successively filled by Isaac ben Eleazar ha-Levi, or Segan Lewiyah, and by Rashi’s relative Isaac b. Judah, the head of the school of Mayence, a school rendered illustrious through R. Gershom b. Judah (the “Light of the Exile”), who may be regarded as Rashi’s precursor, although he was never his teacher.

Isaac ben Eleazar ha-Levi Rabbi Isaac ben Eliezer Halevi = Isaac Segan Lewiyah = Isaac of Lotar = Isaac of Lorraine: German-FrenchTalmudist and liturgical poet. He was a pupil of R. Gershom “Me’or ha-Golah” and one of the teachers of Rashi; the latter mentions him often in his commentary on the Talmud (e.g., to Yoma 39a; Suk. 35b; Meg. 26a), and twice in his commentary on the Bible (to I Sam. i. 24 and Prov. xix. 24). Conforte (“Ḳore ha-Dorot,” p. 8a) confounds Isaac b. Eleazar ha-Levi with another teacher of Rashi, Isaac b. Judah, while Abraham Zacuto (l.c.) calls him “Isaac b. Asher ha-Levi.”
He was one of the “scholars of Lorraine” (“Ha-Pardes,” p. 35a; “Asufot,” p. 150a, Halberstarm MSS.); Isaac b. Moses relates (“Or Zarua’,” ii. 75b) that Meïr of Ramerupt sent a responsum, signed by his father-in-law and teacher Rashi, to Isaac ha-Levi of Lorraine. The occurrence of “Vitry” as the birthplace of Isaac ha-Levi in Asheri to Ḥul. iv. is, according to Gross (“Gallia Judaica,” p. 197), a mistake for “Lotar” (Lorraine). It is stated in the Maḥzor Vitry (quoted by Zunz, “Literaturgesch.” p. 626) that Jacob b. Yaḳar, Isaac ha-Levi, and Isaac b. Judah, all three teachers of Rashi, directed the yeshibah of Paris.

Tosaphists = Tosafists = ba’ale ha-tosafot: authors of the Tosafot: writers adding commentaries to the Talmud. For just as the Gemara is a critical and analytical commentary on the Mishnah, so are the Tosafot critical and analytical glosses on those two parts of the Talmud. The best well-known sophists are the commentators on Rashis commentary. The Tosafot began immediately after Rashi had written his commentary; the first tosafists were Rashi’s sons-in-law and grandsons, and the Tosafot consist mainly of strictures on Rashi’s commentary.
Weiss, object that many tosafot, particularly those of Isaiah di Trani, have no reference to Rashi. Weiss, followed by other scholars, asserts that “tosafot” means “additions” to the Talmud, that is to say, they are an extension and development of the Talmud.
Up to and including Rashi, the Talmudic commentators occupied themselves only with the plain meaning (“peshaṭ”) of the text; but after the beginning of the twelfth century the spirit of criticism took possession of the teachers of the Talmud. Thus some of Rashi’s continuators, as his sons-in-law and his grandson Samuel ben Meïr (RaSHBaM), while they wrote commentaries on the Talmud after the manner of Rashi’s, wrote also glosses on it in a style peculiar to themselves.
One of the medieval commentators on the Talmud, Rabbeinu Tam wrote that the apostle Peter was “a devout and learned Jew who dedicated his life to guiding gentiles along the proper path”.

Joseph Bekhōr Shōr = Joseph ben Isaac Bekhor Shor = Joseph Bekhōr Shōr of Orleans: French tosafist, exegete, and poet; flourished in the second half of the twelfth century; pupil of Jacob Tam, Joseph Caro, and Samuel ben Meïr (Rashbam). Father of Abraham ben Joseph of Orleans and Saadia Bekhor Shor.
Besides tosafot on the greater part of the Talmud, he wrote a Biblical commentary marked by considerable acumen. Even more than Rashi, to whose exegetical school he belonged, he confined himself to literal interpretations (“peshaṭ”). Anticipating later Biblical criticism, he assumed the presence of duplicate narratives in the Bible; and he strove to give rational explanations to the miraculous stories. Thus he interprets “tree of life” (Gen. ii. 9) as “tree of healing,” explaining that the fruit of the tree possessed the virtue of healing the sick, without, however, bestowing eternal life. In regard to the transformation of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt (Gen. xix. 26) he explains that, disbelieving in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, she lingered on the road, and was overtaken by the rain of brimstone and fire, which are usually mixed with salt.
His commentary on the Pentateuch is still extant in manuscript in the libraries of Leyden and Munich. Part of it, on Genesis and Exodus, was published by Jellinek. Extracts from the remaining books were published by Abraham Berliner in Peleṭat Soferim (1872). The entire commentary was published in Hebrew by Mossad HaRav Kook.
Joseph was also the author of a number of liturgical poems (piyyutim).



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah

Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash

Hebrew Language #8 Hebrew Literature #5 Talmud and Masorah

Hebrew Language #9 Hebrew Literature #6 Hebrew Liturgy

Hebrew Language #10 Hebrew Literature #7 The Geōnīm

Hebrew Language #11 Hebrew Literature #8 The Qaraites or Karaites

Hebrew Language #12 Hebrew Literature #9 Medieval scholarship

Hebrew Language #13 Hebrew Literature #10 Exegesis




  1. Rashi, Women & Wine
  2. Pearls of Rashi: Parshas Naso I

7 thoughts on “Hebrew Language #14 Hebrew Literature #11 French school of the 11th century

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