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Wiesel book on Rashi should have been more thorough

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Rashi by Elie Wiesel. Translated from the French by Catherine Temerson, Nextbook ISBN 978-0-8052-4254-6, ©2009, $22.00, p. 90 plus chronology, glossary, and bibliography.

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — One would be hard pressed to find a greater Jewish authority than Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak, known to the world as Rashi. Many religious questions have been quickly resolved by the opening words, “And Rashi says….” As a prolific eleventh century French rabbi, intellectual, and Hebrew grammarian, Rashi produced a commentary on nearly every book of the Talmud and a comprehensive interpretation of the Five Books of Moses. In addition, as a recognized Judaic scholar, Rashi wrote nearly three hundred responsa on wide-ranging topics for the benefit of many Western European Jewish communities.

Rashi was born in Troyes, located in France’s Champagne region, in 1040. During his youth, he demonstrated an affinity for Jewish learning. His family sent him to Worms and Mainz in Germany where he studied under Rabbi Gershom, a scholar and Jewish authority in his own right. At age twenty-five, Rashi returned to Troyes. Five years later, he established a yeshiva there.

Although Rashi lived through the First Crusades, the city of Troyes was unaffected. It is against this backdrop that Elie Wiesel presents a portrait of Rashi.

Rashi is divided into four chapters. In the first, Wiesel explores the Jewish history of France and Germany during the eleventh century. The second chapter reveals snippets of Rashi’s biblical commentary from the Book of Genesis. The third chapter touches on a very few of Rashi’s commentaries on the Talmud and responsa. The final chapter speaks of the First Crusades and anti-Semitism that fell on the Jewish communities in the Rhineland.

The book is well-written, as we would expect from a Nobel Prize winning author. However, those readers expecting a full biography of Rashi will be disappointed. Rashi is part of Nextbooks Press’ Jewish Encounters Series. Previous works reviewed by this writer from that series (Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Goldstein, The Jewish Body by Melvin Konner, and Yehuda HaLevi by Hillel Halkin) were extensively researched, with the facts being woven into a comprehensive story. To that end, this book is disappointing and leaves the reader wanting much more about this remarkable medieval Jewish scholar.

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Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

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