Rashi’s Glosses Belaaz: Navigating Hebrew Scripture under Feudal Lanterns

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism
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Amid sporadic anti-Jewish violence whipped by a crusading frenzy, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (“Rashi”) composed a commentary on the Hebrew Bible that was destined to become a vast navigational aid for God’s scriptural plan. Many of Rashi’s glosses invited medieval Jews on a spiritual pilgrimage that would dispel their sense of subjugation to temporal Christian powers. From the advent of Christianity, Jewish communities increasingly steered a course between Jewish autonomy and welfare, on one hand, and accommodation of Christian and feudal strictures, on the other. Wondering whether the cataclysmic destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e. signaled God’s abandonment of his people, medieval Jews’ scriptural interpretations intensified the themes of survival and internal social cohesion. To guide medieval Jewry through a middle ground between a characteristically triumphant scriptural landscape and the dispiriting Christian counterpart, Rashi frequently incorporated into his glosses French terms he transliterated into Hebrew characters. This incorporation of French was both purposeful and well-informed. As a minority community in Rashi’s Troyes, Jews lived two distinct experiences: in one, they spoke vernacular French with Christian neighbors, while, in the other, they prayed and studied the Pentateuch and Prophets in Hebrew. In this setting, the laazim communicated to Jewish readers in a specialized language akin to a password or a special handshake. Yet the glosses, because they were enveloped in Hebrew commentaries and disguised in Hebrew letters, would have eluded French-speaking Christians who could not have identified fragments of their own language hiding in plain sight.

Rashi’s Glosses Belaaz: Navigating Hebrew Scripture under Feudal Lanterns

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism




Raphael Levy“Rashi’s Contribution to the French Language,” in Jewish Quarterly Review New Series 32 71 (July 1941) p. 73.


Jonathan M. Weiser“Translation as Interpretation: Rashi’s Use of French in His Commentary to the Torah,” in Traditionvol. 29 no. 4 (Summer 1995) p. 35.


Weiser p. 37.


LiberRashi p. 81. Other scholars have disagreed with Liber’s assessment of rabbinical knowledge of chivalry. See for example Rabinowitz The Social Life p. 237. According to Rabinowitz medieval Jews of northern France had intimate knowledge of chivalric institutions and practices as suggested by Samuel b. Meir’s matter-of-fact testimony: “It is the custom of princes to go for promenades and rides in the morning.” Rabinowitz p. 67. Rashbam detailed the proper use of the sword the construction of the strongbow and the chivalric custom of throwing the gauntlet. Idem at p. 238.


Marc BlochFeudal Society (translation L.A. Manyon; University of Chicago Press: Chicago1961) vol. 2 p. 337.


Roger p. 49. Winos (wine; vineyards) recurs in Rashi’s laazim. See e.g. Deut. 32:14: “Of the blood of the grape thou drankest foaming wine.”


Rabinowitz pp. 23 44–45. See generally Wm. Kibler and Grover Zinn eds. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia (1995) pp. 639–640. For a classical legal study of Champagne’s fairs and markets see P. Huvelin Essai historique sur le droit des marches et des foires (Paris 1897).


Rabinowitz p. 23.


Pirenne p. 66.


Agus p. 410 n. 92.


Grabois p. 245. Because Jewish law opposed oaths a guarantee could have consisted of a pledged asset or the promise of a third person who orally bound himself before a public official. “Emunnah or fides” in Rashi’s responsa signified a promise guaranteed by a third person rather than a guarantee backed up by an oath. Grabois p. 249. The laaz “Guarantee” appears at 1 Kgs. 10:15 Is. 38:14 Jer. 25:20 50:37 Ezek. 27:9 30:5 Ps. 119:122. Surety was translated in the laaz guarantee. “Be surety for thy servant for good.”


Rabinowitz p. 48.


Rabinowitz p. 41.


Rabinowitz p. 44.


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