Sunday, August 07, 2005

When Did Rashi Live?

As mentioned in a comment to an earlier thread, the standard dates given for Rashi's life are 1040-1105. However, Victor Aptowitzer (Mevo Ha-Ra'avyah pp. 395-397) questions the year accepted for Rashi's birth. He gives the following reasons for an earlier year of birth:

1. An early source connects Rashi's birth in 1040 to the death of Rabbenu Gershom in that same year. However, it is not at all clear that Rabbenu Gershom died in 1040. It is possible that he died in 1028 and, therefore, the connection might remain with the year changed.

2. There is a tradition that Rashi died at the age of 75. If we accept his date of death as 1105, his year of birth would be 1030.

3. Rashi asked a number of question to R. Nassan, author of the Arukh. Rashi certainly would not have asked a question to a foreign rabbi while studying in the greatest yeshivas in Europe, so he must have asked before he entered the academies in Germany. There is also a text that implies that Rashi asked a question to R. Nassan before R. Ya'akov ben R. Yakar died (in 1064). Since Rashi studied under R. Ya'akov ben R. Yakar for a number of years, and asked serious questions of halakhic practice appropriate for a practicing rabbi before studying under R. Ya'akov ben R. Yakar, he must have asked those questions at least a few years before 1064, let's say in 1060. Therefore, Rashi must have been old enough, in 1060, to be a practicing rabbi.

4. When Rashi returned to France from the yeshivas in Germany, he changed an ancient French practice. Could a young rabbi make such a significant change? He must have been known as an outstanding scholar BEFORE going to Germany.

These all indicate that Rashi was at least 30 years old by the year 1060, i.e. he was born around 1028-1030.

5. Rashi asked a question regarding removing the gid ha-nasheh from an animal in preparation for his daughter's wedding from R. Yitzhak Ha-Levi. The latter passed away in 1070. Thus, Rashi must have had a daughter old enough to get married before 1070. If Rashi was born in 1040, he would have been only 30 when R. Yitzhak Ha-Levi died and could hardly have had a daughter of marriageable age.

However, Avraham Grossman (Hakhmei Tzorfas Ha-Rishonim pp. 122-123) points to the strong manuscript testimony to Rashi's birth in either 1040 or 1041 (Grossman prefers the latter and suggests that the former is just a round estimate). He points out that the tradition in #2 above is from a frequently inaccurate and untrustworthy source. #1, #3, and #4 are mere speculation, insufficient to alter a date that is backed up by strong manuscript evidence. #5 is based on incorrect information. As Grossman proved elsewhere (Hakhmei Ashkenaz Ha-Rishonim pp. 267-270), R. Yitzhak Ha-Levi passed away somewhere around 1075-1080.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More