RashiYomi Inc,
Dr Hendel President, November 2001
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GOALS: My goals in this elementary, short article - written for the layman - are to
* Present the 6 classes of Rashi rules, with simple, clear understandable examples
* Show how database lists and their theory can be used to understand Rashi
* Impart the flavor of my Rashi explanations with catchy punchy examples
* Show why, when, and how reading Rashi may require reinterpreting Rashis literal text
* Show that the simple intuitive interpretation of the Biblical text is identical with Talmudic interpretation
* Show how you can use the Rashi website ( to facilitate understanding Rashi.

THE DICTIONARY RULE: We now begin the presentation of the 6 Rashi rule classes. Perhaps Rashis simplest goal is to provide a Biblical Hebrew dictionary. If you wanted to know the meaning of a word (in any language) you would open a dictionary. You might find 2-6 meanings of the word, some of which you didnt know. Or, you might find the exact shade of meaning of a word. Rashi will sometimes do these tasks for Biblical Hebrew.

For example, Rashi on Gn18-15a (the 1st Rashi (Rashi a) on chapter 18, verse 15 of the book of Genesis) states that Our (Talmudic) sages have taught that the Hebrew word KI -- Kaph-Yud -- has 4 meanings: (a) if (b) perhaps ( c) rather (d) because. However, if you glance at Gn24-33a Rashi states The word IF can also mean THAT; in particular when the Sages say that the Hebrew word KI can mean IF they intend that KI can also mean THAT. So KI now has 5, not 4, meanings. Furthermore, on Gn27-36a Rashi states The Hebrew word HaKi -- Hey-Kaph-Yud -- can indicate a question. So KI now has 6 meanings. Thus, these other Rashis require us to reinterpret the Rashi text on Gn18-15a, which says that KI (only) has 4 meanings.

Having discussed Rashis comments on the Hebrew word KI, we next discuss the 4 ways the Rashi database can be used as a resource. Suppose, by way of example, you were curious about KI meaning RATHER. (1) Then you could navigate to the words page. Using the browser menu find command you can locate the entries for KI. You may then review (1a) the six meanings of KI, (1b) the text of Biblical verses illustrating these 6 meanings, (1c) the verse and Rashi citations for these 6 meanings; for example, Rashi translates Dt15-08b as Dont be miserly; rather(KI) be charitable. (2) You can then hyperlink to the KI page; (2a) On the KI page you may review a database list of 9 verse citations where Rashis interprets KI as rather, (2b) you can also read the texts of these verses; for example another verse where KI means rather is Dt11-07a which Rashi translates as Your fathers did not see Gods wonders; rather(KI) you did; (3) By navigating to the top of this html page you can find references to the original E-mail group discussions on KI. (3a) You can find the issues of the biweekly Rashi-is-Simple serial discussing KI (some of these original discussions are a bit wordy and inaccurate). (3b) You can also navigate to the Daily Rashi Calendar page; using the browser find command you can find and hyperlink to the RashiYomi serial which hosted a 2 week discussion of KI in February 2001; (3c) More knowledgeable readers can navigate to the Parshah page, select the Parshah of Reeh and directly click on Dt15-08b. (4) Finally, you can elect to join these E-mail groups; you can regularly receive either the biweekly Rashi is Simple E-mail newsletter or the Daily Ayelet RashiYomi newsletter where you can also ask questions and make comments.

We have only touched this Rashi Dictionary Rule. Here is a small taste of further uses of this rule, which can be found either on the words page, in the Rashi-is-Simple archives or on the RashiYomi calendar. (1) Rashi, besides presenting the meaning of individual words, also translates idioms and phrases: For example, the phrase on the face of means during the lifetime (Nu03-04a) (2) Sometimes Rashi doesnt explicitly state the 2-6 meanings of a word: For example there are about 6 dozen Rashis on the Hebrew word Kol which means All. Reviewing these Rashis shows there are 5 distinct ways that Rashi translates All. Rashi never makes these usages explicit; nevertheless, you can review the lists of verses supporting them. (3) Finally some translations may be controversial: For example, the Hebrew root Yud-Dalet-Ayin (YDA) is traditionally translated as to know. But some of the dozen Rashis on YDA, such as Dt34-10a, seem to suggest that a more accurate translation is familiar: e.g.(Gn04-01) Adam was familiar with his wife sounds better than Adam knew his wife.

THE GRAMMAR RULE: Some Rashis simply comment on the grammar of a verse. To further appreciate Rashis goals we review current approaches to Rashi: The noted Rashi Professor, Dr Nechama Leibowitz advocated, in her Chumash series, to begin the study of Rashi by finding the question that Rashi was answering. Similarly, the current Rashiist, Rabbi Boncheck, in his popular Chumash series advocates beginning the study of Rashi by focusing on What is bothering Rashi. But I prefer the advice of Professor Goshen-Gottstein, who wryly pointed out that if it were not for the masorites no one would even notice certain textual minutiae. In other words Rashi was neither asking questions nor giving answers: Rashi was a masorite--his goal was to preserve the Biblical text; he did this by reporting rarity & similarity.

We can see this most clearly in Rashis grammatical comments. Most people are aware that Hebrew grammar is based on 3-letter roots, which are assigned meanings. By conjugating these roots we obtain nuances of the fundamental root meaning. There are many popular references and books on how to conjugate verbs. Rashis job was not to teach grammar but to report on rare or easily confused forms and usages. For example, both the Hebrew words for coming and came are spelled Beth-Aleph-Hey. They minutely differ in their accents--the Hebrew word for coming is ba-AH with the accent on the last syllable while the Hebrew word for came is BA-ah with the accent on the first syllable (Rashi: Gn46-26a) We call such a grammatical example a near miss: i.e. 2 forms are almost identical but differ in some minutiae.

Here are some other examples of Grammatical Rashis reporting rarity & similarity. These examples can further be reviewed on the main grammar page, the Rashi calendar, the Verse page, or the Rashi-is-Simple archives. : (1) THE INTERROGATIVE: In Hebrew, to make a sentence interrogative, one places the Hebrew letter Hey before the first word of the sentence and punctuates it with a chataf-patach (Rashi Gn03-11b). Rashi supplements this rule by reporting its rare cases (Nu32-06a) and exceptions (Gn27-38a): For example if the first letter of the sentence is a guttural letter, like Aleph, the interrogative hey is punctuated with a patach. (2) THE SENTENCE: Most of the 6000 Biblical verses are in fact complete sentences. About 0.2% of these verses are only clauses of 2-verse sentences. For example, Rashi translates the verse pair Dt11-07a Dt11-08 as It was not your fathers who saw these wonders; rather it was you. (3) RARE CONJUGATIONS: The rules of grammar have to be modified if one of the 3 root letters is a weak letter. Most good students know these rules. Rashi comments on the even rarer case of roots with 2 weak letters (Ex05-14c). (4) PREPOSITIONAL CONNECTIVES: The great Rashi theorist, Malbim pointed out that many difficult Rashis could be instantly simplified by skillfully reviewing the use of prepositional connectives. For example the Hebrew letter Lamed functions as a preposition meaning to. Rashi brilliantly points out that Lamed can also mean about: Thus Rashi translates Gn20-13c, not as, Say to(lamed) me: you are my brother but rather Say about(Lamed) me(to other people): He is my brother. In fact the Hebrew lamed has about half a dozen usages! (5) CONTROVERSIAL RARITIES: Dissenting from other early commentators, Rashi boldly translates the infinitive as a gerund phrase, thereby enriching verses with meaningful nuances: Thus, Dt16-01a is translated as Be involved in watching the springtime for Passover, explicitly hinting at the calendar practice of making leap years so that Passover should coincide with Springtime.

THE CITATION RULE: An extremely powerful Rashi method is to derive information, not from the verse itself -- through an internal analysis of meaning and grammar -- but rather through citation of other verses. This citation method can make complex Rashis simple and punchy. The citation method is also frequently employed to enrich understanding. Citations are used by Rashi in 6 ways, which can be reviewed at the other verse summary page

Here are some examples: (1) ENRICHMENT OF TEXT: Dt26-05d states An Aramaean tried to unemploy my father Jacob; (so) he went down to Egypt and stayed over there with only a few people. The meaning of this sentence, which is the basis for the Passover Hagaddah, is clear. Rashi, following the Hagaddah sages, enriches the verses meaning by cross-referencing Gn46-27, which states The number of people coming to Egypt with Jacob was 70. Thus the citation of Gn46-27 enables Rashi to explain the phrase with few people (Dt26-05d) as referring to 70 people. As is well known, the Passover Hagaddah finds cross-references for every phrase in Dt26-05:06 (2) SIMPLIFYING COMPLEXITY: Lv01-05a speaks about the slaughter of the elevation offering. Rashi comments that while most offering procedures must be done by priests, nevertheless, the slaughtering can be done by non-priests. How did Rashi know this? One approach is to compare the grammatical subjects of all sentences in Lv01, which shows that only some verses mention priests as the subject, implying that the remaining procedures can be done by non-priests. The Malbim brilliantly points out that we can bypass this complicated grammatical analysis and more simply refer to a verse, 2Chr30-17, which explicitly states that non priests may slaughter. (3) CONTROVERSIAL CITATIONS: There are 3 Rashis (E.g. Ex17-10b) stating that Chur was the son of Kalev and Miriam. But there is no apparent source for this suggested genealogy. This difficult Rashi, which seems to be a fact known by tradition, can be derived from a highly ambiguous verse, I-Chron18-19 which has a 5 way controversy on its interpretation, one of which is that Kalev married Miriam after her ostracization by leprosy(Nu12) and nursed her back to health -- from this marriage came Chur. (Amusingly Rashis interpretation of 1-Chron18-19 disagrees with his own interpretation of Ex17-10b suggesting that possibly he didnt take the Midrash seriously). (4) CONTRADICTORY VERSES: Verses whose meanings contradict each other, far from being an exception, is a Biblical style. The 13th of Rabbi Ishmaels style principles is 2 verses may contradict each other; the resolution of this controversy either through logic or a third Biblical verse leads to deeper understanding. For example, Gn35-22a states Reuven slept with Bilhah his fathers concubine. Rashi, shockingly states He didnt really commit incense. He only ruffled the bedspreads in order to steer his father away from Bilhah and back to Leah. This Rashi is clarified by the contradictory verse Gn49-04 For you, Reuven, played with your fathers bedS implying that Reuvens real sin was interference with his fathers personal life. The Bible, to emphasize the seriousness of the sin, employs the common technique of exaggeration, & compares the sin to incest

THE RABBI ISHMAEL RULES Dt25-04a states Dont muzzle an ox while it is threshing; Rashi, following the Talmud, states, Dont stop any animal from eating while doing its traditional work. Thus Rashi generalized the verse: The Biblical word ox is generalized to any animal; the Biblical word muzzle refers to any interference with animal eating; the Biblical phrase an ox while it is threshing refers to any standard animal work. In other words Dt25-04 didnt describe a whole law but an example of a law. The law is generalized. Still another perspective is that Rashi applied a broad, Vs a restrictive method of interpretation to the verse.

Why? What allowed Rashi and chazal to generalize? Can we generalize any verse? The verse is simple--why generalize it? The answer to these questions lies in the Rabbi Ishmael rules. Just as the dictionary governs meaning, and just as grammar governs interpretation of syntactic function, so too, Rabbi Ishmaels rules govern whether a verse is interpreted broadly or restrictively, whether the verse is seen as the whole law or just an example of a whole law. Rabbi Ishmael was a Tanna who gave us 13 style rules governing breadth and width. His rules occur in the Sifrah and are printed in the prayer books. Other tannaim gave different formulations of these rules--some had as few as 7 while some had as many as 32. They do not differ on the content of the laws, which can be derived from explicit verses in the Bible, but rather they differ on the formulation of the laws. For purposes of understanding Rashi I present 3 style rules classes:

There are 3 primary Biblical styles and 3 primary methods of broad-literal interpretation: (1) GENERALIZATION: Already Rashi in Pesachim 6, lays down the rule that every simple non compound sentence should be generalized. There are about a dozen Rashis illustrating that every simple sentence-- like Dt25-04a, Dont muzzle an ox while threshing,--should be generalized. (2) LITERAL: Nu05-12d states If a woman desecrates her marriage..and a man sleeps with her. Rashi explains that this passage uses the General-Example style which therefore requires a literal interpretation. The Biblical phrase If a woman desecrates her marriage is a General statement that could refer to any desecration. The following Biblical phrase and a man sleeps with her is an Example of this general statement of desecration. Rabbi Ishmael requires that every General-Example passage be interpreted literally: That is, even though there are many types of marriage desecrations, Nu05 only applies to adultery. (3) SIMILARITY: Lv05-21b states If a man make a denial to his colleague -- in a deposit, in a placement of hand(i.e. a loan), in a theft, in a withholding of wages, in a found article -- or on anything that a person makes a denial on. Then he will return what he owes with a 25% fine. Rashi explains that this passage uses a General-Example-General style which requires a similar interpretation. Here are the details: The Biblical phrase If a man makes a denial to his colleague is a general statement (e.g. he could deny that the person is a skilled shoemaker and prevent him from earning a living); the Biblical phrase in a deposit, placement of hand, theft, withholding or lost article are examples of denial; the phrase or on anything that a person makes a denial on is another general phrase. Rabbi Ishmael requires that all Example-General or General-Example-General styles be interpreted similarly -- in other words they are interpreted broadly but not too broadly. For this reason Rashi interprets the Biblical phrase placement of hand as a loan or partnership. Rashi did not learn this interpretation from a dictionary tradition nor from grammar. Rather Rashi learned this from style which is an equal but independent force of interpretation. Furthermore since all examples in Nu05-21 are monetary or movable objects we also infer that Nu05 does not apply to real-estate since including real estate in the interpretation of Nu05 would be a totally broad interpretation while monetary involvement is a similar or partially broad interpretation.

In summary there are 3 main styles corresponding to 3 main methods of interpretation: The (1)simple non-compound sentence requires totally broad interpretation; the (2) the General-Example style requires strict literal interpretation; (3) the Example-General styles require Similar interpretations. Needless to say different Talmudic Rabbis will have different conceptions of how far to go with similar or broad interpretations; but the style guidelines they all follow are as presented. Those who wish to further study these laws should visit the Rashi Website example series starting with the example1 page and concluding with the example9 page.

THE CLIMAX RULE: Dt19-11a states If a man hates another person, and he ambushes him, and confronts him and lethally kills him then he receives a death penalty; Rashi points out that the 4 components of this verse -- hatred, ambushing/stalking, confrontation, murder -- describe a murder project. They explain how it happens. How does a horrible crime like murder happen? It happens by a progression of stages: first there is the hatred stage, then the spying stage, followed by a confrontation stage which inevitably must lead to blows and death.

The traditional view on Biblical poetry is that the Bible will repeat the same idea several times as a poetic technique. A recent book on the subject, Oconnors Hebrew Verse Structure lays out in rather complete detail the rules of structure governing repetition. But this book deals with structure not meaning. Rashi laid down a deep principle that just as the dictionary and grammar can authorize the creation of meaning so too can the principle of climax authorize the creation of meaning even when the words themselves dont fully justify it!! The climax principle in its simplest form asserts that if the Bible repeats the same phrase 3 or more times then we are justified in interpreting these 3 repetitions as describing the climactic development of a project theme even if the Biblical language doesnt fully justify this interpretation. The murder project in Dt19-11a is a simple example. Several others are presented on the example9 page.

Here is another example:(2) Lv26-14:16 describes 6 stages in a heresy project: (2a) stop learning religion (2b) avoid performance (2c) ridicule rituals without reasons (2d) deny the Jewish authority to have civil courts (2e) avoid the community (2f) apostasy.

Let us examine this example more closely: Lv26-14 states But if you(the Jews) do not listen to me (God) and dont do my commandments. It appears as if the verse repeats the non-listening theme twice. Rashi however identifies the Biblical phrase if you dont listen to me with not learning religion (Lv26-14a) while Rashi identifies and dont do my commandments with the avoidance of performance (Lv26-14b). It is important to emphasize that the Biblical phrase if you do not listen to me could equally refer to avoidance of learning or avoidance of doing commandments. What compels Rashi to interpret listening to me as an avoidance of learning is not the dictionary nuances of meaning; nor is it anything grammatical. Rather the principle of climax acts as a separate and independent force of meaning requiring a climactic development. Understanding this principle would help avoid many unnecessary Talmudic logic dances on Biblical words! Rashi in effect used his knowledge on how people become heretics and then connected this sequence of stages to the Biblical verses! Thus the driving force of meaning was not the verses or special nuances in the words but rather ones knowledge of reality--In the real world people first stop learning and then only later stop performance. True, there are about half a dozen stylistic oddities in these verses which help support these interpretations; but they are just supportive. For a lengthy discussion on Lv26-14:16 see volume 2 number 5 of the Rashi-is-Simple serial which explores 5 stylistic supportive oddities. The discussion there helps appreciate why we believe the Bible requires use of the climax principle.

THE FORMATTING RULE: Modern 20th century manuscripts, whether they are professional books or friendly letters, typically use modern formatting for emphasis. Such techniques as bold, italic, underline, bullets, paragraphs, footnotes all facilitate and enhance communication. A nuance inferred from a bold or bullet is considered the intended communication of the author. The Bible had a variety of methods which were the equivalents of these modern techniques. Consequently many Rashis will become intuitive and punchy once they are translated into modern typographical language.

BOLD: Emphasis is indicated in modern typography via bold, italic or underline. The Bible indicated emphasis by repeating words. For example Ex12-09c states about the Pascal lamb Do not Cook Cook it in water; Rashi comments Cooking in water is the usual way of cooking but cooking in any other liquid is also prohibited. Rashi was responding to the repeated word, Cook Cook, as if it was bolded or underlined: Do not Cook it in water; Rashi responded to this bold by pointing out that the emphasis was on the cooking, not on the water: Do not Cook in any way possible. A more controversial example occurs on Gn39-11b which states She grabbed him by his garment; so he left his garment in her hand and fled. Note the repeated word Garment: The Bible could have alternatively used a pronoun: She grabbed him by his garment; so he left it with her and fled. Rashi perceived the repeated garment as a bolded word: She grabbed him by the garment; so he left it and fled. The emphasis conferred on the word garment by the bold could easily conjure, to most adults, images of a (sexually) stained garment. Rashi simply states: There is an opinion that he initially intended to sin(but changed his mind at the last minute)! To review further examples of this repeated word technique visit the doubl series on the Rashi calendar or directly go to the doubl summary page.

BULLETS: Bullets are used to emphasize distinctness of items. The Bible indicates distinctness by skillfully using repeated keywords. For example Ex03-11a states Who am I (Moses) that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Jews out of Egypt. The repeated keyword that creates a bullet like effect. It is as if the verse reads:

Who am I that
* I should go to Pharaoh
* I should take the Jews out of Egypt

Rashi interprets these bullets as emphasizing that (a) Pharaoh is a difficult king to fight; (b) the Jews are rebellious and may not be capable of living free. This double emphasis (on Pharaoh and Jews) comes from the bulleted structure. Although there is no bullet page yet the interested reader may review many examples at Nu04-16b, Dt30-15a, Ex18-01d

PARAGRAPHS: Modern typography indicates a paragraph by having an empty line(white space) before and after it. By using the paragraph format the author indicates that all sentences in the paragraph are connected. Most people are unaware that it is the paragraph, not the sentence, that is the basic unit of thought. Thus, authors indicate distinct clusters of ideas by using distinct paragraphs. The Bible has a variety of methods to indicate paragraphs of which we present two:

The Bible can indicate a paragraph by using a TDT form: Ex02-11a provides an example:

The child(Moses) grew. He was brought to her(Pharaohs daughter). He became like her son. She called him Moses because he was drawn from the water. During these many years Moses grew and went out to his brothers & saw their suffering

Note the repeated bolded sentence: Moses grew. This sentence is the Topic sentence of the paragraph. The other sentences of the paragraph are sandwiched between this repeated topic sentence. These other sentences develop the topic sentence. Hence we may speak about a Topic-Development-Topic (TDT) form. This TDT form identifies the group of sentences as forming a paragraph and hence focusing on one topic idea. Rashi states Moses grew physically and socially. He was a leader in Pharaohs house. Rashi derives this from the overall paragraph structure. The paragraph explicitly develops the topic sentence of Moses growing with such details as He became like her son thereby indicating that the growth was, not just physical, but, the growth of a royal household member.

A second method by which the Bible indicates paragraphs is thru use of contrasting keywords. Thus if two groups of sentences begin with the keywords and I Vs and you then they form two paragraphs. The resulting grouping of sentences into two paragraphs helps us focus on the differences and nuances of their meaning. Gn06-17:21 provides an example:

And I: I am now bringing a flood of water on the earth to destroy all living creatures...but I will maintain my treaty with you (Noach) & you will come to the ark ..with your family...& you will bring 2 of every animal and bird to the ark to live
And you: Take from all edibles and gather them for food in the ark. And Noach did as God commanded

The contrasting bolded keywords And I Vs And you mark two paragraphs. The top paragraph presents Gods obligations and promises while the bottom paragraph presents Noachs obligations. Using the groupings imposed by the paragraphs we now understand the following two Rashis: On Gn07-09a Rashi states The animals came by themselves to the ark (that is Noach did not have to bring them). Rashi derives this from the fact that the coming of the animals to the ark is mentioned in the first paragraph(Gods obligations), not the second paragraph(Noachs obligations). Thus it was Gods job to bring the animals, not Noachs. Thus, this fact is derived from the paragraph groupings. Similarly on Gn06-18a Rashi states That God had to especially bless the fruits and vegetables so they shouldnt rot in the ark. Again Rashi learns this from the paragraph division: Noachs sole job was to bring edibles while Gods job was to keep everyone alive.

We do not yet have a paragraph page on the Rashi website. However the following URLs provide a few dozen Rashis dealing with this paragraph rule: Gn12-10a, Gn28-10a, Gn48-20b, Gn17-09a, Ex02-11a, Gn06-22a, Gn17-07a.

FOOTNOTES: Modern typography use footnotes to add minute details when these details would otherwise obscure and confuse the main idea of the text. The Bible indicates footnotes by repeating a verse and changing 1 or 2 words. The resulting contrast then suggests the footnote idea. We call this the alignment method since you uncover the footnote by aligning similar verses. The comparison and contrast of similar Biblical passages is a fundamental technique that produces many inferences. The interested reader may review examples in our align series on the RashiYomi calendar. The alignment summary page summarizes over a 100 Rashis. We have uncovered 4 methods of using alignment.

We now present an example: Contrasting Ex20-03 and Ex20-04 we see the following similarities and differences:

Ex20-03 Dont possess the gods of others
Ex20-04 Dont make idols

The above table shows that one verse prohibits possession of idols while the 2nd verse prohibits making/manufacturing them. So quite simply, on Ex20-03a, Rashis states There are two idolatry prohibitions---it is prohibited to make them even if you sell them to others and dont possess them; similarly it is prohibited to possess them even if you didnt manufacture them. The above table also uses two names: idols Vs god of others thereby suggesting that either possession or manufacturing by themselves is prohibited (Otherwise I might have thought that it is only prohibited if you possess the idol that you made).

The construction of such contrast tables greatly facilitates understanding alignment. If modern notation was used the above would probably be expressed with footnotes. The main text would simply say that owning idols is prohibited. A footnote would then clarify that both owning and manufacture is prohibited. The prohibition is independent of whether the manufactured idol is sold or the owned idol was manufactured by someone else. The purpose of the footnote is to keep the details from the main text so as smoothen reading. The footnote then provides further logical detail for those who wish it. Note that footnotes are considered intended communication of the author. In a similar manner the use of alignment must be considered an intentional technique by the Biblical Author to communicate to us. (This elegant footnote model for Biblical alignment was first advocated by Rabbi Hirsch in his commentary on Ex21.)