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Medieval Sourcebook:
Rashi (1040-1105):
Communal Affairs in Troyes, c.1100


[Marcus Introduction] RABBI SOLOMON BAR ISAAC (RaSHI) of Troyes (1040-11O5) is probably the best known medieval Jewish scholar. He attained this popularity, which he still retains in Jewry, through his Biblical and Talmudic commentaries which are noted for their terseness, clarity, and erudition. Most of his life was spent in his native town of Troyes, where he encouraged the Biblical and Talmudic studies which his descendants carried on and which made of northern France one of the great centers of rabbinic scholarship in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

He supported himself probably through the manufacture and sale of wine and at the same time, no doubt, acted as rabbi in Troyes, then one of the chief business towns of Europe. Some of his legal decisions are interesting because they throw light on the times in which he lived and in addition give us an insight into the character of this notable scholar.

The first selection given below is a brief teshubah ("answer") to the sheelah ("question") of a woman who wishes to know if she is to be considered married according to the Jewish religion. She and her husband, both Jews, had contracted a Jewish marriage with witnesses, at a time when both had been forced to embrace Christianity, probably during the days of the First Crusade. It was during this same period that Rashi lost many friends and relatives at the hands of the fanatical crusaders.

The second selection is a decision of Rashi in the case of a woman who has been driven from her home, unjustly, by an unscrupulous husband. These teshubot or "answers" to legal and ritual problems were written in Hebrew.

1. Forced Converts to Christianity During the Days of the First Crusade, 1096-1105

Herewith do I, the undersigned, answer him who has questioned me concerning the marriage of a certain girl who was married at a time when she and the groom, as well as the witnesses to the ceremony, had already been forced by Gentiles to disavow the Jewish religion.

I am of the opinion that this woman requires a bill of divorcement before she can marry another man. The marriage of a Jew who has even voluntarily become an apostate and then marries is legal [according to Jewish law]. For it is said [Joshua 7: 11] "Israel has sinned," meaning [Sanhedrin 44a] that even though he has sinned he is still an Israelite. How much the more is this true in the case a£ all these forced converts who at heart are still loyal to God. Now in this particular case how their final conduct reflects their original attitude, for as soon as they were able to find some form of escape they returned to Judaism. And even though the witnesses may have led a loose life while living among the non­Jews and may be suspected of the iniquities of the Gentiles, nevertheless their testimony to the marriage does not thereby become invalid....

Peace! Solomon the son of Rabbi Isaac.

2. Rashi Defends an Unfortunate Woman, before 1105

Two people came to argue their case before Rabbi Solomon. The wife complained that her husband had divorced her but had not treated her in accordance with Jewish custom. He answered: "I have divorced you in accordance with the law. You have no claim, not even to the amount stipulated in the marriage contract, for I was deceived when I married you. It is evident that you are afflicted with skin trouble, and the signs of this disease appear on you, on your nose; and your face in general is breaking out with boils. Before your marriage you yourself suffered from this disease which you got from your family, some of whom are also afflicted with this sickness, and when I married you I was unaware of your hidden defects."

"It's not so," she answered. "I was a hale and hearty woman when entering into marriage, and as for your saying that signs of a skin disease are visible on me, that is not so and never will be, for my whole body is in a healthy condition." There were, however, two warts that had appeared on her face due to the suffering and vexation which she had experienced after her husband had driven ha from his house, but concerning this a number of members of the community, who had known the husband for many years and bad heard nothing of this trouble, testified: "She was a healthy woman when she entered into marriage, and we have never noticed at signs of skin trouble."

The following decision was given by the rabbi in this dispute. First let me extend my greetings to those who have directed this question to me. Inasmuch as no physical defects were noticeable in this woman while she was in her father's house, and they have developed only since her marriage, in her husband's house, he has therefore no claim against her on the ground that she was physically unfit.

That man is conducting himself in a bad way and has shown that he is not acting like one of our father Abraham's children whose nature it is to be kind to his fellowman, and particularly so to his own flesh with whom he has entered the covenant of marriage. If that husband had set his mind on keeping his wife as much as he had set his mind on getting rid of her, her charm would have grown on him. Behold our rabbis have said [Sotah 47a2] "Every spot has a charm for those who live in it," even though it may be cursed with bad water and barren land. Similar is the charm exerted by a woman on her husband, and happy the man who has been fortunate enough to get such a wife and to acquire through her a share in life eternal. Even among those who deny God we find many who do not reject their wives and whose wives in turn act in like manner toward them, for they believe that the good they do serves as an expiatory sacrifice for the sins they have committed. But this fellow, though a member of the household of our Father in heaven, has acted cruelly toward the wife of his youth as God himself can testify.

According to the law of right it is incumbent upon him to treat her as custom prescribes for all Jewish women; and if he does not care to receive her back in kindness and in respect, then he must divorce her and pay her the entire amount stipulated in her marriage contract.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

REFERENCES TO TEXTBOOKS

Elbogens pp. 112­l14; Roth, pp. 174­175; Sachar, pp. 185­186.

READINGS FOR ADVANCED STIJDENTS

Graetz, 111, pp. 286-289, 308­310; Graetz­Rhine, III, pp. 159­165; Margolis and Marx, pp­ 35o­358

Liber, M., Rashi. A brief rounded­out picture of the man and his writings.

Waxman, M , A History of Jewish Literature, I, pp. 192­l95.

JE, "Rashi (Solomon bar Isaac)."


SOURCE: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 301-303.

Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that the copyright was renewed)


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall October 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu