GLOSSARY - Rashi - Elie Wiesel

Rashi - Elie Wiesel (2009)


Aramaic A Semitic language, related to Hebrew and Arabic, which flourished in the Mesopotamian world in different forms from approximately 700 BCE to the middle of the first millennium CE, and is still spoken by small groups in Lebanon, Turkey, and Kurdistan. The language of the Talmud and other important Jewish texts, Aramaic was used for rabbinic writings through the thirteenth century CE.

Ashkenazi Originally referred to Jews from Germany; eventually generalized to include all Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.

Belaaz From the Hebrew be, “in,” and lo’ez, “foreign.” Laaz eventually came to be associated with Romance languages, so the term belaaz is used to introduce a translation from Hebrew into one of those languages. Frequently used by Rashi to refer to Old French.

Blood libel The anti-Jewish slander, first appearing in Norwich, England, in 1144, that Jews kill Christian children and use their blood for ritual purposes, especially on Passover. This slander occasionally still surfaces and has been the pretext for anti-Jewish violence over the centuries, leading to much death and destruction.

Diaspora The Jewish communities outside the land of Israel. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 CE, most Jews were exiled from the land of Israel, but they never ceased to long to return to the land.

Drash One of the four traditional methods of exegesis, referring to an interpretive commentary on a biblical verse.

Gaonic period From the end of the sixth through the middle of the eleventh century, the period during which the geonim, the leaders of the yeshivas of Sura and Pumpedita in Babylonia, were the accepted legal authorities of the Jewish world.

Mahzor Vitry A guide to liturgy and halakhah written by Rashi’s student, Simhah ben Shmuel of Vitry. Mahzor Vitry is based on Rashi’s halakhic rulings for the liturgy of the entire cycle of holidays, including Shabbat, and is also a valuable record of Jewish life in France in Rashi’s time.

Mainz A city on the Rhine River in Germany, capital of the Rhineland region and site of Jewish settlement from at least the mid-tenth century. Mainz is 282 miles northeast of Troyes.

Midrash A method of exegesis of biblical texts; a legal, exegetical, or homeletical commentary on the Bible. Also refers to the collections thereof.

Mishnah The collection of rabbinic legal opinions redacted by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, around the year 220. The Mishnah is the primary text of Jewish law or halakhah. It is divided into six orders, sedarim, which are further divided into sixty-three tractates.

Mitzvot Hebrew for commandments (singular is mitzvah), referring to God’s commandments. Used colloquially to refer to “good deeds.”

Peshat One of the four traditional methods of biblical exegesis, focusing on the simple or literal meaning of the text. This was Rashi’s preferred means of explanation.

Remez One of the four traditional methods of biblical exegesis, focusing on the allusive level of meaning.

Responsa The term for the continually evolving body of Jewish legal decisions developed as responses to questions posed to rabbis.

Sefer Torah The scroll of the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch), read in synagogue.

Shekhinah The Divine presence. Shekhinah, which is a feminine noun, often refers to the feminine attributes of God.

Sod One of the four traditional methods of biblical exegesis, referring to the mystical meaning of the text.

Talmud A collection of rabbinic legal rulings and teachings compiled in the fifth century. The Talmud comprises the Mishnah, the rabbinic opinions codified at the beginning of the third century by Rabbi Judah the Prince, and the Gemara, which is a rabbinic interpretation of the Mishnah as well as a host of other discussions, from the third through fifth centuries. Rabbinic academies in Babylonia and in Israel developed their own Talmuds; the Babylonian Talmud is generally considered more authoritative than the Jerusalem Talmud. The central text of Jewish law, the Talmud is usually printed accompanied by later commentaries, including Rashi’s.

Torah The Five Books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch, comprising the first section of the Hebrew Bible. Also used more generally to refer to Jewish learning and Jewish texts.

Tosafists The scholars of the generations after Rashi, including his sons-in-law and grandsons. These rabbis composed the Tosafot (literally, “additional”) commentaries on the Talmud, as well as many important halakhic works.

Tosefta A collection of rabbinic opinions from the period of the Mishnah that were not included in the Mishnah.

Tractate The sixty-three subdivisions of the six orders, or main sections, of the Mishnah. Not all of these tractates have a corresponding expansion into the Gemara.

Trop The musical cantillation used for chanting of biblical texts in the synagogue.

Troyes The home of Rashi, a city in the Champagne region of France, 118 miles southeast of Paris.

Worms A city in the Rhineland region of Germany, about twenty-eight miles south of Mainz. Jews had settled in Worms by the end of the tenth century.

Yeshiva An academy of Jewish learning. From the Hebrew word for “sit,” the yeshiva is named for the practice of sitting and studying, primarily the Talmud.