Understanding the Enduring Greatness of Rashi’s Commentary on the Pentateuch

So immense is the impact of the Torah commentary of Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, better known by the Hebrew acronym Rashi (1040-1105), that nearly every Jew who received a traditional education over the past several centuries has encountered it as child, and nearly every subsequent rabbinic Torah commentary uses it as a point of departure. It is also the subject of numerous supercommentaries, as well as works of systematic criticism. In a recent book, Eric Lawee presents the first complete academic study of the work itself, how it achieved its canonical status, and its overall reception in the Middle Ages. David Berger writes in his review:

[T]he book concludes with an explanation of Rashi’s victory over his most distinguished rival: Abraham Ibn Ezra (ca. 1092-1164) and Moses Naḥmanides (1194-1270)—and for that matter, the Maimonidean approach to the Bible. [Certainly], it is self-evident that Ibn Ezra’s commentary and Maimonidean interpretation could not have achieved the sweeping popularity of Rashi’s work, and to a slightly lesser degree the same is true of Nahmanides, whose work is almost certainly the most widely studied of the three rivals to Rashi.

Nevertheless, Lawee’s formulation is more than worth recording. All three of Rashi’s rivals, he says, separated Scripture into esoteric and exoteric layers, with the former inaccessible to all but a small elite. In Rashi’s case, both layers of Scriptural meaning, p’shat [the plain meaning] and midrash [the exegetical readings of the early rabbis], were exoteric and accessible in principle—and for the most part in reality—to the widest audience. I cannot improve on Lawee’s summary statement, and so I simply reproduce it. “Not that [Rashi’s] commentary was a simple text. Scores of supercommentaries, many by leading rabbis, could hardly have come to grace it if it were so. But, as Raymond Aron said of Karl Marx, his teaching lent itself to ‘simplification for the simple and to subtlety for the subtle.’ So it was with the commentary, and that, plus its protean and self-replenishing character was, and remains, a part of its greatness.”

Read more at Tradition

More about: Abraham ibn Ezra, Biblical commentary, Hebrew Bible, Nahmanides, Rashi

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy