Challenges of reconstructing Rashi’s Torah commentary: “there never was an Urtext of Rashi’s Torah commentary”

…synopsis of the current state of knowledge regarding medieval Jewish scribal practice, manuscript production, and fluid redaction that led to multilinear production shows that texts continued to evolve long after their initial publication. Authors never intended them as final statements but as snapshots of their current thinking, as works in progress. Students and scholars alike received these texts as open- book works in progress and felt free to correct, emend, and add to them, sometimes marking their changes and sometimes not. Scribes made mistakes and omissions, and subsequent scribes copied those mistakes, while later copyists tried to correct them. Learned copyists interpolated their own ideas into their user- produced texts, which may then have been copied in due course without any effort to distinguish such insertions. Later copyists made their own protocritical eclectic editions, as did succeeding early printers and even modern scholars. Thereby, the user-produced and decentralized nature of Hebrew manuscript reproduction led to increasingly variant manuscripts. Late medieval, early modern, and modern critical efforts have produced eclectic texts that preserve Rashi’s own comments alongside the interpolations of generations of the commentary’s students and supercommentators. The well-intentioned interventions of these textual critics have only further complicated the transmission of this text. Along with the centuries-long popularity of Rashi’s Torah commentary, these factors have resulted in what can only be described as a holy textual mess. Taken together, these factors confirm the impossibility of reconstructing a best text, not least because there never was an Urtext of Rashi’s Torah commentary that scholars may hope to reconstruct.

Yedida Eisenstat, “Taking Stock of the Text(s) of Rashi’s Torah Commentary: Some Twenty-First Century Considerations and the Case for Leipzig 1”, in To Fix Torah in Their Hearts: Essays on Biblical Interpretation and Jewish Studies in Honor of B. Barry Levy, ed. Jaqueline S. du Toit, Jason Kalman, Hartley Lachter, and Vanessa R. Sasson (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2019), 223.