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R.4  Chumash and Rashi

Chumash and Rashi -

Basic Jewish Education

The Chumash (from the Hebrew word for a fifth, chamesh; plural Chumashim) is a book form (codex) of the Torah, usually subdivided into 54 smaller literary units called parashiot (the name of each parashah comes from a key word of the section). By following the prescribed weekly parashah, synagogues read through the entire Torah every (Jewish) calendar year.


Many Chumashim include the running commentary of Rashi at the bottom of the page. For example, consider this snippet from a Chumash:

Rashi Sample

At the top of the page is the running text of the Scriptures (in this case, Genesis 1:1) and at the bottom are Rashi's notes about the text (note how the first word of the text is repeated so the reader knows what portion Rashi is referring to).

Rashi's Style of Commentary

Apart from the fact that Rashi writes in the script that bears his name (without vowels, or nikkud), his overall focus is on the P'shat of the text -- that is, it's simple, historical meaning, rather than "deeper" levels of reading that some other commentators are fond of using.

The following table lists the four levels of traditional Jewish interpretation (that is, Pardes, an acronym formed from the first letters of the four different levels):

Pardes - the garden of Eden from Scripture

Rashi stays close to the text - the P'shat - and rarely delves into the deeper layers (when he does so, he resorts back to the P'shat almost immediately). This is helpful since the plain meaning of the text must be firmly established before launching off into speculations about metaphysics or other matters.  In other words, without the P'shat of the text clearly fixed, almost anything can be "interpreted" from the Scriptures, and it is to Rashi's merit that he holds fast to the historical-grammatical method when doing exegesis of the Scriptures.

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