<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Rashi and Maimonides on Christianity <p> <i>Daniel J. Lasker</i></b> <p> <p> The common wisdom holds that Christianity was a major concern of Rashi, whose Biblical commentaries are replete with anti-Christian comments and whose attempt to find the contextual interpretation of the text (the <i>peshat</i>) is a reaction to Christian allegory. For instance, Rashi's commentaries on Genesis, Isaiah, and Psalms, favorite books among the Christians, have been described as full of explicit and acerbic anti-Christian polemic. Rashi was particularly interested in refuting Christianity both because of Christian conversionary propaganda and also as a result of the First Crusade of l096, which caused so much death and destruction to North European Jewry. Furthermore, it is believed, Maimonides, in contrast to Rashi, had little interest in Christianity. Although it is well known that Maimonides considered Christianity, unlike Islam, to be idolatry, the assumption is usually made that if Maimonides had lived in a Christian country, where Jews had economic reasons for absolving Christianity of the charge of idolatry, he would have seen things differently. In short, Christianity was peripheral to Maimonides' worldview, but it was central to Rashi's. <p> This common wisdom makes a lot of sense, since Maimonides was born and worked in Islamic countries his entire life, and was greatly influenced by Islamic thought, whereas Rashi lived among Christians who were antagonistic to Jews and Judaism. Although Maimonides obviously had more contact with Christians, who were a significant minority in Egypt, than Rashi had with Muslims, who were non-existent in northern Europe, his frame of reference was Islamic and Rashi's was Christian. Nevertheless, I believe that this common wisdom is misleading, since Rashi was much less interested in, not to say knowledgeable of, Christianity as such, whereas Maimonides, who referred to Christianity throughout his literary oeuvre (despite Moses Mendelssohn's assertion to the contrary, based on censored editions of Maimonides' works), understood Christian theology very well and responded to it on quite a number of occasions. In fact, Maimonides stated that he could bring a thousand scriptural proof texts, or close to a thousand, to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah. If one were to ask, which of these two great luminaries had a more accurate picture of Christianity, and which one polemicized against this religion more directly, I would say it was actually Maimonides and not Rashi. <p> <p> * * * <p> <p> Let us begin with Rashi who died before Maimonides was born. In evaluating the extent to which Rashi was responding to Christian exegesis in his biblical commentaries, it might be useful to outline three methodological points. First, according to such scholars as Yitzhaq Baer, Judah Rosenthal, Avraham Grossman, Elazar Touitou, and others, Rashi's commentaries responded to the historical events of his time, for instance, the Crusades and the Christian mission to the Jews. There is an assumption that the events of 1096, which occurred less than ten years before Rashi's death, had a great impact upon him, even though most of his literary work must have been completed before that date. Furthermore, based on the conjecture that Jews of Rashi's time, in the words of another author, "were being bombarded with Christian propaganda," Rashi must have been aware of Christian exegesis. Yet, when Rashi died in 1105, the Christian twelfth-century renaissance was just beginning (Anselm of Canterbury, a major inspiration of the renaissance, was Rashi's contemporary and died four years after him in 1109). Although by the end of the twelfth century there are signs of a newly developed mission to the Jews with renewed vigor and energy, at the beginning of that century, namely in Rashi's last years, there was almost no mission to the Jews (as we recall, the Crusaders who massacred Rhineland Jewry did not attempt to convert Jews by means of arguments based upon Christian biblical exegesis). Two generations after Rashi, exegetes such as Rashbam and Joseph Bekhor Shor had much more contact with Christian scholars and were well aware of Christian biblical interpretation. That is not the case with Rashi. <p> A second point to consider when evaluating the extent to which Rashi polemicized against Christianity is the difference between Christianity and Christians; between polemics against Christianity as a religion and unflattering references to the Christian majority or expectations that Christianity and Christians would disappear in the messianic future. Avraham Grossman, for instance, deals with a number of passages in which Rashi refers to Esau or Edom, namely Christianity, in his commentary on Psalms, and he shows that Rashi was not an especially committed ecumenist. Rashi, like other Ashkenazic Jews, expected what Yisrael Yuval has called the "avenging redemption", and he thought that King David had already anticipated that redemption in the Book of Psalms. Grossman believes that for Rashi, the avenging redemption will be followed by a "conversionary redemption" in which those Gentiles, who survive God's vengeance, will convert to Judaism, and that Rashi expressed this belief in his commentary on Psalms. Nonetheless, even if we take every passage in Rashi's commentary that mentions Esau, Edom, Amalek, or "the nations of the world" as referring specifically to contemporary Christians, despite the midrashic background of many of the comments, it would still be difficult to read these passages as polemic against the Christian religion. Rashi did not refer to Christian beliefs, but only to the fate of Christians, and all other idolaters, at the end of days. When evaluating Rashi's knowledge of, and reaction to, Christianity, it is not enough to analyze the extent of Rashi's religious tolerance in general, or his love and hatred of Christians in particular. <p> A third point. Most readers who have argued for the influence of the Jewish-Christian debate on Rashi's commentaries have looked at verses which were used by Christians as testimonia for the truth of their religion, have seen that Rashi's interpretations of those verses is different than the Christian ones, and have concluded that Rashi was responding to Christianity. On this reading, Rashi's commentary on these verses was a forced or unnatural response to the Christian position. David Berger has suggested that this methodology is flawed, since it assumes that when Rashi's interpretation was different than the Christian one, it was a forced one. Berger argues that oftentimes Rashi's explanation of so-called Christological verses is consistent with his exegetical methodology, and, thus, not necessarily a response to Christianity. With Berger's standards of identifying anti-Christian interpretations, only clearly unnatural interpretations, or comments in which Rashi mentions Christians explicitly, would indicate a response to Christianity. In this manner, the number of anti-Christian comments in Rashi's commentaries is greatly reduced. The problem remains, however, when to evaluate a comment as forced and when to see it as consistent with Rashi's other comments. <p> In light of these caveats, I propose a different methodology for determining the extent of Rashi's response to Christianity, namely comparing his comments on specific verses in the Bible with the use of the same, and additional, verses in the polemical literature. In light of Mayer Gruber's recent excellent edition, translation and notes of Rashi's commentary on Psalms, and in light of the claim that Psalms is Rashi's most anti-Christian commentary, I would like to focus on that book as a case study of my methodology. I believe that a comparison between Rashi's commentary on Psalms and the polemical literature will show that Rashi was neither deeply concerned with Christian exegesis nor very conversant with Christian theology. <p> <p> * * * <p> <p> To illustrate the central contention here, reference should be made to the appended table. It schematizes the use of Psalms in the New Testament, in Jewish anti-Christian polemical treatises, and in Rashi's Commentary to Psalms. We can see that twice in his commentary to Psalms, Rashi reacted to Christianity explicitly (marked by x) by writing that a particular comment was a "teshuvah la-minim" Without entering into the debate as to whether "teshuvah" means a response to Christian questions or exegesis, or a direct attack; and whether minim means apostate Jews, or any Christians, only twice in all of his commentary to Psalms did Rashi refer directly to Christians. In both cases, Psalms 2 and 21, Rashi distinguished between the rabbinic midrash which understood these psalms as referring to the Messiah, and the need to answer the "minim" because of whom it is good to give another interpretation. Mayer Gruber identifies five more comments (on Psalms 9, 22, 72, 84, and 105, identified as x(G) in the table), in which he believed that Rashi gave an alternate interpretation to the Christian interpretation, including transferring the psalm from the messianic realm to a description of the Jewish people. Esra Shereshevsky (x(S) in the table)has found eight more psalms in which, he claims, Rashi responded to Jerome's exegesis, and Judah Rosenthal (x(R) in the table) added a few more verses. Nevertheless, in none of these places did Rashi use the key words "teshuvat ha-minim" or relate specifically to Christians. Most of the other readers, who have identified responses to Christianity in additional psalms, have pointed to descriptions of the suffering of the Jews at the hands of Esau or the revolutionary change that will occur in the relations between idolaters and Jews in the end of days, but again without a specific reference to Christians or Christianity. <p> We may now compare these references in Rashi's commentary with the other columns in the table. The first column includes chapters in Psalms, direct quotes of which appear in the New Testament, and we see there are many such verses, even without taking into account indirect references. The second column records those psalms discussed in the most important Ashkenazi polemic work, <i>Sefer Nizzahon Yashan</i>, from the end of the thirteenth century. The other columns include references to Psalms in other early polemical books: <i>Sefer Yosef ha-Meqanneh</i> of Joseph ben Nathan Official (mid-thirteenth century France); <i>Sefer ha-Berit</i> of Joseph Kimhi (Spain-Provence, 1170); the Psalm commentary of David Kimhi (Radak, Joseph Kimhi's son), and <i>Sefer Milhamot ha-Shem</i> of Jacob ben Reuben (also of the Spanish school from the end of the twelfth century). From this chart we see that Jewish polemicists were familiar with many more Christological interpretations of Psalms than Rashi, and their polemical discussions of this book are much more inclusive than those of Rashi. In addition, one can see that the central psalms in the Jewish-Christian debate were 2, in which Rashi has a "teshuvah la-minim"; 22, where Rashi did not refer to Christian exegesis but simply stated that the psalm refers to Israel in exile; 72, where both Gruber and Grossman write that Rashi's comment on verse 16 is a response to Christianity, but I am not convinced, and there is clearly no direct answer to Christianity in his commentary here; 87, with no comment by Rashi, and 110, where again there is no direct comment about Christianity despite the efforts of Shereshevsky, Rosenthal and others to find an anti-Christian angle. In sum, Rashi did not have many interpretations in his Commentary on Psalms which included explicit answers to Christian exegesis. <p> This conclusion is not only quantitative. If we compare Rashi's anti-Christian comments with those of true polemicists, we see qualitative differences. Even when we know that Rashi is responding to Christianity, it is often difficult to know from Rashi's words which Christian doctrine he was rejecting. Let us look, for instance at Rashi on Psalm 2, in Mayer Gruber's translation. <p> Verse 1: "Why do the nations assemble? Our rabbis interpreted the subject of the chapter as a reference to the King Messiah. However, according to its basic meaning and for a refutation of the Christians it is correct to interpret it as a reference to David himself." Verse 7: "You are my son. I.e., the head of Israel who are called Sons [of God] ... and they will be sustained [by you], for all of them depend on you. I, by making you king over them, Have fathered you this day so that [you] are called My son and are dear to Me, thereby for their sake ... We have found also that those among the kings of Israel who are dear to Him He called 'sons' as it is stated in the Bible concerning Solomon." <p> <p> Rashi here rejects the Christian views that the messiah, as the anointed king of Israel, has any special status as son of God. <p> Let us compare these comments with the treatment of this psalm by a real polemicist. A good example is <i>Sefer Nizzahon Yashan</i> written by an Ashkenazi author almost two hundred years after Rashi. The author wrote (in David Berger's translation): <p> "The Lord has said unto me, You are my son; this day have I begotten you. They defiantly say that this verse refers to the hanged one. The answer is: In the account of creation it says: "Let us make man" and they interpret it as meaning that the father told the son, "Let the two of us make man." Now, if he existed then and was born today, it follows that he was born twice. In addition, tell him: If they are merely three names, but all is really one, then when the son was born, so was the father; they were both born at the same time, since they are inseparable. If so, which of them calls the other my son and which is called father? After all, one did not precede the other by so much as a hairbreadth. You are therefore forced to the conclusion that the father preceded the son by many days during which the father was childless and alone with no son ... I shall now ask a further question to which I should appreciate an answer: You say that the son was formed in Mary's womb. Inform me as to whether the father and impure spirit were in the stomach with the son or whether the son was there alone. If you will say the son alone, then your words are self-contradictory, for you say that they are never separated from each other. On the other hand, if you will say that the three of them were in the stomach and grew there, then all three were also on earth among people and all three were hanged. Who, then, was in heaven all the time, inasmuch as they are inseparable? Furthermore, who ran the world during the three days when they were buried and none of them was either in heaven or on earth? Consequently, any wise man can understand that their words have no substance." <p> <p> This is certainly anti-Christian polemic, especially when compared to Rashi's approach. Similar polemical treatments of this psalm can be found as well in the works of other polemicists, such as the Jacob ben Reuben, David Kimhi, and Joseph Official. <p> Putting it all together, we can discern that the Christian exegesis of Psalm 2 provided the polemicists an opportunity to raise questions concerning the trinity, and not just to deny that the psalm made references to the Messiah in general or Jesus in particular. It is also of interest that the questions about the trinity found in these polemical compositions were originally asked by the anonymous author of the Judaeo-Arabic polemic, <i>Qissat Mujadalat al-Usquf</i>, "The Account of the Disputation of the Priest," translated into Hebrew as the <i>Book of Nestor the Priest</i>. It would appear that the author of <i>The Account</i>, who lived in an Islamic country, was much more interested in Christian theology than Rashi, who lived in a Christian country and who, if some of the scholars are to be believed, so much wanted to answer the claims of his Christian neighbors. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Between Rashi and Maimonides</b> Copyright © 2010 by Yeshiva University Press. Excerpted by permission of YESHIVA UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. 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