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  • Rashbam’s Commentary on Leviticus and Numbers: An Annotated Translation
  • Luba Charlap
Rashbam’s Commentary on Leviticus and Numbers: An Annotated Translation, edited and translated by M. L. Lockshin. Providence: Brown University Press, 2001. 309 pp. $39.95.

This is the third book in a series of Rashbam’s (Rabbi Shemuel Ben Me’ir, 1080–1160) commentary to the Pentateuch. The first two are Rashbam’s commentary to Genesis (Lewiston, 1989) and to Exodus (Atlanta, 1997).

As is known, the Rashbam’s commentary to the Pentateuch that appears in the popular editions (like in Miqra’ot Gedolot) is inaccurate and therefore insufficient. This was the reason that David Rozin chose to publish a new edition, based mainly on the Breslau manuscript with some complements (Breslau, 1882). Since then this edition has become the Rashbam’s authorized edition. As we see, Lockshin’s declared aim is to translate Rozin’s edition into English: “This series helps English-speaking students of the Hebrew Bible to gain access to one of the great traditional Jewish commentators” (p. 1). Needless to say, the Rashbam, who was one of the most important figures in the Medieval Jewish Peshat school in France and, from historic perspective, one of the most distinguished Bible commentators in general, deserves this act. In fact, the author has done a lot more than an excellent, up-to-date translation to a good edition: in his notes one can find a rich and challenging material regarding the exegetical methods of Rashbam.

Although this volume is shorter than its predecessors (perhaps because of the commentator’s custom of explaining each phenomenon in its first occurrence in the text), yet the commentary in this volume provides important and interesting insights into Rashbam’s method, e.g., in Rashbam’s attitude to Halakha, his attitude to Rashi’s commentary, his literary analysis of the Biblical text, etc. (see a list of issues and references in Lockshin’s introduction, pp. 1–5).

We shall take, for instance, the issue of Rashbam’s attitude to the Halakha, which Lockshin deals with in the book. One of the problematic verses of this kind is Rashbam’s exegesis to “lo talin peulat sakiriteka ‘ad boqer” (Lev. 19:13), in which he said that [End Page 156] the verse refers to the laborer who works the night shift and must be given his wage “‘ad boqer”, in the morning, namely while finishing his shift. Thus, contrary to the opinion of most of the Talmudic Rabbis that considers it as referring to a day laborer who has to be given his wage no late than the next morning, namely twelve hours after finishing his shift (see Bavli, BM 110, b), Lockshin explains (p. 102, note 16) that “Rashbam feels that that is not the peshat, presumably because there is no hint in the text that employers are to be given a twelve-hour grace period to pay workers’ wages”; therefore, he concludes: “this is an example of Rashbam offering an interpretation that is not only non-halakhic, but anti-halakhic, as he attributes to the verse a peshat meaning that is not reconcilable with halakhah.” Other such interpretations are found also in Lev 4:3, 6:11, 11:40 and more. In my opinion, there is no need to consider Rashbam as one who “allows himself to interpret in a heterodox manner” (p. 3). As we know, even Rashi, whose interpretations are much more, I would say, in the “main stream,” that is to say more sensitive to traditional and educational observations, presented more than once non-halakhic interpretations (see, e.g., his interpretations to Ex. 21:10; 22:8; 23:2); so did others. While discussing Rashi’s manner, it has been explained (see, e.g., Y. Cooperman, ‘iyyunim Befar_anut ha-Miqra [Jerusalem, 1996], pp. 20–24, based on Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrahi’s commentary to Ex. 22:8) that by giving the non-halakhic meaning he fulfilled his obligation to the peshat meaning, but did not consider his interpretation as replacing the halakhic interpretation. In other words, one level (the Peshat) has nothing to do with the other (the Derash or Halakha...

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