Menachem Mendel

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Rashi Script

Over Shabbat lunch a guest of ours and I discussed the origins of “Rashi Script.” I thought that there might be some interest in what we found. The following passage is quoted from Mordechai Glatzer’s essay “Early Hebrew Printing” in A Sign and a Witness : 2,000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts, p. 89 (this is a nice collection for anyone who is interested in the history of Hebrew manuscripts and printing):

“At this point we must explain the origin of the term ‘Rashi script,’ which refers to the semi-cursive typeface used in Hebrew books. Clearly Rashi himself wrote an Ashkenazi script. What, then, is the explanation of this term? It would be absurd to claim that its origin lies in the 1475 Reggio di Calabria edition of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah-the oldest dated Hebrew printed book-which was printed in Sephardic semi-cursive letters. There is no reason to assume that particular edition was more common than the earlier 1470 Rome edition of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, which was printed in square Ashkenazi letters. Two editions of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah were also printed in Spain in the fifteenth century, one in semi-cursive type and the other in square letters. In general, early editions disappear quickly, and it would be impossible to claim that a single book, the extent of whose circulation is unknown, is the reason for giving that name to the Sephardic semi-cursive script.

The term ‘Rashi script’ originates rather in the editions of the Bible and Talmud beginning with the Soncino editions and those of Bomberg, which were repeatedly reissued, creating a printing tradition which remains in force to this day.”

Update: Jay Rovner has a few comments here about “Rashi script”. Also Dan Rabinowitz in the comments raises an interesting question, what is the history of the term “Rashi script”? When did this type of script become associated with Rashi?

One Response to “Rashi Script”

  1. 1
    Menachem Mendel:

    First, the link you have for the Bible is to the 1517 edition of the Bible, while it does contain Rashi and it was printed by Bomberg, that edition is known as the First Rabbinic Bible. The Mikrot Gedolot and our Bibles are printed off the Second Rabbinic Bible, printed by Bomberg in 1525 also avaiable from the JNUL. If you notice you will see that the First Rabbinic Bible has a dedication in Latin – to the Pope. Needless to say (it was also edited by a Jewish convert to Christianity) it was not aimed at a Jewish audience. With the Second Rabbinic Bible- no Pope dedication- was aimed at the Jewish audiance and became the standard.
    However, this is a problem, at least for the hypothosis for “Rashi Script.” Because this edition included both Rashi and the Ibn Ezra in what we call Rashi script, so why pick Rashi out? That is, if just the commentaries have that script, it seems less compeling to just label the script as Rashi.
    Dan Rabinowitz | Homepage | 02.19.06 – 9:37 pm | #

    Thanks for the comment about the link, I updated it. What is your opinion about the origins of the term “Rashi Script”? I am interested to here any others. Do you know when the term “Rashi Script” first came into use? That might help answer part of the question.
    Menachem Mendel | Homepage | 02.20.06 – 12:31 am | #

    Aside for antedotal evidence, I don’t know where the term even appears. Have you seen it in print anywhere? Do you know who links the script with Rashi, I think that is the first question.
    Dan Rabinowitz | Homepage | 02.20.06 – 10:11 am | #

    Dan – Look in the Pischei Teshuvah Even Haezer Siman 126 # 3.
    andy | 02.22.06 – 7:40 pm | #

    I’ve heard that when printing the early chumashim, the printers decided to differentiate between the text of the torah and the text of the commenteries by using a different font for the commenteries. Being that Rashi’s commentary was by far the most well know/popular the printers would use the name “rashi script” when refering to that particular font (similarly we refer to a font named “geneva” even though it may have nothing to do with the city of Geneva)
    Somehow, Over time the story got a bit garbelled and so when i was in 1st grade we were told that rashi would actually write in that script.

    If i find the source for this explanation i’ll post it here
    Meir | 02.23.06 – 11:53 am | #

    In my day school they told us that rashi invented the script because he was very very poor and it used less inc than the regular script.
    Oy! I was an adult before I found out the truth. I was terribly disappointed.
    kennyDersh | 06.01.06 – 5:22 am | #

    That should be ink, not inc.
    kennyDersh | 06.01.06 – 5:23 am | #

    Just a small point: the use of the apostrophe in your first line of text is incorrect: our’s. Just drop it and change the word to ours.
    I love your stuff.
    John D. Anderson | 11.15.06 – 9:25 am | #

    Thanks. I corrected it.
    Menachem Mendel | Homepage | 11.15.06 – 9:50 am | #




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