Page 70 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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Important in these evaluations of the interaction between Jews
and Christians of that period is Rashi’s role as pioneer and leader
in the process of adjustment to the new conditions confronting
Jewry in their new European environment. Solomon Zeitlin goes
so far as to say, “Rashi fearlessly amended many talmudic laws
so as to bring religion in harmony with life.” I would state it
differently, namely, that Rashi did not blindly accept or stub-
bornly reject new realities. Rather, in the spirit of talmudic
tradition, he, like some of his predecessors and successors, made
adjustments and, where necessary, changes that would assure the
growth and continuity of Jewry and Judaism.
A case in point is the use of the vernacular in lieu of, or in addi-
tion to, Hebrew, the holy tongue. The problem of language holds
a prominent place in the history of Jewish culture, going back to
the days of the Talmud. Thus we find, on the one hand, a full
appreciation of the need and value of the vernacular in such dicta
as “Pray in any language you know;” “Moses expounded the
Torah in seventy languages;” “Adam spoke in Aramaic;” and
“There are four appropriate languages in the world and these are
Greek for music, Latin for war, Aramaic (or Persian) for lamenta-
tions and Hebrew for speech.”
On the other hand, we find vigorous opposition to the use of a
language other than Hebrew in the following expressions: “When
a child begins to speak, his father talks to him in the holy tongue
(Hebrew) and teaches him Torah; and if he does not speak with
him in the holy tongue and does not teach him Torah, it is as
though he had buried him.” “The Israelites were redeemed from
Egypt because they did not change their names . . . and did not
change their language, for they spoke in the holy tongue (He-
brew).” “One should never offer supplications for his needs in
Aramaic.” Similar differences of opinion with regard to the use of
the vernacular existed throughout the ages.
Thus, what Ahad Ha‘am described in his day as “The quarrel
of languages,” goes back to the early beginnings of Jewry’s aware-
ness of the role of language in the destiny of culture. However,
there seems to be hardly any question regarding Rashi’s use of
the vernacular, since he refers to French as
— “our
language,” and his writings include more than 3,000
French terms. Seeking to make the Torah and its teachings
relevant to his generation, Rashi did not hesitate to use the
French language.
This pragmatic and, one might say, liberal attitude of Rashi
can be seen also in his utterances regarding forced converts, who
from all indications presented a different and pressing issue. Said
he, “We must not refrain from using their wine and not embarrass