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Did Rashi Dictate Responsa to his Daughter?

Responsa in a Moment

Volume 18, Number 2

February 2024

Did Rashi Dictate Responsa to his Daughter?

By Rabbi David Golinkin


Question from Michael Singer, a graduate student at UC Berkeley:

Dear Rav Golinkin, 

I’m writing in regards to a question about medieval manuscripts. I’ve seen several sources that reference the Shibbolei haLeket quoting Rashi speaking to his daughter (presumably Rachel) as his secretary in his infirmity. However, several tertiary sources I’ve encountered claim without attribution that scholarship from 2001 definitively emended this text to “the son of my daughter.” None of the sources I’ve seen note what changed in the documentary evidence to necessitate that revision.

I heard from haRav Jeremy Gordon that you were the main authority on this matter. (He recommended I read your teshuvah “May Women Wear Tefillin?”, but I didn’t find reference there to Rashi’s amanuensis). If you know of any primary or secondary sources on this topic, I would be very grateful if you might share them with me.

Responsum: I have shown elsewhere that women were actively involved in all stages of the halakhic process throughout Jewish history. They studied halakhah, taught it to other women, taught halakhah to men, transmitted halakhot from their fathers or relatives, discussed halakhah with men, rendered halakhic decisions and the poskim agreed with their decisions, wrote responsa in the name of their husbands, asked halakhic questions and wrote responsa (David Golinkin, The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012, pp. 286-307). Indeed, I briefly discussed your question there (in note 25). I have now carefully rechecked most of the sources about Rashi supposedly dictating a responsum to his daughter, and I can state definitively that the tradition mentioned in your question is based on a scribal error.

  1. The primary source for this tradition is the Hida, Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (Jerusalem and Italy, 1724-1806), an incredibly learned author of 122 books who copied and utilized many manuscripts. In his Shem Hagedolim, one of the first bio-bibliographies of Hebrew books and authors, he writes in the section on Rabbis (first published in Livorno, 1874, letter צ, number 9 = Warsaw, 1876, p. 109) that Rabbeinu Tzidkiyah wrote Shibolei Haleket (Italy, 13th century). He explains that he saw Part II of this work in a manuscript and it contains many responsa of Rashi. In one of them, it says that Rashi was sick and did not have the strength to write and he called his daughter וקרא לבתו to write down that responsum and it was on a complicated topic related to kashrut.

This passage by the Hida was copied or summarized by later scholars, such as Shimshon Bloch in 1840, Elyakim Carmoly in 1863, Gustav Karpeles in 1871, Moshe Gudemann in 1897, and Shlomo Ashkenazi in 1940 and 1953.(1)

More recently, Maggie Anton referred to one of the versions of this source in the Afterword to her best-selling book Rashi’s Daughters, Book I: Joheved (New York, 2007, pp. 354-355) without an exact reference:

Besides the Shabbat lights responsa, there is another one, written late in Rashi’s life, that begins by stating that the reader will not recognize his handwriting because, due to his incapacity, it is being written by his daughter. Thus, at least one daughter was learned enough to compose legal responsa in erudite Hebrew, and probably the others were too.

Aside from the fact that all of this is based on the scribal error as we shall see in a moment, the last sentence is not correct. The person who wrote down the reponsum did not compose the responsum, but rather wrote down what Rashi dictated.

You sent me the following from The Jewish Women’s Archive, s.v. Learned Women in Traditional Jewish Society:

Rashi’s youngest daughter, Rachel, was divorced early and spent a good part of her life in her parents’ home. It was long believed that she wrote at least one legal ruling for her father when he was sick. This assumption was based on a single source, a thirteenth-century work, Shibbolei Ha-Leket. In 2001, the reference to Rashi’s daughter was discovered to be a misprint; the word should have been “grandson” and not “daughter.”

First of all, while Rashi definitely had two daughters named Yocheved and Miriam, it is not entirely clear that Rashi had a third daughter named Rachel (See E.M. Lifshitz, Rashi, Jerusalem, 1947, p. 26, note 50; Avraham Grossman, Hakhmei Tzarfat Harishonim, Jerusalem, 1995, p. 125). Second of all, none of the sources we shall cite below explicitly state which relative wrote this responsum. Finally, as for the discovery of the “misprint” in 2001, it was actually a scribal error and was already surmised by Zunz in 1845 and has since been emphasized by numerous scholars as we shall see below.

  1. The Hida said that he is quoting from Shibolei Haleket, Part II. None of the many scholars we shall quote in this responsum actually saw this work, even though it was first published from an Oxford manuscript by Rabbi Menahem Zev Hasida in his journal Hasegulah during the years 1934-1937 and then reprinted as a book in Jerusalem, 1969. It says there in a responsum of Rashi (paragraph 29, p. 46):

…כי כשל כוחי ואזלת ידי למשוך בעת סופר, ולכן בתי קראתי מפי שורות הללו היא כתבן

For my strength failed and my hands were weak to write with a scribe’s pen, and therefore my daughter I read from my mouth these lines she wrote them…

If the Hida had this reading in front of him in Shibolei Haleket, Part II, it’s understandable why he thought that Rashi dictated the responsum to his daughter.(2) However, the sentence does not read smoothly; the syntax is strange and there is a missing letter. It should say: ,ולכן קראתי לבתי  and therefore, I read to my daughter. Indeed, we shall see below that the lack of smoothness stems from a scribal error.

  1. The next primary source is a corrupt text found in Sefer Hapardes, first edition, Constantinople, 1807, folio 33d, which reads:

ולכן בתי קראתי מפני שורות הללו והוא כותב

“and therefore my daughter I dictated because of these lines and he writes it.” This sentence makes no sense because it contains two scribal errors and it switches from feminine to masculine. Indeed, H.Y. Ehrenreich corrected these two mistakes in his edition of Sefer Hapardes, Budapest, 1924, pp. 160-161:

ולבן בתי קראתי מפי שורות הללו והוא כותבן 

“and to the son of my daughter I dictated from my mouth these lines and he wrote them.

And now let us see the scholars who understood that there is a scribal error and corrected the text.

  1. Zunz made the same claim as the Hida in his Geschichte and Literature (Berlin, 1845, p. 172). He says there that Rashi dictated a responsum to his daughter when he was sick, and he refers in the note to Sefer Hapardes, fol 33c (i.e., fol. 33d as above).
  2. However, in his additional notes in the back of the book, p. 567, Zunz surmised that the sentence in Sefer Hapardes should read ולבן בתי, “and the to the son of my daughter,” i.e., to his grandson.
  3. Twenty-seven years later, Abraham Berliner said (MGWJ 21, 1872, p. 288) that ולכן בתי  — “and therefore my daughter” — in Sefer Hapardes is a mistake for ולבן בתי, “and to the son of my daughter,” who was probably the Rashbam. He repeated this briefly in his lengthy monograph on Rashi (in German, 1902 = Ketavim Nivharim, Vol. 2, Jerusalem, 1949, p. 184, note 11).
  4. Abraham Epstein accepted this correction in his German article on Rabbi Shemayah (MGWJ 41 [1897], p. 259 = Kitvei R. Avraham Epstein, Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 1950, pp. 272-273 and note 6).
  5. Moise Schwab in his French article “Un Secretaire de Raschi” (REJ 42 [1901], pp. 273-274) corrected the scribal error in Sefer Hapardes on the basis of Zunz quoted above.
  6. Solomon Buber (Sefer Ha’oreh, Lvov, 1905, p. 4) made the same correction in Sefer Hapardes and then referred to Berliner who had said the same thing.
  7. In 1936, A.M. Haberman corrected the text of Sefer Hapardes as above (Kiryat Sefer 13 [5696-5697], p. 115 in a note; reprinted in Perakim Betoldot Hamadpissim Ha’ivriyim, Jerusalem, 1978, p. 352, note 1). He repeated this correction in 1949 (in his notes to Avraham Berliner, Ketavim Nivharim, Vol. 2, Jerusalem, 1949, p. 288).
  8. Eliezer Meir Lifshitz (Rashi, Jerusalem, 1947, p. 26, note 50) also accepted Berliner’s correction, although he did not refer explicitly to any of the literature on the subject.
  9. The correction ולבן בתי , the son of his daughter, as a reference to the Rashbam finds support in Ms. De Rossi 181 of Rashi’s commentary to Job 40:27 as quoted by Berliner himself (Ketavim Nivharim, Volume 2, Jerusalem, 1949, p. 195, originally published in German in 1902), where the scribe calls Rashbam בן בתו, the son of the daughter of Rashi.
  10. Finally, two versions of Rashi’s responsum say: ולבן ביתי, “to a member of my household.” According to Adolf Neubauer, this was the reading in an Oxford manuscript,(3) which he published in MGWJ 21 (1872), p. 179. Interestingly enough, Berliner above (paragraph 6), refers to Neubauer’s article, but ignores his reading of these two words! The same reading is also found in Ma’aseh Hageonim (eds. A. Epstein and J. Freimann, Berlin, 1910, p. 11, paragraph 18). This was the reading adopted by Israel Elfenbein in his edition of the Responsa of Rashi (Teshuvot Rashi, New York, 1943, No. 81, p. 108).
  11. Thus, there are two possible readings in Rashi’s responsum: ולבן בתי — “and to the son of my daughter” or — ולבן ביתי “and to a member of my household.” In either case, Rashi did not dictate this responsum to his daughter. And if you say, what about the reading in Shibolei Haleket above? I would reply that that text contains a two-stage error. First ולבן בתי and the son of my daughter, became ולכן בתי, and therefore my daughter, which is incorrect as explained above, and then הוא כתבן, he wrote them, was changed to היא כתבן, she wrote them, so that the end of the sentence would agree with the beginning of the sentence.
  12. Finally, both of the readings which I prefer are similar to another responsum which Rashi wrote, which is found in Teshuvot Hakhmei Tzarfat V’lutir (ed. Muller, Vienna, 1881, p. 9, paragraph 15): והנני קורא מפי לאחד מאחי והוא כותב…, “and I am dictating from my mouth to one of my brothers and he writes…”.

We learn from all of the above that when Rashi was sick, he would dictate responsa to his grandson/to a member of his household or to another relative, but he did not dictate responsa to his daughter.

David Golinkin


19 Tammuz 5783; 17 Adar I 5784



1. Shimshon Bloch in his Hebrew translation of Zunz’s biography of Rashi, Toledot Rashi, Lvov, 1840; second edition Warsaw, 1862, folio 8b, note 5; Elyakim Carmoly, Oholiba, Rodelheim, 1863, p. 110; Gustav Karpeles, Die Frauen der judischen Literatur, Berlin, 1871, p. 10; Moshe Gudemann, Sefer Hatorah V’hahayyim, 1, Warsaw, 1897, p. 189, note 6; Shlomo Ashkenazi, “Learned Women in the Family of Rashi” (Hebrew), Bamishor 1/27-28 (27 Tammuz 5700), p. 18; idem, Ha’ishah B’aspaklariyat Hayahadut, Vol. 1, Tel Aviv, 5713, p. 118.

2. Shibolei Haleket, Part II was republished on the basis of manuscripts by Simhah Hasidah, the grandson of Rabbi Menahem Zev Hasidah, in Jerusalem, 1988, and the responsum is found there as paragraph 29, p. 99. Unfortunately, the editor was so intent on making sure that Rashi’s daughter did not take dictation from her father that he twisted around the variant readings from the manuscripts! His text says ולכן בני, and therefore my son, even though all the other manuscripts quoted there read בתי, my daughter, and he does so on the basis of Ms. Parma 505, even though he himself quotes in the introduction, p. 89, that the scribe emphasized that he copied from a very corrupt manuscript! Thus, the only way to check all the readings in Shibolei Haleket, part II, is to actually check all the manuscripts, which I have not yet had time to do.

3. The manuscript is Opp. 317 [not 517 as it says in Neubauer’s article], which is No. 692 in Neubauer’s Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1886, in responsum no. 31.

(Image: Photo of an exhibit at the Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv. Sarajevo Haggadah Manuscript on parchment, Spain, 14th Century. The National Museum Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sarajevo- Wikicommons)


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David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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