Joheved, Miriam, and Rachel (Hebrew: יוכבד, מרים, רחל) (11th-12th century) were daughters of the great medieval Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known by the acronym, Rashi, who had no sons. These women married three of their father's finest students and were the mothers of the leaders of the next generation of French Talmudic scholars.
Many of their descendants were known as Baalei Tosafos (Tosafists) who wrote critical and explanatory glosses on the Talmud. In all printed versions of the Talmud, the commentary of Rashi appears on the inside column (next to the binding) and that of the Tosafists on the outside column.
Joheved and Miriam were born in Troyes, France (capital of the province of Champagne) between the years 1058 and 1062. It is not known which is the eldest. Rachel was probably born in Troyes around 1070. Some believe there was a fourth daughter who died young.
Joheved and family
Joheved married Meir ben Samuel of nearby Ramerupt. They had four sons: Isaac ("Rivam"), Samuel ("Rashbam") (1080-1174), Solomon the grammarian, and their youngest child, Jacob ("Rabbenu Tam") (c. 1100-1171). Despite the modern Ashkenazi naming custom, Joheved's son Solomon was born during her father's lifetime.
Samuel became head of the Troyes yeshiva after the death of his grandfather, Rashi, while Jacob established a second school at Ramerupt. Isaac died during his parents’ lifetime, leaving seven orphans.
Joheved and Meir had at least two daughters who married Rashi's students. Hannah, a teacher of laws and customs relevant to women, married Samuel ben Simcha. Their son, Isaac of Dampierre ("Ri"), became the leading Talmudic scholar of his generation. Another daughter, whose name is unknown, married Samson ben Joseph.
Joheved died in 1135 in Ramerupt. Meir died there a few months later.
Miriam and family
Little is known of Miriam's life. She married Judah ben Nathan and had a daughter, Alvina, a learned woman whose customs served as an example for other Jewish women. Miriam's son, Yom Tov, later moved to Paris and headed a yeshiva there, along with his brothers, Samson and Eliezer. Miriam may have had other daughters whose names are unknown. She is assumed to have died in Troyes, her birthplace, but her date of death is not recorded.
Rachel and another daughter
Almost nothing is known about Rachel except for a letter that Rabbenu Tam wrote to his cousin, Yom Tov, in which he mentioned that their aunt Rachel was divorced from her husband, Eliezer. One of Rashi's responsa discusses the case of his young daughter losing a valuable ring at a time when Joheved and Miriam were adults, so there was clearly another daughter much younger than her older sisters. In addition, Rashi is mentioned as having a grandson, Shemiah, and a granddaughter, Miriam, whose mother was neither Joheved nor Miriam. Judy Chicago, in her compendium of significant women in history, lists Rachel (b. 1070), daughter of Rashi, as a learned woman who acted as his secretary and took his dictation when he was infirm.
Some scholars, based on a responsa that details how Rashi mourned for a little girl during a Jewish festival even though such mourning is prohibited, have postulated that he was mourning the death of his own young daughter, who would have been younger than Rachel.
There are three legends about Rashi's daughters, all suggesting that they possessed unusual piety and scholarship.
The most well-known, and most likely to be true, states that they were learned in Torah and Talmud at a time when women were forbidden to study these sacred texts. While it seems impossible for girls with a yeshiva in their home to grow up without knowledge of Torah, there is more evidence than this. A responsum of Rashi notes that he is too weak to write so he is dictating to his daughter, which indicates that she was capable of understanding and writing complicated legal issues in Hebrew. Interestingly, there are two versions of this responsa, the other stating that Rashi was dictating to the "son of my daughter" instead of just "my daughter." However, it seems unlikely that Rashi would use the awkward expression, "son of my daughter" instead of, "my grandson," and more likely that "son of" was added in later. There is also evidence that Rashi's daughters and granddaughters taught Torah to local women and served as models for the proper performance of Jewish rituals.
While there is no evidence that Rashi's daughters themselves wore tefillin, we know that some women in medieval France and Germany did, and that Rabbenu Tam, Rashi's grandson, ruled that a woman doing any mitzvah that she is not obligated to, including tefillin, must make the appropriate blessing. Thus it seems logical that if some women prayed with tefillin, certainly Rashi's daughters, with their high level of scholarship and ritual observance, would have done so.
The third and most obscure legend states that Rashi's daughters wrote his commentary on the Talmud on Tractate Nedarim. There are several "Rashi" Talmudic commentaries that were obviously not written by him, some of which have been attributed to his grandson, Samuel, and son-in-law, Judah. In fact, the true authors of all but one of these pseudo-Rashi commentaries have now been identified; only Nedarim's author remains unknown. Perhaps his daughters did write it and their identities were later suppressed.
Maggie Anton has written a trilogy of novels entitled Rashi's Daughters: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France, loosely based on this family. Book I – Joheved was published in 2005, Book II – Miriam in 2007, and Book III – Rachel in 2009 by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Books.
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