The Leipzig Manuscript (MS Leipzig 1) & Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s Rules of Rashi’s Usage of Targum

I. Introduction

The Leipzig Manuscript, or MS Leipzig 1, is a manuscript of the commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzḥaki (known as Rashi) to the Pentateuch and five Megillot, stored in the Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig (Leipzig University Library), which is currently in the process of being transcribed.[1] Aside from the obvious cultural and religious value of any additional manuscript of a Torah commentary, MS Leipzig 1’s importance is underscored by the fact that its author, identified as the thirteenth-century Rabbi Makhir ben Karshavyah, writes that he produced the manuscript from a copy of the commentary transcribed and annotated by Rashi’s personal scribe, Rabbi Shemayah.[2] Thus, scholars have noted its importance in determining the exact comments of Rashi, as well as his subsequent thought process and editing.[3]

One of the less studied applications of this manuscript is the usage of Targum Onqelos in Rashi’s commentary, and, more specifically, the conventions and styles employed by Rashi when using the Targum Onqelos. Although the transcription of MS Leipzig 1 has not yet been completed and a more rigorous analysis is required,[4] there are several instances in which this manuscript will abet or challenge certain guidelines of Rashi’s usage of Targum as formulated by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.[5] Moreover, as this investigation will show, these scenarios may facilitate the modification of these criteria, or formulation of additional guidelines underlying Rashi’s usage of Targum.


II. Rabbi Schneerson’s ‘Rules’ of Rashi

In addition to leading the Lubavitch Hassidic movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson became well known for the lengthy scholarly discourses (sihot) he delivered during Hassidic gatherings (farbrengins). After the passing of his mother in 1954,[6] Rabbi Schneerson began to present a new genre of lectures known as the “Rashi Siḥot.” These lectures would typically analyze a particular passage of Rashi’s commentary upon the weekly Torah portion, using various textual nuances to explain Rashi’s question, choice of words, and thought process. This ‘hyperliteral’ reading, as Rabbi Chaim Miller calls it,[7] was built on the philosophy that Rashi wrote a systematic commentary to the Torah following a set of rigid, self-imposed guidelines. Rabbi Schneerson’s system of rules were subsequently compiled and redacted in the work Kelallei Rashi Be-Pirusho al Ha-Torah (“The Rules of Rashi in His Commentary on the Torah”; henceforth, Kelallei Rashi) written by Rabbi Tuvia Blau, a project that Rabbi Schneerson personally endorsed.[8]

Chapter 11 of Kelallei Rashi is devoted to Rashi’s usage of Targum. Therein, Rabbi Schneerson posits that Rashi rarely, if ever, uses Onqelos as an independent source; instead, he contends, Rashi generally quotes Onqelos only to support his own opinion or to highlight a dissenting opinion.[9][10] Rabbi Schneerson also offered an explanation as to the various ways in which Rashi cites the Targum. Rashi’s standard practice of using the Targum, he notes, is merely to use the phrase “ke-targumo,” ‘according to the manner of its Targum’, with the understanding that the reader will study the text of Targum independently.[11] The only time Rashi cites the Targum’s text is when he believes doing so adds something substantive to his explanation.[12] Similarly, Rashi only adds a Hebrew translation to the phrase “ke-targumo” when the translation will help focus on a particular nuance, interpretation, or edition of Targum.[13] [14]

What emerges from these guidelines is that Rashi would certainly not use Targum as a source for his own explanation without quoting it explicitly or at least going out of his way to attributing credit to it. In addition to various disputes regarding the particularities of Rabbi Schneerson’s rules, this latter point has been somewhat contested, as some believe that Rashi actually does base many of his comments on Targum Onqelos without quoting or attributing credit to it.[13] This assertion can be examined with greater depth and precision using the Leipzig Manuscript.

III. Scenario 1: Support for Rabbi Schneerson’s Rules & the Targum as a Template

In Genesis 13:16, upon describing the Jacob’s journey to his uncle Laban in Aram, the Torah recounts God’s blessing to Jacob after spending the night at Mount Moriah: And I shall make your descendants like the dust of the land, inasmuch as if a person can possibly number the dust of the earth, so too shall your descendants be numbered. In his commentary, Rashi elaborates upon the formulation of this Biblical verse, clarifying its intended meaning for the reader: “Inasmuch as if a person can possibly etc.” – Just as it is impossible that the dust be counted, so too shall your children be uncountable.[16] Rashi’s elaboration seems clearly to be the Hebrew translation of Onqelos’s text (“Kama de-leit efshar le-gevar le-mimnei yat afra de-ar’a, af banekha lo yitmanun”). According to Rabbi Schneerson’s rules, one would expect Rashi to write that he is quoting Onqelos in offering this explanation – and yet, in fact, he does not. How, then, might one understand this particular comment of Rashi in light of Rabbi Schneerson’s rules?

Several super-commentaries on Rashi’s commentary explain that Rashi employs only his own logic in formulating this comment, as indeed the standard translation would not make any sense in this context.[17] Why then would Rashi appear to quote Onqelos? One can feasibly posit that Rashi sometimes uses the Targum’s text as a template for his own explanation: Rashi may borrow the Targum’s language for his independent explanation, even though he believes his explanation does not require additional support, merely because the two are similar.[18]

This stylistic preference may also explain a similar scenario regarding Rashi’s explanation of the name “Tzafnat Pane’aḥ” given to Joseph by Pharaoh in Genesis 41:45. Several Biblical commentators struggle to explain this ambiguous phrase, positing that the words must be Egyptian in origin.[19] Rashi, however, has no trouble explaining this phrase, despite the fact that this is the only time it appears in the Scriptures and has no source in rabbinic literature: “Tzafnat Pane’aḥ” – meaning, ‘interpreter of hidden matters (tzefunot)’; and there is no parallel to the word ‘pane’ah’ in all of Scripture.[20]

Rashbam[21] expresses a similar opinion and adds the word “ke-targumo,” indicating that this manner of explanation follows that given by the Targum. Upon comparison, it becomes clear that Onqelos does in fact anticipate both Rashi and Rashbam in explaining this verse:“U-kera Far’oh shum Yosef gavra di-temiran galyon lei” – And Pharaoh called Joseph by the name, ‘man to whom the hidden things are revealed’. [22] That Rashi himself does not choose to invoke the word “ke-targumo” in his own comments here is puzzling. Unless Rashi changed his mind to conform to his grandson’s position, Rabbi Schneerson must claim as per his rules that Rashi felt that such a position did not require any additional support.[23] At the same time, one seemingly cannot deny that Rashi is ‘borrowing’ from Onqelos’s text. As before, the most logical explanation is that Rashi arrived at the idea on his own, felt that it did not need any additional support, and merely ‘borrowed’ Onqelos’s language.

The Leipzig Manuscript can partly mitigate the aforementioned sort of problem. In the MS Leipzig 1 version of Rashi’s commentary to Genesis 13:16, one finds that the word “ke-targumo” is in fact appended to the end of Rashi’s comment. Thus, as per Rabbi Schneerson, Rashi must have used Onqelos as a support for his translation in this case because he felt that his own explanation was not evident enough and required additional support. However, Rashi’s commentary to Genesis 41:46 on the phrase “Tzafnat Pane’aḥ” remains unchanged, and thus still potentially problematic for Rabbi Schneerson. As such, one should still conclude that, according to Rabbi Schneerson, Rashi will, at times, use Onqelos’s text as a template for his writing.

IV. Scenario 2: Challenges for Rabbi Schneerson’s Rules & the Targum as a Source (or Indicator) of Hermeneutic Tradition

At the beginning of Genesis 1, in describing what happened on the second day of Creation, the Torah writes: And the Lord said, Let there be a firmament within the waters (be-tokh ha-mayim), and it shall be a division between water and water. [24] Rashi elaborates upon the verse’s formulation:

“Within the waters” – i.e. in the middle of the waters, that there be a distinction between the upper waters and the firmament as there is between the firmament and the waters upon the earth; thus, we learn that they all are dependent upon the word of the Sovereign.[25]

It appears that Rashi is deliberately interpreting the word “be-tokh” in this context to mean ‘in the middle’ rather than ‘in the midst’.[26] If so, one might believe Rashi to be merely echoing Onqelos’s interpretation, “be-metzi’ut maya” – ‘in the middle of the waters’. However, upon further consideration, such an explanation is insufficient, seeing as it fails justify the remainder of Rashi’s commentary. Rather, it seems more plausible to conclude that Rashi here utilizes the Midrash Rabbah’s interpretation of the verse:

“Let there be a firmament within the waters” – [that is,] in between them and in the middle. Said Rabbi Tanḥuma, I propose the following interpretation: if it had said merely ‘And the Lord made the firmament, and He distinguished between the waters on (al) the firmament’, I would have said this means that the waters were placed upon the actual firmament; now that it says ‘and between the waters which are above (mei-al) the firmament’, thus the upper waters are referred to in this passage. Said Rabbi Aḥa, Like the manner of a lamp, and its fruits are the rain waters. [27]

From the above analysis, as well as the classical commentaries on Rashi[28], it would appear that Rashi believed that “be-tokh” had two possible translations depending on the context, and thus did not require Onqelos’s support for his opinion. Accordingly, as per Rabbi Schneerson’s rules, Rashi must not have seen fit to quote or base himself upon the Targum in this instance.[29]

Indeed, this position is buttressed by a complementary Rashi in Genesis 2:9. In describing the primeval Garden of Eden, the verse states:

And the Lord, God, caused to sprout from the ground every manner of tree, pleasing of appearance and good to eat; and the tree of life inside the garden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Elaborating upon this verse, Rashi comments: “Inside (be-tokh) the garden” – i.e. in the middle.[30] In this instance, Rashi does not appear to base his interpretation on any midrash,[31] but rather elaborates purely on the grounds of his own understanding. As before, Rashi does not quote Onqelos, who also translates the word “be-tokh” here as he did in the previous verse. Rabbi Schneerson would presumably argue that Rashi simply felt that in this context, the translation ‘in the middle’ was more appropriate than ‘in the midst’. Indeed, other commentators reason that “be-tokh” really must mean ‘in the middle’ in this case: seeing as the previous verse already stated that God planted trees in the garden, the word “be-tokh” would be redundant if it merely conveyed that these trees were also amid the garden.[32]

The Leipzig Manuscript, however, tells a different story.  In the Rome and Defus Rishon editions of Rashi’s commentary, the extra word “ha-gan” – ‘the garden’ – appears appended to Rashi’s comment: “Inside (be-tokh) the garden” – i.e. in the middle of the garden.[33] Aside from merely complementing Rashi’s explanation, this minor addition holds ostensibly little significance.[34] The Leipzig Manuscript, however, has a subsequent addition: “Inside (be-tokh) the garden” – i.e. in the middle of the garden; according to the manner of its Targum: ‘in the middle’ (ke-targumo be-metzi’ut).[35] Interpreting along the lines of Rabbi Schneerson’s rules, it emerges according to the Leipzig Manuscript version that Rashi did not feel comfortable simply relying on his own logic in this context, and instead sought to draw proof from the Targum. Moreover, Rashi must also have felt that the Aramaic word “be-metzi’ut,” ‘in the middle’, provided an added layer of meaning useful in supporting his own choice of explanation.

Unfortunately, with the exception of a few fragments, the Leipzig Manuscript does not include Rashi’s commentary to the first chapter of Genesis. Thus, it is not known whether Rashi might have used the phrase “ke-targumo be-metzi’ut” in the first instance as well, in his comment to Genesis 1:6. On the basis of what appears to be Rashi’s extensive citation of midrash in that circumstance, however, it may be surmised as per Rabbi Schneerson’s rules that Rashi would likely not have employed this phrase in that context.

Upon reflection, a serious problem emerges from the texts surveyed thus far. If we are to accept the MS Leipzig 1 text as correct, Rabbi Schneerson’s rules appear to box Rashi into a corner, as it were: in the first instance, commenting upon Genesis 1:6, Rashi was apparently uncomfortable with translating “be-tokh” as “in the middle” without providing some manner of textual or rabbinic support. In the second instance, in Rashi’s comments on Genesis 2:9, a quote from Targum Onqelos appears to take the place of rabbinic support. However, by quoting the Targum’s formulation in that latter instance, Rashi also indicates that the support upon which he draws is somewhat less intuitive. If Onqelos’s position as to the definition of “be-tokh” is indeed unfounded in aggadic (rabbinic homiletic) literature,[36] and in translating as he does, Onqelos is merely rendering an otherwise literal translation, then what unspoken support does Rashi seek to garner in quoting him here?

This question is further strengthened by a similar dynamic with respect to a later comment of Rashi. The verse in Numbers 17:21 states:

And Moses spoke unto the Children of Israel, and all their princes gave to him a staff for each prince, a staff for each prince, according to the house of their fathers, twelve staffs in all; and the staff of Aaron was among (be-tokh) their staffs.

In commenting upon this verse, Rashi translates the word “be-tokh” as ‘in the middle’, while Onqelos renders “be-go” – ‘in the midst of’.[37] Although several commentators point to textual nuances which may support Rashi’s understanding of the word in this context, all posit that Rashi must have relied upon some midrashic source in order to justify an explanation that entails rewriting the details of a Biblical event without the aid of some explicit rabbinic source.[38] Indeed, upon further investigation, one finds that this very understanding of the incident described in Numbers 17 is recounted in the Tanḥuma Yashan, a source with which Rashi is known to have been familiar and upon which he relies elsewhere in his commentary.[39] On the basis of this example and others like it, it seems relatively clear that Rashi generally relies upon not only textual support but also aggadic grounding to justify translating the word “be-tokh” to mean ‘in the middle’. It is also clear from this example that Onqelos and Rashi had differing conceptions of how to translate the word “be-tokh” based on context, sometimes resulting in differences of interpretation. In virtue of what aggadic basis, then, can Rashi’s comment to Genesis 3:9 be understood?

Although it seems to this writer that there is no straightforward way to answer this question on Rabbi Schneerson’s rules, two plausible answers may be suggested. One possibility is that, by adding the word ‘be-metzi’ut’ in his comment to Genesis 3:9, Rashi acknowledges that he and Onqelos do not agree upon the same general parameters as to when the word ‘be-tokh’ ought to be translated as ‘in the middle’. Indeed, inquiry shows that Onqelos appears to have more stringent parameters than Rashi as to when the word ‘be-tokh’ ought to be translated as ‘in the middle’ rather than ‘in the midst’. By pointing to the fact that Onqelos finds it appropriate to translate ‘be-tokh’ as ‘in the middle’ in this context despite his more stringent parameters for doing so in general, Rashi thus draws an indirect support for his own choice of translation in this instance. Clever though it may be, this answer is fundamentally lacking in that it leaves the question of Rashi’s unspoken aggadic source unanswered.

A second, more plausible explanation for Rashi’s mysterious inclusion of the word ‘be-metzi’ut’ in his comment to Genesis 2:9 emerges from a better understanding of why Rashi believes the word ‘be-tokh’ can mean ‘middle’ in the first place. In his commentary to Midrash Rabbah, Pseudo-Rashi explains[40] that the word ‘be-tokh’ can be interpreted exegetically based on Jewish tradition’s concept of “yesh im le-mikra, yesh im le-mesoret” – that is, the notion that in certain circumstances, Scripture may be interpreted on the basis of understanding the text, not only according to the tradition of the way its words are punctuated and read aloud, but also according to the tradition of the way its words are spelled, independent of traditional punctuation. In light of this additional information, one can posit that Rashi does not always require an aggadic tradition per say to justify his choice of Scriptural translation; rather, a tradition that the methodology of “yesh im le-mikra, yesh im le-mesoret” is applied to the verse in question can also suffice as a justification, where appropriate. Although Onqelos may have had a different tradition or understanding of the precise meaning and application of the word ‘be-tokh’ in general, his understanding of this word in the specific instance of Genesis 3:9 may still constitute a valid utilization of this type of textual exegesis in Rashi’s eyes. Along these lines, one may posit that perhaps Rashi sought to use neither Onqelos’s logic nor Onqelos’s reasoning by quoting Onqelos’s formulation in commenting on Genesis 2:9; rather, perhaps Rashi sought only to invoke Onqelos’s tradition and precedent as basis for his own choice of translation. As such, Rashi adds the word ‘be-metzi’ut’ to highlight this very difference between precedence of tradition and accuracy of translation.[41]


V. Conclusion

As has been demonstrated over the course of this analysis, the Leipzig Manuscript presents opportunities for new understandings of Rashi that can serve as test cases for Rabbi Schneerson’s rules. In some of these cases, the results of comparison provide new support Rabbi Schneerson’s thesis, while at other times they pose new challenges to it. In both sorts of scenarios, this valuable manuscript fuels the student’s drive to investigate ever further, modifying and formulating newer and more precise criteria for understanding, characterizing and categorizing Rashi’s usage of Targum Onqelos.


[1] See

[2] Id.

[3] Id. See note 2 ad loc.

[4] This author has only subjected Rashi’s comments to Genesis to in-depth examination in this respect.

[5] While there are many applications to more traditional studies of Rashi’s methods, this paper will focus on Rabbi Schneerson’s rules for two reasons. One is that his rules are the most comprehensive and formulaic. Secondly, he is the only one to have made a comprehensive set of rules for Rashi’s usage of Targum. (Others have posited some as well, but mostly just provide examples spanning tens of pages. See Ezra Melamed’s Mefarshei Ha-Mikra: Derakheihem Ve-Shitoteihem vol. 1)

[6] Although no official explanation was given, it is the author’s opinion that this was a way to spread Torah on a communal level in memory of his mother. Following the death of Rabbi Schneerson’s wife, a new girl’s school was established in her memory. Rabbi Schneerson may have felt that his mother’s death was a personal loss and not a communal one (as opposed to the death of his wife). Regardless, these sihot were a way in which he was able to personally honor her memory by teaching a topic commonly studied by both men and women. Moreover, both men and women attended these lectures, as had his mother. Indeed, his mother would comment that his discourses were especially meaningful to her (see Chaim Miller’s Turning Judaism Outwards: A Biography of the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, page 384).

[7] Turning Judaism Outwards. 389.

[8] See Tuvia Blau’s Kellalei Rashi Be-Pirusho al Ha-Torah, Introduction. It should be noted that, as the work was not written by Rabbi Schneerson himself, the exact nuances analyzed in this paper may not fully reflect his opinion (see note 13 below).

[9] Kellalei Rashi Be-Pirusho al Ha-Torah, Chapter 11 Sections 1-3, 10-12. See note 19 and Likutei Sihot and footnote 17 ad loc. This statement is somewhat vague as that particular phraseology is only used once in Rashi’s entire commentary. See Melamed’s work for similar phrases. Whether this was the intent of Rabbi Schneerson, or he was referring to a more substantial portion of Rashi’s comments remains unknown.

[10] See Eran Viesel’s Iyun be-Hegedim ha-Meforshim shel Rashi al Odot Targum Onqelos. Rabbi Schneerson’s guidelines would also somewhat run contrary to Viesel’s thesis (albeit more in spirit than in content).

[11] Parenthetically, this is interesting because one of Rabbi Schneerson’s more famous rules was that Rashi wrote his commentary for a child beginning to learn Torah. One of the ramifications is that Rashi will many times paraphrase Rabbinic statements when it will not compromise his commentary because a child would not know how to learn Gemara. Apparently, Rabbi Schneerson believed that children in Rashi’s time did learn Targum.

[12] Kellalei Rashi Be-Pirusho al Ha-Torah. Another instance is when Rashi wants to distinguish between Targum Onqelos and Targum Yonatan; Kellalei Rashi Be-Pirusho al Ha-Torah, Chapter 11, Sections 15 and 16. See also Likutei Sihot Vol. 15, pg. 441, note 28. (See also Vol. 10, pg. 15.)

[13] Id. Section 12.

[14] There are exceptions to the rule. See Kellalei Rashi Be-Pirusho al Ha-Torah, Chapter 11. Those exceptions, however, are not relevant to this discussion.

[15] See Rafael Binyamin Posen’s Yichuso Shel Rashi Le-Targum Onqelos, pg. 275, note 2. A similar position was expressed to the author by both Posen and Viesel in personal email correspondences.

[16] Rashi ad loc.

[17] Siftei Hakhamim ad loc.

[18] Such a decision may have been purely stylistic. Alternatively, Rashi may have felt that because children studied Targum (see note 11), borrowing the language would help children remember his explanations better.

[19] See Ibn Ezra, Ramban, etc.

[20] Ad loc.

[21] Ad loc.

[22] Ad loc.

[23] It is theoretically possible that Rashbam might agree with Rashi and just had a different connotation when using the phrase “ke-targumo”.

[24] Genesis 1:6

[25] Ad. loc.

[26] I.e. without there being a gap in between the two entities

[27] See Mizrahi on Rashi. See also Rashi on Midrash Rabbah ad loc. Rashi is clearly merging the final two interpretations. (For another similar instance, see Rashi on Genesis 15:1. See also Ha’amek Davar ad loc.) This would explain the strange language. (See also Yerushalmi Berakhot 5a. This would answer the Mizrahi’s question about Rashi interpreting against tradition.)

[28] See Mizrachi and Gur Aryeh.

[29] See Siftei Hakhamim, Mizrahi, and Maskil Le-Dovid ad loc.

[30] Ad loc.

[31] See Siftei Hakhamim, Mizrahi, Gur Aryeh, etc. However, see also Midrash ha-Gadol Bereishit, Bereishit Rabbah 15, and Zohar 3, 96. It does not appear that Rashi is quoting it (especially as shall be proven from the Leipzig Manuscript).

[32] Id.

[33] Ad loc.

[34] One could defend both versions: By adding the word “gan,” Rashi is indicating the reason for his decision to translate “be-tokh.” Moreover, it would complement his former comment. On the other hand, by omitting the additional word, Rashi is signaling that his proof is not straightforward.

[35] Ad loc.

[36] See Pseudo Jonathan ad loc. and Midrash Rabbah (4, 2).

[37] Ad loc.

[38] See Mizrahi ad loc.

[39] Tanḥuma Yashan Leviticus 11. See Menachem Mendel Kasher’s Torah Sheleimah Vol I and II and footnotes ad loc.

[40] Bereishit Rabbah 5,2

[41] One could also answer that Rashi would not use a hermeneutic tradition that ran contrary to his own understanding of the word. Instead, he quoted Onqelos to show that such a tradition existed and there was probably a midrash that would also utilize that translation. Indeed, such midrashim exist (see note 26). This answer, however, is also quite unlikely.