Jewish commentaries on the Bible

Jewish commentaries on the Bible deals with the first printing of the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) with major Jewish commentaries, notes concerning translations into Aramaic and English, lists some universally accepted Jewish commentaries with notes on their method of approach and lists modern translations into English with notes.

Earliest printing of commentaries

The Tanakh was codified by the rabbis at the Great Assembly and, in its Latin translation, was first printed as volume 1 of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455. The complete Tanakh in Hebrew, with commentaries by Rashi, Radak, Ramban, and Ralbag was printed in 1517 by Daniel Bomberg and edited by Felix Pratensis under the name Mikraot Gedolot.

The Tanakh was handed down in manuscript form along with a method of checking the accuracy of the transcription known as mesorah. Many codices containing the masoretic text were gathered by Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah and were used to publish an accurate text. It was published by Daniel Bomberg in 1525. Later editions were edited with the help of Eliyahu ben Asher ha-Levi Ashkenazi Levita. Various editions of Mikraot Gedolot are still in print.[1]


"All translations are commentaries".[2] The Tanakh has been translated into many languages. According to the Bible study wiki[3] there are at least 90 English translations and thousands of translations into other languages.


A Targum is a translation of the Bible into Aramaic. The classic Targumim are Targum Onkelos on the Chumash (the five books of Torah), Targum Jonathan on Neviim (the Prophets), and a fragmentary Targum Yerushalmi. There is no standard Aramaic translation of the Ketuvim.[4]


Targum Onkelos is the most often consulted literal translation of the Bible.[5] with a few exceptions. Figurative language, is usually not translated literally but is explained (e.g., Gen. 49:25; Ex. 15:3, 8, 10; 29:35). Geographical names are often replaced by those current at a later time (e.g., Gen. 10:10; Deut. 3:17).

According to the Talmud,[6] the Torah and its translation into Aramaic were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, because Egyptian slaves spoke Aramaic. After the Babylonian exile, the Targum was completely forgotten. Onkelos, a Roman convert to Judaism, was able to reconstruct the original Aramaic. Saadiah Gaon disagrees and says the Aramaic of Onkelos was never a spoken language. He believed that Onkelos's Aramaic was an artificial construct, a combination of Eastern and Western dialects of Aramaic.[7] The mayor commentary on Targum Onkelos is "Netinah LaGer" written by Nathan Marcus Adler.

Jonathan ben Uzziel

Jonathan ben Uzziel was a pupil of Hillel the Elder. According to scholars, Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel found in the Chumash was not written by Jonathan ben Uzziel, who refer to it instead as Pseudo-Jonathan. According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica[8] internal evidence shows that it was written sometime between the 7th and 14th centuries CE. For example, Ishmael's wife's name is translated into Aramaic as Fatima (who was Mohammed's daughter) and therefore Targum Pseudo-Jonathan must have been written after Mohammed's birth. The classic Hebrew commentators would turn this argument around, and say that Mohammed's daughter was named after Ismael's wife. Both sides will agree, however that stylistically that Jonathan's commentary on the Chumash is very different from the commentary on Neviim. The Targum Jonathan on Neviim is written in a very terse style, similar to Onkelos on Chumash, but on the average Targum Jonathan on Chumash is almost twice as wordy.

Targum Yerushalmi

The Jerusalem Targum exists only in fragmentary form. It translates a total of approximately 850 verses, phrases, and words. No one knows who wrote it. Some speculate that it was a printers error. The printer saw a manuscript headed with "TY" and assumed it was a Targum Yerushalmi when actually it was an early version of Targum Yonathan. Others speculate that it was written by a R. Yosef or R. Hoshea (Yihoshua).[9]

Modern Translations



Rishonim Early (1000–1600)

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak) is the most influential Jewish exegete of all time.[10] He is the preeminent expounder of Peshat.[11] Rashi says "I, however, am only concerned with the plain sense of Scripture and with such Aggadot that explain the words of Scripture in a manner that fits in with them".[12] There have also been many super-commentaries written on Rashi's basic commentary,[13] including:
  • Be'er Mayim Chaim (R. Chaim Ben Betzalel), by the Chief Rabbi of Worms, R. Chaim ben Betzalel (1515–1588), the older brother of the Maharal of Prague.
  • Amar Nekeh, by Rabbi Obadiah of Bertinoro (c. 1440–1516), a leading rabbi of Italy and Jerusalem, best known for his commentary on the Mishna.
  • Divrei David, by David HaLevi Segal (1586–1667), a Polish rabbinical authority known as the Taz for his classic commentary on the Shulchan Aruch.
  • Gur Aryeh, by the Maharal (1526–1609), known for this work and for his fundamental works on Jewish philosophy and mysticism
  • Maskil le-David, by David Pardo (1710–1792), a Rabbi of Sarajevo and Jerusalem.
  • Mizrachi, by Elijah Mizrachi (1450–1525), Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Empire, which has itself spawned multiple supercommentaries such as Yeri'ot Shlomo by Solomon Luria (Maharshal) and Leshon Arummim by Barzillai ben Baruch Jabez.
  • Nachalas Yitzchak
  • Sefer Ha-zikaron, by Rabbi Abraham Lévy-Bacrat, who lived through the Spanish Expulsion of 1492.
  • Sifsei Chachamim, by Rabbi Shabbethai Bass, which analyzes other supercommentaries on Rashi and is considered important enough that a shortened version, Ikkar Sifsei Chachamim, is often printed with the commentary of Rashi.
Rashbam (Samuel ben Meir) was the grandson of Rashi and the brother of Rabbeinu Tam. "The sages have said a Biblical passage must not be deprived of its original meaning [on Gen. xxxvii. 1]. Yet as a consequence of the opinion expressed by them, that the constant study of the Talmud is one of the most laudable pursuits, commentators have been unable, by reason of such study, to expound individual verses according to their obvious meaning. Even my grandfather Solomon was an adherent of this school; and I had an argument with him on that account, in which he admitted that he would revise his commentaries if he had time to do so."[14]
Tobiah ben Eliezer was a Romaniote scholar and paytan, who wrote the Leḳaḥ Ṭov or Pesiḳta Zuṭarta, a midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch and the Five Megillot. The Talmudic passages which he cites in connection with the halakot he often interprets according to his own judgment and differently from Rashi. Like many other Biblical commentators, he translates certain words into the language of the country in which he is living, namely, Greek.[15]
Ibn Ezra (Abraham ben Meir) was a contemporary of the Rashbam. His commentary on Chumash was reprinted under the name Sefer HaYashar. He clearly separates the literal meaning of a biblical verse from the traditional meaning, upon which the halacha is based, and from the homiletic meaning drush. He explains that the traditional meaning and the homiletic meaning do not attempt to imply meaning to the verse; they only uses the verse as a mnemonic.[16]
Rabbi David Kimchi (David ben Joseph) followed the methodology of Ibn Ezra. He deemphasised homiletics and emphasised the Talmudic interpretations when they reached his standard of peshat. In his exegesis he strove for clarity and readability, as opposed to his predecessors who emphasised conciseness.[17] His commentaries are said to have "a remarkably modern flavor"[18]
The Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman) was the first biblical commentator to introduce kabbalistic concepts into his exegesis.[19] He differed from the Zohar in that he believed that the transcendent nature of God is absolutely unknowable by man, whereas the school of Zoharists believed that transcendence is comprehensible through revelation, ecstasy, and in the contemplation of history.[20] Ramban expressed his views through the Sod aspect of his commentary. He also expressed, in his commentary, his belief that all mitzvot had a comprehensible and rational explanation.
The author of the Arba'ah Turim, a precursor of the Shulchan Aruch (Jacob ben Asher) wrote a commentary on the Torah in which he anthologised the Pshat element of his predecessors. At the beginning of each section he wrote, as brain teasers, some explanations using Remez. These were gathered and printed under the name Baal HaTurim. The Baal HaTurim is printed in all modern editions of Mikraot Gedolot. The full commentary titled Perush ha-Tur ha-Arokh al ha-Torah, was published in Jerusalem in 1981.[21]
The Ralbag (Levy ben Gershom) also known as Gersonides based his exegesis on three principles:
  1. What can be learned through the nine principles (he believed that four of them were not allowed to be used in post-talmudic times).
  2. Every story in the Bible come to teach us ethical, religious, and philosophical ideas.
  3. Most of what we call Remez can be clearly understood by resorting to exact translation and grammatical analysis. He also condemned allegorical explanation.[22]
The Hizkuni based his kabbalistic commentary primarily on Rashi, but also used up to 20 other sources, including Dunash ben Labrat.
The family name of Don Yitzchak Abarbanel (Isaac ben Judah) also appears as Abravenel, Bravanel, etc. He lived in Spain until the expulsion in 1492 and then went into exile in Italy. In his commentary on Tanach, before each section, he would list a series of questions exploring the conceptual problems in the section from both exegetical and theological perspectives. His commentary would attempt to answer these questions through Pshat and Medrash. He distinguished between Medrashim that were part of Mesorah and those that were mere opinion and could be safely disregarded.[23]

Acharonim Later (1600–)

The Metsudot (the fortresses) are a commentary on Neviim and Ketuvim written by Rabbi David Altshuler. When he died, his son Yechiel completed it and divided it into two sections: Metsudat Zion a glossary of difficult words, and Metsudat David a restatement of difficult ideas[24]
The name Malbim is an acronym for (R. Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michal), although there is an opinion that the name is a Hebrew translation of the family name Weisser meaning whitener.[25] The Malbim's exegesis is based on several assumptions.
  1. There are no extra words or synonyms in the Bible. Every word is meaningful.
  2. Drush is as explicit as Pshat is, except that Drush has different rules of usage and syntax.
  3. The basis of the whole of the Oral Law is explicit in the Bible, either through Pshat or Drush. The only exception is when the Oral Law states that the law is not found in the Bible and is designated as Halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai.[26]
Hirsch was a German rabbi during the reformation period. His commentary focuses on the grammar and structure of the language of the Tanakh to facilitate understand the laws being given. His commentary includes the Five Books of Moses and other various parts of the Tanakh.
Baruch HaLevi Epstein (Baruch ben Yechiel Michael HaLevi) was a bank worker by profession who devoted all of his extra time to Jewish studies. To write the Torah Temimah, he gathered excerpts from the Talmud and other sources of the Oral Law and arranged them in the order of the verses of the Written Law to which they refer. He then wove the excerpts into a commentary on the Bible and annotated each excerpt with critical notes and insights.[27]
In the early 1940s professor Leibowitz began mailing study sheets on the weekly Torah reading to her students throughout the world. The study sheets included essays on the weekly portion, source notes, and questions. She encouraged her students to send their answers to her for correction. Soon she was sending out thousands of sheets and correcting hundreds of answer sheets weekly. These study sheets were collected and published in English and Hebrew in the mid 1960s and they are still in print. "Her specific collection of sources was based solely on each one's contribution to understanding peshat and to the revelation of the significance of that text."[28]

20th and 21st century commentary

See also


  1. "Mikra'ot Gedolot". Retrieved 2014-06-03.
  2. Leo Baeck Pharisees
  3. "Ask Questions, Find Answers". Bible Study Wiki. Retrieved 2014-06-03.
  4. Megilla 3a
  5. Encyclopaedia Judaica:Bible:Targum Onkelos:third paragrph
  6. Bavli, Megilla, 3a as understood by the Marshah, Chidushai Agadot on Nedorim, 9b. See also the Yam Shel Shlomo on Yebomot chapter 12
  7. Encyclopaedia Judaica: Bible
  8. Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 591
  9. Eisenstein's Otzer Yisrael, v. 10 p. 308
  10. Deborah Abecassis (March 1999). "Reconstructing Rashi's Commentary on Genesis from Citations in the Torah Commentaries of the Tosafot". McGill University: Page i.
  11. "Rashi". Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed. vol. 17. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. 2007. p. 103.
  12. Rashi's commentary on Genesis 3,8
  13. Nosson Scherman, ed. (2000). The Chumash (Stone ed.). Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-89906-014-5.
  14. "Samuel ben Meir". The Online Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
    • Kaufmann, Eine unbekannte messianische Bewegung unter den Juden, in Jahrbuch für Jüdische Geschichte und Literatur, i. 148 et seq., Berlin, 1898
  15. "Ibn Ezra, Abraham". The Online Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
  16. Talmage, Frank. "Kimhi, David." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 12. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. pp. 155–156.
  18. Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed. vol 14 page 741
  19. Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed. vol 14 page 745
  20. Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed. vol. 11 page 31
  21. Eisenstein's Ozer Yisrael vol. 6 page 11
  22. Lawee, Eric; Grossman, Avraham. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 1 (2nd ed.). pp. 276–278.
  23. Jewish Encyclopedia in the section on Altschul
  24. Pfeffer, Jeremy L. "Translator's Introduction". Malbim's Job. Jersey City NJ: KTAV. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-88125-801-6.
  25. Pfeffer, Jeremy L. "Translator's Introduction". Malbim's Job. Jersey City NJ: KTAV. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-88125-801-6.
  26. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 6 (2nd ed.). Keter. p. 468.
  27. Encyclopaedia Judaica, second edition, volume 12, page 621
  28. Rosenberg, Avroham Yoseif. "The Complete Jewish Bible, With Rashi Commentary". The Complete Tanach With Rashi. Judaica Press. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  29. Judaica Press Prophets & Writings Archived December 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  30. Rosenberg, Avroham Yoseif. "The Complete Jewish Bible, With Rashi Commentary (in Hebrew and English)". Classic Texts. Judaica Press & Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  31. "URJ Books And Music :: Sacred Texts :: Torah: A Women's Commentary, The". Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  32. "The Women's Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions". Retrieved 2014-06-03.
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