Scholarship, Dogs, and Sarcasm
His name was Solomon ben Isaac. He is better known as Rashi, which is the acronym derived from Rabbi Solomon son of Isaac. He was born in Troyes, France in 1040 and died in Troyes, France in 1105. Talmudic scholars to this day revere the commentaries of Rashi.
His father is believed to have had vineyards in the Champagne region, and Rashi was a merchant on behalf of his father’s business where he more than likely took part in the annual international trade fair to show case and sell wine.
In his day, Rashi more than likely grew to become known as the learned Solomon of Troyes. During his life, he marked himself with distinction for being an astute teacher of Talmud and Bible to the Jewish community, and drew many students to himself.
Rashi appears to have borrowed the common practice among Latin Christian scholars of applying a gloss, a summary and interpretation to the portions of the Latin Bible, to key passages of the Bible and Talmud in his own commentaries. In contrast to Christians of his day, however, Rashi stressed the literal approach to reading and understanding the Scripture, which was contrary to the allegorical method used by the Church. Moreover, it is widely believed that non Jews sought out Rashi for advice on some matters.
For years, Rashi studied in Worms and Mainz. His legacy is in his commentaries. Rashi's selection of the Midrash for the first commentary on Genesis was probably meant to refute both Islamic and Papal claims to the Holy Land. Rashi's argument was God had bestowed upon Israel the Holy Land as a divine gift.
Perhaps missed by many, at issue with the Pope’s appeal and Rashi’s response in his commentary on Genesis (Bereshit), is question and answer as to who and what is the True Israel of God. That question as to who and what is the True Israel of God, for Christians, is answered in the words of Jesus in the Gospels, the Second Prologue to Romans in the medieval Latin Bible, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the last book in the Bible the Apocalypse, which advance a Continuation Theology (not to be confused with Replacement Theology). For Jews, that question is answered in descent. Nevertheless, they called each other dogs. From the words of Jesus, the prologue writers, and the rabbis ... if you were held in low esteem , or in contempt ... you were just a dog.
When the First Crusade launched in 1096, the Jewish community in the Rhineland suffered two months of mayhem at the hands of unprincipled men, who were stirred up by itinerant preachers. At the age of 56, the already well known Rashi survived the period of mayhem and traveled the 280 miles return trip to Troyes, where Jews had the protection of Eudes II, the Count of Champagne.
The Hebrew prayer Av Harakhamim, Father of Mercies, was probably composed immediately after the misfortune that befell the Jewish communities at the hands of German Crusaders heading south in 1096. Since that time, the prayer has been recited in synagogues prior to opening the Ark to bring forth the Torah. It reads:
Father of mercies, may You willingly do good to Zion. Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem; for in You alone have we trusted, King, God, elevated and exalted, Master of the World.
In 1110, Hugh, the abbey of St. Victor in Paris, reassessed his understanding of how to read Scripture with his exposure to the writings of Rashi. Hugh of St. Victor later taught in Paris from about 1125 until 1141 from where learning spread across Europe. This learning contributed to the Twelfth Century renaissance, which reaches its apex in the late 1100s.
In the period that followed Hugh of St. Victor, we see Hebrew letters appearing in some Latin Bibles, as well as the use of an appendix to Bibles with a Glossary of Interpretation of Hebrew Names. Consider the following:
A Latin Vulgate Bible was produced between 1178 and 1199 at the abbey of St Albans under Abbot Simon and his successor Abbot Warin. This particular Bible evidences Jewish influences, as it was produced to resemble a Torah scroll when opened. It has three columns per page. Moreover, folio 121 r, which is the opening to the prophet Jeremiah’s Lamentations, features perfectly written Hebrew letters, aleph through taf, in gold leaf, and is believed to have been scribed by a Jew, possibly with Sephardic training. This Bible is held by the Parker Library in Corpus Christi College in Cambridge and is known as CCCC MS 48. See it online.
Another Latin Vulgate Bible, the Lumley Bible with the Interpretation of Hebrew names, was produced in 1250 and is now held by the British Library and is known as Royal 1 E II. See it online.
And again, another Latin Vulgate Bible, the Bible of William of Devon with the Interpretation of Hebrew names, was produced in 1275 and is now held by the British Library and is known as Royal 1 D 1. See it online.
Rashi (or others), however, played a joke on the Latin Christians of Europe, and the legacy persists to this day. Consider the name Caleb. Ask almost any Christian today, especially a fundamentalist, what the Hebrew name Caleb means, and more than likely he will tell you it means “dog.” It actually means whole hearted.
CALEB is actually a compound word in Hebrew - something that is quite common in ancient Hebrew. Col (Cuf + Lamed) = all or whole. Lev (Lamed + Vet) = heart. Therefore, CALEB (or COLEV as pronounced in Hebrew) actually means "whole hearted". (Source: https://www.behindthename.com/bb/fact/175074)
The name Caleb serves as a metaphor in the Bible. The only way to enter into the promises, the Promised Land, is with your whole heart. Rendering that name, Kol Lev, as dog betrays not just bad translation, but deliberate misdirection with an insult added. Rashi’s sarcastic jab has reverberated for about a thousand years. You really cannot blame Rashi, as I believe, he is indeed the source of this misdirection given that he was an eye witness to the mayhem of the times.