The Hebrew text of Rashi’s commentary on the Psalms, along with a translation, introduction, and notes by Mayer Gruber, has recently appeared in paperback at a reasonable price. Its appearance is a major event. There is no doubt that this volume belongs on the shelves of anyone who wishes to study the Psalms in the context of the canonical tradition of interpretation which Rashi summarized, adapted, and contributed to himself.
Mayer Gruber. Rashi’s Commentary on Psalms. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2007. Paperback. 914 pages. List price: $50.00. Reprinted from the original cloth edition: Brill Reference Library of Judaism 18; Leiden: Brill, 2004.
The table of contents is available online here.
Mayer Gruber’s introduction and copious notes makes this volume indispensable to the serious student of Rashi’s commentary on the Psalms. The volume originally appeared as a hardback in 2004 and is still in print, with a list price of $237.00. Not your average stocking-stuffer.
The 2007 paperback edition might have benefited from a new preface in which two matters were addressed:
(1) An account of the extent of the differences between the text chosen by Gruber for his edition, Vienna 220, and the text of Rashi’s commentary provided in Psalms, Part 1 (ed. Menachem Cohen; Mikra’ot Gedolot 'Haketer' - MGH 8; Bar-Ilan University Press, 2003), and Psalms, Part 2 (ed. Menachem Cohen; Mikra’ot Gedolot 'Haketer' - MGH 9; Bar-Ilan University Press, 2004). I have not yet had the opportunity to make a comparison myself.
(2) An account of the extent of the differences in text and translation technique vis-à-vis A. J. Rosenberg’s edition of Rashi’ commentary, in Hebrew and English, online here. For example, Rosenberg begins his translation of the first lemma of Rashi’s commentary with the words: “Heb. אשרי les felicements (?) in Old French.” Vienna 220 has no equivalent to this. Gruber, who often discusses additions and other variants in the wider manuscript tradition, does not note the existence of this reading.
Gruber’s notes relate Rashi’s comments to other examples of traditional Jewish exegesis, and exegesis both ancient and modern reflected in translation, commentary, dictionaries, and other secondary literature. Gruber’s purpose is not to adjudicate between discrepant interpretations. The goal is to place Rashi’s comments in the context of the exegetical discussion that continues to this day, and let the reader decide to what extent and in what sense Rashi’s comments remain helpful.
I have two basic criticisms of Gruber’s volume.
(1) Rashi’s commentary in Hebrew is found at the back of the volume in one block. In the middle of the volume, a heavily footnoted translation of the commentary is given psalm-by-psalm. The result: it is often necessary to have one’s finger in three different places at once: the Hebrew, the translation of the Hebrew, and the notes to the translation.
A lemma-by-lemma (not psalm-by-psalm) diglot edition of the commentary and commentary thereto, would have been a far better way to make Rashi accessible to students of the Bible like myself who will never be experts in medieval rabbinic exegesis, but desire to benefit from it and quote from it in a responsible manner. An example of what I have in mind is offered below.
(2) Additions and other variants in the wider manuscript tradition, insofar as Gruber notes them, are offered in translation only.
It would have been better to have all significant textual variants in the manuscript tradition reported in Hebrew in an appendix, and/or in supercommentary to Rashi’s commentary as found in Vienna 220.
A truly user-friendly edition of Rashi’s commentary on the Psalms would proceed lemma-by-lemma, with the MT presented first, followed by a translation thereof according to the sense Rashi attributed to it; Rashi’s commentary; a translation of Rashi’s commentary; and finally, a supercommentary. With the advent of electronic typesetting, Hebrew can be presented as such without difficulty.
Here is an example of what I have in mind - translations and supercommentary are my own, and differ in detail but not in the essentials from those of Gruber:
אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים
ובדרך חטאים לא עמד
ובמושב לצים לא ישב
[Translation of the Lemma in accord with Rashi’s Interpretation]
The praises of a man are
that he did not walk in the counsel of wicked men,
and did not stand in the way of sinful men,
and did not sit in the seat of scorners.
אישוריו ותהילותיו של אדם אלו
הן אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים
כי מתוך שלא הלך לא עמד
ומתוך שלא עמד לא ישב
[Translation of Rashi’s commentary]
The praises of the man
The lauds and praises of a person are these,
namely, that he did not walk in the counsel of wicked men:
because he did not walk […], he did not stand […],
and because he did not stand […], he did not sit […].
LXX, Vulgate, Kimchi, and most modern translations understand the expression to be semantically related to אֹשֶׁר ‘happiness’ (Gen 30:13). On this interpretation, אשרי literally means ‘O the happinesses of.’ In idiomatic English: ‘Happy is.’ So NJPSV, NRSV, REB, NAB. NJB comes closer to Rashi’s interpretation: ‘How blessed is.’
The sense difference separating Rashi’s proposal from that of most other interpreters is akin to the difference between תחנה ‘a supplication for favor’ and חן ‘favor.’
Rashi understands the praises of the man to be that he does not walk / stand / sit. In accord with the use of the idiom אשרי איש and similar attested elsewhere, virtually all other interpreters treat ‘who does not . . .’ as modifying ‘the man,’ not ‘the happinesses / blessed qualities’ of the man.
Rashi follows a comment in Midrash Tehillim [footnote source] in which the three verbs of this verse are understood as three successive postures. The praise of a man is the following: because he does not do x, he also does not do y, and because he does not do y, he also does not do z.
Several mss. of Rashi’s commentary [footnote sources] add the following [provide the Hebrew and a translation, followed by discussion].
On another note, thanks to Dan Rabinowitz of the fabulous Seforim Blog, Mayer Gruber’s observations about Rashi the (alleged) vintner have received ample and occasionally dyspeptic comment. To join the fun, go here.