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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Northern French School's Encounter with Christianity

Biblical exegesis among the Northern French was influenced by the Jewish encounter with Christianity in several ways. The interest in the biblical text shown by this school of Northern French exegetes has invited comparisons with similar trends in Christian scholarly circles at the time, notably the School of St. Victor in Paris, where the canon, Andrew of St. Victor, pursued the hebraica veritas with the same assiduousness as Rashbam and his colleagues pursued the peshat. Though names are not mentioned, Andrew, who was not well‐versed in Hebrew, consulted Jews regularly and cites Jewish exegesis frequently in his commentaries. Some of the sources he cites can be traced to members of the Northern French School. It is not unreasonable to assume that the winds of influence blew in the other direction as well. Indeed it has been argued convincingly that the focus of the exegetes of this school, especially Rashi, on the construction of a narrative that the Jewish people could identify with and be proud of was a primary concern, and was stimulated by the competing narrative presented by the Christian side in what was an ongoing debate and struggle for legitimacy. So, while there is definitely evidence of shared concerns and techniques, made possible by the atmosphere of tolerance and open rationalistic inquiry fostered by the 12th century renaissance, there is also evidence of competition, rivalry, and struggle for supremacy, which can be seen clearly in the polemical aspects of these exegetes' commentaries.

Indeed, it is likely that the exigencies of polemic and disputation stimulated study of the biblical text unencumbered by traditional non‐literal interpretation. The New Testament interprets many verses in the Hebrew Bible christologically, as referring to the life or significance of Jesus of Nazareth. This method was continued in the writings of the Church Fathers and in the medieval Christian commentaries, and such comments loom large in the polemical works written by Jews and Christians in the later medieval period. One area which received special attention was the interpretation of the legal parts of the Torah. Christians argued that many of these laws, such as the dietary laws, were no longer applicable as they had been abrogated by the advent of Jesus as Messiah. Jews contended that all the laws remained valid, even if they lacked a rational explanation, since theirfulfillment was an act of faith in God. Another issue was the status and interpretation of the words of the prophets, many of which the Christians applied to Jesus. Jewish exegetes tried to put these prophecies in their historical context, applying them to events in the past, either in the time of the prophet or immediately thereafter. Another important strategy of the Jewish polemicists was to argue from context, showing the indefensibility of the Christian interpretation if the context was considered. This approach, of course, militated against midrashic interpretation as well and contributed to the decline in its use during the Middle Ages. Many of the exegetes of the Northern French School were involved in polemics with Christians and these are alluded to in their commentaries either directly or obliquely. The impact of the Crusades is especially felt in Rashi's commentary on Psalms, written after 1096, in which he applies numerous verses to the struggle of the Jewish people in exile with Christianity (symbolized by Esau or Edom), in many cases reading these verses against the thrust of traditional commentary, in order to avoid any possible misuse of them by Christians. On the other hand his commentary on Song of Songs, in which on numerous occasions he uses the term dugma' in the sense of figure, shows the influence of contemporary Christian exegesis, where typology was an important exegetical tool. Joseph Kara's comments on the mean‐ ing and dates of prophecies of comfort, the meaning of the exile, and the continuing value of the observance of the commandments are apologetically motivated. He was also sensitive to comments that Christians might use for their own polemical purposes. Thus, he criticizes Rashi for explaining ma'aseh merkavah, the chariot vision in Ezek. ch 1 , as wheels being held together by crossed bars, for fear that this explanation might be used by Christian polemicists to argue that God's chariot was supported by a cross (1 Kings 7.33 ). Another tendency evident in Kara, but especially in Rashbam and Joseph Bekhor Shor, is to explain the actions of the patriarchs in as positive a manner as possible. Thus according to Rashbam, Abraham had given enough water to Hagar to last her and Ishmael until they reached the next inn. But because she lost her way in the desert, the water ran out (commentary to Gen. 21.14 ). Jacob dealt honestly with his brother and bought the birthright from him outright at its fair market value. He served him a meal of bread and lentil soup afterwards in order to confirm the transaction (commentary to Gen. 25.31– 33 ). An especially sensitive topic was the despoiling of the Egyptians (Exod. 3.22 ). Rashbam explains that the Israelite women asked the Egyptians to give them the vessels as outright gifts, and adds that this is the literal meaning and an answer to the sectarians (teshuvat ha‐minim). This last comment is a clear indication of the direct relationship between the contextual meaning and anti‐Christian polemic. This type of interpretation was the best response to Christian allegorization, which tended to read a reference to Jesus and his life into every verse possible. Nevertheless, not all of these Jewish interpreters were equally engaged in anti‐Christian polemic, and the development of peshat interpretation should not be seen entirely as a reaction to Christianity.

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