Saturday, February 1, 2014

RASHI's Family Tree and the Rabbi of Worms, Eleazar ben Judah

Nadene Goldfoot                                                            

                                                     RASHI (2/22/1040 CE-1105 CE)

Jerusalem fell in 70 CE to the Romans who burned it down.  Jews scattered to the four winds.  Many were taken to Rome.  From Rome they could escape to France and then go into the Rhineland, which became Germany.  About 1,000 years later we meet RASHI, Judaism's most famous commentator on the Torah and other Jewish writings in Troyes, France. "  Jews settled there very early.  Thought Ashkenaz means "Germany" in Hebrew, it includes France as well.  In fact, Rashi lived there first before being interested in Germany.  Jews lived in France according to legend sources at the time of the 2nd Temple.  They came with the legions of Rome later when they went there to conquer "Gaul" and make it a Roman colony.  Jews came, some as slaves forced to be soldiers, and stayed there.  Jews settled in France in 3 places:  Provence in southern France on the Mediterranean, the Rhineland, which was controlled under both France and Germany at different times, and Paris and Troyes.  They were only 25 miles apart.  Jews lived in Troyes for hundreds of years, but today there is no sign that they were ever there.  Ashkenazi Jews started as Frenchmen. The migration went eastward into Germany and Central Europe, and from there further east into Poland, Russia and Eastern Europe.  Most of the moving was "due to anti-Semitism and persecution."

Rashi's comments on the Torah are listed in the Jewish prayer books.  He is the most well known commentator of Jewish writings.  Rashi is the abbreviation for Rabbi Solomon Yitzhaki which is ben Isaac.  He was born in 1040 and died in 1105 CE in Troyes, France but had studied in the Rhineland.  He had a livelihood dependent on his vineyard.  He also wrote commentaries on the Babylonian Talmud.  His comments on the Pentateuch became universally popular and his notes on the Babylonian Talmud made that work an open book.  He wrote in a simple but concise style and he wrote with knowledge of Midrash.  " A legend relates that the Jews of Worms were descended from the Benjamites who had migrated from (Israel) to Germany."  The Benjamites were the offspring  and tribe of descendants of  Jacob and Rachel, who 2nd son was Benjamin.  Their first son had been Joseph.  Rachel had died in childbirth.  

Rashi was the son of Rabbi Yitzchak Tzarfati [RASHI father], רבי יצחק צרפתי - אבי רש"יand Leah Miriam Bat Yizchak Tzarfati [RASHI mother], לאה מרים צרפתי - אם רש"י
Husband of Rivkah wife of Rashi
Father of Yocheved bat RASHI Kalonimus, יוכבד קלונימוס בת רש"יMiriam Bat RASHI, Ben Natan, מרים בת רש"י אשת ריב"ן and Rachel bat Rashi / רחל בת רש"י
                              Jewish headstones in the once Jewish Quarter of Worms
One of his descendants 120 years later was Eleazar ben Judah of Worms.  He actually was a native of Mainz, Germany.   "It was the capital of the Electorate of Mainz at the time of the Holy Roman Empire. In antiquity Mainz was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire; it was founded as a military post by the Romans in the late 1st century BC and became the provincial capital of Germania Superior. The city is located on the river Rhine at its confluence with the Mainopposite Wiesbaden, in the western part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main; in the modern age, Frankfurt shares much of its regional importance."  

The Jewish community of Mainz dated from the 10th century CE and was noted for its religious education found there.  Rabbi Gershom ben Judah (960-1040) taught there among others.  At this time he concentrated on the study of the Talmud and created a German Jewish tradition.  Rabbi Amnon of Mainz was also from this city and had been martyred.  He was the composer of the Unetanneh Tokef prayer.  The Jews of Maniz, Speyer and Worms created a supreme council to set standards in Jewish law and education in the 12th century.  

Non-Jews in Mainz sometimes allowed Jews freedom and protected them but at other times persecuted them.  Jews were expelled in 1012 and 1462.  Later they were invited to return, but then in 1474 were expelled again.  They were attacked by mobs in 1283.  The Black Death was usually blamed on the Jews.  At such outbreaks, they were massacred as in 1349 when about 6,000 Jews were burned alive.  

 His full name was Eleazar Ben Judah Ben Kalonymos, or for short, Eleazar Rokeah.  He was born in about 1160 in Manz, Franaconia (Germany) and died in 1238 in Worms.  He was a rabbi, liturgical poet, mystic kabbalist, Talmudist and codifier.  He was a part of the eminent Kalonymos family, which gave medieval Germany many of its spiritual leaders and mystics. Rabbeinu Gershom explicitly prohibited polygamy for the first time in Jewish history.  Both he and Rashi lived in Worms.    Judah ben Samuel, a Hasid of Regensburg was his teacher and spiritual master.
Eleazar's wife was a businesswoman, allowing her husband to study and work on his findings.  In 1196, two Christian crusaders broke into his house and murdered his wife and 2 daughters in front of him.

 Even after going through this traumatic event, he continued to teach a doctrine of love of humanity.  He became a rabbi at Worms in 1201 and in 1223 took part in a synod at Mainz, which debated about problems such as business relations with Christians and the "inequitable exemptions of favored Jews" from the taxes imposed by the government.    His works stressed the idea of repentance.  He wrote "The Book of the Spice-Dealer".

Eleazar had studied Kabbalism, which is an influential body of Jewish mystical writings, and the Talmud, which is the rabbinical compendium of law, lore and commentary.  He tried to unify these opposing aspects of Judaism in his writings, often with interesting results.  He was an angelologist.  He held mystical theories of theurgy, which is the art of persuading or compelling supernatural beings to one's bidding.  Eleazar believed that the Kavod, a ruling angel, was an emanation from G-d and the knowable aspect of him, while G-d himself was infinitely transcendent and unknowable.  He also wrote mystical commentaries on the 5 scrolls of Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, and on the Five Books of Moses.

"Kalonymos or Kalonymus (Hebrewקלונימוס‎) is a prominent Jewish family originally from LuccaItaly, "city of Tuscany, Italy. Its Jewish community is known in literature especially through the Kalonymus family of Lucca, whose ancestor saved the life of the German emperor Otto II. after the battle of Cotrone in Calabria (982), and seems thereupon to have settled at Mayence, where the family had extensive privileges.".  Then, after the settlement at Mainz and Speyer of several of its members, took during many generations a leading part in the development of Jewish learning in Germany. The family is according to many considered the foundation of Hachmei and Hasidei Ashkenaz."

Worms turned out to be an important Jewish city for the Jewish academia.  The city was old, having existed before Roman times, which the Romans had captured and fortified under Drusus in 14 BCE.  The Romans kept a small troop of infantry and cavalry there who were garrisoned in Augusta Vangionum.  Originally the Celtic people had settled there and called it Borbetomagus.  It grew, with the garrison turning into a small town with the regularized Roman street plan, a forum, and temples for their main gods, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.  On top of these was built the cathedral and another temple for Mars.  Roman inscriptions and altars and votive offerings are now in the city's archaeological museum along with a collection of Roman glass.  Found in this area were fragments of amphoras which show that olive oil that they held had come from Hispania Baetica by sea and then up the Rhine.  At Borbetomagus, Gunther, king of the Burgundians, was set up as a puppet-emperor, Jovinus as he was called during the disorders of 411-13.  Hun mercenaries overwhelmed them in 437 called in by the Roman,  General Aetius,  to put an end to Burgundian raids.

Worms, Germany, is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, on the Rhine River and about 40 miles SW of Frankfurt-am-Main.  The census in 2004 showed it had 85,829 people.  It  was known in Medieval Hebrew under the name Varmayza or Vermaysa. which anglicized, would be "Worms."    It had become the center of Ashkenazic Judaism.  The Jewish community was established in the late 10th century and the first synagogue was erected in 1034.

By 1096, 800 Jews were murdered by crusaders and the local mob.  The Jewish cemetery in Worms dates from the 11th century and is believed to be the oldest surviving one in Europe.

There is the Rashi Synagogue there, which dates from 1175 and was carefully reconstructed after its desecration on Kristallnacht in 1938.  It is the oldest synagogue in Germany.

For hundreds of years, the Jewish Quarter was the center of Jewish life until Kristallnacht.  That was the year that much of the Jewish Quarter was destroyed.  Today, Worms has a very small Jewish population.  There were renovations in the 70's and 80's.  Many of the buildings of the Quarter can be seen in a reconstuction of the original, preserved as an outdoor museum.

In 2010, the synagogue was fire bombed.  Eight corners of the building were set on fire.  Somebody threw a Molotov cocktail through the window.  Kurt Beck, Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate, condemned the attack and vowed to find  the guilty.  He said, "We will not tolerate such an attack on a synagogue."

Today, with DNA coming out of scientific achievements, people are finding they are part of a group who have had their DNA tested and find they are matching with others who have a direct connection to the Rabbi of Worms, and therefore, to Rashi.  A group is formed at Family Tree DNA called the Halpern and Branches, part of the Jewish Heritage Project. My family genes are connected to the Rabbi of Worms.   I believe that Rashi would have been a Cohen bearing the Y haplogroup of J1, but descendants carrying some of these genes  would be of other lineages because of his only having daughters. The Eshet Chayil Foundation is tracing the descendants of King David, and they list Rashi in their material as well as the Luria family.  Their tree leads to the Gaon of Vilna b: 1720 in Lithuania, of which my oral history is that we are connected to him. Now there could be some truth to this because of our Rabbi of Worms connection and the fact that my grandfather was born in Lithuania.

A Rashi family tree can be seen at and at   He had 3 daughters.
[1] Rashi: Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (b. 1040 Troyes/Champagne, France, d. 1105 Troyes/Champagne, France) marriedBatisaak daughter of Isaak BENABUN. They lived in France. Rashi wrote well known concise commentary on the bible.

Encyclopedia Brittanica,_Germany
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia Rashi


  1. Thank you for the interesting article. I am researching the Jewish line of my family (Kalonymos) from Germany and this has been helpful.

  2. I'm happy to hear this it has helped, Sarah.