R. Shelomo ben Yitzhak, known as Rashi, was a giant among the Jewish sages of northern France and one of the most illustrious and admired figures in the Jewish world of all times. Rashi was born in Troyes, France in 1040 or 1041 and died 65 years later in 1105. Very little is known of his father. Rashi quotes him just once in his commentary on the Talmud (Avoda Zara 75a). His uncle – his mother’s brother – was Shimon Ha-Zaken, the disciple of Rabbenu Gershom Meor Ha-gola from Mainz. His daughters married outstanding scholars. Yoheved married R. Meir ben Shemuel, known as the “father of Rabbis” (their sons were: Shemuel (Rashbam), Yaakov (Rabbenu Tam), Yitzhak (Ribam) and Shelomo). His second daughter, Miriam, married R.Yehuda ben Natan (Riban) , another famous scholar of the 12th century. We also know of a third daughter whose name may have been Rachel. One of his more prominent great-grandsons was R. Yitzhak ben Shemuel (Ha-Ri ha-Zaken).
In 1060, when Rashi was about 20 years old he left France to study in the Yeshiva (rabbinical academy) of Mainz in the company of some of the most brilliant students of R. Yaakov ben Yakar and R. Yitzhak ben Yehuda. He then moved to Worms and studied under R. Yitzhak ha-Levi. Returning to Troyes some ten years later, he became the leader of the community there, as well as head of the Yeshiva which he founded. Some say that Rashi worked in the vineyards but there is no proof as such. Rashi’s greatness gave him a special status among the sages of France and Germany. While his modesty was legendary he stubbornly adhered to his views on Halakha and did not hesitate to disagree with his teachers. During the period of the Crusades of 1096, Rashi, who was then living in Troyes, was certainly aware of the massacres that were perpetrated, and expressed his shock in some of his commentaries. It is not surprising that a poem against the Christians from the 13th century is attributed to him. His outstanding disciples, in addition to his two sons-in-law mentioned above, were: .Yosef Kara, the prominent Bible commentator, Yaakov ben Shimshon, Simha ben Shemuel of Vitry and his most devoted pupil, Shemaia.