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In the 10th century there were small communities that lived in the Rhineland and in France. Especially in the three cities of Worms, of Spires and of Mayence. These cities on the Rhine river were ancient cities that existed from the times of the Romans. In fact, there were Jews there in the times of the Romans. There was a small settlement of Jews (about 1,000 to 1,500). From these Jews came the basic components of Ashkenazic Jewry or European Jewry. The leader of this group in this 10th century was Rabbi Gershom. Rabbi Gershom enacted a number of decrees which set the tone for Jewish family life and social fabric for a 1,000 years. He decreed that polygamist marriages would be banned, women could not get divorced without their consent, no one had the right to open anyone else’s mail, taxes were to be collected fairly. These were called the takanot or the decrees of Rabbi Gershom and they remain enforced until today. Rabbi Gershom conducted a yeshiva in the city of Mayence and it became the center of Jewish learning for Ashkenazic Jewry in that generation and for a few generations after. He had a number of great disciples, like Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki also known as Rashi. Rashi is an unbelievable figure. He wrote a commentary to the entire Bible, and to the entire Talmud. Without Rashi the Talmud would be a sealed book. Rashi wrote, he was a Rabbi, a father, a
judge, an unbelievable personality. And Rashi’s two daughters, Yocheved and Miriam, received a man’s education, so to speak, for they were also Torah scholars. They helped him transcribe his commentaries into parchment and books that spread throughout the entire Jewish world. It is impossible to imagine the study of Bible in Jewish circles without referring to Rashi’s commentary or having to deal with it.