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Rabbi Samuel Strashun

Reshash of Vilna

"In our town, Vilna... one would certainly find many hundreds of scholars and great and small masters, and many thousands who can read religious sources, and all of them come from the simple masses... and even among the artisans one can find many who can read and study the Torah. It is not uncommon to see here one of the artisans, as he studies the Pentateuch with Rashi's [Solomon ben Isaac] interpretation, Mishnah, En-Ya'akov, Midrash, and the Shulhan Arukh [Code, by Joseph Caro]"

It is in this context that Samuel Strashun's "scholarly persona" was formed. Eastern European Jewish scholars at that time used a variety of study methods. These included repetition and memorization, pilpul (casuistry), and reasoning, a method that was mainly popular at the Volozhin Yeshiva. To this panoply of study methods, Samuel Strashun added his own. Since a precise understanding of the canonic text is necessary for accurate ruling in halakhah (Jewish law), Strashun devoted a great deal of time to the study of Hebrew grammar. This knowledge was reflected in his proofreadings of the Mishnah and the Babylonian Talmud. In so doing Strashun, to a large extent, continued the work of The Vilna Gaon. In addition to a grounding in Hebrew grammar, a full understanding of the talmudic text depends on a thorough knowledge of the Prophets and the Hagiographa.

Strashun considered the study of the context surrounding tana'im and amora'im (talmudic sages) to be a necessary element in understanding their priorities and the way in which their agreements and disagreements are presented. While the prevailing study method tended to be ahistorical and neglected differences of time, area, and background, Samuel Strashun saw tana'im and amora'im as individuals, affected by different aspects of life and not merely as "carriers of opinions." Therefore, he considered it extremely important to obtain an implicit knowledge of their lineage and the locations in which they operated.

Strashun's wide and comprehensive system of "proof-readings" and interpretations demonstrate his attempt to comprehend thoroughly the author's intentions, referred to in scholarly terminology as peshat [literal exegesis].