I've already asked one question about where Rashi got a particularly troubling interpretation of an obscure reference in the Gemara, telling a very detailed and gruesome story about R' Meir and his wife Beruriah.

In another instance (Bab. Sanhedrin 39a) Rashi expands in great detail upon a vague reference in the Gemara in which R' Yohanan says he knows of only three of the 300 parables about foxes taught by R' Meir to expound on Pesukim. R"Y gives a very short list, referring to the lessons by key phrases in their associated verses, and then Rashi tells us the story R"Y is referring to. But he doesn't just tell us a name for the story ("The Fox, the Wolf, and the Well") or give a watered down version of it ("A fox tricks a wolf into a well by showing him the moon's reflection down there and telling him it's cheese"). No. Rashi, who usually writes very curtly about simple concepts to aid the reader in understanding the basic meaning of a passage in the Gemara, goes into full-on story-teller mode, for 4 long lines and 10+ short lines, using almost 1/4 of the real estate on the "Rashi side" of the printed Vilna edition of the Gemara.

Where do these amazing stories come from in Rashi? Does he have a source? Were they taught orally by his teacher's teacher's teacher's teacher's teacher (however many times), dating all the way back to R' Meir? Are they (usually, generally, occasionally??) recorded elsewhere in works that are traceable/accountable?

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    I like the question, but it's a little vague which parts or Rashi's commentary you seek a source for. Any long Rashi? Any story in Rashi? Are there that many instances of this that we can't just ask about each story individually?
    – Double AA
    May 30, 2013 at 19:35
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    @DoubleAA I am interested in the instances where Rashi feels compelled to fill in the blanks - very large gaping holes, apparently - with lengthy history or parable. I do not know how many instances of this there are.
    – Seth J
    May 30, 2013 at 20:11
  • perhaps this is related: This sefer is a collection of stories by Rabbeinu Nissin Gaon, and the Title page says it includes stories that Rashi brings on the Talmud. I haven't read it, so I am unclear whether this is the source of Rashi's stories, or if Rashi's stories are collected in this sefer: hebrewbooks.org/46759
    – Menachem
    Jul 11, 2013 at 1:54
  • @Menachem, at first glance, this appears to be a useful reference. Thank you.
    – Seth J
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:44
  • I don't think that this counts as an answer, but it depends on the story: different stories came from different places May 26, 2014 at 3:47

2 Answers 2


Perhaps he is quoting material that is not from the Bavli where one version appeared, but rather extra-Talmud Bavli material like the Yerushalmi, Tosefta, The Pesiqtas, or other random midrashim, where stories can vary sometimes from their Bavli counterpart.

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    If the Bruyah story was in the Yerushalmi, someone would have noticed it by now.
    – Double AA
    May 30, 2013 at 19:34
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    @DoubleAA obviously the Beruria story is not in any Gemara, but this particular case (of the fox parable) may indeed come from an earlier version or Geonic extrapolation: faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/aesopfra.html May 26, 2014 at 6:17

I found a fascinating reference to this part of Rashi in an academic article on general medieval literature. Apparently Rashi is the first known instance of this story (about a fox tricking a wolf into think the moon is a wheel of cheese), but it ended up in many other works: a Latin book of Christian morals called the Disciplina Clericalis by Petrus Alfonsus, the Old French mock epic Roman de Renart, and the Middle English The Fox and the Wolf. The author of the article I'm reading guesses it's a variation through oral tradition of one of Aesop's fables, "The Fox and the Goat." Given the timeline (the Talmud was written closer to Rashi's time than Aesop's), it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to me that they could be inheritors of related oral legends. It's so interesting that it was part of the surrounding non-Jewish tradition as well!

Source: Honegger, Thomas. “A Fox Is a Fox Is a Fox... The Fox and the Wolf Reconsidered.” Reinardus: Yearbook of the International Reynard Society, vol. 9, 1996, pp. 59–74.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for bringing this fascinating information, but I don't see how it address the question of where does Rashi get these stories from. Perhaps you can elaborate?
    – user9643
    Nov 5, 2018 at 3:46
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    I don't have such a concrete answer, but I hope this information gives some context! Based on what I've been reading, it sounds like there was a rich oral tradition of fables that Rashi was inheriting from. He's the first one to put it into writing. Nov 5, 2018 at 4:02

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