Rashi script is a semi-cursive typeface for the Hebrew alphabet. It is named for Rashi, an author of rabbinic commentary on the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and the Talmud, and it is customarily used for printing his commentaries, and others'. The typeface (which was not used by Rashi himself) is based on 15th-century Sephardic semi-cursive handwriting. It was taken as a model by early Hebrew typographers such as Abraham Garton, the Soncino family and Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer in Venice, in their editions of commented texts (such as the Mikraot Gedolot and the Talmud, in which Rashi's commentaries prominently figure).
The initial development of typefaces for the printing press was often anchored in a pre-existing manuscript culture. In the case of the Hebrew press, Ashkenazi tradition prevailed and square or block letters were cast for Biblical and other important works. Secondary religious text, such as rabbinic commentaries, was, however, commonly set with a semi-cursive form of Sephardic origin, ultimately normalised as the Rashi typeface.
A corresponding but distinctive semicursive typeface was used for printing Yiddish. It was termed vaybertaytsh, the Yiddish word vayber meaning "women" (Weiber) and taytsh being an archaic word for "German" (Deutsch). (Works printed in vaybertaytsh were largely intended for a female readership.)
|Hebrew letters in square and Rashi type|
|א =||ב =||ג =||ד =||ה =||ו =||ז =||ח =||ט =|
|י =||כ =||ך =||ל =||מ =||ם =||נ =||ן =||ס =|
|ע =||פ =||ף =||צ =||ץ =||ק =||ר =||ש =||ת =|
It is not clear which Hebrew work can claim the title as the first Jewish book printed, since many of the early Jewish incunabula were printed without a date. However, the first Jewish work printed with a date is Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch, published on February 5, 1475, in Reggio, Calabria, by a Sephardic Jew named Abraham Garton. (This was not the first printed edition of Rashi’s commentary; between 1469 and 1472, three brothers, Obadiah, Menasseh and Benjamin of Rome, were known to have printed an edition of Rashi, but it was undated.1) What is unique about the 1475 edition of Rashi is that the printer created and used a new typeface based on existing Sephardic semi-cursive handwriting.
In order to distinguish between the biblical text and the commentaries, the biblical text was printed in the common square typeface, while the commentaries were printed in what is today known as Rashi script.