While several Rabbis offered their interpretations of what the Holy Scriptures from the Old Testament meant to them, there were a few commentators who really stood out and some of their commentaries are closely followed today. They helped to redefine Rabbinical Judaism and give it direction. To some sects of Judaism today, some of these commentaries are considered to be authoritive texts to be followed.
A poor, semi-literate shepherd, Akiba became one of Judaism's greatest scholars. He developed the exegetical method of the Mishnah, linking each traditional practice to a basis in the biblical text, and systematized the material that later became the Mishnah.
Rabbi Akiba was active in the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Rome, 132-135 C.E.. He believed that Bar Kokhba was the Messiah. When the Bar Kokhba rebellion failed, Rabbi Akiba was taken by the Roman authorities and tortured to death.(1)
Rabbi Akiva was considered by many to be one of the greatest sages in Israel during the period of time that the Mishna was written. One of Rabbi Akiva's students (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) was the author of the Zohar, principle work of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah).(2)
Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak known by his acronym RASHI, is one of the leading commentators on the Bible and Talmud. His works included Sefer HaOrah; Sefer HaPardes; Machzor Vitry; Siddur Rashi; and responsa.
Born in France tradition has it that his ancestry goes back to King David.(3)
Maimonides's full name was Moses ben Maimon; in Hebrew he is known by the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, (RAMBAM). Maimonides's major contribution to Jewish life remains the Mishneh Torah, his code of Jewish law. It later served as the model for the Shulkhan Arukh, the sixteenth century code of Jewish law that is still regarded as authoritative by Orthodox Jews. He is also widely known for his 13 article's of faith document. These 13 articles or principles have become accepted by most of the Jewish world as a basic standard and starting point for understanding Judaism.
The writings of the great medieval scholar Moses Maimonides (The Rambam) reflect the way Judaism became guarded against accepting the idea of God being a compound unity. For more on this please read Lessons From The Shema. Maimonides writings also reflected beliefs in a resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.
"I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach (Messiah). And though he may tarry, I shall wait anticipating his arrival each day." (#12 of Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith).(4)
For a more complete list of Maimonides teachings concerning things related to the Messiah please read Maimonides.
Nachmanides was the foremost halakhist of his age. Like Maimonides before him, Nachmanides was a Spaniard who was both a physician and a great Torah scholar. However, unlike the rationalist Maimonides, Nachmanides had a strong mystical bent. His biblical commentaries are the first ones to incorporate the mystical teachings of kabbalah.(5)
He was a French grammarian and commentator known by his acronym RADAK.
Kimchi was born in Narbonne. His father was also a grammarian, and he studied under his brother who had published several volumes on grammar. Radak's commentary to Prophets is profound, and is included in most large editions of the Bible. Some have applied to him the saying from Pirkei Avos: Without kemach (flour) there is no Torah; such was his great influence. His main work was Michlol, the second part of which came to be known independently as the Sefer HaShorashim (not to be confused with a work of the same name by Ibn Janach).
At the end of Sefer HaShorashim, he list the difficult Aramaic words in Scripture. This appendix to the Shorashim has been reprinted in the Kehilos Moshe Bible (Amsterdam 5484-7) under the name Perush HaRadak.(3)
In many works he is referred to solely by his last name, which is variously spelled as Abravanel, Abarbanel, and Abrabanel. Many Torah and Talmud scholars today, simply refer to him as "The Abarbanel".
He was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He died in Venice and was buried in Padua next to Rabbi Judah Minz, Rabbi of Padua.
Abrabanel rarely forayed into the world of grammatical or philological investigation in the vein of Maimonides or David Kimhi before him, instead focusing on a content-based investigation of the Scripture at hand. There is a common misconception that Abravanel agreed with Maimonidean views; while sometimes their ideas matched up, most of Abravanel’s thoughts strongly disagreed with those of Maimonides.
Abravanel felt deeply the hopelessness and despair which possessed his brethren in the years following their expulsion from Spain, and set himself, therefore, to champion the Messianic belief and to strengthen it among his desponding brethren. With this aim he wrote the aforementioned three works: "Ma'yene ha-Yeshu'ah" (Sources of Salvation), completed Dec. 6, 1496; "Yeshu'ot Meshikho" (The Salvation of His Anointed), completed Dec. 20, 1497; and "Mashmia' Yeshu'ah" (Proclaiming Salvation), completed Feb. 26, 1498. All of these were about the Jewish messiah.
Christian scholars appreciated the convenience of Abravanel's commentaries, and often used them when preparing their own exegetical writing. This may have had something to do with Abravanel’s openness towards the Christian religion, since he worked closely with Messianic ideas found within Judaism. Because of this, Abravanel’s works were translated and distributed within the world of Christian scholarship.(6)
Born in Spain but forced out at a very young age he went on to compos the Shulchan Aruch written around 1565. Together with its commentaries, it is considered one of the most authoritative compilations of halakha (Jewish Law) since the Talmud.
There are many, many commentators, but at the top of the mountain there are three, accepted by all: Rashi (11th century France), who brings the straight understanding of the text, Maimonides (12th century Egypt), who handles the philosophical concepts, and then Nachmanides (13th century Spain), the earliest of the Kabbalists.(7)
There are many other great commentators who have made a wonderful contribution to the understanding of the word of God.
2). Jewish Art Calendar, Lubavitch Chabad of Peoria 5764 (2004)
3). Artscroll Commentary on Book of Daniel p.342-5