The Tosafot

The Tosafists continued the conversation with their glosses on the text of the Talmud.

The word tosafot – additions – indicates that this Talmud commentary was meant as an addition to that of the 11th-century French commentator Rashi. Unlike the commentary of Rashi, the commentary of the Tosafot is more extensive, often serving as an extension to the Talmudic dialogue itself. In many instances, we find the Tosafot quoting parallel texts so as to reconcile apparent contradictions.

In addition, the commentary of the Tosafot offers alternative explanations to those offered by Rashi and questions the basis for Rashi’s textual emendations. When quoting Rashi, the Tosafot often refers to the commentary as peirush bekontres – it was explained in the pamphlet. It would appear that this is based on the fact that Rashi’s commentary was copied into booklets that were studied alongside the hand-copied editions of the Talmud.

The commentary of the Tosafot that appears in current editions was written primarily by a group of scholars in France and Germany in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many of these scholars were members of Rashi’s family.  Among them we find:

Rivan, R. Yehudah ben Natan; and Ram, R. Meir ben Shmuel‑‑Rashi’s sons‑in‑law

Rashbam, R. Shmuel ben Meir; and Rabbenu Tam, R. Yaakov ben Meir‑‑Rashi’s grandsons

Ri, R. Yitzhak of Dampierre–Rashi’s great-grandson

Other scholars whose comments are included in the commentary of Tosafot include Rabbenu Chaim, Rabbenu Peretz, R. Meir of Ruttenberg (Maharam), Rabbenu Shimon and R. Moshe of Coucy (author of the Semag–Sefer Mitzvot haGadol, a halachic, or Jewish legal, work). The period of activity of the Tosafot was approximately 200 years and included schools of study in northern and southern France, England, Germany, and Italy.

The Tosafot [text] printed alongside most of the tractates of the Talmud in the Vilna edition is referred to as Tosafot Tuch (Touques), after the French city where the commentary was edited.  Other editions of the Tosafot were prepared elsewhere and are sometimes included in the Talmud under the title Tosafot Yeshanim.

Excerpted with permission from A Practical Guide to Torah Learning (Jason Aronson, Inc.). 

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