Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Tosafot Commentaries

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jewish study are the layer upon layer of enlightening and edifying commentaries that can be found when studying texts of the Torah or the Talmud. Of all the brilliant commentators who have shared their insight, perhaps the most exceptional are the works of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, Provence, France 11th century). Rashi’s commentaries on the Talmud are so significant that there are numerous commentaries on his commentary. Some of these commentaries were written by a group of scholars known as the Ba’alei Tosafot (literally: Master of Additions) and are included in all traditional printings of the Talmud surrounding the main text and opposite the commentaries of Rashi.

Stylistically, the Tosafot commentaries, which require a high level of scholarship, introduce multiple sources to support statements about which there may be unresolved questions. They often used a method of casuistic scholarship known as pilpul.

The Ba’alei Tosafot, who lived primarily in France and Germany, began with Rashi’s sons-in-law, Rabbi Meir ben Samuel (RaM) and Rabbi Judah ben Nathan (RIBan), and his grandsons, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (RaSHBam) and Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir (Rabbeinu Tam). While the Tosafot tradition began in the generation following Rashi, it continued for over a hundred years and included scholars such as Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (the Rosh - 13th century) and Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam - 13th century).

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