Commentaries on the Talmud

The Talmud is a difficult book, and many commentators have worked to explain and illuminate it.

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The word tosafot--additions--indicates that the commentary was meant as an addition to that of 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 handcopied editions of the Talmud.

The commentary of the Tosafot that appears in our editions was written primarily by a group of scholars in France and Germany in the twelfth and thirteenth 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 halakhic 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.

Rabbenu Hananel

In many of the tractates of the Talmud, the commentary of Rabbenu Hananel ben Hushiel (Kirouan, North Africa--11th century) is included on the outside margin. Unlike the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot, the commentary of Rabbenu Hananel is a synopsis of the talmudic discussion and does not explain the text or compare it to other sources. The commentary of Rabbenu Hananel to the entire Talmud is not extant.  In some tractates the commentary of Rabbenu Nissim Gaon (North Africa--11th century) or variant tosafot are offered instead or as well.

Ein Mishpat Ner Mitzvah

Compiled by R. Yehoshua Boaz (Italy‑‑16th century), the Ein Mishpat provides source references to enable the student to find the relevant citations in halachic literature and is found on the outside margin of the page.  The author added a square (non-Rashi-script) Hebrew letter to indicate his notation…

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Rabbi Dovid Landesman is the author of books on talmudic subjects, and translated numerous other works on various Jewish topics.