Tuesday, January 20, 2015

History of the Masorah: Early Rishonim of Ashkenaz, Part III

Rav Leibowitz

Note: This post has been incorporated into a pamphlet on the Early Rishonim.  It can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.  

The Ba’alei Tosafos

After Rashi, Torah in France and Germany is dominated by the Tosafists.  The Tosafists are known for their dialectic analysis of the Talmud.  This means that they approached each sugyah from the perspective of the entire Talmud.  They did not simply read the local discussion, but attempted to understand every passage in light of the entire Talmud.  If a relevant passage elsewhere could shed light on the current passage, or if it posed a difficulty, it was analyzed and applied to the passage at hand.  The Tosafist also produced new works of pesak Halacha, based on their dialectic analysis of the Talmud.

The works that have survived from France are more of the first nature, i.e. “Tosafos” style commentaries on the Talmud.  The works that have survived from Germany are more of the second nature, i.e. halachic codes.

Ba’alei Tosafos of France

R. Shmuel b. Meir (d. 1158) of Troyes was Rashi’s grandson, and he even saw Rashi in his youth. He is well known for his commentary on the Torah that focused on the straight forward explanation of the pasukim.  He also was an accomplished Talmudist.  His commentary on Bava Basra and the tenth chapter of Pesachim appears in printed editions of the Talmud.  His commentary is much longer winded than that of his grandfather Rashi.  He appears in Tosafos throughout the Talmud and is referred to as “Rabbenu Shmuel.”

R. Tam
R. Yaakov b. Meir, known as R. Tam (d.1171) was Rashbam’s younger brother.  He never had the merit to meet his grandfather Rashi.  He studied with his father and older brother, Rashbam.  R. Tam was born in Ramerupt, a city on the Seine River, and died in Rashi’s city of Troyes.[1]
R. Tam was known all over the Jewish world as a scholar and influential communal leader.[2]  He instituted a number of gezerios when he presided over synods of the French Rabbinical leaders. 

The teachings of Rabbenu Tam serve as the foundation of our Tosafos.  In fact, many anonymous passages that appear in our printed Tosafos contain his teachings.   He also was a major posek, and dealt with many of the pressing issues of his day, such as the increase in commercial interaction with gentiles and the situations that arose regarding martyrdom and persecution.

The only remaining work we have from Rabbenu Tam is Sefer Ha-Yashar.[3]  The work has two sections: (1) Teshuvos, (2) Chiddushim.  Sefer Ha-Yashar is very useful for finding R. Tam’s original verbal formulation.  However, the extant versions of the text are in poor condition and contain many scribal errors.

[1] R. Tam left Ramrupt, perhaps in response to a near death experience.  On the second day of Shevuos (1147) Rabbenu Tam was dragged out of his house by Crusaders, and beat in a field.  On the verge of death, R. Tam was saved by a passing noble who responded to R. Tam’s pleas.  See Sefer Gezeriot Ashkenaz V’Zarfat, p. 121
[2] In the introduction to Yam shel Shlomo, it is quoted in the name of Rosh that of all the Rishonim, no one, not even the Rambam, was a greater scholar  than Rabbenu Tam (or his nephew, Ri). 
[3] R. Tam also authored a commentary on Iyov and another work on Hebrew graamar.  It should be noted that there is a mussar work ascribed to R. Tam, also called Sefer Ha-Yashar.  But he is apparently not the true author.   

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