By Chaim Lazer
Every one who has spent some time learning the Talmud knows that when he opens it he will find the Talmud placed in the center of the page surrounded by two commentaries. One the inside of the page next to the binding is the commentary of Rashi, (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki) the greatest of the biblical and Talmudic commentators. No one can truly understand a page of the Talmud without reading Rashi. Rashi was one of the greatest experts in both the entire biblical text and the Babylonian Talmud texts. He also had a wonderful ability to explain difficult passages and problems in a simple manner. Rashi is studied by both beginners and advanced scholars since he was capable of putting very deep ideas into his simply written commentary.
On the outside margin of the page of Talmud are the commentaries of Toshpos. The commentaries of Toshphos are generally based on Rashi's commentary. It should be because although the Toshpos are not one person; it is a collection of comments from a chain of academies that were started by Rashi's grandchildren.
Rashi passed away in the year 1105 (4865 in the Jewish year). He had no sons but his three daughters married distinguished scholars. The oldest daughter was the wife of Rabbi Meir ben Samuel. They had three sons who became outstanding Tsoafosts. Rabbi Samuel ben Meir, known by his initials as the Rashbam. It was he who completed Rashi's unfinished commentary on the Tractate of Baba Batra. Rabbi Yitzhak was another son, known as the Ribam, and his brother Rabbi Yaakov, known as the Rabbenu Tam. These three brothers had a sister whose son became the famous Rabbi Yitzchak, known as the Ryi, and together they began to investigate in great depth the reasoning and rationale that underlie Rashi's commentaries.
Their great arguments against Rashi together with the comments of their students form the body of the tosafot which form the additions to the understanding of the Talmud. The period of the Tosafot extended some two hundred years and included the greatest Talmudic scholars who lived in France and Germany during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The arguments and explanations of the tosafos, as they are called, are much more difficult than those of Rashi. Rashi tries to bring the student a concise explanation, even if this explanation may not fit in another tractate. The tosfot very often try to explain the Talmud in a manner that all of the Talmud is understandable. Generally the tosfot will bring Rashi's explanation, then question and analyze it in view of other parts of the Talmud. Often after much consideration they will bring a different explanation that will solve problem that was inherent in Rashi's explanation. Yet in the great academies of today, the Talmudic scholars realize that Rashi knew the questions of Tosfot, but chose to ignore them. Rashi did not explain why he chose to ignore the explanations that Tosfot selected since his purpose was to present a simplified explanation. Yet many scholars have shown that Rashi is not so easily pushed off by the questions of Tosfos.
There have been many Talmudic analysts who have devoted many years just to understanding the underlying differences between Rashi and the toshfot. Their books are deep and scholarly editions that require much thought. Of these the Marshal and Marsha are of the greatest interest and are printed in the back of most editions of the Talmud.
The study of Talmud is a very interesting and intellectually rewarding endeavor. Besides being one of the commandments to study the Torah, it trains the mind in analytical thought. Many consider the depth of mind required for Talmud study greatly superior to that required for college and university studies. As so it has been that the Jewish mind has been nurtured through generations of Talmud study. It is no doubt a contributing factor to the fact that the Jewish mind has been acclaimed as superior through out the generations.
It is time also for you to begin to study the Talmud. Call your local synagogue and arrange with the Rabbi classes on a weekly or even better daily basis and learn what the greatness of the Jewish mind and the Talmud is about. Most synagogues are happy to provide free instruction in the Talmud.
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from the June 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine