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The word "Tosafot" translates as "additions" or "supplements." This probably means that their authors and editors saw their work as supplements to Rashi's basic commentary.

Some have seen the Tosafot as an addition to the Talmud itself. As we shall see below, it carries on the Talmud's own methods of dialectical argument and debate.

The Tosafot are printed on the outer margin of the page; i.e., when looking at an opened book you will see the Tosafot in the columns closest to the edges of the pages, farthest from the binding.

They appear in "Rashi script," with the headings of each discussion in large square letters. The Tosafot that have been printed in the standard Talmud editions are merely an accidental selection from a vast literature that circulated in manuscript. Some of the other Tosafot compendia have been published as separate works.



Mostly France and Germany


Unlike the explanatory commentaries, such as Rashi's, the Tosafot do not attempt to provide a full elucidation of the Talmud text. Rather they focus on particular issues in the Talmud or in Rashi's commentary which they explore in depth. They often propose alternative readings or interpretations to the ones presented by Rashi.

Characteristic of the Tosafot method, like that of the Talmud itself, is the focus on difficulties and contradictions, between different statements and passages in the Talmud, or between the Talmud and other Rabbinic works, or even between the Talmudic legal rulings and the customary practices of the French and German Jewish communities.

In their efforts to resolve these apparent contradictions, the Tosafot usually point out intricate new conceptual and legal distinctions that enhance our understanding of the text.

The dialectical give-and-take of a Tosafot discussion has a typical structure: The objections and difficulties are introduced with the formula "Ve'im tomar" [="And if you should say..."], and the solution with "Yesh lomar" [="It can be said..."]

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