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.
Some of the most prominent contributers to the Tosafot were:
He was one of the most original and unconventional interpreters of the Talmud. He often proposed bold and ingenious new explanations of the Talmud in order to harmonize it with the practices current in France.
In addition to his contributions to the Tosafot, he composed a famous commentary to the Torah that is distinguished by its scholarly objectivity in restricting itself to the plain, contextual meaning of the text without imposing the traditional Rabbinic interpretations. He also composed the commentaries to some of the Talmud sections that his grandfather had left uncompleted.
Rabbi Meir made important contributions to Jewish civil law, and his many students diligently collected his customs, responsa and rulings, often comparing them with the material in the important Spanish codes of Jewish law.
Among the scholars who are known for their contributions to the redaction of the Tosafot were:
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..."]