Skip to main content



TOSAFOT (Heb. תּוֹסָפוֹת; lit. "additions"), collections of comments on the Talmud arranged according to the order of the talmudic tractates. In general the point of departure of the tosafot is not the Talmud itself but the comments on it by the earlier authorities, principally *Rashi. Where and when the tosafot were compiled, their types, and their historical and literary development are among the most fundamental and difficult problems in the study of rabbinic literature. The concept of the tosafot was originally bound up with the method of study characteristic of the schools of Germany and France in the 12th–14th centuries. Their beginnings go back to the generation of Rashi's pupils and descendants, who undertook to expand, elaborate, and develop their teacher's commentary on the Talmud (*Kunteres) by making it the foundation of talmudic studies in the schools which they headed. In fact Rashi's commentary is a concise summary, arrived at through precise sifting and literary adaptation, of the tradition of studying the Oral Law prevalent in the principal French and German schools where he had studied for many years. By a careful perusal of his commentary those who followed him were able to acquire for the first time a profound and harmonious comprehension of the Talmud. Through questioning Rashi's statements – on the basis of the talmudic theme under discussion, or of one found elsewhere, or of Rashi's own comments on some other passage, the tosafists sought to answer their questions by pointing to differences and distinctions between one case and another or between one source and another. In this way they produced new halakhic deductions and conclusions, which in turn became themselves subjects for discussion, to be refuted or substantiated in the later tosafot.

The terms ve-im tomar ("and if you were to say") and veyesh lomar ("and then one may answer") – almost exclusively characteristic of this literary genre – are the most commonly used in the tosafot and more than anything else typify their essential character. This vast work was produced entirely within the yeshivot in the form of oral, animated discussions between the heads of the yeshivot and their pupils. In these discussions, views were often put forward which, either in principle or in detail, differed from Rashi's. Such views abound in the tosafot, both in the names of their authors and anonymously. After Rashi's death, the teaching and study methods of Isaac *Alfasi, *Hananel b. Ḥushi'el, and *Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome, which represented a tradition of learning basically different from the local one, began to penetrate into France and Germany. The tosafists took every occasion to quote these novel views and compare them with their own traditions. Simultaneously, a large number of new versions of the Talmud also reached the tosafists, giving them almost unlimited opportunities for argumentation and for advancing new interpretations by incorporating the Babylonian-North African tradition into their own. Another novel feature was the extensive use by the tosafot of the Jerusalem Talmud. While this resulted from the tosafists' critical comparative method of learning itself, a contributing factor was undoubtedly their acquaintance with the teachings of Hananel b. Ḥushi'el, who had a particular predilection for the Jerusalem Talmud.

Originally and formally the tosafot were written as "additions" to Rashi's comments. From these modest beginnings almost nothing of which has been preserved and whose most notable representative is apparently Isaac b. Nathan, Rashi's son-in-law, a movement developed – and it was undoubtedly a movement with all the spiritual implications of the word. Within a few years this movement became the dominant force that for centuries shaped the method of learning the Torah, first in Germany and France (including Provence), and, from the days of *Naḥmanides, also in Spain. The spirit of the tosafists is already apparent in *Samuel b. Meir, Rashi's grandson. He and his brothers Jacob *Tam and *Isaac b. Meir were not only the first but the most important tosafists in France. The chief architect of the tosafot, and the driving force behind them for many generations, was Jacob Tam. It was he who laid down their pattern and final form. He was followed by his nephew *Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre. These two overshadow not only the scores of tosafists, their pupils, who are known by name from collections of tosafot, but also the hundreds of others whose names have not been preserved. Samuel b. Meir's older contemporary, *Isaac b. Asher ha-Levi, who had studied under Rashi at Troyes and then later returned to Germany, was the first tosafist in Germany in his new yeshivah at Speyer. In the history of Torah study there was no essential difference in the 12th–13th centuries between France and Germany, for it was a common occurrence for pupils to move from one territory to the other, the subdivision of the Carolingian Empire having no relevance in the cultural life of the Jews. Nevertheless, for the sake of convenience, a distinction is made between the two when describing the successive generations of the tosafists in these centuries.

The tosafot were written down as "shitot," interpretations which the pupils of the yeshivot committed to writing under the auspices of their teachers. In these notes the pupils recorded the substance of the halakhic discussions which had taken place in the yeshivah, incorporating their teacher's views as well as the arguments for and against them, and adding their own opinions. The teachers reviewed their pupils' notes, correcting and improving them, thus giving them their personal stamp. Very little remains of the original language of Tam's statements, which are quoted everywhere in the tosafot, and the text of his Sefer ha-Yashar, too, went through many hands. The same is true of the original notes of Isaac b. Samuel ha-Zaken of Dampierre; he is cited on almost every page of the tosafot, but only isolated phrases of his actual wording have been preserved. These notes by the foremost pupils, which had received the approbation of their teachers, passed from one yeshivah to another between France and Germany, and in the process various additions were made to them. However, several substantial works are extant which were written by the leading tosafists themselves, such as Sefer Yere'im by *Eliezer b. Samuel of Metz, Sefer Mitzvot Gadol by *Moses of Coucy, Sefer Mitzvot Katan by *Isaac of Corbeil, Sefer ha-Terumah by *Baruch b. Isaac of Worms, Sefer ha-Roke'aḥ by *Eleazer b. Judah of Worms, and others. Later editions abstracted from these works statements which they incorporated in the tosafot.

Although the tosafot are characterized by keen thought and great originality, it is impossible to distinguish any individual style or approach among the many tosafists, about a hundred of whom are known by name. It was the special method of learning that determined the approach and set the intellectual standard which all the tosafists had to meet. Some of them surpassed others by reason of their eminent halakhic authority and the many pupils who spread their teachings; some produced more novellae and interpretations than others; but these are quantitative differences, and any qualitative distinctions there may have been are not reflected in their teachings. Moreover, theirs was teamwork in the full sense of the word, and a novel view quoted in the name of an individual scholar was frequently the result of an involved discussion among many, each one of whom contributed something to the final outcome.

A general account of the historical development of the tosafists movement is reliably and accurately given in E.E. Urbach's voluminous and monumental Ba'alei ha-Tosafot (1955), which deals in chronological order with all the important tosafists and their literary work. They lived in scores of clustered cities in France and Germany. Many are known by their own and their fathers' names, although their identification is not always certain. Sometimes the same scholar is mentioned with considerable differences in various sources. Yet a minute knowledge of this history contributes little to a better understanding of the tosafot themselves. For although there was undoubtedly a certain continuity and a clear link between teacher and pupil, the functional structure of the tosafot was based on freedom in learning and teaching, which permitted a pupil to disagree with his teacher in the theoretical apprehension and frequently even in the practical significance of the talmudic themes.

In the vast ocean of the tosafot a distinction is made between several "types" or rather "collections" of tosafot, which are the outcome of different editings, and are distinguished from one another by the contents of their argumentation but not in their methodology. This systemization is important for a historical account of the various tosafot and for an understanding of what is known as "our tosafot" – i.e., those included in the present-day printed editions of the Talmud – and also for a comprehension of the way in which the tosafot penetrated into Jewish cultural spheres beyond the confines of France and Germany. Generally, there are many passages among these various types of tosafot, which are parallel materially (in the preference for one answer to a problem over another, etc.), although not in their actual phraseology. The first important collection of tosafot is the tosafot of Sens of *Samson of Sens, whose literary heritage is greater than that of most tosafists. Portions of them are extant in the author's own words. When contemporary German scholars quoted from "French tosafot" they generally referred to him. Written on the whole Talmud and modeled on the French tradition which Samson had learned from Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre, the tosafot of Sens served as the basis of most subsequent collections, their influence being clearly discernible in "our tosafot" to many tractates. Though the tosafot of Evreux of the brothers Samuel, Moses, and Isaac of Evreux have not yet been fully investigated with reference to their literary identity, character, and influence, it is evident that they too were influenced by the tosafot of Sens. Although the tosafot of *Meir of Rothenburg and *Perez b. Elijah, who were almost contemporaries, enjoyed great renown in earlier times, they are no longer extant, except for remnants of varying length. Some tosafot of theirs, and especially of Meir of Rothenburg, exist in manuscript. Particularly well known are the tosafot of Touques composed by *Eliezer of Touques and based on those of Sens, which he adapted, abbreviated, and expanded by including new interpretations of later dates. These new interpretations were written as marginal notes to the tosafot themselves, and the quotations from the gilyonot ("marginal notes") found largely in Shitah Mekubbeẓet are generally his. The tosafot of Touques were included by the earliest printers in their editions of the Talmud (from 1484 onward), thereby establishing a tradition generally followed up to the present, so that the printed tosafot in more than ten large tractates are those of Touques. Quantitatively they comprise the largest part of "our tosafot" so called in contrast to collections of tosafot in manuscript and to those later printed in the margin of the Talmud or in separate works, which are referred to as tosafot yeshanim ("old tosafot"). There are two further types, the "tosafot Rosh" of *Asher b. Jehiel, which were widely studied chiefly in Spain and the tosafot Rid of *Isaiah b. Mali di Trani, of Italy which present a difficult literary problem. Asher b. Jehiel's tosafot contain few original interpretations, some of which are mainly based on the tosafot of Sens, with "Spanish" additions. Most of them are in print. The tosafot of the scholars in England before the expulsion (1290) are in the process of being published from a recently identified manuscript.

The techniques and style of tosafot literature were not limited specifically to the Talmud, there being an extensive literature of tosafot on the Pentateuch. These have Rashi as their starting point also, but they go far beyond him by propounding questions and answers to them, by curtailing and expanding, in the exact manner of the tosafot to the Talmud. Like the latter, they are divided into German and French tosafot, the German "style" being generally recognizable by its numerous *gematriot, which were used as a significant exegetical principle. Usually the same scholars are mentioned in the tosafot both to the Talmud and to the Pentateuch. Some scholars, however, devoted themselves exclusively to biblical exegesis, such as Joseph *Bekhor Shor, Joseph *Kara, and others of whom almost nothing except their names is known, and who were apparently mainly aggadists. The chief characteristic of the tosafists to the Pentateuch is their halakhic approach. On the basis of the talmudic halakhah, the actions of each biblical figure, whether righteous or evil, are weighed and explained. Thus this literature created a unique fusion between the argumentation characteristic of the talmudic halakhah and biblical exegesis that, in its own way, aimed at arriving at the literal interpretation.

Samuel b. Meir wrote "tosafot" to Alfasi's halakhot – although they are not tosafot in the usual sense of the word and are more in the nature of glosses; only a few extracts from them have been preserved. *Moses b. Yom Tov, an English tosafist, also wrote tosafot on Alfasi. However there is no evidence that tosafot were regularly written on Alfasi, although the earlier authorities studied him extensively. The same happened once again in Germany in the 15th century when following on persecutions and the resultant lowering in the status of learning there, there was a move away from the study of the Talmud to that of Alfasi.

From France and Germany the tosafot penetrated first to Spain, where the earliest scholar to quote the tosafist literature, although in a very limited form, was Meir ha-Levi *Abulafia. But it is evident that this literature was still a novelty for him and it is clear from his works that he preferred the Spanish tradition of learning, which differed completely from the tosafists' method of study. The latter was introduced into Spain by two scholars related to one another, Jonah *Gerondi and Naḥmanides, who had either studied in France or with teachers from there. Naḥmanides' novellae on the Talmud incorporate the best of the tosafot, adopting their views and comparing them with those of the earlier Spanish scholars. While assigning almost the same value to both, he preferred the superior Spanish talmudic texts and its links with the teachings of the Babylonian geonim. Naḥmanides was undoubtedly the first to introduce the study of the tosafot into Spain, and his pupils and their pupils after them, Solomon b. Abraham *Adret and *Yom Tov b. Abraham Ishbili, established the study of the tosafot there. Among these scholars and their contemporaries, who were the heads of large yeshivot and wrote many works on the entire Talmud, the tosafistic element increasingly predominated over that of the early "Spanish" element, so that from their time on the method of the tosafot was adopted in Spain both in theory and in practice. A contemporary of these two scholars, *Asher b. Jehiel, who had come from Germany to Spain with his sons, was the second scholar to bring the study of the tosafot to Spain, thereby encouraging and advancing the process already flourishing there. His chief contribution was to reinforce and consolidate this process by writing tosafot on most of the tractates of the Talmud. These were based on those of Sens in many places and incorporated the local Spanish teachings. In Spain Asher b. Jehiel's version of the tosafot was regarded as the more accurate, in contrast to the French tosafot, which had been current until then among the scholars there. Thus while Naḥmanides and his bet midrash introduced the tosafists' method of study and most of their teachings into Spain, the text of the tosafot was laid down by Asher b. Jehiel, whose tosafot subsequently became the only ones officially studied in all the Spanish yeshivot.

The influence which the tosafot have had on the entire history of learning among the Jewish people up to present times is inestimable. A "page of Gemara" invariably refers to the text itself, Rashi's commentary (called perush), and the tosafot, and is called Ga-Pa-T, the initial letters of Gemara, perush and tosafot. That the early printers included the tosafot as the companion commentary to Rashi's in their editions was not fortuitous, but because this was the customary combination. Wishing to enhance the value of their product, they accordingly printed the tosafot at the side of the page. In later times, from the expulsion from Spain (1492) onward, an extensive literature was produced whose object was to answer the questions raised in the tosafot which conflicted with Rashi, and in any event to attain a deeper comprehension of the principles underlying both. Among the most notable of these works are Sefer ha-Maharsha of Samuel Edels, Ḥiddushei ha-Maharam of Meir b. Gedaliah of Lublin, Meginnei Shelomo of Joshua Falk i, Ḥiddushei Maharam Schiff of Meir Schiff of Fulda, Hora'at Sha'ah of Solomon and Isaac Heilprin, and others. For greater convenience some of these works, which were highly esteemed by scholars, have been printed at the end of the editions of the Talmud. This type of literature also appeared among Jews in the East, later Spain, Egypt, etc., where an accurate and systematic methodology was produced of the principles of Rashi and the tosafot so that their divergent views could be better understood. The most outstanding of these works is Darkhei ha-Gemara by Isaac Canpanton.

On the other hand, some leading scholars considered the combined study of the Talmud and the tosafot at an early age as pedagogically wrong, in that it did not permit young students to arrive at an independent, straightforward, and correct comprehension of the Talmud and its themes. Instead it imposed on them from the outset the methods of *pilpul and of ḥillukim (forms of talmudic casuistry), which from the beginning of the 15th century were associated with the study of the tosafot in Poland and Germany. In the early days of their appearance the tosafot were already criticized, and there were scholars in the 14th century who considered studying them a waste of time. But the criticism began to gather force only with the development of the casuistic method of ḥillukim which was intrinsically associated with the tosafot.


Urbach, Tosafot; idem, in: Essays Presented to… I. Brodie (1967), 1–56 (Heb. pt.); A.F. Kleinberger, Ha-Maḥashavah ha-Pedagogit shel ha-Maharal mi-Prag (1962); J. Lifschitz (ed.), Tosafot Evreux… le-Sotah (1969), introd.; I. Ta-Shema, in: Sinai, 65 (1969), 200–5; Gross, Gal Jud; R.N.N. Rabbinovicz, Ma'amar al Hadpasat ha-Talmud, ed. by A.M. Habermann (1952); Perush al Yeḥezkel u-Terei Asar le-R. Eliezer mi-Belganẓi (1913), preface by S. Poznański; Germ Jud; Assaf, Mekorot; V. Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer Ravyah (1938); P. Tarshish, Ishim u-Sefarim ba-Tosafot (1942).

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tosafot." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 16 Oct. 2018 <>.

"Tosafot." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (October 16, 2018).

"Tosafot." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved October 16, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.