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Question 3.12:
What is the Tosefta?


The Mishna is basic compilation of the Oral Law, and was written down around 200 CE. However there is another compilation of Oral Law from that time period--the Tosefta. Rashi (in his commentary on BT Sanhedrin 33a) writes that the Mishna was redacted by Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi in consultation with members of the Academy, while the Tosefta was edited by Rabbis Hiyya and Oshaiah on their own. This gave the Tosefta less authority than the Mishna; today, the Tosefta is treated a supplement to the Mishna.

The word 'tosefta' means 'supplement'. The Tosefta is a Halakhic work which corresponds in structure almost exactly to the Mishna, with the same divisions for sedarim (orders) and masekhot (tractates). It is mainly written is Mishnaic Hebrew, with a few Aramaic sentences. The actual writing is called the Tosefot or Tosefos, depending on your Hebrew dialect.

Tosefot was produced by a school of French Rabbis of the 12th century. Their thoughts were combined into a commentary on the Babylonian Talmud.

Tosefot is found on the outside of each page (on the left of the left page, or the right part of the right one) wrapped around the text. Rashi, who was father and grandfather of a number of the Tosafists appears on the inside, nearer the binding.

The thrust of the commentary is to resolve the meaning of the page both when internally difficult and they were dissatisfied with Rashi's understanding, or when there are difficulties understanding the text in light of what is written elsewhere in the Talmud. (Rashi doesn't directly refer to the latter kind of problem.)

Professors Agus and Ta-Shma argue that Tosafot set out to explain Ashkenazic practice in light of the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud had gained acceptance as /the/ snapshot of the Oral Law. However, Ashkenazic rulings and customs had until then been justified based on other sources as well, the halachic medrashic texts, the Jerusalem Talmud, etc... This is because of the number of Ashkenazic Jews who came from Israel (via Italy), not Babylon. Now that the Babylonian Talmud gained prominance, addressing questions of how ideas found in Ashkenaz fit that greater picture became more urgent. They do not overtly refer to this mission, but many of their answers do end up providing such explanations.

Also, at the time, the Tosefists were one of two schools of thought. There were also the Chassidei Ashkenaz, who were a pietist movement that had a greater focus on going beyond the letter of the law. There was much friction between the Tosefits and the Chassidim, much like what happened with the current Chassidic movement, when it was founded in the late 18th century.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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