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Collected Essays, Volume I Hardcover – Jul 18 2013
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About the Author
Haym Soloveitchik is the Merkin Family Research Professor at Yeshiva University in New York. He is the former Director of the School of Jewish Studies at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has taught at the Hebrew University, the Sorbonne, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has published books in Hebrew on pawn broking and usury, Jewish involvement in the medieval wine trade and the use of responsa as a historical source.
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For starters, my eyes have been opened to the value of the Ashkenazi Rishonim, especially but not exclusively the Baalei Tosafos. The general trend of Yeshivos, and especially Dr Soloveitchik's forebears, is to give primacy of analysis to the Rambam, Maimonides, whose style of pure linearity lends itself to so much analysis and appreciation. Not that Rashi and the Baalei Tosafos were ever ever ever ignored; but the perception is that the focus of Soloveitchik-ian (Brisker, Yeshiva) thought was Maimonidean. And this was my focus of appreciation as well. Dr. Haym introduces the readers to the Ashkenazi world in a way that neither the Rabbinic nor the academic world ever bothered to think about in such detail and color; in halachic terms, in religious sensibility, and in cultural norms. I look forward to future volumes.
YH: In your book you attribute the emergence of the dialectical system of Talmud study that the Baalei Tosfos are known for - to Rabbeinu Tam. Could you perhaps give some insight as to how it emerged within him? Was it merely the next step, the organic – next step after Rashi’s linear approach to Talmudic study was completed – or were there other influences?
DS: There is nothing inevitable with the emergence of any method, though, one could reasonably argue that you can only begin a systematic comparison of parallel sugyot noting the discrepancies between them if you are confident that you have understood each sugya fully –and Rashi’s commentary gave people that confidence. However, such a confidence is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emergence of the Baalei HaTosafos. Rashi’s commentary arrived in Yemen in the mid-12th century, yet no Tosafos movement emerged there.
YH: How would you characterize the approach of the Baalei ha-Tosafos in contrast to, say, the Geonim?
HS. They worked on different assumptions. They were aware of contradictions between sugyas and occasionally attempted to resolve them. However, in instances of conflict, the Geonim generally privileged, what was called ‘the sugya de-shemattsa.’ There was a major, controlling sugya where the issue is discussed in the fullest manner, and the halakhah is in accord with the upshot of this sugya. Other minor sugyas, if they contradicted the major one, were not to be heeded
The assumption of Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, was that there were no minor sugyot; all parallel sugyos were of equal standing and form together a harmonious whole. The correct interpretation of any sugya was the one which best fits in, best harmonizes with all the parallel ones.
YH: What about Rashi? Where did he stand in this divide between the Gaonim and Rabbeinu Tam?
DS: Rashi is first and foremost a mefaresh, an exegete. His task is to explain the Gemara sugya after sugya, masechta after masechta. He worked vertically as it were, while Rabbeinu Tam worked horizontally – searching out all sugyas in Shas on a topic and integrating them into a single whole. To be sure, Rashi forfended certain contradictions with a word or to, thus answering questions before they appeared. But there is a difference between noticing contradictions in the course of explaining a masseschta and setting out initially to compare all sugyas in Shas on a given topic testing whether or not they are in agreement.
YH: But you are squarely putting Rashi in the Gaonim’s camp?
DS: I have not found dialectic in Rashi’s teshuvos.
YH: So perhaps, Rabbeinu Tam got the idea from Rashi as well, because you don’t find Rashi saying,” This is a minority text.”
DS: Rashi equally did not use ‘im tomar, ve-yesh lomar’. The test is not what a person says or doesn’t say, but what he, in fact, does, and Rashi doesn’t ‘do’ dialectic in his teshuvos or in his commentaries. Admittedly, you cannot speak with certainty as to what he theoretically held. However, you certainly can say that Rashi sees his task as that of an exegete, providing line by line explication of a sugya.
His breath of knowledge, applied with a mastery of the language to a host of unresearched topics, leaves one speechless.