Book Reviews on Baalei HaTosafot V
In 1993 Prof. Yaakov Sussman published a bio-bibliographical study of E.E. Urbach’s work. Not surprisingly, much of it was devoted to Urbach’s Baalei ha-Tosafot. Sussman’s essay is full of many important comments and statements, not only on Urbach’s work, but on the study of Rabbinical Literature in general, but we will focus on only one of them.
In a way Sussman’s greatest criticism of Baalei ha-Tosafot is the one offered by J.N. Epstein in a review (Tarbitz, 8) of Urbach’s earlier German work Die Enstehung und Redaktion unserer Tossafot (“The Origin and Redaction of Our Tosafot”). Epstein’s criticism of Urbach is that he doesn’t distinguish enough between the French and German schools of the Tosafot. Urbach saw the world of the Tosafot, both in France and Germany, as one big cultural-intellectual world, while Epstein saw the need to separate the two and to examine and understand them separately. Sussman feels that Urbach was aware of the importance to distinguish between the two, yet he was originally interested in “our Tosafot”, meaning the Tosafot on the page of the Talmud and not in their history before they were edited with that product being reproduced on the traditional page of Talmud. Of all the other criticisms of Urbach’s work, much of which we have already written about, Sussman feels there isn’t much to them. While he does feel that most of the critique of Urbach’s work was based on personal preferences and scholarly predispositions (he describes them as “בעניינים של טעם והשקפה” [p. 47]), Sussman feels that there are important methodological differences which must be pointed out. First of all, most of the reviewers of were historians, and Urbach did not set out to write a book of social history or history of the halakhah, but rather a literary history of the Tosafistic literature. In addition Sussman feels that many of the reviewers were uncomfortable with Urbach’s personal-psychological analysis of some of the Tosafists and their halakhic opinions, and the humanization of Torah sages. Sussman says that nobody brought any instance where Urbach got his facts wrong, it is just the interpretation or methodology which they disagreed with. Returning to Epstein’s criticism, Sussman feels that Urbach never really responded to this critique. Sussman’s own opinion seems to closer to that of Epstein, feeling that a large portion, if not all, of the Ashkenazi Tosafot had very little, if any, contact with France. Things only began to change in the generation of R. Isaac Meir of Vienna (the author of the Or Zarua). For Sussman, the job of scholars today is to examine more closely the relationship and differences between the German and French Tosafot, and also the differences within Germany itself.
This final point is also stressed by I.M. Ta-Shema in a 25-year restrospective on Baalei ha-Tosafot. For Ta-Shema, Urbach was never willing to budge from his treatment of the Tosafot in France and Germany as an organic whole. T-Shema also stresses that even though Urbach utilized a great number of MSS for his work, it is still important to examine MSS of the Tosafot which were unavailable to Urbach.
Yaacov Sussman, “E.E. Urbach: A Bio-Bibliography” in Supplement to Jewish Studies no. 1, 1993; I.M. Ta-Shema, “Baalei ha-Tosafot: Twenty-five years Later” in Jewish Studies 41.