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When Tosafos or other Rishonim introduce a question with the phrase "and if it were said" (my translation) do they mean to imply that the question is b'dieved and everything would make more sense if we left well enough alone?
Examples of gemaras where this may be the case include bava basra 2a-177d.


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closed as too localized by msh210 Feb 28 '13 at 18:41

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I think there's an example on Bava Basra 1, also. –  msh210 Feb 20 '13 at 7:14
    
There is no tosfos on Bava Basra 1c. –  Yitzchak Feb 20 '13 at 9:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is a common misunderstanding dating back to medieval publishers. Do not read it: ואם תאמר, rather: וא"מ תאמר. That is, ואשת מנוח תאמר ("And the wife of Manoach [Samson's mother] will say").

After forgetting to mention anything about hair to her husband (and thereby setting up the downfall of one of the great saviors of the Jews), Eishet Manoach is cast out by her husband. This is clear because Shimshon is buried "in the burial place of Manoach, his father". His father, and not his mother.

Tradition has it (Bava How Kamma 35b) that Eishet Manoach spent the rest of her life bothering scholars in the beit midrash. She wanted to marry again, and to marry a bocher to make up for her failure to raise a bookish child. However, most of the bocherim took an ego hit when a peasant woman spoke Torah, so she would play dumb. She would ask questions that most people would be able to easily answer. Sometimes she'd raise objections, but only if she knew the person making the point could easily retort. The term "eishet Manoach will say" became known and best translates to "a strawman would say".

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I believe you have a misplaced citation. The gemara about eishet manoach is in Bava Mayseh 35b. :) –  Yitzchak Feb 20 '13 at 9:36
    
Well done! What (other than BH"K 35b) made you think to go to eishet Manoach? –  Isaac Moses Feb 20 '13 at 18:27
    
@IsaacMoses Thanks. Honestly, it was the first thing I thought of when I saw it. I actually hadn't realized the b'kever Manoach aviv part until I went digging. I should look up what real commentators said about this... –  Charles Koppelman Feb 20 '13 at 20:50
    
@Yitzchak I'm slow today. Care to explain? –  Charles Koppelman Feb 20 '13 at 20:51
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Old joke where all gemaras cited for purim torah are in Bubbeh Mayseh (old wive's tales). –  Yitzchak Feb 21 '13 at 12:16

Whenever they want to raise a question that they can immediately refute, the Tosafists introduce it with "ואם תאמר, and a mother would say" (and they refute the question with "ואיש לומר, and a man is to reply", corrupted in some versions to "ויש לומר").

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Those misogynistic Tosafists. They act as though they're living in medieval times! –  msh210 Feb 22 '13 at 16:37

One should lechatchila as such a question as one it is based on false information and is thereby megaleh panim shelo kehalacha.

If one did (becoming a heretic), Tosfos must assist us in fulfilling the dictum of the Mishna - know what to answer to a heretic

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This is dependent on the question whether mitzvos require kavanah (Brachos 13a). We hold that they do. However, from the fact that Tosfos use the language "ואם תאמר," it is clear that they hold that they don't.

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Don't get it, sorry. –  Yitzchak Feb 20 '13 at 9:35

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