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Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, better known today as Rashi, was easily the most prolific commentator on the Tanach and Talmud in history in the sense that he commentated on most of the Talmud and, I believe, all or most of Tanach (although his comments are typically short and sweet). His interpretations of Biblical verses and the discussions of Talmud are so important to Jewish thought that they are still taught, nearly 1,000 years later, to students as young as 3rd or 4th grade and older students will typically look to Rashi's interpretations before other commentators.

What is fascinating though is that the Tosafists -- later Biblical and Talmudic commentators who saw their comments as supplemental to Rashi's -- and who include Rashi's own grandchildren, Rabbeinu Tam and Rashbam, often openly disagreed with Rashi. Haim Perlmuter, in Tools for Tosafos, writes at p 14 that "with all the honor they had for Rashi, they did not hesitate to disagree with him." While as academics, I applaud their critical independence, but given the tradition of passing on the tradition from teacher to student, the general rule against contradicting one's teacher, and the fact that Rashi was the grandfather of Rebbeinu Tam and Rashbam, I would think that they would be more deferential to their grandfather. How did they come to have such different views from their grandfather on so many topics? Was he not their teacher or their teachers' teacher?

Is it OK to poke holes in one's rebbe's books after he has passed away and cannot defend his work? Perlmutter's book, at page 84, offers some possible answers, but I'd like to see more.

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"most prolific"? Unlikely. Rashi is quite terse, and his works outside of Tanach and most of Bavli are quite few. –  Double AA Jun 26 '13 at 15:49
    
I would like the OP to clarify precisely what he means by the Tosafists being "openly critical of" and having "such different views" from Rashi. While there is certainly much discussion, debate, and disagreement between the Baalei Tosafos and Rashi, these are usually on matters of detail, and rarely reflect any kind of fundamentally different worldview or approach to Torah and Judaism. Such differences of opinion exist between all Torah scholars. It would be a lack of such disagreements that would require explanation. –  LazerA Jun 26 '13 at 17:49
    
@LazerA Alex's answer begs to differ. –  Double AA Jun 26 '13 at 20:28
    
Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/27897/5 –  Seth J Jun 27 '13 at 0:13
    
Also related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/27621/5 –  Seth J Jun 27 '13 at 0:48

1 Answer 1

A brief answer, which I'll update with sources, b'ezras Hashem, another time:

A large part of it is a question of methodology. Rashi generally takes each piece of Gemara on its own terms and explains it in a way that fits in context; he generally doesn't attempt to compare/contrast it with other places in the Gemara. (In this he is similar to Rambam, who also takes the view in several of his responsa that if we have two statements in the Gemara that are contradictory, there's not necessarily a need to harmonize them; we simply accept one - whether based on the context in which it appears, or on other traditions as to how to decide the halachah - in preference to the other.)

Tosafos, by contrast, is not satisfied with this approach, and so to them an explanation is valid only if it also fits with other places where the same or similar discussions take place. Very often, then, that is the nub of their argument with what Rashi says: they'll point out that a different Gemara makes a certain underlying assumption that implies the point of the question (or answer, or whatever) here to be something other than the way Rashi explained it.

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I noticed that Rashi in Eiruvin does try to reconcile contradctory Gemaras –  Shmuel Brin Jun 26 '13 at 16:40
    
I found a great example of Rashi's methodology in Rashis Eruvin 18b, Brachos 61a, and Brachos 8b. In Eruvin, where it says walking behind a synagogue during prayer is worse than walking after idol worship, he says that one should not walk behind the synagogue during prayer because it looks like he's a Kofer. In Berachot 61A he explains that it is because of a lack of respect to the synagogue... –  Menachem Aug 7 '13 at 15:32
    
...see [M"A 671:12](hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40432&pgnum=364 ) for halachic distinction between the two opinions. –  Menachem Aug 7 '13 at 15:33

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