There has been a conflict for a while between Orthodox Jews, some of them gedolim, concerning works by a certain author. One of the points of conflict is something he said about a Tosefos in Kiddushin 25b, concerning how to do a kinyan (acquisition) on very large animals. Rav Meshulam in Tosefos suggests that an elephant (פיל) can be acquired by getting it to jump, which would count as a "hagbahah" - lifting.
This author said that Tosefos is wrong, because it is known that elephants cannot jump. They didn't know, because there were no elephants in their area. Others took strong umbrage to this suggestion.
First of all, my son suggests that an elephant probably could jump if you put it in a swimming pool, or in a liquid with even higher specific gravity (mercury? :( ). I'm assuming this kinyan would also work in a swimming pool.
But that is really beside the point. Anyone who has learned Tosefos knows that their whole presentation is to gather all the available information - gemara, Tosefta, Yerushalmi, piyutim, whatever they have - and suggest as many answers as fit with all the evidence, and try to work each of them out. They do this all the time. They don't generally concern themselves over which answer is the right one, and they are perfectly comfortable with suggesting answers that contradict one another. They find the ways to fit the information they have.
Just as one example among very many, I just did a Tosefos in Menachos Perek 6 that was trying to work out which types of grain and produce can be used for different korbonos. They quote several gemaras, and then they say, Well, if the produce of these areas (valleys, mountains,...) is better than the produce of these areas, then __ is pshat. If it's worse, then __ is pshat.
They aren't in Israel and don't claim to know which it is, and it doesn't worry them at all. Not their job.
The same is true here. It is silly to say that they're "wrong"; if their answer doesn't work for elephants, it might work for lions - "פיל" is a placeholder for "animal you can't lift".
And on the flip side, if you say, How dare you say that Tosefos is "wrong" about elephants, if Tosefos says it then it must be true! - that seems silly to me too. They are not saying anything about elephants - they don't do that, they're talking about what works in the gemara.
Could someone explain this conflict to me? It seems to have caused division and discord, and I think both sides are taking something out of Tosefos which was never there.

Addendum: As I mentioned there, I think this discussion on the Greek letter chi might be relevant.

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    Other answers are that although it is true that elephants don't jump in the air they can (1)lift themselves up on their front or back legs so that is also the jumping referred to and (2)they can and do jump over ditches to get food. Farmers in India who dig ditches to keep elephants off their fields frequently find the elephants jumping over them if narrow enough (The exact case given in Tosfos. It jumps to get it's food)
    – Schmerel
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 15:16
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    But seriously, I think this should be closed as Unclear. There's nothing to explain. You figured out that people exaggerate when they want to argue and now you can live a happier life ignoring them.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 15:26
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    @DoubleAA, sounds like you agree with me. I had hoped to hear from someone who doesn't: the extremists, or someone who thinks Tosefos is wrong!
    – MichoelR
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 15:39
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    If this is the author I think it is, this point is really a relatively tiny one compared to the debate as a whole. The author was viciously attacked by people with an agenda for writing relatively sensible things, as a result left charedi society, and then published some things that went too far. Now the situation is a mess.
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 10:14
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    Who is strong? He who can own an elephant Commented Jan 2 at 4:13

1 Answer 1


I understood that the conflict involved the general attitude of the author. This is something subjective by nature, but those who took umbrage saw in the author cavalier manner and flippant dismissal of the words of Tosafos, disregard for our sages.

Another example of this is that there is a prevalent manner of speech in the world of academia that does not sit well with the non-secular non-modern segment of Orthodoxy. For example, when addressing Rishonim and Achronim, their last names are used in the same manner as one would address a layman (i.e. Grossman takes issue with Abarbanel's stance...)

Herein lies the conflict: The infamous author and his ilk talk about Tosafos with the cold unfeeling manner of academia, without any show of the respect we are used seeing in Sefarim. When a Rishon or Achron refer to a sage, they use titles like רבינו, מורינו, הרה"ג and the like. When arguing with a sage of a previous generation, there is generally a show of respect, using such phrases as לולי דמיסתפינא, במחילת כבוד תורתו and the like. It is a great turnoff when some guy who studies zoology flatly declares Tos. as being "wrong", with the same confidence and uncaring attitude as he would disregard the same statement of a child. I am pretty sure that if he would have shown the respect mentioned above, he would not have gotten the slack that he did. It's ok to ask a question, and to suggest a way to resolve the question, such as you did with your son, but it has to be done respectfully.

(As to your suggestion that this can be resolved because it is clear that Tos. was not sure about everything, I disagree, as you showed, Tos. will be clear if they do not know something. I will agree, however, that it is possible that Tos. was just suggesting a theoretical option, which is applicable in other cases.)

  • Everyone calls the Abarbanel by his last name...
    – wfb
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 12:14
  • What you describe is not a general conflict about attitude but rather a general conflict about naming conventions. Conventions vary and people misinterpreting different conventions as insults is either plain ignorance or deliberately disingenuous.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 13:18
  • "as you showed, Tos. will be clear if they do not know something." Don't think I showed that. I gave an example where they stated two possibilities, each of which has its own pshat, that's all. Certainly that is not enough for someone to be able to draw evidence from the fact that they didn't not bother to discuss something.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 20:48
  • There are yar'ei shamayim in academia, and they use the standard conventions of academia. It need not show a lack of respect. I would have thought that the proper response would be a gentle correction, not an attempt to bury someone. The Torah world is not so huge that we can afford to throw away people because they haven't learned our language.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 20:54
  • When a Rishon or Achron refer to a sage, they use titles... When arguing with a sage of a previous generation, there is generally a show of respect..." Not a hard-and-fast rule at all. For their teacher, sure. But for some of their opponents, Rishonim used incredibly harsh language. See some of the descriptions by the Rambam in his teshuvos, or the Raavad about the Rambam, or the Mishmeres Habayis in Toras Habayis. The current custom in the Haredi community is to speak in a certain way.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 18:21

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