Many Tosfos contain questions about what Rashi says, followed by them giving their own answer.

But how can we honestly say something is a "machlokes Rashi vs Tosfos" when Rashi doesn't get a chance to defend his shit"a or respond to any of Tosfos's questions?

Conceptually it doesn't seem accurate to call this a machlokes like we would by Abaye & Rava, ie contemporaries who go back and forth with each other.

  • 5
    Why should Rashi's lack of response make it not a machlokes?
    – Alex
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Alex because we see it all the time in the gemara where we think there's a machlokes, but one of the parties says hacha b'mai askinan and give x usage case- thus there really isn't a machlokes.
    – alicht
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:26
  • Good question about the majority of machlokets after the Gemara
    – kouty
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:34
  • @alicht So you're asking how we know that we (and Tosafos) are not misunderstanding Rashi's position, and maybe really Rashi agrees with what Tosafos is saying?
    – Alex
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:50
  • @kouty agreed- although primarily by Rishonim in my opinion. As the entire chain moves on into Acharonim said Achronim are dealing with a much larger body of work, and the mesorah “baton” that has been passed from for l’dor has a lot more shitot and diff applications (ie I’m not as bothered by a machlokes The Rav vs R’ Herschel Schachter)
    – alicht
    Jan 14, 2019 at 21:03

2 Answers 2


The general assumption made while learning rishonim (and even more applicable to ammoraim and tannaim) is that they meant what they said, they are consistent with their own shitos/halachic positions throughout their commentaries, and that they knew all of (or most of) the alternative explanations and still chose to explain it the way they did.

So when Tosfos asks a question on Rashi, we assume that Rashi knew that the question could be asked on him, and he still gave his explanation.

The next step is to ask- why wasn't Rashi bothered by Tosfos question? Usually, the commentators will explain how Rashi could answer the question. Then the question goes back on Tosfos- didn't Tosfos know that Rashi could answer the question? So what was Tosfos asking?

Usually in in-depth "iyun" learning, you would go back and forth until you finally resolve the machlokes. Generally, there ends up being a specific fundemental point upon which Rashi and Tosfos disagree. Rashi makes sense if you assume X and Tosfos makes sense if you assume Y. The machlokes is whether you assume X or Y. (The next step- trying to bring proofs as to which assumption is better, and who else agrees with either assumption, and which assumption is accepted as law, etc.)

This is why we refer to it as a machlokes- we assume that both positions are correct and that Rashi didn't recant (unless we have proof that he did.)

While there are numerous works of the achronim who make this sort of analysis between Rashi and Tosfos, one of the classic one is called מגיני שלמה- "Defender of Shlomo." He writes that the purpose of his sefer is to defend Rashi against the questions of Tosfos. His general approach is to show how Rashi made different initial assumptions, or that he disagreed with an extrapolation, and thus Tosfos's questions aren't really questions on Rashi.


I think the reason is simpler than you might think: it's a problem in translation.

When someone says "מחלוקת פלוני עם אלמוני" that should not translate as
"a dispute between X and Y" but as
"X disagrees with Y".
In Hebrew, it simply means "פלוני חולק על אלמוני".

As anyone can disagree with any of the ancestors like saying "אני חולק על רמב"ם", anyone can be in מחלוקת with anyone in time-space.

  • While I agree with the usage, do you know of a place in Chazal or Mefarshim where the term is actually used in this sense, across time? One place where the term is used that pops out at me is the Mishnah in Avos about מחלוקת לשם שמים, but the arguments there were between contemporaries.
    – DonielF
    Jan 15, 2019 at 14:12
  • @DonielF +1. That's the original term and that's how it is used in contemporary Hebrew. But then it was borrowed by the Gemmorah to a much wider term that allows for a מחלוקת between Rabbis at different ages and places that could not possibly meet.
    – Al Berko
    Jan 15, 2019 at 14:41

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