After identifying contradictions and relevant discussions, the early Tosafists turned to resolution of the contradictions and application to the relevant discussions. Not every contradiction was resolved, and occasionally the Tosafists themselves resorted to choosing one text over another. But this was a rarity, and in nearly all instances the Tosafists were able, occasionally by greatly sacrificing the plain meaning of the text, to provide resolutions. In this pursuit the genius and creativity of the Tosafist masters is the most detectable, and it was in this realm that the dialectic battles were waged. Hairsplitting distinctions and ingenious use of okimta—the reduction of a principle, or limiting of a ruling, to specific parameters— were the methods that the Tosafist masters relied upon in their disputes over resolving and explaining contradictory Talmud passages. The more inventive or original a Tosafist’s approach was, the more he was challenged by his colleagues to defend his position and bring proofs for his proposition.
In addition to noting contradictions and relevant discussions and then suggesting resolutions or applications, the early Tosafist commentaries also functioned in more traditional senses. They offered alternative translations of talmudic terms, questioned or explained a passage’s initial position (hava amina), or ruled in favor of a particular view. These functions, while not unique to the Tosafist enterprise, also reflected the creativity and originality that were the hallmarks of the early Tosafists. The early Tosafists also confronted the rulings of Geonic masters, such as R. Simon Kayyara and R. Yehudai Gaon, and commented on the commentaries of pre-Tosafist Talmudists, such as R. Hananel.
Aryeh Leibowitz, “The Emergence and Development of Tosafot on the Talmud”, Hakirah 15 (Summer 2013), 149-150.