Rabbi Isaac of Dampierre and His Students

Ri is known to have lectured on the entire talmudic corpus and his academy reportedly boasted scores of students. The lectures, culled from the erudite teachings of his uncle, R. Tam, and R. Tam’s many colleagues, integrated the earlier sources with his own sharp insights. These sources included both French Tosafist teachings— such as those of R. Tam, R. Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam), R. Isaac b. Meir, R. Elijah of Paris, R. Hayyim ha-Kohen of Paris, R. Joseph of Orleans (Bekhor Shor), and R. Meshulam of Melun—and German Tosafists—such as Riva, R. Eliezer b. Nathan (Raban), R. Isaac ben Mordekhai (Rivam) and R. Ephraim of Regensburg. Ri also added countless new dialectic discussions that identified previously unnoticed contradictions and raised new questions. Hence, Ri’s greatness was not only his ability to present his uncle’s teachings clearly and integrate them with the work of others, but Ri himself was also a creative innovator and independent dialectician par-excellence. His energies drew from both elements of the Tosafist enterprise discussed thus far, and his lectures were filled with both faithful transmission and originality. For this reason, Ri’s academy became the center of the Tosafist tradition and bore the burden of transmitting the nascent enterprise.

Ri had many eminent students who dedicated themselves to recording his brilliance. Foremost of his students was his own son, R. Elhanan (d. 1184), whose intellectual activity and life ended prematurely by marauding Christian crusaders, the brothers R. Isaac b. Abraham of Dampierre (Rizba, d. 1210) and R. Samson b. Abraham of Sens (d. 1214), R. Barukh b. Isaac (d. 1211), and R. Judah Sirleon of Paris (d. 1224). Other students of Ri also penned commentaries, of which some are extant, most notably R. Moses and R. Shneur of Evreux, as well as other lesser-known students, such as R. Isaac of Brienne and R. Ezra of Moncontour. In fact, nearly all extant Tosafot commentaries can ultimately be traced to Ri’s academy.

Ri’s students utilized the reportatio method of note-taking. This method entailed Ri’s dictation of his lecture to specific students who would capture his verbal formulations. After Ri confirmed the accuracy of the reportationes the authors would sign the passage with a מ”ר , indicating that this formulation was “from the mouth” of Ri (  .(מפי רבי The appearance of such signatures at the end of passages is found in manuscripts of many of Ri’s students, most notably in the Tosafot of R. Elhanan, R. Samson of Sens, and R. Judah Sirleon. The dominant characteristic in these commentaries is the high level of integration they contain, although the presence of independent dialectics is not lost completely. These records of Ri’s lectures are the clearest extant examples of integrated commentaries, and demonstrate that much of this integration was undertaken by Ri himself. Ri’s lectures and the intellectual activity of his academy were, in large measure, responsible for the integration of material from the early Tosafists that appears in the commentaries of subsequent generations.

The commentaries of Ri’s students paint for us a general sketch of the nature of Ri’s lecture. When studying a tractate in the academy, Ri would seemingly introduce the questions, contradictions, and insights of the earlier masters. He would then comment on the material, weigh the strengths of the questions and insights, and provide his own resolutions and comments. In addition, Ri would add his own independent dialectics that both raised new issues and augmented older discussions. This yielded, in the form of his students’ Tosafot, sophisticated integrated texts that bore the teachings of Ri’s predecessors through the unique prism of Ri’s own teaching.

Ultimately, the success of Ri’s teachings was a result of both his dependence on the earlier generations and his own confidence to operate, in the greater context of his academy, as an independent dialectician. This duality accounts for the unparalleled breadth of material found in the commentaries that emerged from Ri’s academy. Scholars have noted the plethora of sources confronted in the commentaries that emerged from Ri’s academy, and have tried to explain why these commentaries specifically boast a richness of sources not found in other rabbinic works.

Aryeh Leibowitz, “The Emergence and Development of Tosafot on the Talmud”, Hakirah 15 (Summer 2013), 155-157.