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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q4.11 TOC Sect. 5 >

Question 4.12:
Who was Rabbeinu Tam?

Answer:

Rabbeinu Tam (12th cent) is one of the better known Tosafists, and a grandson of Tashi. His real name was Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir. Yaakov (Jacob) was called in Genesis an "ish tam", a whole/perfect man.

In halachic rulings, the Tosafists usually defended Ashkenazi norms, trying to find its basis in the Talmudic texts. Rabbeinu Tam was an exception. Two rulings of his are better known, they serve as an illustration. In both, Rabbeinu Tam disagrees with the opinion of his grandfather.

The first was on placement of the mezuzah. Rashi ruled that proper placement is that the parchment be placed vertically. Rabbeinu Tam sided with a horizontal placement. Today, Ashkenazim try to fulfil both opinions by hanging the mezuzah on an angle. Sepharadim follow the opinion attributed to Rashi, which is also born out by the majority of archeological findings. (But they do so because it's the opinion of Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch.)

The better known one was about the proper order of chapters that are placed in tefillin. We follow the opinion of Rashi. However, many Chassidim also wear "Rabbeinu Tam tefillin" (as they are commonly called) afterwards to fulfil his opinion. Some Sephardic kabbalists do as well; while a rare few wear both forms simultaneously!

His style of Talmud study was more typical of the Tosafists. They tried to understand the Talmud holistically, typically asking how one discussion ought to be understood given a discussion in another part of the Talmud.


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