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When was the end of the Rishonim time period and the start of the achronim time period? Who, what, why, and how did this come about? What caused this abrupt change in deemed mental and halachot significance/intelligence?

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Why do you assume anything changed abruptly? – Double AA Nov 2 '13 at 23:03
Duplicate of (part of) judaism.stackexchange.com/q/31574? (Pinging @DoubleAA just because you're pingable.) – msh210 Nov 3 '13 at 0:42

Really the distinction is one between the medieval period and the modern period. The Shulchan Aruch was written at the very end of the medieval period and was one of the first Jewish books to be printed during its author's lifetime. The printing aspect is hugely important; before that any Jewish work (any work in general) was competing for scribal time & effort.

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The shift happened from the Shulchan aruch.

Before the Shulchan Aruch, halacha was decided by each posek looking towards the Talmud and Geonim, or being influenced by other Rabeim, and coming to their own decision about an issue, based on what made sense to them and their community. (Using many many factors)

The Shulchan Aruch however, decided to take a 2 out of 3 approach (best of Rif, Rosh and Rambam) This was a new method of psak halacha.

I imagine there is also a shift due to the Arizal, but I have no source for that.

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Re your last few words: do you have a source for the rest of your answer? – msh210 Dec 5 '13 at 20:09
@msh210 did you not look at the link? – avi Dec 9 '13 at 14:09
Correct, I didn't. Sorry. – msh210 Dec 9 '13 at 19:03
Sorry but this isnt strictly correct. The trend of paskening based on poskim and not based on the gemara directly is discussed by the Ri Migash, was prevalent in the 15th century, before Shulchan Aruch. THe opposite is also true, later writers such as the Gra R. Moshe and the Chazon Ish sometimes brought proof dirctly from Gemara; not poskim. – mevaqesh Jan 28 '15 at 0:24
@mevaqesh Treating poskim as if they are judges and taking the best 2 out of 3, was discussed by the Ri Migash? – avi Jan 29 '15 at 8:21

rishonim were the leading rabbis before the shulchan aruch and achronim after shulchan aruch (5323-5324)

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A source would be helpful. – Shmuel Brin Nov 3 '13 at 5:33

The time of the shulchan aruch is about right; there is also a shift in rabbinical names about the same time.

many(but not all) rishonim went by acronyms...rashi, rashbam, rambam, ramban, or by their own names .... ibn ezra,sforno, abarbanel

acharonim often wrote their comments under a pen name....chafetz chaim, gur aryeh, etc.

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Exactly: like the or zarua, kol bo, ittur, eshkol, maharsham, maharsha, r akiva eiger and the gra. – Double AA Dec 4 '13 at 3:45
Also, the examples of acharonim are not pen names, these are the names of their books which they became known for. – wfb Dec 4 '13 at 5:07
+1 for time of Shulchan Aruch (though no source), -1 for second half, so 0 – Shmuel Brin Dec 5 '13 at 2:49
ראי"ה, גרי"ז, רידב"ז, רמח"ל, רמ"ז, אדר"ת, חיד"א, מהר"ם שיק, מהרש"ם, מלבי"ם – Ephraim Apr 28 '15 at 20:17

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