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It seems that there was a disconnect or upheaval of some kind between the times of the Geonim and the times of the Rishonim and the hakhamim that these two eras contained. Shittoth regarding tefila, berakhoth, kashruth, and other areas seem to have been practiced in a completely different manner until many Rishonim came along and views things differently.

My question is: "What happened? How their understanding of halakha be so different? Further, how could the Gemara and other literature be viewed so differently between them?"

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I remember there being a Machlokes whether a Rishon can argue on a Gaon or not (Rambam famously holds one can't) –  Shmuel Brin Dec 10 '13 at 2:02
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Can you cite some examples? –  Seth J Dec 10 '13 at 2:49
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@ShmuelBrin - Actually, the Rambam does not hold this way at all and regularly ignores Gaonic legislation not found in the Talmudic literature. See his Haqdama to the Mishne Tora where he rejects the idea of "halakha k'bathra'ei." Kol tuv. –  Maimonist Dec 10 '13 at 4:01
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@SethJ - Tefila = look in the Sidurim of Rasa"G, Rav Amram, and the teshuvoth of Rav Nattronai. You will see berakhoth - with she and malkhuth - which were said regularly, but were later understood by the Rishonim to be berakhoth l'vattala. Berakhoth = see above, but specifically berakhoth were "innovated" after the Sanhedrin by the Geonim, but later ruled to be "asur" to say. Kashruth = Rules of Sh'hitta, Rav Qapah notes in his pirush on the Rambam that halitta seems to have been required by the Gaonim, but not by Rishonim - almost universally. Hope this helps. Kol tuv. –  Maimonist Dec 10 '13 at 4:07
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@Maimonist did the rif require it? i know ravad was harsh on him bout it. and most others dont hold like him. but i never seen the rif mentioning it either –  MoriDoweedhYaa3gob Dec 10 '13 at 5:00
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