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How does one differentiate a minhag, something that is not from a derabanan obligation? For exmple, how do we know the beating of the aravot is a minhag, but not a derabbbanan obligation? Weren't they both formed by rabbis of old?

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    Gemara in sukka discusses this very issue about the beating of the aravos,whether it is a yesod nevim or minhag neviim, the former gets a bracha and the latter does not. – sam Mar 2 at 2:27
  • Each case is traced through the sources. – N.T. Mar 2 at 7:24
  • I would assume a drabonon is something that was formally instituted by the rabbis such as muktza or treating every nida like a zava. A minhag was not formally instituted but rather is a practice that caught on as its name implies minhag/practice. – ASL Mar 2 at 13:58
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There is an excellent discussion of this found at the Jewish Virtual Library. At the following link you will find each of the various terms used to discuss various aspects of the Oral transmission of Torah Law in the heading Dogmatics of the Halakhah.

In the paragraph just preceding the subject of Minhag and the section on Minhag itself you will find detailed explanation of the various uses of these two terms and how they differ traditionally.

Halakhah

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