I found this image titled Spiritual hierarchy in Judaism and it seems possibly accurate, but there's so much packed in and I don't know enough to point out deficiencies. I love infographics, and it'd be nice if I could rely on this, so please give your input. For instance, the visual has this authoritative statement:

Statements made outside of Torah or after the disbandment of the Sanhedrins (Great Court) only exist as subjective opinion. (ie not binding from a Torah level)

and this:

The Oral law does not and could not contain anything not of a legal nature. Any portions of the Mishnah that are not legal is regarded as Agadah/Mussar

Looks like this thread asks for the general explanation that I would have, but the distinctions between the texts aren't clear, like between Mishneh Torah and Shulchan Aruch.

PS - this is my first post. Hello Mi Yodeya!

Edit: Sefaria has some cool visualizations like the Words Sunburst and this parallel sets chart that categorizes mitzvot mentioned in Sefer HaChinukh. I wonder what kind of structure would be able to properly visualize this wider understand of authorities and their spheres of influence.

  • 2
    Welcome to MiYodeya Blooperchirp and thanks for this first question. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Jun 26, 2021 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


I think the linked infographic could use significant modification.

  1. I don't know why the transmission of the Torah to Moshe is termed "Semicha". It might be termed prophecy, or "receiving." Semicha is a term describing the (ancient) process of rabbinic ordination in which the elder rabbi would rest his hands on the newly ordained, deeming him a reliable authority for ruling in matters of jewish law.
  2. There seems to be general blurring between canonicity and legally binding material. The books of Nakh are certainly more authoritative than the later rabbinic works, even if they are not legal in nature.
  3. Within legal literature the binding/opinion dichotomy is misleading. While later works of rabbinic interpretation might not have the force of a ruling from the sanhedrin, terming them mere opinion that they are therefore only suggestions. There are positions found in the Mishna, Tosefta, Talmuds etc that are not followed because they are disputed by an equal authority, while the opinion that is accepted would be deemed authoritative by later scholars.
  4. "these works are authoritative only when reiterating the sanhedrin's rulings" Firstly, "reiterating" betrays the very significant role interpretation plays. Only a fraction of the legal literature is merely reiterating what has already been made clear. Secondly, and more significantly, the role of rabbinic enactments is wholly ignored. These enactments are binding by authority of Devarim 17:11 and can be enacted even after the sanhedrin.
  5. The division between codification of court rulings and commentaries is simply incorrect.
  6. The assertion that non legal parts of the mishna are not part of the oral law is subject to dispute. See here.
  7. Even after the authentic semicha tradition ceased, the title was still used throughout the medieval period, well before the re-establishment of the semicha by R Yaakov BeiRav.
  8. R Yaakov BeiRav's revival of semicha was not meant to be ceremonial but was actually an attempt to revive the ancient Semicha, on the basis of Rambam's position.

Regarding your last question: Mishneh Torah was Rambam's monumental work of halacha. He took the whole of the jewish legal tradition (mainly the Mishna/Talmuds but also the other books in the green bar in the graphic) and organized it topically, translated it into a simpler dialect of hebrew, and decided between opinions in cases of dispute. Shulchan Arukh is R' Yosef Karo's summary of his Beit Yosef which was written some 500 years after Rambam and aims to update the discussion by collecting much of what had been discussed by subsequent works. This might be best thought of as the opposite of Rambam's approach to codification-- while decisions are met and material is reorganized, the text serves to extend the discussions in their original form in rabbinic hebrew and centered around the talmudic discussion (in substance even if not in form-- it is written as a commentary on yet another code called the Tur.) It is this summary that has gained significant popularity since it's composition, serving as the starting point for subsequent discussions, and is colloquially synonymous with Halacha as it is practiced today.

Welcome to Mi Yodea. I hope this helps to clarify some of the finer points of the tradition of Jewish texts.

  • It's a lot to take in, so it'll take time. Thank you. Jun 27, 2021 at 5:51

Welcome to Mi Yodeya. I am not sure who made this list, but it contains major errors. For one thing, Semicha did not end until the time of the Amoraim. As a general rule, anyone who is given the title Rav or Rebbe in the Gemara received Semicha.

For another, the ultimate source for Jewish Law is not the Mishnah, but the Talmud Bavli. There are many cases where the Talmud says the law does not follow a particular Mishnah. Since the "sealing" of the Talmud, almost all discussions of law are to interpret the Talmud Bavli.

And even where there are disputes, the opinions of various Rabbis are binding on their communities. To say no opinions after the Sanhedrin are binding is flat out wrong.

And the various lists seem very haphazardly done. For SeMaG to be listed in Commentators on Codifications but not Enumerators of Mitzvot is a real rookie mistake. Piskei HaRosh is a commentary on the Rif, but the Arbah Turim is an entirely original work.

Geonic Teshuvot are rarely studied, as the Rambam said everything contained in them of necessity was included in the work of the Rif.

The lack of inclusion of R' Moshe Kordovero and the Gra in the list of Kabbalists is a major oversight.

Rabbi Yaakov Beirav did not establish ceremonial Semicha, instead he tried to recreate the Semicha of the time of the Mishna with all its authority. This effort was massively controversial and ultimately fizzled out. The title of Rabbi was used continuously throughout history.

If a kid in High School turned this in as an assignment, I would give it a C or D.

  • >If a kid in High School turned this in as an assignment, I would give it a C or D. This made me laugh, thank you for your input. Jun 27, 2021 at 5:49

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