Is there some sort of a structure as to which source holds more authority than another? I see many people quoting the Talmud, Rambam, etc. Being ignorant of the writings outside of the Tanakh considered to be authoritative, I would like to know where to start. I am familiar with the Scriptures, but where does the authority level go from there?


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Pretty much it goes by when it was written- so after Tanakh, which takes the most precedence and can’t be argued with or altered, you have the Mishnah. Mishnah is the Oral Torah written down in a concise and to-the-point way (it was written down out of fear of it being forgotten during a time of Roman persecution). The Mishnah was compiled in about 200 CE. After this you have the Talmud (written around 500 CE) which takes the next precedence and can’t argue with the Mishnah. So for example, people in the Talmud, called Amoraim, can never disagree with people in the Mishnah, called Tannaim. The Talmud was really the last of the major players in Jewish law. Everything else that comes after is simply interpretation of the Talmud, and therefore anyone after this time is allowed to (and has) argue with each other. So you mentioned the Rambam, and he was alive in the 1100’s. His words aren’t “holy” in the same way as the Mishnah or Talmud, but rather he’s just interpreting the law that the Talmud argues about. We then have the Shulchan Aruch (another code of Jewish law) written in the 1500’s. Many times the Shulchan Aruch argues with the Rambam, and they’re allowed to do this despite the Rambam coming first historically because no one who comes after the Talmud has precedence over the other. All modern commentators are just formulating their viewpoints based on the Talmud and Mishnah. Jewish law today doesn’t strictly follow one commentator, but rather many different people follow many different laws.

In short: after Tanakh you have the Mishnah which is the next most authoritative, then the Talmud, and then regarding anyone else who comes after that (Rambam, Ramban, Rashi, Raavad, Shulchan Aruch…) they’re allowed to disagree with each other and no one takes authority over the other (but none of them of course can disagree with the Talmud or Mishnah).

Also the overlying principle of the earlier writings having more importance than later ones is that we believe that as the generations go on, the people of each generation lose holiness. So someone living during the time of the Mishnah period was much more learned and smart than someone living hundreds of years later. And therefore, any viewpoint expressed in the Mishnah or Gemara is regarded with much importance.


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