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On the Wikipedia page for the Bach (Rabbi Yoel Sirkis), it mentions

He was also critical of those who relied solely on the Shulchan Aruch for halachic decisions, rather than on the Talmud and the Geonim.

The references cited do not point to any particular writings of the Bach that say this (if you know where specifically this comes from, please comment!) but it got me thinking: where are we supposed to get halacha from? How do we know which sefer the final word on some matter comes from? Suppose a gemara and a Shulchan Aruch chapter seem to be in conflict. Obviously we should go with the gemara shouldn't we? How can we be sure? Is there a halacha about where to get halacha from?

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    You might find this paper on the history and transmission of halacha to be helpful: eretzhemdah.org/Data/UploadedFiles/SitePages/…
    – mbloch
    Jul 5, 2023 at 3:22
  • Halacha can be practically decided in one of 3 ways. (1) Opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, Rema and nosei keilim. (2) Minority opinion in the rishonim or acharonim where the person making the pesak has strong compelling proofs that this opinion is valid. (3) A posek who wants to justify the minhag even where this appears to contradict Shulchan Aruch etc., and where the person making the pesak has strong compelling proofs that this minhag is valid.
    – The GRAPKE
    Jul 5, 2023 at 7:34
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    @mbloch Pretty thorough article!
    – MichoelR
    Jul 5, 2023 at 13:26
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    Ultimately halacha follows the Gemara, but with great authorities, we have to be very cautious about assuming we understood the Gemara better than they did. So there is a presumption to trust the Shulchan Aruch's interpretation. One can definitely not dismiss it out of hand.
    – N.T.
    Jul 6, 2023 at 6:10
  • Effectively the Talmud is the only source of binding halacha (in post-Talmudic Judaism) - all further rulings cannot contradict it, and will for the most part be based on an understanding of the Talmud. If you look at the Beis Yosef (which the SA is mainly a summary of) you can see how he traces the the laws he writes in the SA from the Talmud, as filtered through the understanding of various earlier interpreters (whose interpretations he often decides between, or leaves the matter in doubt)
    – AKA
    Jul 6, 2023 at 20:41

1 Answer 1

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Wikipedia gives the full quote from the Bach is from Shut HaBach, 80 and Shu"t HaBach Hachadashot, 42

It is impossible to rule (in most cases) based on the Shulchan Aruch, as almost all his words lack accompanying explanations, particularly (when writing about) monetary law. Besides this, we see that many legal doubts arise daily, and are mostly the subject of scholarly debate, necessitating vast wisdom and proficiency to arrive at a sufficiently sourced ruling

The Maharal is also well known for his opposition to ruling straight from the Shulchan Aruch without first understanding the sources in the gemara, although recent poskim explain this was at a time when people were fluent in the Talmud, which doesn't happen as much today.

Your question is very broad and relates to both the development of halacha and the rules of halachic decision-making. The best summaries I found of both are the introduction to Living the halachic process from Eretz Hemda (here online) and the book The making of a halachic decision by R Moshe Walter.

In a nutshell

  • since the gemara rulings are hard to understand for the common person, sometimes contradicting each other and spread over different areas, halachic codifiers have stepped in to collate the rulings by topic and clarify the final practice, the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Brura, Aruch Hashulchan are prime examples
  • when gemarot are conflicting with each other, the broad rule of the Rif/Rambam (and Sefaradi poskim) is to find the main sugya which deals with this topic and rule accordingly. In contrast, the Rosh/Tosafot (and Ashkenazi poskim) try to reconcile conflicting rulings. The Shulchan Aruch tends to follow the first approach (since he rules according to the majority of Rif/Rambam/Rosh) while the Rema follows the second approach (this is extremely well explained with dozens of examples by R Shmuel Philips in his book Talmud Reclaimed, ch. 6 and appendix G)
  • for most straight halacha, a learned individual should be able to take a later halachic code (e.g., Mishna Brura, Aruch Hashulchan) and apply the law from them - more recent books have applied these classic laws to modern topics (e.g., Shmirah Shabat K'Hilchata for Hilchot Shabbat)
  • when getting into new situations, or specific circumstances (e.g., a sick individual, great financial loss) a rabbi will know when leniencies are available in halacha to accommodate the situation and what are the minhagim (customs) practiced
  • entire books were written on the rules of ruling (starting with SA YD 242), e.g., the Schach wrote Kitzur b Hanhagot Horaot Issur v Heter, the Pri Megadim wrote Seder vHanhagot HaNishal I'm HaShoel b Issur v Heter, Klalim to SA, etc.

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