On one hand, I've seen a rule from the Acharonim (I've also seen it in a Shach on Choshen Mishpat also but I can't remember where) that whatever the Gaonim say is "Divrei Kabalah" from the time of the Gemara (which implies that just as one can't argue on the Gemara one can't argue on them).

On the other hand, we find that Rishonim do argue on Gaonim (and don't argue on the Gemara).

Do other Rishonim mention this rule? Is there a Machlokes regarding the strength of the Gaonic tradition?

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    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:32
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    We have some Rishonim that argue on the gemara too sometimes.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:33
  • @DoubleAA Where? Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:33
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    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:43
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    Rishonim don't argue on the gemara? I think that the Rambam ignoring the gemara's reasons for mitzvot and making up his own probably counts as "arguing on the gemara". As does his occasionally siding with extra-Talmudic sources, like the Tosefta.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 4:31

2 Answers 2


The Tur (CM 25) records a dispute whether a Rishon has authority to argue against a gaon. The Raavad maintains that one may not, whereas the Rosh says it is possible to:

כתב הראב"ד שאין אדם עתה בזמנינו רשאי לחלוק על דברי גאון כדי שישתנה הדין מדברי גאון אלא בקושיא מפורסמת וזהו דבר שאינו נמצא לפיכך החולק על דברי גאון הוי כטועה בדבר משנה וכן אם טעה בפסקי הגאונים שלא שמע דבריהם ואילו שמע היה חוזר בו זהו טועה בדבר משנה: וא"א הרא"ש ז"ל כתב ודאי מי שטועה בדברי הגאונים שלא שמע דבריהם וכשאמרו לו פסק הגאונים ישר בעיניו טועה בדבר משנה הוא ולא מיבעיא בפסקי הגאונים אלא אפילו חכמי כל דור ודור שאחר הגאונים לאו קטלי קניא באגמי הוו ואם פסק הדיין שלא כדבריהם וכששמע דבריהם ישרו בעיניו והודה שטעה טועה בדבר משנה הוא וחוזר אבל אם לא ישרו בעיניו ומביא ראיה לדבריו המקובלת לאנשי דורו יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו ואין לך אלא כל שופט ושופט אשר יהיה בימים ההם ויכול לסתור דבריהם כי כל הדברים שאינם מבוארים בתלמוד שסדרו רבינא ורב אשי יכול לסתור ולבנות אפילו לחלוק על דברי הגאונים

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    This actually makes sense. The Raavad often quotes the Geonim, while the Rosh had more of an independent streak in his rulings.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:41
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    @double aa raavad does tend to be very much a traditionalist, no new ideas or innovative approaches, and get off my lawn.
    – Seth J
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 4:07
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    the quote from the raavad says that a rishon MAY in specific circumstances, namely בקושיא מפורסמת Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 16:35

Rambam writes in his introduction to Mishneh Torah:

וכן אם למד אחד מהגאונים שדרך המשפט כך הוא ונתבאר לבית דין אחר שעמד אחריו שאין זה דרך המשפט הכתוב בגמרא אין שומעין לראשון אלא למי שהדעת נוטה לדבריו בין ראשון בין אחרון

Similarly, if one of the Geonim interpreted the path of judgment in a certain way, while the court which arose afterward interpreted the proper approach to the matter in a different way, the [opinion of the] first [need] not be adhered to [absolutely]. Rather, whichever [position] appears to be correct - whether the first or the last - is accepted. (Chabad.org)

In a responsum (Pe'er Hador # 47) he also explicitly states that we do not have to rule in accordance with the Gaonim – if we are following what appears to be the law from the Talmud, we don't care if the Gaonim reached a different conclusion.

ואם הגאונים כתבו דברים אחרים מה איכפת לן מהנראה מהתלמוד הוא כך ואין צריך לפסוק כסברתם דוקא

R. Isaiah of Trani discusses arguing with early authorities in two of his responsa (Shu"t HaRid #1 and # 62).

He essentially says that though we acknowledge that our predecessors are much greater than us, we can still disagree with them, in line with the Amoraic exclamation in Chullin 124a.

א"ל האלהים אי אמר לי יהושע בן נון משמיה לא צייתנא ליה

‘By God!’ said R. Ammi, ‘even if Joshua the son of Nun had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!’ (Soncino translation.)

  • It should be clarified that Rambam does not seem to be referring to Geonim in contradistinction to what we call Rishonim. Rather, he seems to be using the term generically to refer to any post-Talmudic sages. However, Rambam's point that no one after the Talmud caries formal authority, and that one's authority correlates to the strength of a given argument would indeed imply that there is no distinction between the "Geonim" and the "Rishonim".
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 2:30
  • The Rid doesn't seem overly relevant. He is using it in context of disagreeing with the Ri; not a Gaon. The statement about Yehoshua seems to be a poetic flourish. After all, in cases where someone carries actual authority, e.g. the Talmud, the Rid would certainly not feel qualified to disagree.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 2:31
  • @mevaqesh The Rid doesn't make any distinctions between different types of post-Talmudic scholars. He simply refers to "Rabboseinu Harishonim". And keep in mind that he was a relatively early rishon (1180-1250). Also, the Shibolei Haleket cites the Rid and refers to the question as about whether one can disagree with the Geonim. Since I don't see anywhere where the Rid actually says that, I left it out of the answer, but it is interesting nonetheless.
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 2:46
  • You can see the Rid here: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/62219/8775. Although he doesn't mention distinctions, it seems important to keep the context in mind, since taken without qualification he would be denying the idea of rabbinic authority entirely.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 3:04

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