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I have seen the phrase מנהגא מילתא היא mentioned in the halachic works of various Rishonim.

Neither it's plain meaning in these works nor it's connotations in relation to the significance of custom in deciding halachic issues is clear to me.

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    Where did you see this? You may want to place a link to the source in your question. It would help a lot. – DanF Jul 30 '14 at 20:01
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    That a Minhag has significance – sam Jul 30 '14 at 20:34
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    @AvrohomYitzchok I believe it is now on topic, but it seems like a somewhat radical change, so I will wait for the OP to approve before reopening. Robert, ping me @DoubleAA when you've seen the edit. – Double AA Jul 31 '14 at 16:35
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    @RobertS.Barnes They must relate to Judaism to be on topic. Random collections of Hebrew words don't as a rule relate to Judaism. If, say, you saw them in a Gemara or a Judaism related text, say so and it would be on topic. Ideally you would indicate where to help others in answering your question. As usual, the more information/motivation you include in the question, the better it will be. – Double AA Jul 31 '14 at 17:19
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I just ran across this translation from Mechon Hadar:

מנהגא מילתא היא - custom has significant weight

Edit

The following phrase appears three times in the Talmud Yerushalmi:

ולא דבר הלכה זו. אלא כל הלכה שהיא רופפת בבית דין ואין את יודע מה טיבה צא וראה היאך הציבור נוהג ונהוג.

And this is not a halachic decision. Instead, any halachic decision which is unclear in the court and which you do not know it's good, go out and see how the public behaves and what is the custom.

This seems to appear each time in the context of halachic decisions which the court can't seem to resolve, so the principle is to decide based on actual practice and custom.

In a footnote to this phrase in the Yerushalmi ( where it says page 68 line 3) it says:

בירושלמי כלל על כל הדברים הנהוגים ואין טעמם ועיקרם ברור כל הלכה שהיא רופפת בידך הלך אחר המנהג ובכמה פוסקים ראשונים "מנהגא מילתא היא

In the Yerushalmi a rule on all the things which are practiced and their reason and underlying principle is not clear, every halacha which is unclear in your hand go after the custom and some Rishonim say custom decides.

I translated it here as "custom decides" because that seems to capture the intent if I am understanding it correctly. In the same footnote it also says:

מנהג מבטל הלכה - custom cancels halacha

Basically, when the halacha is unclear custom decides the issue. For example, when the Ra'avad uses this phrase in Baalai Nefesh Sha'ar Ketemim, it is in such a context of two extreme positions - one in which all women are impure all the time, and the other in which all women are pure all the time, and he brings a custom to break the deadlock.

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A minhag (customary behavior) of actual incidents or occurance. That is we consider it a minhag based on the actual circumstances of seeing what people do.

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"There is an interest (importance?) in preserving the Minhag"

Or a more literal translation, in a contemporary spirit:

"The Minhag is a thing"

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It means that something that has been firmly adopted by Klal Yisroel as a minhag acquires the force of halocho.

See the following extract from a commentary on Maseches Niddoh by a Rav Yungerman

ואין אנו צריכין להרבות דברים על זה, שהרי הוחזקו בנות ישראל שנוהגות איסור בכתמים, וקיימא לן מנהגא מילתא היא, כדרבי זירא דאמר [ס״ו ע״א] בנות ישראל הן החמירו על עצמן שאפילו רואות טפת דם כחרדל יושבות עליה שבעה נקיים, והלכה פסוקה היא [ברכות ל״א ע״א], והוא הדין לכתמים שנהגו בהן איסור. [בעלי הנפש להראב״ד - שער הכתמים].

Translation of the words in bold: Bnos Yisroel accepted a stringency on themselves that even if they saw a blood stain as small as a mustard seed, they would separate themselves for seven clean days and this is a clear halocho.

  • I don't see anything in the linked document which supports your statement. – Robert S. Barnes Aug 2 '14 at 18:52
  • @RobertS.Barnes החמירו על עצמן and then והלכה פסוקה היא Why does that not support my statement? – Avrohom Yitzchok Aug 2 '14 at 22:52
  • How does that support the idea that מנהגא מילתא היא means that a generally accepted custom acquires the force of formal Talmudic rabbinic legislation? At most it would indicate that this particular minhag was later ratified / codified as formal halacha, and it's not even clear that that is the case in this specific instance. – Robert S. Barnes Aug 3 '14 at 7:01
  • @RobertS.Barnes My view is indeed that this particular minhag (quoted as an example) was later ratified / codified as formal halacha and the proof for that is the phrase והלכה פסוקה היא. I do not understand why you say "it's not even clear that that is the case in this specific instance." Maybe others can supply further examples. – Avrohom Yitzchok Aug 3 '14 at 8:04
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    What I'm saying is that, even if you assume that this particular minhag was formally codified, how does that translate into מנהגא מילתא היא meaning that all universally accepted customs take on the force of formally codified halacha? On the side issue of this specific minhag, there are respected authorities on both sides of the debate as to whether it is "just" a custom or was formally codified, but that's really not directly relevant here. – Robert S. Barnes Aug 3 '14 at 8:44

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