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The earliest source I found is the Ramban who says in Pesachim 7b:

ועוד נ"ל שסדר ברכות הללו של שחרית ברכות שבח הן על נוהג העולם ואפי' לא שמע שכוי מברך עליו וכן בכולן, וכן נהגו ומנהג ישראל תורה היא

Is this the source of the expression? Are there any earlier sources?

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According to R. Dr. Haym Soloveitchik the term "minhag avoteinu Torah" or "minhag Torah hi" was likely coined by Rabbenu Yitschak ben Yehuda, a student of Rabbenu Gershom, and the rebbi of Rashi. He is certainly the first known Ashkenazi to use the term. [2]


[2] Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Kadmon. Published in Collected Essays II page 49.

  • Are you sure you have the correct citation? Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Kadmon is a book by Yisrael Ta Shma – wfb Feb 19 '16 at 17:03
  • @wfb I realized that this might cause confusion. Dr. Soloveitchik has a chapter of the same title responding to Ta-Shema. – mevaqesh Feb 19 '16 at 21:51
  • @wfb The correct title of the essay is actually “Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Kadmon: An Assessment”. – Oliver Jan 25 at 0:05
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Tosefos to Munachos 20b s.v. ונפסל says:

כל תענית שלא שקעה עליו חמה לא שמיה תענית ומנהג אבותינו תורה היא שהכל נוהגין עד צאת הכוכבים

Although the period of Tosefos extends past the Ramban, it starts earlier, and the discussion is about Rabbeinu Tam's opinion who was a century or so before. So that is a possible earlier source.

The underlying principle in both cases is found in the Talmud under the principle of פוק חזי מאי עמא דבר - see that entry in Wikipedia for further variations on that idea.

As far as I know, that is what there is with regards to the exact (or close to it) wording and concept, but the concept extends not only to observed custom establishing the Halacha where the exact source is lost, but to the power of the custom itself, for example the Yerushalmi Pesachim 4:5 discusses the custom to not work on Tisha B'Av was not formally instituted by the Rabbis - but it is still obligatory where it was practiced (according to Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel anyway).

Similarly Avos D'Rabbi Nasan 45 discusses a reward of women in this world is that they keep Rosh Chodesh more than men - a custom. This is brought in a parenthetical in the standard prints of Rashi Megillah 22b s.v. ראשי חדשים.

  • 1
    Thanks. The phrasing מנהג אבותינו תורה has led me to a number of earlier sources, e.g. Machzor Vitri: ומנהג אבותינו תורה היא לומר קרבנות של יום ויום – wfb Jun 17 '15 at 21:39
  • @wfb, there you go! Nice. – Yishai Jun 17 '15 at 21:42
  • @wfb why not edit that into your question? – mevaqesh Jun 17 '15 at 22:18
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    @wfb Why not post that as an answer? – msh210 Jun 18 '15 at 22:24
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This is not the same exact phrase as found in the Rishonim, but I'm willing to guess the source of their wording is based of this Yerushalmi in maseches Ksuvos 1 1.

רבי ירמיה סבר מימר מנהג יהודה בגליל אמר ליה רבי יוסי וכי מנהג יהודה בגליל עדות תורה היא אלא מנהג יהודה ביהודה ומנהג גליל בגליל מכיון דתימר אינה עדות תורה לא יעמוד אלא כו׳

This is juxtaposing one part of Klal Yisroel's minhag against another part, resulting in the statement that a particular minhag is not Torah excepting its own locale. But this does lead to the logical outcome that when all of Yisroel keep a certain minhag, that is Torah.

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    I don't think that's what the Y'rushalmi means by "וכי מנהג יהודה בגליל עדות תורה היא". According to the P'nei Moshe, this rhetorical question means that, since it is not the minhag to appoint shoshvinin in the Galilee, non-observance of this practice doesn't impeach a husband's טענת בתולים (i.e. since appointing shoshvinin is not a biblical prerequisite for a husband's claim, nonobservance in the Galilee does not impeach his claim). The Korban HaEida provides similar explanations. – Fred Jun 19 '15 at 0:48

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