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Thought for the Day: Epochs of Torah Leadership By S'farim

As is well known to anyone studying gemara, there are distinct epochs of Torah leadership.  My introduction to this idea was one shabbos after mincha in Dallas where I heard my first gemara shiur.  After about two minutes I turned to my friend Jacques and said, "What's a tanna?"

I've come a long way since then and have a pretty good picture of Torah leadership.  One thing that has always been striking to me is how sharp the boundary is between different epochs.  Klal Yisrael just seems to know when a new epoch is beginning.  Thinking about it recently, I noticed that at the boundary of each epoch there is a seminal (mostly halachic) work that summarized the current state of affairs.  That work does not become the final word on the topic, but it does become the basis for future commentary.  It seems to me the following are the relevant works:
  • Tanna'im end with the Mishna.
  • Amora'im end with Gemara.
  • Savora'im and ga'onim end with the Rif.
  • Rishonim end with the Shulchan Aruch.
  • Achronim end with the Mishna Brura.
Of course there are other important works, but it seems to me that these works occupy a special place in our history.  Interestingly, one could also say that Chumash ends and era and Na"Ch ends another era.  I have no idea of these works are just particularly clear or if they just happen to appear as the Torah leadership is feeling it is time for a change.  I am actually pretty sure that the two go hand in hand and there is nothing "just" about it at all.


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