Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Benefit of a Shayla being LiMaaseh

A quick follow-up on my post earlier this week: here.  The Netziv was asked whether it is better to derive psak from poskim’s theoretical discussions in the sugyot or from teshuvot.  While the shoel assumed it was the former – the unbiased, pure discussion, taken up with the luxury of not having to respond in real time – was superior.  The Netziv averred, claiming that it was specifically the difficulty of psak that forces poskim to fully flesh out issues.  This adds another angle to the discussion – the knowledge the psak is so complicated forces poskim to take responsibility in a way lomdus does not.  Below is the passage from the Netziv:

שו”ת משיב דבר חלק א סימן כד

וע”ד אשר הציע מע”כ נ”י דעת אביו הגאון זצ”ל שלא להדפיס תשובותיו אשר השיב הלכה למעשה מטעם שאין לסמוך כ”כ על התשובה כמו על מש”כ בדרך לימוד אותו ענין, והקיף הסוגיא על בוריה יותר ממה שמקיף הענין בעת שבא לשואלו דבר וסמך דבריו על מה שהסכימו הפוסקים לסמוך על פסקי הרא”ש יותר מעל תשובותיו, וסיים עוד מה שאמרו חז”ל אין למדין הלכה מפי מעשה זה תורף דברי מע”כ נ”י בשם אביו זצ”ל:

אולם לדעתי הדלה אין הדברים נכונים כלל בטעמם ואדרבה בשעה שמשיבים הלכה למעשה באים לעומק הענין יותר ממה שבא הענין בדרך לימוד וגם סייעתא דשמיא עדיף בשעת מעשה וכבר אמרו חז”ל במס’ כתובות (דף ס ע”ב) דסייעתא דשמיא מהניא טובא להוציא הוראה כהלכה, והכי אי’ בב”ב (דף קל ע”ב) אין למדין הלכה לא מפי לימוד ולא מפי מעשה עד שיאמר לו הלכה למעשה ועי’ בפי’ רשב”ם, וכן בסנהדרין (דף פו ב’) לענין זקן ממרא שנה ולמד כדרך שהיה לומד פטור ואם הורה לעשות חייב אלמא היכא דהורה לעשות עדיף. והא דהסכימו הפוסקים דסומכין על פסקי הרא”ש ז”ל יותר מעל תשובותיו במקום שמחולקין אין זה מסברא אלא מגמרא מפי בנו רבינו יהודה ז”ל ומסתמא ידע בנו זצ”ל דהפסקים היו מאוחרים לתשובותיו וחזר בו רבינו הרא”ש ז”ל תדע שהראנ”ח בתשובה ח”א (סי’ מ”ו) כתב שאם יודעים שחזר מפסקיו לתשובה התשובה עיקר אלמא דעיקר הטעם דמסתמא הענין להיפך דחזר מתשובה לפסקים:

The Complexity of Psak

This week I dealt with the complexity of pesak.  After having spoken about some of the factors poskim weigh when making a decision, it was important to deal with how difficult it is to assess Halachic questions.  This is true on several levels.

The first is on the level of theory.   Complex issues deal with a range of Halachic issues and it takes someone who has 1)master of all relevant texts, 2) the ability to analyze those texts, and 3)the imaginative capacity to figure out all potential relevant questions to bring the material together.  I have written about R. Lichtenstein’s description of the ideal posek before: link.

The second is on the level of reality.  Even once one has determined the theoretical issues, one needs to assess the facts.  They can often be difficult to understand, and may change from place to place and time to time.  As an example, I mentioned Rav who spent 18 months with a shepard to figure out the difference between temporary and permanent blemishes (relevant for pidyon bechor).  [See sources for Chasam Sofer and R. Aharon Kahn who deal with the Talmud Torah status of the necessary fact finding for Halachic issues.] Continue reading The Complexity of Psak

Authority, Custom, and Independent Analysis: Halachic Methodology 2


This week’s shiur (link)dealt with the relative weight given to three of the main factors in pesak.  The first is textual precedent or authority; the second is custom (popular and rabbinic); the third is interpretation of canonical texts, or how one understands the Gemara.  While no posek makes decisions by relying on one of these, poskim differ on how much relative weight they give to these three factors.

I captured these three factors by highlighting how poskim in varying generations related to them.  I began with the generation of Rabbi Yosef Karo, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, and Rabbi Shlomo Luria.  Rabbi Yosef Karo, authored the Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch.  Continue reading Authority, Custom, and Independent Analysis: Halachic Methodology 2

Halachic Methodology Shiur 1 Summary: Eilu V’Eilu and Why Psak is Binding

This week I started a series in Yeshiva on the Halachic process.  I will try to write a brief summary of the shiur (really for myself) and post it.  However, the summary will be rough, as I will attach an audio version of the shiur. 


I started with a discussion of Eilu V’Eilu and the question of whether Halacha conceives of multiple legal truths.  While the simple understanding of several Gemarot imply that it does, many Rishonim and Achronim rejected this, for the obvious philosophical reasons.  Namely, truth implies that something else cannot be both contradictory and true (by virtue of the law of non-contradiction).  However, some sources, most famously the Ritva citing the Tosafot and the Ketzot believe that there are multiple halachic truths. 

For my purposes, this was important to understand the place of process in Halacha.  For those who believe in one Halachic truth, process is 1) the best way of getting to the truth and therefore 2) the means God commanded us to use to seek the truth.  However, it is possible for the process to yield the false conclusion.  Despite this, we would be commanded to follow the result the process yielded
(see the introduction to Igrot Moshe). 

For those who believe in multiple truths, ironically, process is even more important.  If process is not simply a means to seek truth (as there are many), process is what creates the binding status of a specific decicsion (this point was made by Rabbi Michael Rosensweig).   As a parable for this, I noted the position of the Ritva who believes that psak is binding because it creates a Halachic reality for the one who asked the Halachic shayla.  This contrasts the Rishonim who believed psak was binding as a vow or because one is obligated to show honor to the posek.  Continue reading Halachic Methodology Shiur 1 Summary: Eilu V’Eilu and Why Psak is Binding