Monthly Archives: November 2014

Avadim and Kedushat Yisrael

There is a machloket Rishonim and poskim whether women can make berachot on positive time-bound mitzvot from which they are exempt. Ashkenazi psak generally follows the position of Rabbenu Tam that they can, and Sefardi psak generally follows the position of Rambam that they cannot. The Gemara derives that the an eved kenaani has the same level of obligation in mitzvot as a woman. The Rav claimed (I have heard this from R. Lichtenstein and R. Rosensweig, and it is found in Eretz HaTzvi page 140) that despite this similarity, no one would agree that an eved kenaani could make a beracha. He claims that women, while technically exempt from some mitzvot, have full kedushat yisrael, so if they choose to engage in optional mitzvot, they can still say that God commanded “us.” An eved, on the other hand, has at best a partial kedushat yisrael, so he cannot say berachot. He can not say that he was sanctified and commanded along with the Jewish people. While there is a distinct logic to this argument, it is difficult to claim that we derive the level of obligation from one to the other, but not the nature of the obligation. More importantly, I discovered this week that the Rambam explicitly rejects this claim about kedushat yisrael. The context of this teshuva is hafrashat terumah – where he permits avadim to separate terumah. Continue reading Avadim and Kedushat Yisrael

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The Benefits of Asking a Shayla in Person – From the Geonim

I noted in my last post (here) that Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, among others, opposed ruling on Halakhic matters on the phone, emphasizing all the benefits of speaking to a posek in person.  While listening to a shiur by Professor Jeffery Woolf (here), I discovered that similar arguments were offered by Rav Sar Shalom Geon (9th century) for why the Geonim preferred not to write commentaries on the Gemara (which would have made them publicly accessible) and instead preferred that people direct their questions to them.  He notes that in person, it is easier to clarify, be through, make sure there are no misunderstandings, etc. Continue reading The Benefits of Asking a Shayla in Person – From the Geonim

Mara D’Atra in a Globalized World

As we discussed in our shiur on Aseh Lecha Rav, one of the central roles of a Rav is to provide a posek that people are both obligated and permitted to rely on. On the one hand, having a posek limits what opinions one can rely on; on the other, one can rely on the kullot of his posek even when it may not reflect the consensus psak. We explored the authority and definition of a Mara D’Atra. The shiur is available here.

The Gemara downright celebrates the freedom that comes from having a local posek. While the majority opinion claimed that while brit milah can be done on Shabbat, all preparatory actions must be done before Shabbat, with no reservations it declares that in the place of R. Elazar, who permitted doing these action on Shabbat, that his position was followed. Similarly, the Gemara does not hesitate when it says that in the Galil, where R. Yosi was the posek, the people ate chicken and meat together. The Ritva notes that having a Mara D’Atra, a local posek, a master of the region, provides people with their own source of authority – to whom lo tasur applies.

However, the Rashba extends this idea beyond a local living posek. Continue reading Mara D’Atra in a Globalized World

Authority vs. Autonomy in Psak and Aseh Lecha Rav (The Role of Baal HaBatim in Psak 2)

To begin our investigations into the role of laity/baal habatim in the Halachic process, it was helpful to begin with the question of why one would choose a Rav – what is the purpose of bringing an authority figure into your life.  The shiur is availabe: here. For completeness, we explored the roles of a Rav both as teacher of Torah and as posek. We avoided the exegetical question of whether the two mishnayot in the first Perek of Avot that suggest “aseh lecha rav” are dealing with the same issue or not, and instead enumerated all the benefits to having such an authority figure that appears in the meforshim.  Through this we explored the balance between authority and autonomy in Halachic literature.   Continue reading Authority vs. Autonomy in Psak and Aseh Lecha Rav (The Role of Baal HaBatim in Psak 2)

Can I Cause You to Do Something that is “Not that Dangerous”?

I recently gave a shiur (here) on Shomer Petaim Hashem, the principle that asserts that certain actions which are sometimes dangerous are permitted if people regularly engage in them.

I was asked the following question:  Am I allowed to put someone else in a position of potential mild danger (without their explicit permission), if the danger is minimal enough and engaged in regularly enough that we assume it is permitted based on the principle of Shomer Petaim Hashem?  Do I have to be concerned that they want to worry about the unlikely danger despite the fact that Halacha does not mandate that they do?

Logically, I would suggest as follows:  There are two ways to understand the principle of Shomer Petaim.  Either things that normal people do cease to be considered dangerous Halachically, or despite that fact that they are somewhat dangerous it is permitted to engage in these types of activities – it is a heter. Continue reading Can I Cause You to Do Something that is “Not that Dangerous”?

What is the Role of “Baal Habatim” in Psak?

Last year I devoted my series on the methodology of psak to the issues that poskim deal with when making decisions. This year, I want to explore the role of the “baal habatim” in psak – the balance between authority and autonomy, how one picks poskim, why one is bound to psak, when one can poskan for himself, and other related issues. Anyone who has ideas, please leave them in the comments.

To begin with (here), I outlined five models of psak which highlight the balance of power between poskim and the laity, using mostly teshuvot that I have dealt with in previous shiurim: Continue reading What is the Role of “Baal Habatim” in Psak?