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.  

In terms of Talmud Torah:

  1. A teacher who knows more than you can provide you with information that you would not have access to (something that may have changed to some extent due to our reliance on books, something we will return to.)
  2. Learning from someone else, whether or not he actually knows more than you, helps you remember better.
  3. He links you into a tradition, giving you access to something you could not have without him.
  4. A teacher can provide a methodology of how to learn, analyze, and deal with sources.
  5. For those who themselves not scholars, it is important not only to be surrounded generally by scholars, but to have someone who specifically acts as your spiritual guide.

In terms of Psak:

  1. He may have information or the ability to analyze better than you.
  2. He has traditions that allow him to understand how psak works.
  3. Even if was as knowledgeable as you (or even less), it is important to have someone who can reveal your own biases or inconsistencies.
  4. Often you don’t trust yourself, so even if you could poskan yourself, it is helpful to have someone who can confirm that what you are saying making sense. Having a Rav can sometimes enable you to better rely on yourself.

Other ideas that emerge:

  1. You need to choose a Rav who you think is ethically – domeh lemalach.
  2. You need to recognize, however, that he is human, and not expect the impossible.
  3. You should choose a Rav who you identify with, whose goals are in line with yours.

Taken together, the reasons provided illustrate a balance between autonomy and authority. Yes, it is important to have someone who knows more and is more experienced than you, and you should recognize your own limits. On the other hand, sometimes you are correct in asserting your own autonomy, but it is still helpful to have someone who can make sure you are being honest with yourself, or confirm what you said makes sense. Even if you have an expansive understanding of the role of authority, the fact that you can choose your own authority based on your assessment of his character and the extent to which he identifies with you means that we cannot deny the role of the individual’s autonomy in a Torah world.

We will continue with these ideas in the upcoming shiurim.

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