Category Archives: Halacha

When Can You Poskan For Yourself?

Can you poskan for yourself? Does making decisions for yourself have the same limitations of general psak? I dealt with this issue in two parts.  The first shiur is available: here, and summary below. For now, I will ignore the questions of bias, and return to that in my next summary (the shiur is available: here).

In general, when ruling on a question, there are three factors that must be taken into account (we have discussed this previously: here):

  1. Are you qualified?
  2. Are there external reasons (such as Kavod HaRav) that prevent you from answering?
  3. Is what you are saying considered psak?

Continue reading When Can You Poskan For Yourself?

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Lo Tasur and Daas Torah

When discussing the balance between authority and autonomy in Halacha, one of the central modern issue that arises is that of Daas Torah – what is the extent of rabbinic authority even beyond limited Halachic issues? To set up the background for the modern issue, it is important to explore the concepts that are used to argue that Daas Torah is a classic Halachic/Hashkafic category – starting with the most basic question of rabbinic power – Lo Tasur.  Shiur and sources: here.

In Lo Tasur we need to ask several questions: 1) Why do we listen? Does the obligation to listen to the Rabbis imply infallibility, or do we have to listen even though we understand that they are fallible? Do we listen even if we think they are wrong? 2) What Rabbis are granted authority by this obligation? 3) What does it extend to? Only Halacha? Hashkafa? More mundane issues? Continue reading Lo Tasur and Daas Torah

Why Would the Psak of the Chief Rabbinate be Binding?

In an attempt to synthesize the issues I dealt with in the last few weeks, I examined a few attempts at grounding the Halachic authority of the Rabbanut HaRashit, showing how the issues raised about Aseh Lecha Rav, the authority of Mara D’Atra, and the binding nature of psak all play out.  The shiur is available: here.

The first attempt I dealt with was R. Yisraeli. In Amud HaYemini 6, assumes that psak is binding because the process of psak creates a metaphysical status. He thinks this is based on assuming that there are multiple potential truths. Thus, psak determines which truth one must follow. He goes further and argues that the authority of poskim to create this status is derived from the people asking the questions. By asking, they transform the posek into their personal Rebbe. With this, one can easily understand where the authority of a Mara D’Atra comes from – he is the defacto posek of the area, and thus his psak automatically become binding Continue reading Why Would the Psak of the Chief Rabbinate be Binding?

Why is Psak Binding?

Why is psak binding? This question is central in our exploration of the role of the laity in the Halachic system. The idea of binding psak highlights the limits of autonomy and the power of authority. Where does the idea come from and what is its nature? For a full treatment, see the shiur and sources (here). Below are the central points.

The Gemara rules that if one Chacham forbade something, another Chacham is not allowed to permit it. In another place, the Gemara forbids one who asked a shayla from asking another posek. While Tosafot seems to think there is only one prohibition, on the Chacham, the simple understanding of the Gemara is that these are two prohibitions. Why is it forbidden? Continue reading Why is Psak Binding?

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?

Nachat Ruach: The Right of Religious Experience? (And Some Comments about Dancing with Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah)

Is there a “right to religious experience”? This was the question Rabbi Aryeh Klapper posed in the context of Halacha and disabilities this past summer. I was supposed to give a shiur on this topic at the Summer Beit Midrash, but due to the situation here in Israel, our flight was delayed and I never made it to Boston. However, I gave the shiur recently, (here) and I hope it sheds some light on that question. At the end, I will make some comments about women dancing with the sefer Torah on Simchat Torah, just to frame the issues a bit.

I noted first that it is general difficult to speak about rights in the context of Halacha, a system built around obligations. However, I noted that the Gemara was aware that pastorally it is not always effective to reject any claim to desire for unjustified religious experience on the basis that there are no rights in Halacha. As an example, I mentioned the famous story about Hillel, Shamai and the Ger who wanted to be the kohen gadol. Shamai, upon hearing the demand, threw out the potential Ger. Hillel accepted him, but led him to understand why he could not be the kohen gadol (“even the king of Israel would be put to death for trespassing in the Mikdash”), and enabled the Ger to enter the Jewish people and accept the limitations that were placed on him. Both Hillel and Shamai take as a given that limitations are placed on people’s religious experience, but only Hillel understands that one has to be sensitive and smart when explaining this to people. For this he is praised and Shamai critiqued.

There is, however, one concept that may indicate a measure of “right to religious experience” – nachat ruach. The Gemara in two places records that although women are not obligated to do semicha on korbanot, they were permitted to according to some positions to allow for nachat ruach – to make them happy. The Gemara then has two stages. In the first, the Gemara assumes that semicha did not need to be done with full force. If it had, then women could not do it without an obligation as that would have been meilah, illicit use of kodshim when they leaned on the animal. The second stage assumes that semicha does require full force, but assumes that women did a pseudo-semicha. The Gemara seems to have allowed it despite concerns of marit ayin. 

Continue reading Nachat Ruach: The Right of Religious Experience? (And Some Comments about Dancing with Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah)

Sleeping in the Sukkah – The Primary Part of the Mitzvah?

Many people think about eating in the Sukkah as the main mitzvah, probably because the minhag (as Shulchan Aruch notes in Orach Chaim 639:8) is to only make the Bracha when eating.  This is based on the position of Rabbenu Tam who claims that the “primary dwelling is eating”, which seems to be is meant to be a comment about berachot rather than the nature of living in the Sukkah.  Nevertheless, some people think that eating is the central mitzvah.  However, the simplest understanding of the Gemara is that the mitzvah is not to do a series of actions in the sukkah, but rather to live in the took – teshvu k’ein taduru.  As such, eating is just one part of living.  The Rambam rules that one makes a bracha every time one enters the sukkah, making it clear that eating has no special status, even on the level of brachot (leaving the first night aside).

However, it should be noted that the Leket Yosher citing the Terumat HaDeshen claims that the primary mitzvah is sleeping in the sukkah.  For this reason he claims that one cannot sleep in the sukkah on Erev Chag so that people will sleep l’teavon – desire to sleep (as if a nap has ever made me want to go to sleep less on a Yom Tov…).  This is both novel because it puts sleep front and center, and because of the obligation to desire to live in the sukkah, parallel to the one does not eat matzah erev Pesach so that he will desire matzah.  These points are highlighted and developed by R. Menachem Kasher in Divrei Menachem 4:24 (here).  The previous responsum deals with what else is prohibited on Erev Chag (or why things are not prohibited according to most poskim).

Yes, there are many halachic suggestions as to why most people, at least in Chutz LaAretz don’t sleep in the sukkah, but the simplest understanding of the Gemara is that one must, and, as the Leket Yosher notes, it may be even more important than eating.  (This provides an interesting explanation for why the Gemara says one can snack but not nap out of the sukkah, even though both acts are arai –  though the Gemara provides another reason.)

Anyways – just some pre-Chag thoughts.  Chag Sameach!