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?
Reading the teshuvot of Rav Asher Weiss is amazingly thrilling and comforting. The breadth of his knowledge, the strength of his arguments, his common sense, and his deep sensitivity shine through, making it clear that our generation has at least one amazing posek who will help us navigate the halachic issues that arise for many years to come. I spent a recent shiur (here) analyzing his teshuva in the second volume (#134) written to a Talmid Chacham with OCD. I used this shiur to explore how Halacha has come to recognize mental illness.
Classically, Halacha only recognized mental illness is very limited circumstances. For example, when psychological issues affected one’s physical well-being, we allowed breaking Shabbat to calm them down. This is the basis for all the things we are allowed to do for a woman giving birth to bring her yishuv hadaat. Similarly, Halacha has a category of shoteh, of someone who is simply not culpable because they are deemed legally insane. However, it is hard to find indications of poskim dealing with mental illnesses per se.
Yet, especially in the Charedi world, one sees a total acceptance of this, especially when it comes to OCD. Continue reading Mental Illness in Halacha and Rav Asher Weiss on OCD
The Gemara in several places justifies a Halacha with the phrase lo nitnah Torah lemalachei hasharet – the Torah was not given to the ministering angels. I explored the parameters of this principle in a shiur available: here. (For those who followed this year, this is related to last year’s series on Psak – this year’s series with begin after chagim.) Christine Hayes discusses this topic (here), and I mention several points from that presentation.
Before we get to the actual legal application of this principle, it is important to note that Chazal have a backstory to this. The famous Midrash (found in many places in Chazal in different forms, I focused on the one in Shabbat 88b-89a) tells about the argument between God and the angels when God decided to give the Torah to man. They claimed that man did not deserve this jewel that had remained in heaven for so long. God commands Moshe to respond to them. He shows them the Torah is made for human beings – people with desires that need to be controlled, parents that must be honored, with a history that must be remembered (Miztrayim), and so on. The angels give in and shower Moshe with gifts. Hayes notes that this notion – that human beings were an ideal of sort, that they had advantages over angels, but uniquely rabbinic. Continue reading The Torah was Not Given to the Ministering Angels
It is always fascinating to see how poskim deal with issue, concepts, and categories that are new to Halachic discourse. They have many options at their disposal – they can integrate them, ignore, them, or find precedent to explain why they are not new at all. One telling example is the question of intellectual property and copyright law. Classically, Halacha recognized ownership of tangible objects. The paradigm of stealing was the case of a weapon being stolen out of someone’s hand. Ideas were not owned. Even more than that, it was often acceptable to copy others ideas – it was a sign of respect. For example, the fact that a large majority of Chiddushei HaRashba and Ritva copy the Chiddushim of the Ramban is a sign of the prominence of the Ramban, even when they don’t cite him directly.` However, when the outside world started recognizing a notion of intellectual property, poskim had to decide how to respond. Continue reading Intellectual Property: When Halacha Has to Deal with New Categories