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The Sliding Scale of Rabbinic Authority (Halachic Methodology 21)

This week I actually touched on some issues that I have discussed on this blog before.  I spoke about varying levels of authority within Halacha and shared some suggestions about how classic models might have been affected in the moment we live in.  Shiur and sources available: here.

Classically, there are three issues that determine whether someone is allowed to issue a psak on a certain issue.  The first is the intrinsic capabilities of a posek, highlighted by Chazal’s warning that those who are not qualified to poskan cannot and those who can poskan must.  The second is the extraneous factors that may limit someone’s ability to poskan, such as proximity to one’s rebbe.  This is also seen in the limitations of setting up a Yeshiva or giving smicha when one’s rebbe is in the vicinity.  The third is the nature of the issue being ruled on and whether it is defined as a psak (usually requiring a novelty) or simply a case of spit back.  Issues which are explicit in poskim are not defined as psak, and one may prevent an issur from being violated regardless of whether one’s rebbe is around.  Continue reading The Sliding Scale of Rabbinic Authority (Halachic Methodology 21)

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Kavod HaBriyot (Halachic Methodology 10, Shaat HaDechak Part 2)

Perhaps one of the most controversial issues in psak today is the nature of Kavod Habriyot and its function in psak.  Shiur and sources (which are important to see inside are available: here).

Before beginning, I offered the following framing for the issue.  It is well known that there are three cardinal sins for which a Jew must forfeit his life; all other sins are pushed aside for the sake of human life.  At first glance, Tosafot and the Chinuch argue about the nature of these laws.  Tosafot argue that intuitively one would know that all mitzvoth can be pushed aside for human life.  The only reason the Torah provides a possuk to allow one to violate a law is so people will not extrapolate from the cardinal sins to all other sins.  In other words – the given is that life is more important than mitzvoth, and one needs to prove otherwise. The Chinuch, on the other hand, when explaining the cardinal sins, writes that a good servant will give up his life for his master, and if we were not willing to do this for God, we would be derelict in our commitments.  In other words, given is that all mitzvoth are cardinal.  By God’s good grace, he does not require us to actually die for mitzvoth.  I have suggested that there is not dispute.  From God’s perspective, he values human life and therefore does not want us to give up our lives for most mitzvoth.  From our perspective, we must be willing to.  In practice, therefore, we rarely are asked to give up our lives, but when we are, we should recognize this is the exception and not the rule from God’s perspective.  [This is fleshed out in my article in Beit Yitzchak 41.]

With regard to Kavod HaBriyot, I suggest a similar model.  Continue reading Kavod HaBriyot (Halachic Methodology 10, Shaat HaDechak Part 2)