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Which halachic authority to follow


Rabbi Elchanan Lewis

Kislev 5, 5769
Shalom. I am a baal/teshuva convert, the son of a Jewish father and a Conservatively converted mother; I was raised Jewish (with a not insignificant Jewish identify, though not Orthodoxy at all), and have since done a Rabbanut conversion. (Thus, I call myself both a baal teshuva and a convert.) Due to my background, I feel no particular affinity towards either Ashkenazism or Sefardism. All the more so, the choice between (having chosen Ashkenazi, choosing) Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, and Russian; or (having chosen Sefaradi, choosing) between Iraqi, Moroccan, Algerian, Spanish-Portuguese, Dutch, and Persian, is an utterly ridiculous one. I don’t feel any more connected to any one tradition than to any other. So just as I feel neither Ashkenazi nor Sefaradi, I don’t feel Dutch versus Iraqi or Hungarian versus Polish. Now, nominally, I am Ashkenazi; I put on tefillin standing, daven nusah Ashkenaz, etc. But on the other hand, I do eat kitniyot, because my parents never taught me otherwise! Actually, I wear Ashkenazi tefillin and daven Ashkenaz because that’s what the proprietor at the Judaica store taught me; if he had given me Chabad or Iraqi, I wouldn’t have known the difference at the time! Similarly, I feel no particular affinity to the Ramah. I feel no closer to him, culturally or geographically, than to the Beit Yosef. True, my father’s side is from Hungary, but this means extremely little to me; I feel no bonds of loyalty or solidarity with Lithuania or Poland or Hungary. My only tie to Ashkenazism is that I come from America and share my American-ness with other American Ashkenazim, and that I made aliyah, means my American-ness apparently wasn’t so important to me! Actually, those with whom I feel close are those who culturally and ideologically I have rapport, including: - R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch - R’ Dr. Isidore Epstein and R’ Dr. J. H. Hertz - R’ Dr. Eliezer Berkovits - R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch - R’ D. Z. Hoffman - R’ Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg - R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch - R’ Benzion Uziel, R’ Hayim David Halevy, R’ Marc D. Angel - Did I mention R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch? - R’ Kook - Don’t forget R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch! It’ll be seen that if anything, I am a yekke, but there is no veritable viable yekke community today, and certainly not any written halachic tradition (save assorted shu"tim, and R’ Hirsch’s Horeb). So choosing to be a yekke in a halachic sense is not viable, although hashkafically it is without a doubt where I stand. Now then, to my question: I am looking for a way to learn halacha in such a way as to gain the most breadth of opinions, without dogmatically taking any sides. My ideal posek would be one who arbitrates between ALL the aharonim indiscriminately, such as weighing Beit Yosef against Ramah, Mishnah Berurah against Kaf haHaim, Kitzur Shulhan Aruch against Ben Ish Hai, etc., just as any posek will weigh Mishnah Berurah against Aruch haShulchan or Magen Avraham against Taz and Shach, etc. In other words, my ideal posek would be one colorblind to differences between Ashkenazim and Sefaradim. Unfortunately, I do not believe such a posek exists. The next best thing would be for me to learn whichever halachic compendium has the most breadth, giving me the widest range of opinions, about which I can then ask my own rabbi. He will have the final say, but I will at least have familiarity with as much as possible. (Obviously, if I had the time or ability, I’d simply study everything! Mishnah Berurah, Aruch haShulhan, Kaf haHaim, Ben Ish Hai, Hayei Adam, etc. But that luxury I lack.) I plan on studying Rabbi Hayim David Halevi’s Mekor Hayim, but what would be advisable after that? I wish to add that I do not wish to limit myself to Orah Hayim; Rabbi Hirsch writes in a private letter (published in the Soncino Horeb) that one could write an entire book on the damage done by only studying 1/4 of the Shulhan Aruch. Obviously, bz"h, someday I know all these sources, plus the Gemara, nay the GemarOT; plus the whole Misha, nay the Tosefta too; the rishonim...etc. etc. But my goal right now is to have as much breadth in halacha l’maaseh as I can, without myopically and dogmatically limiting oneself to only half of the Jewish tradition (Ashkenazic or Sefaradic). Thank you. Sincerely, Student at Machon Meir
As a convert you have the privilege to chose and pick your customs. You will not find a Posek that combines Ashkenazi and Sepharadi Halacha since they are different, you can’t eat and not eat Kitniyot on Pesach following both Rema and Shulchan Aruch. I would recommend you learn some of the different Ashkenazi Poskim and some of the different Sepharadi Poskim and see which one you feel touches your heart deeper and follow him. I any event it is always better to consult a rabbi that knows you and I am sure in Machon Meir you can find someone to speak to.
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