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Halachic Questions in General


Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 14, 5775
95% of the time, when you ask an halacha question, before you even ask the question you know in advance what the answer will be: one rabbi will say “Yes”; another rabbi will say “No”; and a third rabbi will say “Well, it’s better if you don’t, but if you do it anyway you’re also OK”. Every possible outcome in the end is known to be equally valid from the beginning, since all responders are “proving” their points from valid sources. So instead of Halacha being a system that provides clear and meaningful answers to pertinant questions, all these halachic debates seem to be only like a game of amusement, in which the game itself might be amusing, but the outcome is not really important, since all possible outcomes are equally valid. And if the rule is that you can only ask once, it’s a game of trying to hit the right rabbi on the first shot. So why waste time even debating these issues? Why not let each individual do what he feels comfortable with, and 95% of the time it will turn out that he has what to legitimately rely on?
Shalom, Thank you for your question – it's quite a big one! Firstly let me point out that you have put things in an exaggerated light. Are 95% of halachic questions open to receiving both "yes", "no", and "perhaps" answers? When I think of all the questions put to me in the last week or so (tens of questions) it certainly does not seem as if you are correct. For example I was asked about a milk spoon used in a meat soup; the after blessing on rice; using tzadka money for educational needs; and on and on. Most questions have very little debate about them – such as talking in synagogue; saying lashon harah; killing my little brother who really annoys me; etc. There are not three possible answers to each of these issues. So, without resorting to pure rhetoric, let us perhaps examine the core issues of your question. The major issue is why is it that there are differing opinions about many halachic issues? This is a big topic – but in short it would be correct to say that halacha is a approach to real life, and as such it allows for many real and varied situations. It understands that not all situations are the same, and that not all people are the same. So it allows for times of need, financial difficulties, embarrassment, personal dignity, situations beyond one's control, illness (both minor and major), emergencies, community needs, and so on. At the other end of the scale, halacha understands that people are not "standard issue", and have the room to grow in their service of G-d. As such there is room for halachic rulings that go beyond the letter of the law, are stringent, more careful, push one further and so on. The skill (which hopefully your Rabbi will have) is to apply the correct ruling for the particular person in their unique situation. This takes not only years of learning sources, but also the ability to understand the questioner and their world. This is more of an art than a science. This is one of the reasons you will perhaps find differing opinions – not because halacha is an "every option is correct" practice, but because (within the framework of a taxing and rigorous system of holy law) there is a unique aspect of artistic application. Halacha is not about letting "each individual do what he feels comfortable with", but about a very real effort to live the lives that Hashem wants from us. If an individual were to study enough to be able to determine the law for themselves, that would be ideal. However, in the meantime, we will continue to turn to Rabbis who have not only spent years in halachic study, but have gained an appreciation as to how to apply that study to the real world. Blessings.
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