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Sharing Surprising Grounds for Leniency


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Tamuz 5 5775
Question: A couple of times recently, I have been troubled by your columns, in which you entertain leniencies that I view as dangerous or against the spirit of halacha. Although you acknowledge that such leniency is only for great need, since those cases are rare, isn’t it wrong to share this with a broad readership, which includes people who might misunderstand or abuse the grounds for leniency? In one such column, you discussed the possibility of serving food in a non-kosher establishment, which is at least pas nisht (inappropriate).
Answer: The good point you make is one we do take into account. You have prompted us to highlight for our readership the background and goals of this column.
The OU Ask the Rabbi service, in which Eretz Hemdah plays a major role, provides an address to a wide variety of people throughout the world to ask questions that, for whatever reason, they are not asking to a local rabbi. Some questions are "cookie-cutter" questions, with one answer that fits all, irrespective of venue, circumstances, level of need, or halachic orientation. Other questions have different legitimate answers and are apt to be affected by circumstances.
We have several goals in sharing some of our answers with the public. One is to inform the masses how to act when they encounter the same circumstances addressed. However, there are other important goals. We treasure teaching Torah lishma, including regarding issues and cases that few are likely to encounter.
We also strive to expose our readership to a multi-faceted and, we pray, balanced approach to rendering halachic decisions. We aim for an approach that is traditional on one hand, but with an openness for innovative problem solving. We aim for high halachic standards, but with a realization that an objective or even a subjective need often plays an important role even according to these high standards. We view implementation of this balance as one of the most exciting and important elements of p’sak halacha.
One case-in-point is a set of teshuvot (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah II: 4, 5), in which Rav Moshe, in the course of a week, wrote ostensibly "contradictory" rulings to the same rabbi on the same case (a shochetwho publicly did something that was chillul Shabbat according to almostall rabbanim). The rulings are not contradictory because Rav Moshe begins the second responsum: "if we will forbid him … it will negate all that you have fixed with toil in the kashrut and the peace in the city." He follows with a novel leniency to allow the shochet to continue with certain provisions. It is fascinating that Rav Moshe was willing to publish (in 1973) the two responsa back-to-back without hiding his change of mind due to the circumstances. The first responsum remains the basic one. The second one demonstrates how he could "stretch" to be lenient when needed. It also teaches that when Rav Moshe ruled stringently even in the face of great need, it is not out of lack of effort.
We estimate that a clear majority of this column’s readers are solidly Orthodox English-speaking olim. As a rule, we would not consider (or allow our child) to be a waiter in an Israeli non-kosher restaurant. But Rav Ovadia allowed someone in great financial distress to be a cook in a non-kosher restaurant, until he could find another job, and published it (Yabia Omer, YD 6). Rav Moshe (ibid. YD I:51) allowed a delivery man in Europe (1929) to deliver pork. The Tzitz Eliezer (XVII:33) allowed a hospital nurse to freely serve/feed non-Jewish patients. Parallel circumstances that require analysis of the same issues/sources arise all around us.
We want our readership to enjoy the Torah’s richness and hone their halachic sophistication to know what to ask and how. We want them to know that while pas nisht should often preclude things, we subscribe to the approach of the many rabbis, from a variety of traditions, who search for solutions to "non-cookie cutter" cases. Sometimes such rulings should be kept quiet; sometimes they should be publicized. May Hashem protect us from mistakes.

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