The Difficulty of Paskening for BTs

I talked to Rabbi Welcher about the difficulty of paskening for BTs.

In a nutshell, at the beginning, the basic psak strategy for a BT just starting out is to be lenient. But as the BT grows in their knowledge and observance, they move towards the normative halacha, and then as they continue to grow, they might well be machmir in situations that a yeshiva student, Kollel member or Rabbi/Rebbi would be machmir.

But the issue is dependent on the exact halachic area. If there is no difficulty in the BT following the normative halacha, it might be appropriate to follow normative halacha, and not be lenient, even in the beginning.

A second difficulty is how to assess exactly when and if the BT crosses various thresholds and grows in their Torah observance.

A third difficulty is that because of non religious family situations, BTs have a lot of complex shailos with many factors to consider.

Rabbi Welcher related that he once said to Rabbi Moshe Halberstam z”tl (niftar in 2006) that his only complaint as a posek was that he would like to trade the difficult questions that Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski z”tl (niftar in 1940 and one of the major poskim of the last 100 years) answered with the Baalei Teshuva shailos that have to be dealt with today. (The number of Baalei Teshuva grew massively after 1967). Rabbi Halberstam smiled knowingly.

So Baalei Teshuva can take solace in the fact that our shailos are among the most difficult. The flipside is that BT Rebbeim really need to know their halachic stuff.

8 comments on “The Difficulty of Paskening for BTs

  1. Interesting post. I think that at anytime, but especially with hozrim b’tshuvah, a rav should be ready to educate. This is especially germane with point #2. The rav may not know the questioner very well, or may not have a mandate to offer personal spiritual direction; but if he can present the options in his mind and explain their relevance, the questioner will be able to take the final responsibility for his action and choice of direction. It seems to me that is how many of my teachers guided me over the years. With a questioner who is early on his/her path of learning and doing, the rav may do a lot of long-term good by explaining the issue a bit and then present his answer. By doing so, he also has an opportunity to verify his understanding of the questioner’s dilemna. The difficult questions are not of the ‘kosher or not?’ variety. They are the questions regarding family relationships, attending functions, spouses in different places religiously, etc. I think that addressees a bit Judy Resnik’s point. Sometimes a rav in such a situation also needs to be able to show his respect and sympathy for the questioner’s difficulties.

  2. What if it’s the wrong posek?—an example:

    A rabbi acting as posek agrees to hear a shaila about the permissibility of doing X but, even after it’s repeated and explained, he seems reluctant to render a clear decision. He hints that doing X is wrong but won’t say so outright. The questioner asks for clarification and still gets vagueness. The frustrated questioner asks the posek if he would personally do X under these circumstances and is told that’s not germane. Evidently, the questioner is expected to connect the dots and not do X, but why that’s so and why there is no clarity are left to his imagination. If the posek was really unsure, why did he not take a timeout to ask a higher level posek or check his written sources?

    I can see how anyone, particularly a BT, could leave the above process in a negative mood.

  3. Maybe that’s why Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal was so beloved. He really cared about every question and every questioner.

  4. Judy, you may want to find a Rav who’s comfortable discussing issues, giving you basic parameters so you can then make your own decision. Alternatively, not every issue has to be presented as a question that requires the Rav to give an answer.

  5. The posek has to feel some basic kinship and spiritual connection with the questioner. To the degree that these are lacking, the advice can be off the mark even if the posek is well-versed in the basic subject matter. In addition, the posek has to be able to really hear what the questioner is saying.

  6. I find it very hard when a Poseik delivers his psak and it is something that makes my life difficult. Sometimes I feel that the Poseik did not really care about my situation. Not looking for heteirim: just wishing that the Rav would care about the effects that his Psak will have on my life.

    I remember the story about the famous Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zatzal, who poskened once that a poor woman’s chicken was not Kosher. He then took out money from his pocket so that the woman could buy another chicken for Shabbos. The poor woman did not want to accept his money. The Rav raised his voice and said: “I rule that your chicken is not Kosher, and I also rule that you must accept my money!”

  7. Might I suggest a few anonymous examples R. Welcher has faced and a brief description of the difficulty he had to deal with (and no need to tell what R. Welcher’s response was –the questions themselves would be interesting.)

Comments are closed.