Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetzei| 5763
Ask the Rabbi
We felt it was time to take a break from doing what we’ve been doing and explain what we’ve been doing.
We at Eretz Hemdah, as part of the OU, Ask the Rabbi service, receive questions and answer them. Thus, one could say that this corner is for modern responsa literature. However, this is misleading, as we hope to explain.
Throughout the years, two basic types of questions have been posed to rabbis. Many millions of questions have been asked orally by congregants to their rabbis, with their answers lost for the most part to history. When a local rabbi felt that a question or issue was “over his head,” either in complexity or in gravity of consequences, he would send a letter to a recognized posek, explaining the situation from a rabbi’s perspective, and, sometimes, suggesting an analysis and conclusion for which he sought approval. This rabbi to rabbi correspondence was often saved, and some of it has come down to us as “Responsa Literature.”
We have been privileged to offer such a service, which began under the guidance of our mentor, Harav Shaul Yisraeli, and has been published to date in four volumes of Bemareh Habazak in a style we felt was appropriate for the times.
With the advent of the internet service, a new situation, with its related challenges, arose. The inquirer is not someone whom we know from our community or whom we can see. Neither is he a rabbi whom we know personally or by reputation, who can put the situation in the perspective we would like before we answer. Often the question comes to us specifically because the inquirer is looking for total confidentiality, and we cannot ask too many questions. And, thus, sometimes we cannot answer the question in the type of definitive halacha l’ma’aseh manner that may be desirable. Often, there is a kind of psychological or sociological detective game to try to determine, if possible, what some of the underlying issues and circumstances are, which might affect the bottom line. Is the question asked out of curiosity or out of distress? How will the content and even the tone of the response affect the person? Who wants information and who wants inspiration?
With you, our readers of Hemdat Yamim and Torah Tidbits, we do not, as a rule, share these personal types of issues. Usually, they are not chosen for publication (realize that, anyway, we receive around 30 questions a week). Other times, their personal touches are altered so that the question could have been asked by anyone, and the answer applies to as broad a spectrum of Jewish society as reads these publications (which is much more homogeneous than those who send questions). A person’s sensitive question should not stare him in the face in shul, even if his name has been omitted.
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