Blog: July 2011

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Why should you "consult your local rabbi"?

A common response in online Jewish discussions -- I first saw it on Usenet on soc.culture.jewish -- is "consult your local rabbi" (or sometimes "consult your local orthodox rabbi (CYLOR)"). An early question on Mi Yodeya asked: why? Why is it necessary to consult a rabbi when you have a question about what you should do, when you could instead look up an answer online?

This is the answer I wrote for a community of people who answer non-personal questions online:

We are concerned with being the cause of somebody else erring. Parshat Kedoshim tells us "do not place a stumbling-block before the blind", which is interpreted to mean not only what it plainly says but also "don't be an enabler for a bad outcome". Causing somebody else to unknowingly transgress what God wants us to do is a pretty serious "bad outcome".

In order to become a rabbi one must study halacha (Jewish law) and the sources that inform it in depth. Non-rabbis can also be serious scholars and I wouldn't write off a lay person who is, but most people don't know one.

As for "local", I think this is shorthand for "consult someone who will be your rabbi". Pirke Avot tells us "make for yourself a rav"; this is because most questions are not so clear-cut, and individual circumstances can bear on the answer. The rav needs to know not only the specific question but what is causing you to ask it. For example (and I'm just making this up here; I am not a posek etc), if you ask the generic question "can I go to a church service?" the answer is generally going to be "no". If you ask "can I go to the wedding of the sibling I've just recently reconciled with, who is marrying out, but not showing up could undo that reconcilliation?", the answer might be different. Your rav should be someone who knows you and ideally you should be having these conversations face-to-face, hence "local".