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Joshua Cypess
+ Your AuthorsArchive @JoshuaCypess PhD social scientist & Orthodox Rabbi. We're all in this together. He/him. #BlackLivesMatter #Steelers #Mets #Resist Jul. 21, 2021 4 min read

1/ #ReshetKeshet

I had intended to write a lot more this week, especially about #DafYomi because some of my favorite topics are being covered, so I want to at least say something quick today about Sukkah 14b & "emergency halakhah": 

2/ During the height of the pandemic, especially before Pesach, many rabbis needed to issue extreme leniencies. I've been asked why we don't allow these lenient positions all the time.

If it's permitted once, why not all the time? If it's fundamentally wrong, why allow it now?

3/ Today's daf has the rabbis saying to Rebbe Yehudah: "How can you bring proof from emergency times?" meaning that this type of ruling is automatically presumed to be contingent & conditional to specific, desperate circumstances. 

4/ Again, why should that be? While some posekim, especially from the "Chumra Schools" (like pietists and yiddeshe quakers) try to avoid any leniency as sub-optimal, or who want to maintain a fiat culture of dependency on rabbinic leadership, that's not my ideology nor daat-emet.

5/ There are a few ways to think about it. I start from the position that there's Torah Mi-Sinai and the job of rabbis through the generations is to get as close as possible to what God intended. This takes a combination of enormous Torah knowledge plus a decisor's personality.

6/ A decisor (our Jewish-Academy term for a posek), like all leaders, must feel responsible for the welfare of those they lead. Leadership requires self-sacrifice, not only in time & effort but also emotion, empathy, and a shared fate.

7/ Emergency psak often relies on minority opinions that the academy has rejected over generations. We don't think the view is correct, but as anyone who learns Torah in depth knows, we record the minority/rejected opinions as part of the faithful transmission of mesorah.

8/ In an emergency, we can sometimes reach for this minority view even though generally we think it's unreliable or maybe wrong. In a pinch, I can rely on it and allow those whom I lead to follow it.

If it turns out I'm wrong, who pays the price?

Me. The posek.

9/ This is my view, yet I believe it's what I've been taught. When I issue a psak, I'm responsible for it being wrong. The sin, so to speak, is on *my* head, not yours.

[Naturally, there are those who disagree. See Horayot & who brings a chattat with an erroneous Sanhedrin]

10/ So one reason I'm reluctant to give these emergency leniencies all the time is because I think they're generally wrong and I don't want to be responsible for leading people astray, causing them to sin and also absorbing *their* sins, so to speak. 

11/ But in an emergency I can absorb the risk because, as a posek, I do have the ability to issue an emergency ruling (a "hora'at sha'a") that's generally acceptable as long as it doesn't violate the cardinal sins. [There's inside baseball for how this works. But I'm being brief]

12/ A disclaimer: I've never been a real posek, only a "mara d'atra", and I'm no longer that right now either.

Meaning: the academy hasn't accorded me the recognition as a posek - rightfully IMO - but as a shul rabbi I was given some of this authority. 

13/ A metaphor for this process is poss. experimental medical treatments. If you're staring down at 100% fatal, then a cure with a 10% chance is worth trying. So too, in an emergency psak: we don't think the position is so solid, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

14/ This is not a solid metaphor because in the medical case there 10% chance to succeed and the cost of failure - it doesn't cure, or the cure is poison itself - is death. Not so with psak: I guarantee it will work. The cost is incurred by me, the rabbi.

15/ But I'm willing to accept the cost because that's the risk and responsibility of leadership. It's why I learned so much Torah and placed myself in position to share the burdens of a community.

I was given these gifts of insight, memory, and empathy for this reason, I feel.

16/ There are many other factors for how leniencies are constructed, escape valves built into d'rabbanans that allow us to break-glass-in-case-of-pandemic. Inside baseball, as I said above.

But today's #Daf is clear: these rulings are effective but not meant as proof.

17/ That will be it for now. Please God, next Pesach we'll be all healthy, free, and able to bring a korban Pesach (once I'm asking, might as well go whole lamb). #Torah #Halakha #MetaHalakha


please compile.

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