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Say someone disagrees with the Chazon Ish or has a problem with the Aruch HaShulchan in a particular halachic area. Sure, they're no gadol, and they might have not even learned an extensive volume of halacha, but the way their challenge is treated is odd.

Instead of explaining why the reasoning is wrong for disagreeing with this gadol, often a learned frum individual will just say, "Who are you to disagree with a gadol?" In nearly any discipline, study, or area of thought, this is never an appropriate response to a challenge. Nobody is told that they cannot disagree with Keynes on economics, or with Newton in physics, or Herbert Spencer in sociology, et cetera. Challenges are welcomed, and if they're novice challenges, then they're rejected with logic and explanation quite quickly. However, I've seen this poor attitude in the frum community where legitimate challenges towards poskim are met with, "You haven't studied halacha your entire life, so how can you possibly challenge a great posek?" Why is this acceptable? Is this not just an argument from authority? I'm confused here. It just seems rude and often it avoids the actual question.

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Related: Iyov 38:1-2 –  Shmuel May 21 '14 at 4:07
If you assume rabbis are infallible, then a question on one logical point is an assault on their exalted status. –  Double AA May 21 '14 at 4:54
opposite judaism.stackexchange.com/q/34506/759 –  Double AA May 21 '14 at 4:59
@Yoni Perhaps, but the practical generalized point is very strong. Admitting a rabbi made a mistake is for most such an extremely far-fetched claim that it is basically a non-option. –  Double AA May 21 '14 at 5:28
Regarding a rebbe insulting/rebuking a student whose halachic opinions indicate flawed understanding due to inadequate study: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/14875 –  Fred May 21 '14 at 5:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If you find that your questions are not being received as they were intended and they were asked with the proper deference (כבוד רבך ככבוד שמים), perhaps you need to ask your question of authorities who are willing to address it, or are comfortable saying they don't know the answer - but may research it. Or, you can ask your question here where you have a decent chance that someone can answer your question. And on this web site, most people are pretty civil.

I personally have not experienced pushback when asking questions in a respectful tone unless the person being asked somehow felt intimidated by the question.

Also, as Fred pointed out, the resolution to your question may be extremely complex and beyond the reach of a novice. You need to appreciate your shortcomings which you may be able to overcome over time with additional studying. (Try explaining the proof to Fermats conjecture to anyone but an expert!)

On a personal note, many years ago I asked a world renowned halachik authority about a difficult passage in one of the Achronim. He agreed with my question. When I asked him if the Achron was wrong he simply responded that I did not have to learn that passage. That Gadol taught me that one can disagree with humility. I have often found that when I am sure I am right, I discover that I overlooked one trivial point which changes everything.

A Note About Respecting Authority

In any discipline, if you have a question regarding the position stated by a recognized authority in the field, it is somewhat rude and arrogant to assume that your question is a disagreement; it is much more likely that you missed some basic point than you have a legitimate point of contention.

Suppose you were a patient being wheeled in for an emergency operation and you disagree with the world renowned surgeon although you have not been schooled in medicine. Would you refuse surgery based on your own self declared expertise or would you defer to the world renowned physician?

In Torah, even more than in other disciplines, one must approach the discipline with humility and recognition that questions should be labelled simply as questions, not as disagreements.

At the same time, I believe, we must be open to all kinds of questions and not be afraid to ask any question. Judaism is a religion that embraces understanding, comprehension and depth and we should encourage discussion and debate as much as possible because only through questions can we grow in our understanding.

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Your doctor analogy is misleading because חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא and no one said they were acting on their new made up opinion. It's מלחמתה של תורה. –  Double AA May 21 '14 at 4:47
Yes, I'm not saying that anyone is acting on a psak. You can have problems with a psak and still act on it. I do that all the time. Plus, that's how I never hear it worded. In other words, I never hear, "Well, there's a better chance that you're misunderstanding some fundamental issue with this halachic question than that you managed to trump this gadol. So, for practical reasons, you should still act on the p'sak." –  rosenjcb May 21 '14 at 4:48
@rosenjcb My heart goes out to you if when you ask a question with humility you get "pushback". If that is the case, you need to ask people who don't feel intimidated by your questions. –  Yoni May 21 '14 at 4:53
I still don't see how this answers the question. Are you saying that brash people deserve to be responded to by avoiding the question? –  Double AA May 21 '14 at 4:57
@DoubleAA, while it may be true that חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא I think that the message of Yoni's analogy is still very cogent - there is a clear distinction between asking a theoretical question and having that question effect real practice. Claiming חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא ignores the real message that Yoni is trying to convey, no analogy is ever perfect down to all the fine details –  Jewels May 21 '14 at 7:46

The way in which The asker claims to have been answered is certainly questionable. I think it depends on who is being asked.

With people in general, it probably stems from humans being human. They live by the words of the challenged authority. Their choice of life stye is thus affronted and personally attacked, (in their minds). The appropriate response would be to answer, or to admit they don't know, but that they are sure there is an answer. If they are being rude or offensive, this is probably why.

It could also stem from an insecurity about, or an unwillingness to reveal their ignorance in the matter. When faced with either saying 'gee, I dunno' or denying your right to even ask the question that has stumped them, people may lean toward the latter.

They are acting emotionally, and should revise their behavior, but that's their problem.

The best thing to do is to seek out an authority. I have never had this issue with people who are sincerely committed to Torah study. When I have asked Rabbis or Shoel-Umeshivs, (basically people who are recognized as knowing different topics in the Talmud by the Rabbinate of a given Yeshiva), I have never been dismissed outright. I'd either get an answer, get an I don't know, or and Idk with follow up research a few days later (my favorite!)

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