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Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In various places on this site, including the FAQ, we have the following disclaimer:

Like Wikipedia, this site makes no guarantee of validity, and does not offer professional (particularly rabbinic) advice. Treat information from this site like it came from a crowd of your friends.

As discussed here and here, this disclaimer is motivated by the concern that people might consult this site for personal advice about what Judaism says they should do instead of consulting their own Rabbi. Along similar lines, many people here include in answers about Jewish practice a recommendation that the reader consult their own Rabbi.

What is the reason for this concern?

Why is it so important to speak, in particular, to a Rabbi (and especially to "your local" one)?

What would be so wrong with simply using good-looking information from a site like this one that we need disclaimers all over the place and constant warnings?

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Is this a riddle? –  WAF Jul 29 '11 at 14:13
    
@WAF No. The question originates in genuine curiosity, and I've put sufficient information in to motivate it. I suppose I could take a crack at an answer (and may, but whatever), but I strongly suspect that there are others here that can write an answer that is better than anything I could write in both substance and writing. –  Isaac Moses Jul 29 '11 at 14:17
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Is this 'why ask Any Rabbi' and separately 'why ask One Rabbi'? –  zaq Jul 29 '11 at 15:22
    
@zaq - Astute point. I think the presumption is that the former is good and the latter is even better. Also, the motivations for the latter, I expect, is a superset of the motivations for the former. Therefore, a set of answer that explains the entire set of the motivations for the latter would necessarily answer the former as well. –  Isaac Moses Jul 29 '11 at 15:30
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Not answer worthy, but one reason for asking a rabbi is objectivity that you don't have about your own situation. –  avi Jul 31 '11 at 8:32

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1) a convincing argument doesn't make the conclusion the correct option 2)your local rabbi is important because of community standards. there are some halachic questions by which one should not deviate from what the community does. an example: some wear tefillin on chol hamoed and some do not.

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While there is an accepted Halachic framework for answering questions, an integral component of that framework involves local, or personal, custom; one need only look at any chapter of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Brurah to observe just some implications that custom has on practice. While you may say that the differences are only between Sephardic or Ashkenazic practice, in fact, different communities within each of those larger sets also have acceptable differences in Minhag (one of my favorites is to see who says, or doesn't say, Hallel in Maariv the first night of Pesach, as this does not even split uniformly between Ashkenazi and Sephardi in our community).

Presumably, your "Local Rabbi" would have a sense of how to answer a question with the most consistent application of those more local and personal nuances. It would be impractical for the questioner to provide all such information to a crowd-sourced site.

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  1. a rabbi has a broader veiw of halachah the one answering may know a certain subject very thoroughly but misses a important point from a different subject which is very relevant a rabbi is certified to answer all sorts of questions and will be able to answer alot more accurately
  2. a rabbi learns how to apply what he learns so that even if someone quotes all the right factors they may not know that certain ones dont apply if certain things are true
  3. a rabbi will know which questions to ask to find out all necessary factors which the one asking didnt consider important
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  • A Rabbi is an expert in his field and has studied for many years. If one needed medical advice, G-d forbid, they would never rely on "crowd-sourced" opinions of a question and answer website, but would go to a trained doctor with practical experience. If this is so with regards physical healing, how much more so when dealing with the health of one's souls.
  • A Rabbi is aware of personal circumstances. A Halachic ruling can differ depending on who it is for. For example, a case of הפסד מרובה would be different for a rich person and a poor person, and is up to the discretion of the Rabbi to determine. The answer may differ depending on the local community custom (Sefardi, Ashkenazi, Chassidish, Litvish etc.)
  • A Rabbi will answer the question with wisdom. It is not always enough for a Rabbi to be "book smart", but also needs to answer his questions wisely. For example, a non-religious couple in Russia had a son who was not healthy enough to have his bris on time. When he was one month old an argument ensued whether they could have a Pidyon Haben before the bris. The grandfather, a learned Torah scholar adamantly insisted that the bris should be done first, but his opinion was disregarded by the other Rabbis. The boy never ended up having a bris, and the grandfather later explained that he knew that the parents would only perform one religious ceremony for the baby, and that was why he wanted that to be the bris. There is often more to what a Rav rules than what is written in Shulchan Aruch.
  • A Rabbi has Yiras Shomayim. The very knowlege that a Jew will observe his ruling practically will cause the Rav to make a concerted effort that his ruling is sound and unbaised. (See Hayom Yom for 23 Adar II).
  • A Rabbi has Siyata Dishmaya - Divine Assistance. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (93b) says regarding Dovid Hamelech "וה' עמו - שהלכה כמותו"; "Hashem was with him" means that Halacha always favored his opinion. This shows that a correct legal decision requires not only astute reasoning but also Yiras Shomayim. One who posses such Yiras Shomayim is granted Divine assistance that his ruling should not cause others to err. The Lubavitcher Rebbe related the story of the Nodah Beyehuda who was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prauge at the young age of 42. Some felt he was not senior enough for the position and attempted to undermine his knowledge by presenting him with obscure Halachic questions but were unable to stump him. Finally someone asked him a question that he answered incorrectly and then proceeded to disprove the Nodah Beyehuda. The Noda Beyehuda replied: This question was obviously not Halacha Lemayse - a practical question, for if so I would have had Siyata Dishmaya to answer it correctly (Sicha from day of Simchas Torah 5736, par. 4).
  • A Rabbi has the power of Torah to affect the physical existence. The Gemora Yerushalmi brings a case were a girl lost her virginity after she turned three. Later, the Beis Din determined that that year should be a leap year and retroactively she was not yet three years old at the time. This Halachic ruling influences her physical body that her virginity will grow back. This unique power to create a "Psak Din" that establishes fact is given only to Rabbonim. The Chasam Sofer (O"C Siman 14) explains this in quite unambiguous terms that the nature of the world is subservient and influenced by the Torah. This is brought Lehalcha regarding Hilchos Vestos in Siman 189 Shach 13. For this reason the Lubavitcher Rebbe often asked Rabbonim to issue a Psak Din that Moshiach must come now.

Source: Many of the above ideas are from on the Sefer "13 Principles of Faith" (Gutnick Edition) by Rabbi Chaim Miller based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Principle Eight Lesson Three.

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Technically all that gemara proves is that when Hashem is with you you won't err (which is rather trivial), not that you won't err when Hashem is not with you. –  Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 2:55
    
@DoubleAA It may be possible to come up with the correct ruling even without Yiras Shomayim, but you are lacking the guarantee. –  Michoel Aug 27 '12 at 3:22
    
You mean 'without Siyata Dishmaya'? You're using those terms quite inconsistently. –  Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 3:36
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"This Halachic ruling influences her physical body that her virginity will grow back." Alternatively, what her physical body does is irrelevant and we just care about her halachik status. | Also you're whole paragraph about wisdom doesn't say anything about why a Rabbi would have that kind of wisdom any more than a wise average Joe. Even in your example, the grandfather was the hero by virtue of his being the grandfather, not his being a Rabbi. And if by wisdom you mean 'being aware of personal circumstances', then how is that different from item 2? –  Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 3:37
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@ba I didn't mean knowledge of circumstance; that was my second point, and was indeed lacking in that particular situation. I mean the Rav should be smart enough to answer the question appropriately (obviously within the confines of Halacha). For example for someone who is starting to become more observant a Rabbi will often answer differently to someone who has been frum his entire life. This requires more than just knowing the law, it involves him making a wise ruling appropriate for the particular person. (This often requires knowledge of the situation, but is in addition to it). –  Michoel Aug 27 '12 at 5:47

Aside from all the halachic considerations related to needing to ask your Local Rabbi (eg. knowing the nuance of your situation, taking all things into consideration, knowing the various sources relating to the issue, our desire not to cause others to make mistakes in Jewish law) there are two additional areas that add to the need to consult with your Local Rabbi:

  1. Some rabbis (called Poskim) have the ability to issue halachic rulings (called psak) which actually creates 'new' halachot that did not exist in a written source before. This is based on their knowledge and understanding of the existing body of halacha, the underlying motivations of that halacha, the intentions of Chazal (Talmudic Sages) and the current situation. This is not something that we have the power to do on this site, even if we have the requisite knowledge and understanding.
  2. Asking a question to your Rabbi is an excuse to develop a relationship with him and this is a very important part of growing as a Jewish person. Pirkei Avot (1:6) implores us to "עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר - make for yourself a Rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend" these two are listed in one breath to indicate to us that they are both about building relationships. It is crucial that a Jewish individual have and develop a relationship with a Rabbi that understands him and his situation, not merely so that said Rabbi can answer the individuals questions with ease, but, far more importantly, so that the individual becomes a part of the Jewish community, the Jewish chain of tradition and because having a relationship with a holy person brings one closer to God. It is crucial that we have role models in our life and not just those which sit on-high, but those who dwell among us and are involved in every aspect of our lives. This, and only this, is the type of relationship that helps us grow as a Jewish individual, as a person and as a servant of God.

For more on what the role of a Local Rabbi is (as viewed by everyday people), see the comments on this post. [Full disclosure: That post is from my personal blog]

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I don't feel the link above is gratuitous, if you do, please let me know so I can remove it. –  Adam Simon Aug 2 '11 at 13:08

Here are a few, off the top of my head:

  1. Often there are factors that you may not think are relevant when asking your question, but could certainly be. You may have looked up some kosher-kitchen question about vegetables, not knowing that onions have very different laws than potatoes.

  2. There are plenty of gray areas in halacha where the conclusion may be something like "it's best not to do such-and-such, but it's allowable in cases of great need"; if every Tom, Dick, and Harry would go around deciding for themselves what's great need, X% of the population will (wrongly) do it all the time, and Y% will (wrongly) refrain even when it's life-and-death.

  3. Someone other than yourself may be the best judge of the situation. You may say "it's not a great need", but a good rabbi may hear the anxiety in your voice that implies otherwise. Or the question may involve other human factors, where knowledge of the people involved is important.

  4. It provides a good "checkup opportunity" for all sorts of related issues. If a married couple brings a personal question to their rabbi, he can see if the interactions between them look healthy. If a man needs to shed his yarmulka or eat fruit at a non-kosher restaurant because of his job, it's important to make sure he isn't feeling alienated from Judaism.

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Many times practical halacha could be affected by something mentioned in passing in another source. A Rav has learned these things, is aware of them, and will adjust his ruling accordingly. A lay person may have learned the issue well but may be unaware of these modifiers.

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Specifically for the laws of bruchot, which are very complicated, it is stated (Bruchos 35a), that since it is assur (forbidden) to get pleasure from this world without saying a brucha you should consult a Scholar and learn the laws of bruchot from him, so you should not make a mistake and commit sacrilege. (Also, don't stop learning them from him so you don't forget them.) Any halachot that are assur to break, you are obliged to learn the halachot from a Scholar before you break them - specifically for bruchot though, you need to continue to learn them so you don't forget them.


This it's also an extention of "Cleaving to Hashem".

(Devarim 10:20) Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave, and in His Name shall you swear.

(Devarim 11:22) For if you will observe this entire mitzvah that I command you, to perform it, to love Hashem, your G-d, to walk in His ways and to cleave to Him.

We are supposed to cling to Hashem, but that's physically impossible. Instead, Kesuvos 11b, Berachot 10b, Pesachim 22b, say we should cleave to a Chacham by including them in all of our affairs, and listening to their opinions. Rambam says "cleaving to Hashem" is achieved by striving to know Hashem, which is achieved by knowing those that know Hashem, or learning torah from the Scholar.

Cleaving to one Rabbi is then also a reflection that Hashem is one.

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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 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".

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