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It seems to me obvious that certain sheilos are best dealt with by only the leading Rabbanim. At the same time colloquially we often say a Rabbi has "paskened" a sheilah when the answer is fairly straight forward.

Is there a technical distinction in the Poskim which differentiates between a Rav and a "Posek"?

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    I think this is a great question loaded with issues that would generate much discussion in a blog, but it is hard to answer it with sources and I challenge those who do answer it to try to bring a source whenever possible because of the importance of the issues it involves. – Yahu Apr 20 '10 at 18:24
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    See also mi.yodeya.com/questions/6979 – msh210 Apr 24 '11 at 18:46
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    Perhaps a Rav can teach halakha, but a Poseik can innovate new halakha in situations where no p'sak previously exists? – Adam Mosheh May 15 '12 at 19:28
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One issue is how a rabbi is ordained (semicha as we know it), which is effectively a professional license.

A semicha such as "Yoreh Yoreh" (to "instruct" in matters between man and G-d, such as food kashrut) or "Yadin Yadin" (to "judge" in matters between man and man, such as a contract dispute) generally conveys a license to pasken -- and even make judgment calls on some gray areas as needed -- on the subjects studied.

Some yeshivas (past and present) had/have rabbinic programs that involve less intense study of halacha, and thus don't convey this license. A rabbi from such a program will probably stick to straightforward halacha.

Now (unfortunately) some people have licenses who don't deserve them; and (fortunately) many people can and do become incredibly qualified and practice, without ever having gone for formal certification. But we tend to look for licenses. (For instance: R' Moshe Feinstein writes that if the town mikva is under the auspices of a rabbi with semicha, a majority vote is required before levying a tax for a new-and-improved mikva. If the old mikva has no rabbi, or the rabbi has no semicha, anyone can demand a new mikva.)

I don't think there's a specific yardstick for determining between an "ordinary rabbi with yoreh yoreh" and a "posek", but most rabbis have a sense of when (and who) to ask. The world-class posek is recognized as someone who has studied and mastered all of relevant Halacha (including in-depth training in many fields of halacha that the average yoreh yoreh program may not cover); understands the real situation of the Jewish community; and can use his judgment accordingly in a practical way (as opposed to someone like R' Chaim Brisker, who was a theoretician). It's said that R' Moshe Feinstein was asked how he became a big posek: "people asked me questions, and I guess they liked my answers, as they came back with more questions."

You will find also find language in responsa (such as R' Moshe's) like:

  • I would allow it, but only if R' so-and-so concurs.
  • Each local rabbi should make their own call, based on the following guidelines.
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The Chofetz Chaim got smicha in his 80's-90's only when he needed the paper to make a passport to go to a Rabbinical Conference (R' Chaim Brisker telegramed it)

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    WHere did you find this information? – SimchasTorah May 2 '11 at 2:50
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    source? ....... – Yehoshua Dec 23 '12 at 11:49
  • It was R' Chaim Ozer Grozinski -- who was a posek -- not R' Chaim Brisker, who wasn't.. – Shalom Aug 22 '17 at 8:08
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The Brisker Rav was not a Posek. In fact, when he got a new Shteler (rabbi Job), he brought a Rov with him.

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    Where did you find this information? – Adam Mosheh Apr 26 '12 at 18:48
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    source? ....... – Yehoshua Dec 23 '12 at 11:49

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