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
    Commented Apr 20, 2010 at 18:24
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    See also mi.yodeya.com/questions/6979
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 24, 2011 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? Commented May 15, 2012 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


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.

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 (Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Wilna telegramed it)

added by barlop

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semikhah "For example, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, also known as the Chafetz Chayim, probably one of the most famous rabbis of the early 20th century, was trained and recognized as a rabbi, but did not hold semikhah until he had to apply for a passport. He realized that unless he obtained a written document of semikhah, he could not technically enter "rabbi" as an occupation without lying. He then received his semikhah by telegraph from Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Wilna, an unusual arrangement - especially in the early 20th century.

wikipedia currently doesn't mention a source, but a source is google books, that shows extract from the book "listen to your messages" by yissocher frand that mentions it

google books screen shot, showing "chavetz chaim telegram grodzinsky" search term


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? Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 18:48
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    source? .......
    – Yehoshua
    Commented Dec 23, 2012 at 11:49

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