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In Haym Soloveitchik's seminal essay "Rupture and Reconstruction" (1994) he lays out the state of Orthodoxy in the 20th century. Primarily, how Orthodoxy changed in the 20th century in particular regarding reliance on books, rather than tradition, and what effect that has on how people practice.

He writes:

"Fundamentally, all the above — stringency, “maximum position compliance,” and the proliferation of complications and demands — simply reflect the essential change in the nature of religious performance that occurs in a text culture. Books cannot demonstrate conduct; they can only state its requirements. One then seeks to act in a way that meets those demands. Performance is no longer, as in a traditional society, replication of what one has seen, but implementation of what one knows. Seeking to mirror the norm, religious observance is subordinated to it. In a text culture, behavior becomes, inevitably, a function of the ideas it consciously seeks to realize."

I have sat in no shortage of halachic shiurim. In many different settings I have heard different versions of "maximum position compliance" essentially meaning that if there is more than one opinion we paskin according to the most stringent to 'comply with' the greatest number of positions.

Is the idea of "maximum position compliance" an unspoken consequence of the culture and circumstance of 20th century Jewry, as laid out in that essay? Often one reads that the lenient position can be used in a time of need or bediavad; I'm not asking about that.

I am looking for a source lays out this doctrine explicitly as a general rule i.e., something like "when there is more than one position, we take the machmir one".


Update: I had considered תפסת מרובה לא תפסת, תפסת מועט תפסת. However, the gemarot that refer to this seem to be talking about cases of doubt specifically (e.g., Rosh HaShana 4b, Yoma 80a).

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  • I don't think you'll find that many poskim who officially declare "here is my halachic technique, and how it differs from yesteryear." (Even R. Ovadiah zt'l, who claimed at times to follow a majority of sources, essentially weighted some of them by counting the Bait Yosef, Avkat Rochel, and Shulchan Aruch as three ...)
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 8:24
  • Anyhow -- the Mishna Berurah is probably the earliest well-popularized, well-documented example of this ... but I don't think he ever gets up and says "here, watch me do this." (The Shulchan Aruch was ostensibly going "best two of three" of Rif/Rosh/Rambam; even the Kitzur said his approach was a majority vote of several earlier codes.) A simple example in the Mishnah Berurah would be "what bracha do you say on smelling cloves?"
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 8:29
  • 1
    See Rambam Hilchos Mamrim 21:5
    – שלום
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 10:20
  • There are plenty of places in the gemara even where it says explicitly that we should be strict for all opinions out of an uncertainty how to rule
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 11:34

2 Answers 2

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Mesillat Yesharim ch. 14 defines this practice as an aspect of perishut (separation/asceticism). So while there is certainly no obligation to attempt to satisfy as many opinions as possible, it is a commendable practice (under the right circumstances).

והפרישות בדינים הוא להחמיר בהם תמיד, לחוש אפילו לדברי יחיד במחלוקת אם טעמו נראה, אפילו שאין הלכה כמותו ובתנאי שלא יהיה חומרו קולו. ולהחמיר בספיקות אפילו במקום שאפשר להקל בהם. וכבר ביארו לנו חכמינו ז"ל מאמר יחזקאל (חולין לז): "הנה נפשי לא מטומאה" שלא אכלתי מבהמה שהורה בה חכם, ולא אכלתי מבשר כוס כוס. והנה כל זה מותר הוא מן הדין ודאי, אלא איהו דאחמיר אנפשיה.‏

Separation in the laws is to always be stringent in them. To be concerned even for the view of the solitary opinion if its reason has grounds, despite that the Halacha does not follow this opinion. The condition, however, is that his stringency not become a leniency. Likewise, to be stringent in cases of doubt even in situations where one may be lenient. Our sages, of blessed memory, explained the statement of Yechezkel (Chulin 37b) "'behold my soul never became Tamei (spiritually unclean)' (Yechezkel 4:14) - for I never ate the flesh of an animal which a Sage was called to rule on nor did I ever eat the flesh of an animal about which one says "slaughter it, slaughter it [urgently]". Behold, all these things are certainly permitted according to the Halacha but he was stringent on himself and abstained.

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  • Yes, but at some point that became the norm in what was distributed as psak halacha for the masses ...
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 8:30
  • And is asceticism really considered a commendable practice for the general (Jewish) public?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 17:23
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(Not an answer, but I couldn't put in a comment).

I've never heard the phrase "maximum position compliance" before. I'm honestly surprised to hear that thrown out as a valid halachic position. What I've heard from my (very mainstream Orthodox) Rabbonim is much more along the lines of כחא דהיתרא עדיף (Sefaria source sheet neatly collecting the gemaros that use this term https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/140084?lang=bi)

I would be very surprised to hear there's an actual source for that idea, beyond (perhaps commendable) fear of violating an issur even according to a minority opinion.

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  • כח דהיתרא עדיף means that we expect disputes in the Talmud to be presented in a way that makes it clear the extent to which a certain side is lenient rather than in a way which shows to what extent the other side is strict. It does not mean that it is better to rule leniently.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 17:14
  • In yeshivish, the phrase is choshesh for all the shitos. (Honestly, when I saw "maximum position compliance" I thought this was going to be a question about policing ...)
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 20:11
  • The phrase is in the essay linked in the question. An example Soloveitchik brings is the size of the kezayit where the Hazon Ish questions the estimation of sizes that came before, and now many people, to 'maximally comply with most position's, simply practice according to the Hazon Ish i.e., here is a situation where, before 1940 there were hundreds of years of tradition and no safek, but now some are told that even though there are many opinions, the best practice would be to go with the most machmir.
    – bondonk
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 6:24
  • @bondonk The noda bihuda and arguably the gra had the same opinion well before the chazon ish was born. The claim "before 1940 there were hundreds of years of tradition and no safek" is not true
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 11:28
  • @DoubleAA the article addresses, i advise reading it. the point about 1940 was that this marked a change that people would abandon their tradition (in this example) in order to comply with a machmir one. there were plenty of opinions around, that didn't mean that there was a safek; people practiced as they practiced. Here, post chazon ish, argues the article, people did away with that.
    – bondonk
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 13:58

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