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Per our oft-cited FAQ, and our frequent use of the disclaimer to consult one's own rabbi in matters of practical Halachah, we do not, as a matter of policy, accept questions, or provide answers, relating to personal Halachic matters.

But, while I agree with this policy generally, and a lay person could not confidently/competently, and therefore should not, consult a printed work of Halachah for a serious question about a complicated problem, much less ask strangers for an answer to such a question, what is so wrong about looking on the internet for matters of day-to-day Halachah and issues that are covered in plain terms in accessible, printed works (eg., Mishnah Berurah for common issues relating to Tefillah, such as arriving late; Shemirath Shabbath, aka Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa, for quick answers to common, practical questions on Shabbath)? If someone would normally look in those books for the answer, but doesn't have it handy, is there something wrong or lacking in asking a community, and by extension an online community? I've even seen questions posted on Facebook asking for Halachic advice. If someone posts an answer with a link to an authoritative text for reference, is that not sufficient? Note also that there are many, many websites geared specifically towards providing such answers.

  • (It should go without saying that someone should not look on the internet for a Shabbath question on Shabbath. But there, I said it anyway.) – Seth J Jun 24 '13 at 13:47
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    very related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17454/759 – Double AA Jun 24 '13 at 13:47
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    It may be that how an individual should behave and what an online community should express as community policy and blanket advice to readers are two different things, with the former able to incorporate more nuance, such as the distinction between complicated and simple questions. – Isaac Moses Jun 24 '13 at 14:37
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    @annex, if you are complaining about how editing here works, don't forget that you can always rollback revisions. Not only that, but you can discuss your concerns about anything, including edits, in the chat room. – Seth J Jun 24 '13 at 17:51
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    @annex, this is not the place to complain about SE policy -- which, anyway, with respect to editing, is not going to change and if you read your user agreement you know that already. If you aren't prepared to be part of a collaborative site, this might not be the place for you; try a blog instead, where you have complete control. You are always welcome to raise issues of site governance or features that could plausibly be addressed on Mi Yodeya Meta, the designated place for such discussions. – Monica Cellio Jun 25 '13 at 18:26
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I completely agree with @IsaacMoses's comment above. In a situation where a person would normally just look up the answer in a book or online (e.g. what is the bracha for xyz) rather than ask a complicated personal question, I don't think there's any problem with following the advice found on this site. But it's difficult to have an official policy that makes such distinctions because it is hard to find a general rule that includes all of those exceptions. Therefore, it makes sense for the official policy to be that we don't give any practical advice.

In short, I don't think there really is any difference between our site and a collection of seforim. But just like you wouldn't consult a sefer for a dificult question with many complicating factors, you shouldn't use this site for that question either. In that situation, consult a Rav.

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    Yes and no. This site is like a book, yes -- except that you know to trust the book's author (because g'dolim do, say) and you don't know anyone here. – msh210 Jun 24 '13 at 15:46
  • @msh210 Well the question is asking about a case where "If someone posts an answer with a link to an authoritative text for reference, is that not sufficient?" – Daniel Jun 24 '13 at 16:59
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    @Daniel It is insufficient until you follow the link and look up that source inside. People here make mistakes too. – Double AA Jun 24 '13 at 19:39
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Unless the rabbi you ask your questions to is one of the higher-tier rabbis, you are likely not receiving any original information. When you ask him if something is permissible or prohibited he is merely summarizing the books for you. Were you to follow up and ask him to elaborate he would probably cite a chapter and paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch, or other such authoritative works of Jewish law.

To that end it is the same as Mi Yodeya. Here too when you ask a question you get a summary of the books. In fact, in that regard Mi Yodeya is better than an average rabbi because you will almost always receive the precise citation, often with a link to the page, where you can immediately look up the source. Additionally, when you ask the rabbi he might be answering you from memory, or might not have the precise source. As Mi Yodeya is "peer-reviewed" it is more likely that any mistakes will be caught than that your rabbi's mistake will be caught. Most importantly, when you ask your rabbi you are limited to one person's store of knowledge. Even if he is a great Torah scholar he is a human being with a limit to how much he can know. There are thousands of works of halacha and it is impossible for one person to even read all of them, let alone master them and remember them. And of course, an average rabbi knows much less than that. Most semicha programs cover parts of the 4 sections of Shulchan Aruch, with the Shulchan Aruch and the on-page commentaries being the main texts studied. There are so many other books of halakha, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of responsa that an average rabbi may have never studied. When you ask a question on Mi Yodeya, however, you can tap into the combined stores of knowledge of 1,000 users (or the hundred or so that actively participate). It is very likely that one of the users here will know a halachic source that your rabbi does not; it is very possible that you will get a more comprehensive answer here.

In short, if you have a very weak learning background, or you need an immediate answer, you may be better off asking your rabbi and trust him and hope that he gives you the correct answer. However, if you have a decent background in Jewish learning (i.e. you can comfortably navigate Jewish texts such as a Talmudic page or a responsum) and don't need an immediate answer I think you might be better off asking your question here. The answers you receive will direct you to relevant sources that you can then learn for yourself.

Essentially, I think the main reason that someone who learned in yeshivah for a number of years asks questions to a rabbi (aside from very serious questions) is that they don't have the time to learn through every sugya themselves, and/or they don't know offhand the specific sources to learn for a specific question. However, precisely these areas are where Mi Yodeya can have the advantage over an average rabbi.

Of course this does not take into account methodological issues. For instance if you ask a question here and you find that the Mishnah Berurah says one thing while the Aruch Hashulchan says the opposite, how will you decide which one to follow? If you ask a rabbi he will probably tell you which way to act. However, I don't think the average rabbi is especially well-trained in this either, and anyway if you are stuck with a methodological question after learning the sources you can ask that on Mi Yodeya too!

Of course if you don't feel comfortable relying on Mi Yodeya you can always ask your question here and then consult your rabbi afterwards.

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When one asks a question there are at times other mitigating factors that can result in a different response. Although it is similar to a reading a Sefer to determine what is the correct course of action, however it can not replace a competent Rabbi who can determine whether there are reasons to rule differently in that specific case.

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    That is certainly true. My question is, however, in the sort of circumstance in which one would be able to look in a book and feel assured that what is written is reliable for his circumstance, is a website like this one valid for that same purpose? – Seth J Jun 25 '13 at 17:25

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