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When looking into the Talmud in the most places after bringing a machloket it says that the halacha is like x.

On the other edge of the time when reading the Mishna Brurah it looks like he doesn't want to be posek in a machloket who is right. He says you rather try to be machmir. For example, see ש"ב, ס"ק י"ט, where the Mishna Brurah writes "ומ"מ מי שרוצה להחמיר על עצמו שלא לקפל כלל ודאי עדיף."

Another example at קסב ס"ק ט"ז ויותר נכון לנהוג ... דעל עצה זו דג' פעמים מפקפקים כמה אחרונים It looks like the Mishnah Brurah wants to be ok with every achron.

There are plenty of this examples throughout virtually every siman.

In the time of the rishonim we still see that they try to give a psak on their own in disputes. An extreme case is the Rambam but also Rabenu Tam goes the same way.

When did we start not to try to be posek like one shita but rather to try to be machmir like both of them?

  • Where is the source that you follow the more stringent ruling? Normally we are more stringent on a d'oraiysa and more lenient on a d'rabannan – CashCow Jan 22 '15 at 12:19
  • I meant that even in cases where we tend to be more machmir , if there is a hefsed merube we tend to be Mekel. Blood is deorayta – David Michael Gang Jan 22 '15 at 12:49
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    The Mishna Brurah is quite extremely that way, in terms of being consistently concerned about stringent opinions. His contemporaries, even, were not as much that way. – Yishai Jan 22 '15 at 15:36
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    "in the most places after bringing a machloket it says that the halacha is like x" This is simply false. – Double AA Jan 22 '15 at 16:12
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    It's better, in all cases, to put important information in the question body, rather than in comment. That way, the information is more permanent, and much more visible. – MTL Jan 22 '15 at 17:43
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This is an oversimplification, but the question is also very general. I will preface with another two questions. Why is it that if someone rules according to Beis Shamai, or for that matter any opinion in the gemara that we don't rule with he is chastised, even when being stringent, but when it comes to geonim and rishonim there is an allowance to use other opinions, even to be lenient. The answer to this will set up the next question. And the answer is something called Siyum HaShaas (the end of the Talmudic era).
Question number two what is Siyum Hashaas and how does it work? For this I will try to phrase my answer based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's guidebook to Jewish thought but I don't remember his exact terminology or sources, so I will paraphrase.
Siyum Hashaas, or for that matter the end of any halachic era is when the entire body of the Jewish community is in agreement on a certain set of laws. End paraphrase. I think he was quoting geonim. So when Jews decided to rule like Beis Hillel, whether by vote or heavenly proclamation, this became the end game for Beis Shamai. Same for any ruling in the gemara which was accepted by all before the times of the geonim. Later when new disagreements arose, there was never a point where the entire Jewish world agreed with any given opinion, and if there was it was final. That means that the onion of let's say a Rashba which is not how we rule is worth more in a halakhic scale than the opinion of Abaye whom we didn't rule with. Nothing personal.

Back to your question, being that we have no definitive path to take, whether to be lenient or stringent, we are left wondering how to properly serve God. As such, many times we are chayash, worried, and try to be stringent. This is a requirement when dealing with rules on a deoraisa level, as we can understand very clearly based on the above, but this is also an indication for mitzvah observance in general, which shouldn't seem so foreign, based again on the above.
Imagine two people telling you where a treasure was buried and you don't know who to listen to. Wouldn't you try to figure out a way to take both into your plans? If however it is clear to you which one of them is giving proper directions, obviously the rules change. That's where poskim, or lets say learned people, play in as a factor and say 'I am ruling with this opinion'. That is fine. It's an educated opinion.

  • This is a beautiful explanation but we see that even in the time of the gmara there was a trend not to be machmir like beis shammai(kriat shma rabbi tarfon) and furthermore when looking into the biur halacha, even when he doesn't think like the magen avraham he won't pasken in most places against him. – David Michael Gang Jan 23 '15 at 8:00
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    @David Michael Gang I addressed the beis Shamai issue in the answer but maybe not clearly. The point about siyum hashaas was an example of how an era ends, after which no one from the next era can choose to rule with an abandoned opinion from the last. Once all of the Jewish people ruled with Beis Hillel, there was no longer an option to rule like beis Shamai, hence the Rabi Tarfon chayav binafsho situation. The gemara wondered in fact why the rule was like B.H. and gave some reasons, but this was inconsequential. – user6591 Jan 23 '15 at 12:51
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    @David Michael Gang the Magen Avraham question is also along these lines, but not completely. That situation is close to the others, but more complicated. First of all there is the fact that there was no single body of Judaism but many communities, Ashkenazi, Sfardi and varieties. In each isolated community there were similar situations of acceptance of certain rulings which were universally accepted, but only by that community. This then is not binding to the same degree as an end of an era, but it is binding to a lower degree, commonly called minhag. – user6591 Jan 23 '15 at 13:02
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    @David As a minhag, it is accepted and unquestioned, unless the question is a really good one:) At that point other options are sought. The Magen Avraham was widely accepted by all Ashkenazi communities. Some adhere to his words more than others. For instance, for Hassidim final rule is with the shulchan aruch harav, not the mishna berurah. In general the shulchan aruch harav rules much more in line with the magen avraham whereas the mishna takes later opinions into consideration. So in essence, the path of the Hassidim is veneration for the M.A. and a continuance of that tradition. – user6591 Jan 23 '15 at 13:10
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    @David there is a slightly different explenation of 'end of an era' by the Ben Ish Chai in one of his responsa. He says that when one person collates all the previous opinions, like Rabeinu Hakadosh did and Ravina and Rav ashi did and the Tur/shulchan aruch did, that ends the previous era. Unfortunately, that doesn't help us. For the past hundred years everybody has been collating! – user6591 Jan 23 '15 at 13:15
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This stems from lack of independent psak and dependence on other poskim. Earlier Rishonim Rif and Rambam, for example rarely quote others. THus they will be more meikel since at most they only need to worry about one opinion (their own). Later poskim tend to be more reliant and hence need to consider more possible opinions and be machmir based on the machmirest common denominator. Thus Shulchan Aruch who relies on the earlier Rishonim is usually more mikel than Rama who relies on later poskim who tend to be less independent, and thus more machmir. Even much later than Rambam some e.g. Shaagas Aryeh and to a lesser degree Aruch Hashulchan retained more independence (My own analysis which seems pretty pashut)

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