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I have heard of the concept of "getting a heter" to do something that is not ordinarily permitted, but I don't have a good idea of what it means. I am interested in explanations of what this process entails, particularly when the question is big enough that one needs to get a heter "officially."

I would appreciate answers that address some or all of the following:

If someone needs a heter to do something (either something for which heterim are understood as readily available, like using birth control after having two children; shortening the niddah period in order to conceive; or going without hair covering [women] after divorce--or something personal and more unusual), how does one "officially" get a heter to do so?

--Is it simply a matter of getting the go-ahead from anyone with semikha--or must the approval be from the "official" rabbi of one's community? Or must it, moreover, be from an expert in that area of halacha? A rov? A member of a vaad or beis din?... Or, if I find the loophole myself, and see that it applies to me, can I then take advantage of my "heter"?

Also: when petitioning a rov, does one always have to present a catalogue of extenuating circumstances, or in some cases is even the desire for a heter enough to get one? (That is, if I have a son and daughter already, must I have a special reason in order to be eligible to use birth control? ...And if not--if everyone gets one--why bother going to the rov at all?)

Perhaps this question can be best summed up by my own situation, its motivation: I asked my community rabbi a shayla about a personal circumstance. He gave a stunningly lenient answer about what to do. Would it now be correct for me to say I have a "heter" to do such and such according to his advice?

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    CYLOR. Do what he says. Pretty simple. – Double AA Mar 9 '15 at 14:42
  • @sah is there anything more I can add to better answer your question? – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 10 '15 at 18:18
  • @Nafkammina Your answer was great, but it seems to be addressing more the question of "What should I do if I have a question or personal circumstance with Jewish law?", rather than "What is 'heter' understood to mean?" Maybe I should have made my question clearer in that respect. If your answer applies to this, too, please say so...otherwise I'll wait on additional answers. Thanks! – SAH Mar 11 '15 at 15:46
  • @sah I think my answer addresses that as well. A Heter is something that comes from a competent rabbi in that specific field and the the confidence you can have in having asked.that person – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 12 '15 at 6:58
  • @Mefaresh Sorry, in the previous I meant @ Mefaresh too. Don't know where i got Nafkamina. I upvoted your answer since it fulfills the terms of my question, but I will wait to see if anyone can contribute more on the issue of what "getting a heter" is commonly understood to mean, perhaps in light of the example issues I gave in my question. – SAH Mar 16 '15 at 14:57
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It really depends on the question and severity of the issue at hand ie. Shaas hadchak, money considerations, mental health. But generally, big questions such as medical issues, end of life issues etc. should asked to a world expert on that particular topic. Like medical issues should be asked to a rav who is competent in those issues and has good medical advisors as well.

Famously in regards to allowing abortion, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach generally refused to answer questions put to him in certain circumstances but often he would send the questioner to get a Heter from The Tzitz Eliezer who was lenient in extremely specific cases (See Tzitz Eliezer 13:102). Despite the fact that the questioner came to Rav Shlomo Zalman nonetheless he would send them to get, if needed, a Heter from the Tzitz Eliezer - Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Posek of Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem) who in his great knowledge in Torah and expertise in Medicine was willing to issue such a brave psak.

Of course when asking, all pertinent information should be presented to the Rav so as to make sure the psak is fitting with your life circumstances.

A responsible Jew should ask a Rav before deciding for themselves especially in regards to complex questions where more often than not personal bias plays a heavy role as well as a serious lack of knowledge of the source material.

As per your personal case I don't think this site is the forum for such guidance. Although, I will say if your Rav fits in the category as stated above (well versed in the sugya, takes issue seriously, has guidance in this realm) then I would not be overly concerned.

There are many capable Rabbonim who are generally reachable through specific channels such as Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Yisroel Belsky (Zt"l) , Rav Dovid Cohen, Rav Moshe Heinemann, and many more who are capable of dealing with such questions.

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    I would have expected (not having gone through this) that the first point of contact would be one's own rabbi, who might send you elsewhere or help you escalate. It sounds like you're suggesting that someone should go directly to a world expert on the topic. Is that what you're saying or have I misunderstood? Do world experts routinely receive and handle questions from "out of nowhere" from people they don't know? (I guess I'm thinking of this more like the judges of 1000s, 100s, 50s, and 10s -- don't go straight to Moshe for everything, only the hard cases.) – Monica Cellio Mar 9 '15 at 14:19
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    In my experience yes. Often the local rabbi is not either knowledgeable enough or "big" enough to deal with specific cases (worse if the rabbi actually believes he is! Unless he is recognized as such) such as abortion or birth control,end of life issues. I'm speaking specifically about the hard cases. – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 9 '15 at 14:26
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    @MonicaCellio I do agree the local rav should be consulted to flesh out the issue. And many times I have seen that the local rav will himself consult with a bigger world recognized authority – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 9 '15 at 14:36
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    @MonicaCellio - Many experts are also rabbanim that have semicha. When I have a question regarding halachot of cochlear inplant use on Shabbat, if I ask my local rav, he shrugs his shoulders and says, "I don't know". So, I ask the rav who wrote several pamphlets about the subject & is an expert in that subject. He has the answer and renders an educated halachic answer. Thank you to him. then, I buy his pamphlet and give it to my local rav, who is now a bit better educated, himself. In the end, it's the same thing as had I went to the expert Rav directly. After all, even now, who my rav ask? – DanF Mar 9 '15 at 17:20

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