In various places on this site, including the FAQ, we have the following disclaimer:

Like Wikipedia, this site makes no guarantee of validity, and does not offer professional (particularly rabbinic) advice. Treat information from this site like it came from a crowd of your friends.

As discussed here and here, this disclaimer is motivated by the concern that people might consult this site for personal advice about what Judaism says they should do instead of consulting their own Rabbi. Along similar lines, many people here include in answers about Jewish practice a recommendation that the reader consult their own Rabbi.

What is the reason for this concern?

Why is it so important to speak, in particular, to a Rabbi (and especially to "your local" one)?

What would be so wrong with simply using good-looking information from a site like this one that we need disclaimers all over the place and constant warnings?

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    Is this 'why ask Any Rabbi' and separately 'why ask One Rabbi'? – zaq Jul 29 '11 at 15:22
  • @zaq - Astute point. I think the presumption is that the former is good and the latter is even better. Also, the motivations for the latter, I expect, is a superset of the motivations for the former. Therefore, a set of answer that explains the entire set of the motivations for the latter would necessarily answer the former as well. – Isaac Moses Jul 29 '11 at 15:30
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    Not answer worthy, but one reason for asking a rabbi is objectivity that you don't have about your own situation. – avi Jul 31 '11 at 8:32
  • Although not an answer to your specific question, there is a correlation between "fear of G-d" and scholarship. Those who are more knowledgeable may be more concerned about giving advice that will be misapplied. A larger percentage of answers will be from those less knowledgeable resulting in the blind leading the blind. – YDK Jul 31 '11 at 20:04
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    To add to the existing answers: It is important to have a living tradition back to Sinai. If we rely on books rather than people, the entire point of having an Oral Torah is lost. Not everything about Torah can be reduced to words. Just as an artist cannot paint relying on just descriptions of the colors; there are things that have to be experienced to be learned. – Micha Berger Aug 20 '15 at 2:06

12 Answers 12

We are concerned with being the cause of somebody else erring. Parshat Kedoshim tells us "do not place a stumbling-block before the blind", which is interpreted to mean not only what it plainly says but also "don't be an enabler for a bad outcome". Causing somebody else to unknowingly transgress what God wants us to do is a pretty serious "bad outcome".

In order to become a rabbi one must study halacha and the sources that inform it in depth. Non-rabbis can also be serious scholars and I wouldn't write off a lay person who is, but most people don't know one.

As for "local", I think this is shorthand for "consult someone who will be your rabbi". Pirke Avot tells us "make for yourself a rav"; this is because most questions are not so clear-cut, and individual circumstances can bear on the answer. The rav needs to know not only the specific question but what is causing you to ask it. For example (and I'm just making this up here; I am not a posek etc), if you ask the generic question "can I go to a church service?" the answer is generally going to be "no". If you ask "can I go to the wedding of the sibling I've just recently reconciled with, who is marrying out, but not showing up could undo that reconcilliation?", the answer might be different. Your rav should be someone who knows you and ideally you should be having these conversations face-to-face, hence "local".

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    This is a great answer Monica. Your Rav is supposed to know you well and what your personal circumstances are materially and otherwise in order to answer properly. Another aspect of the concept of 'local' Rav is that when you ask a question, the Rav should actually be from your locale. The environment surrounding you also impacts on how to answer. There is another element which doesn't seem to be getting addressed here, namely that there are different levels of Ravs for different questions. An example is the qualification of being a Rav, Moreh Hora'ah as contrasted with an ordinary Rav. – Yaacov Deane Sep 23 '16 at 18:31
  • Thanks @Yaacov. On your last point, yes there are levels of rav but I should still always start with mine. If he tells me "go ask so-and-so" then I should do so, but in the interests of (a) keeping my rav in the loop and (b) allowing my rav to direct those queries, it feels like I shouldn't skip past him and go straight to the expert. My rav, in turn, is always free to give a standing "for questions about X go straight to R' Ploni". – Monica Cellio Sep 23 '16 at 18:34
  • What you're saying is absolutely correct and is the explicit instruction we find from Moshe Rabbeinu and his father-in-law when setting up the court system in parshat Yitro. From a different perspective, the general rule is, that which is used more frequently takes precedence in terms of order (like the order for putting on tallit and tefillin). The Rav you use most frequently is the one you ask first. – Yaacov Deane Sep 23 '16 at 18:42

Here are a few, off the top of my head:

  1. Often there are factors that you may not think are relevant when asking your question, but could certainly be. You may have looked up some kosher-kitchen question about vegetables, not knowing that onions have very different laws than potatoes.

  2. There are plenty of gray areas in halacha where the conclusion may be something like "it's best not to do such-and-such, but it's allowable in cases of great need"; if every Tom, Dick, and Harry would go around deciding for themselves what's great need, X% of the population will (wrongly) do it all the time, and Y% will (wrongly) refrain even when it's life-and-death.

  3. Someone other than yourself may be the best judge of the situation. You may say "it's not a great need", but a good rabbi may hear the anxiety in your voice that implies otherwise. Or the question may involve other human factors, where knowledge of the people involved is important.

  4. It provides a good "checkup opportunity" for all sorts of related issues. If a married couple brings a personal question to their rabbi, he can see if the interactions between them look healthy. If a man needs to shed his yarmulka or eat fruit at a non-kosher restaurant because of his job, it's important to make sure he isn't feeling alienated from Judaism.

  • A Rabbi is an expert in his field and has studied for many years. If one needed medical advice, G-d forbid, they would never rely on "crowd-sourced" opinions of a question and answer website, but would go to a trained doctor with practical experience. If this is so with regards physical healing, how much more so when dealing with the health of one's souls.
  • A Rabbi is aware of personal circumstances. A Halachic ruling can differ depending on who it is for. For example, a case of הפסד מרובה would be different for a rich person and a poor person, and is up to the discretion of the Rabbi to determine. The answer may differ depending on the local community custom (Sefardi, Ashkenazi, Chassidish, Litvish etc.)
  • A Rabbi will answer the question with wisdom. It is not always enough for a Rabbi to be "book smart", but also needs to answer his questions wisely. For example, a non-religious couple in Russia had a son who was not healthy enough to have his bris on time. When he was one month old an argument ensued whether they could have a Pidyon Haben before the bris. The grandfather, a learned Torah scholar adamantly insisted that the bris should be done first, but his opinion was disregarded by the other Rabbis. The boy never ended up having a bris, and the grandfather later explained that he knew that the parents would only perform one religious ceremony for the baby, and that was why he wanted that to be the bris. There is often more to what a Rav rules than what is written in Shulchan Aruch.
  • A Rabbi has Yiras Shomayim. The very knowlege that a Jew will observe his ruling practically will cause the Rav to make a concerted effort that his ruling is sound and unbaised. (See Hayom Yom for 23 Adar II).
  • A Rabbi has Siyata Dishmaya - Divine Assistance. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (93b) says regarding Dovid Hamelech "וה' עמו - שהלכה כמותו"; "Hashem was with him" means that Halacha always favored his opinion. This shows that a correct legal decision requires not only astute reasoning but also Yiras Shomayim. One who posses such Yiras Shomayim is granted Divine assistance that his ruling should not cause others to err. The Lubavitcher Rebbe related the story of the Nodah Beyehuda who was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prauge at the young age of 42. Some felt he was not senior enough for the position and attempted to undermine his knowledge by presenting him with obscure Halachic questions but were unable to stump him. Finally someone asked him a question that he answered incorrectly and then proceeded to disprove the Nodah Beyehuda. The Noda Beyehuda replied: This question was obviously not Halacha Lemayse - a practical question, for if so I would have had Siyata Dishmaya to answer it correctly (Sicha from day of Simchas Torah 5736, par. 4).
  • A Rabbi has the power of Torah to affect the physical existence. The Gemora Yerushalmi brings a case were a girl lost her virginity after she turned three. Later, the Beis Din determined that that year should be a leap year and retroactively she was not yet three years old at the time. This Halachic ruling influences her physical body that her virginity will grow back. This unique power to create a "Psak Din" that establishes fact is given only to Rabbonim. The Chasam Sofer (O"C Siman 14) explains this in quite unambiguous terms that the nature of the world is subservient and influenced by the Torah. This is brought Lehalcha regarding Hilchos Vestos in Siman 189 Shach 13. For this reason the Lubavitcher Rebbe often asked Rabbonim to issue a Psak Din that Moshiach must come now.

Source: Many of the above ideas are from on the Sefer "13 Principles of Faith" (Gutnick Edition) by Rabbi Chaim Miller based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Principle Eight Lesson Three.

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    Technically all that gemara proves is that when Hashem is with you you won't err (which is rather trivial), not that you won't err when Hashem is not with you. – Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 2:55
  • @DoubleAA It may be possible to come up with the correct ruling even without Yiras Shomayim, but you are lacking the guarantee. – Michoel Aug 27 '12 at 3:22
  • You mean 'without Siyata Dishmaya'? You're using those terms quite inconsistently. – Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 3:36
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    "This Halachic ruling influences her physical body that her virginity will grow back." Alternatively, what her physical body does is irrelevant and we just care about her halachik status. | Also you're whole paragraph about wisdom doesn't say anything about why a Rabbi would have that kind of wisdom any more than a wise average Joe. Even in your example, the grandfather was the hero by virtue of his being the grandfather, not his being a Rabbi. And if by wisdom you mean 'being aware of personal circumstances', then how is that different from item 2? – Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 3:37
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    @ba I didn't mean knowledge of circumstance; that was my second point, and was indeed lacking in that particular situation. I mean the Rav should be smart enough to answer the question appropriately (obviously within the confines of Halacha). For example for someone who is starting to become more observant a Rabbi will often answer differently to someone who has been frum his entire life. This requires more than just knowing the law, it involves him making a wise ruling appropriate for the particular person. (This often requires knowledge of the situation, but is in addition to it). – Michoel Aug 27 '12 at 5:47

Aside from all the halachic considerations related to needing to ask your Local Rabbi (eg. knowing the nuance of your situation, taking all things into consideration, knowing the various sources relating to the issue, our desire not to cause others to make mistakes in Jewish law) there are two additional areas that add to the need to consult with your Local Rabbi:

  1. Some rabbis (called Poskim) have the ability to issue halachic rulings (called psak) which actually clarify the Divine intention that are not apparent from simply reading an earlier written source . This is based on their knowledge and understanding of the existing body of halacha, the underlying motivations of that halacha, the intentions of Chazal (Talmudic Sages) and the current situation. This is not something that we have the power to do on this site, even if we have the requisite knowledge and understanding.
  2. Asking a question to your Rabbi is an excuse to develop a relationship with him and this is a very important part of growing as a Jewish person. Pirkei Avot (1:6) implores us to "עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר - make for yourself a Rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend" these two are listed in one breath to indicate to us that they are both about building relationships. It is crucial that a Jewish individual have and develop a relationship with a Rabbi that understands him and his situation, not merely so that said Rabbi can answer the individuals questions with ease, but, far more importantly, so that the individual becomes a part of the Jewish community, the Jewish chain of tradition and because having a relationship with a holy person brings one closer to God. It is crucial that we have role models in our life and not just those which sit on-high, but those who dwell among us and are involved in every aspect of our lives. This, and only this, is the type of relationship that helps us grow as a Jewish individual, as a person and as a servant of God.

For more on what the role of a Local Rabbi is (as viewed by everyday people), see the comments on this post. [Full disclosure: That post is from my personal blog]

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    I don't feel the link above is gratuitous, if you do, please let me know so I can remove it. – Adam Simon Aug 2 '11 at 13:08
  • I think you mean correctly, but your comment about Poskim creating new halachot is all too easy to misunderstand. Would you mind clarifying that paragraph to rule out mistaken interpretations? – LN6595 Jun 7 '16 at 16:20

Many times practical halacha could be affected by something mentioned in passing in another source. A Rav has learned these things, is aware of them, and will adjust his ruling accordingly. A lay person may have learned the issue well but may be unaware of these modifiers.

I recently wrote an article for Torah Musings that focuses on a part of the answer that hasn't been focused on yet. "What does Mesorah Mean?" http://www.torahmusings.com/2015/08/what-does-masorah-mean . To quote just enough to capture the thesis, although it omits much of the argument and R JB Soloveitchik's poetry:

... We speak of someone “having a masorah” in two ways: both if they have a received practice and cultural tradition (as above) and if they have a known rebbe-talmid lineage. In both contexts, we’re talking about the importance of all that Torah that doesn’t fit into books.

We talk about a hands-on Jewish professional–such as a sofer, mohel, shocheit, etc.–also of “having a masorah” from the one who taught him the craft. Here too we are speaking of the kind of knowledge you need to learn with your senses and muscles, and not know from books discussing the topic in the abstract.

To pasken mar’os, a rav must also have a masorah on how to determine colors. It’s a skill, a craft, that is learned from practice under the guidance of a mentor. This training, the acquisition of a “masorah,” is usually called “shimush.”

For regular pesak too there is an element that is a craft, an art, a skill, the kind of thing one needs to learn from shimush, not by studying from texts.

Kara veshanah velo shimeish talmid chacham, harei zeh am ha’aretz…. If he read scripture and studied law, but did not serve a talmid chacham, such a person is an am haaretz (an ignorant peasant). – Sotah 22a

This is why I like R. Dr. Moshe Koppel’s metaphor of laws of grammar for some usages rather than always comparing halakhah to civil law. The “First Language” model is much like Dr. Haym Soloveitchik’s mimeticism, but with key differences. Halachic rules are an approximation of something that is inherently more complex in kind than rules and algorithms. This is similar to the way grammar is only approximated by ever more complex rules which still never get a foreigner studying the language in class to the same feel for grammar that the native-speaker has. (And why the Oral Torah loses something when not actually kept oral.) So the English as a Second Language student may know what a past pluperfect is, and I don’t, but the native speaker is more likely to know what is valid poetic license and what will produce non-English results.

Similarly, a poseik needs to pick up that feel, and not only the formal rules. He needs the unstructured knowledge of halakhah. ... You can’t pasken from codes, from legal knowledge. It takes knowledge of how the codes reached their conclusion – both textual knowledge obtained from commentaries, and the skill to pasken. The latter is obtained with shimush.

Mimeticism transmits the values we were given at Sinai. Without a deep connection to the Sinai culture, we can never be sure whether our rulings are driven by Torah values, natural morality, or a moral code absorbed from the surrounding society.

Advances in technology and developments in society can cause changes in practice. Such changes can alter the circumstances in some subtle way such that the previous ruling does not apply, both in physical ways and in subtle changes in the people about whom the poseik is ruling. And so the Rav questioned the appropriateness of reciting a blessing on Shabbos candles when the electric lights are already on. Similarly, he ruled in the 1950s that a woman aiming for a bachelor’s or higher degree was in a different enough situation for precedent rulings about teaching gemara to females not to apply.

Without masorah, the poseik has no way of determining which solutions to new problems are in concert with the spirit of previous rulings. Halakhah is not frozen; it does not have inertia, but it does have momentum. Apprenticeship, training under a master, transmits the feel for where the halakhah has historically been taken. Following reasoning found in a minority ruling is appropriate only when one is motivated by the Torah’s own principles. The person who speaks halakhah as a first language knows when an innovative change is within “poetic license”, and when the result simply violates the Torah’s “grammar.”

As R. Yochanan quotes in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “gedolah shimushah shel Torah yoseir meilimudah – the apprenticeship of Torah is greater than its study”. (Berakhos 7b)

  • +1, but in Brachos Shimush seems more like serving than apprenticeship – Shmuel Brin Sep 4 '15 at 18:10
  • From what I understand, so was apprenticeship. – Micha Berger Sep 6 '15 at 1:15

Specifically for the laws of blessings, which are very complicated: It is stated (tractate Berachos 35a) that, since it is forbidden to get pleasure from this world without saying a blessing, you should consult a Scholar and learn the laws of blessings from him, so you should not make a mistake and commit sacrilege. (Also, don't stop learning them from him so you don't forget them.) Any laws that are forbidden to break, you are obliged to learn the laws from a Scholar before you break them - specifically for blessings though, you need to continue to learn them so you don't forget them.


This it's also an extension of "Cleaving to Hashem".

(Deuteronomy 10:20) Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave, and in His Name shall you swear.

(Deuteronomy 11:22) For if you will observe this entire mitzvah that I command you, to perform it, to love Hashem, your G-d, to walk in His ways and to cleave to Him.

We are supposed to cling to Hashem, but that's physically impossible. Instead, tractates Kesuvos 11b, Berachot 10b, and Pesachim 22b say we should cleave to a Chacham by including them in all of our affairs, and listening to their opinions. Rambam says "cleaving to Hashem" is achieved by striving to know Hashem, which is achieved by knowing those that know Hashem, or learning torah from a Scholar.

Cleaving to one Rabbi is then also a reflection that Hashem is one.

  1. a rabbi has a broader veiw of halachah the one answering may know a certain subject very thoroughly but misses a important point from a different subject which is very relevant a rabbi is certified to answer all sorts of questions and will be able to answer alot more accurately
  2. a rabbi learns how to apply what he learns so that even if someone quotes all the right factors they may not know that certain ones dont apply if certain things are true
  3. a rabbi will know which questions to ask to find out all necessary factors which the one asking didnt consider important

While there is an accepted Halachic framework for answering questions, an integral component of that framework involves local, or personal, custom; one need only look at any chapter of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Brurah to observe just some implications that custom has on practice. While you may say that the differences are only between Sephardic or Ashkenazic practice, in fact, different communities within each of those larger sets also have acceptable differences in Minhag (one of my favorites is to see who says, or doesn't say, Hallel in Maariv the first night of Pesach, as this does not even split uniformly between Ashkenazi and Sephardi in our community).

Presumably, your "Local Rabbi" would have a sense of how to answer a question with the most consistent application of those more local and personal nuances. It would be impractical for the questioner to provide all such information to a crowd-sourced site.

1) a convincing argument doesn't make the conclusion the correct option 2)your local rabbi is important because of community standards. there are some halachic questions by which one should not deviate from what the community does. an example: some wear tefillin on chol hamoed and some do not.

Reflecting on the essence of this question, it is broken into three parts. 1) "Why is it necessary to ask a Rabbi?" 2) Why is there concern that someone may substitute the information found on this site with actually asking their Rabbi. And 3) Why is it important to speak to a Rabbi?

To understand the answer to this question requires looking at what the source is for the concept of asking your Rabbi within the Torah.

This practice originated directly from Moshe Rabbeinu as is recorded in parshat Yitro 18:13-26.

Like is stated there in posuk 15 and 16, originally Moshe combined both teaching what to do, meaning teaching the oral Torah that goes together with the written Torah and Poskining questions between individuals.

The word Poskin from the root (פסק) which means to judge or to decide, like is found in Tractate Sukkah 29b.

גמ׳ קא פסיק ותני

Like it explains in Shemot 18:16, this poskining aspect is when there is disagreement between two or more parties about what to do, meaning how to fulfill the required actions of the Mitzvot.

Like it explains in the Siftei Chachamin, note 20 to Rashi 18:16, Moshe was combining the function of serving as a teacher and being a judge at the same time. His father-in-law said that this was inappropriate (from the perspective that a teacher doesn't function as a judge) and too much of a burden (because of the number of individual cases that required a judge to decide about the appropriate specific action for a given case).

Yitro told Moshe to separate the teaching function from the judging function and in Shemot 18:21 advised in regard to the judging function to appoint determined, G-d-fearing, honest, uncompromising individuals to serve as judges in his stead. These judges were to be divided into four different jurisdictions from the greatest to the smallest. The smallest of those jurisdictions was the judge over ten people, like your local community Rabbi. And as it explains in Shemot 18:25, these judges would serve to decide what to do when individuals disagreed about the proper course of action. And if the local judge wasn't sure what to do, the case would be brought to the judges of the greater jurisdiction.

So this system was installed under the advice of Yitro and the direction of Moshe like it states in Shemot 18:23, to preserve the nation of Israel and to promote peace.

So in context, this site, like so many others, serves in the capacity of teaching and learning. It is a separate function from the judging of matters between individuals about what to do.

The reason why it is necessary to ask your Rabbi is because we are fulfilling what Moshe told us to do.

And it is important to speak with your Rabbi when it is necessary because it helps to preserve the Jewish people and to promote peace both in your local community and in the world at large.

rabbi is roshei taivos rosh bnei yisrael so i think the best idea is to listen to the communel brain the rosh which is a rabbi

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    I thought "rabbi" came from "rav" = "master". – Double AA Apr 8 '16 at 6:10
  • @DoubleAA thats what the snags think (just look in the Gemara itself, the earlier Rabbis ("Rabbi Akiva", "Rabbi ochanan ben Zakai") etc are all called "Rabbi" and the later Rabbis are called rav, so how could Rabbi haev come from Rav? Really, the older Rabbis are called "Rabbi" because they're on a higher level, with the extra level of Chochmah of Atzlius (represented by the YUD in Rabbi) and also has the Rosh Hateivis Rosh Bnei Yisroel – user2016831 Oct 10 at 23:46
  • @user2016831 are you suggesting the word Rav didn't exist until the time of the Acharonim? Why else could you not imagine how Rebbi came from the word Rav? – Double AA Oct 10 at 23:56
  • @DoubleAA well obviously the word "Rav" - big is Hebrew, so it existed before time, but for use as title I think it came along in the Acharonim, when else? – user2016831 Oct 10 at 23:58
  • @DoubleAA and if you say that right from the word "Rav" -Big they decided to make the title "Rabbi", why not use the plain word "Rav" which is the actual WORD itself, first, and then call the acharonim Rabbi, since that's more of a "nick" name? – user2016831 Oct 11 at 0:00

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