December 8, 2009
On Line Psak – Bad Medicine - Rabbi Barry Gelman
I am sure that many are familiar with the phenomenon on internet piskei halach – the popular notion of asking halachik questions, usually anonymously, to a rabbi. Often times even the rabbi who is answering in anonymous as the question is sent to a pool of rabbis.
No doubt there is some benefit to this technological option. It saves time as one can send the question and then great on with their life as they wait for answer. It also allows for sensitive question to be asked with minimal or no embarrassment.
On the other hand, online psak share the same pitfalls that so many other online relationships do. There is no doubt that the internet has allowed many to expand the number of people they are in touch with. The flip side is that while we are in touch with more people quantitatively, the quality of many of those relationships has deteriorated.
Online psak is no different. It allows for no relationship between posek and questioner, a very important ingredient in psak halacha. In on line piskei halaca it is very ahrd to flesh out all the detsil of the question. A fundamental ingredient missing in almost all on line pask is the ability for the Rabbi to ask questions to the questioner. The seasoned posek knows the questions that will assist in finding the proper answer.
Psak Halacha is a very personal matter as no two questioners ask the same question. Even thought on the surface it may seem that the very same question is being asked, the specific circumstances of the questioner, their religious background, their financial, and domestic situation all play a role in making a correct decision.
It is interesting to note that a major issue discussed by rabbis is rabbinic autonomy and that in some areas of life, halacha is becoming centralized One of the main objections to centralized rabbinic authority is that the rabbis of the central authority often lack familiarity with those asking the questions. The same shortcoming exists in the realm of internet psak.
A doctor can do a better job diagnosing a treating a patient when the patient’s personal history is known to the doctor and the doctor has time to ask question and clarify matters. The same is true for a rabbi asked to answer a halachik question. All of the factors mentioned above, if known by the rabbi, an serve an important role in rendering an appropriate decision