Reuven, who studies assiduously in a kollel, asked me the following shaylah:
“I recently inherited some money with which I repaid a private loan used to buy our home. Although I always give maaser (ten percent) of my earnings to tzedakah, I forgot this time, and subsequently asked Rav A what I should do, since I no longer have money for the maaser. He told me that I am obligated to pay this money to maaser and should consider it a debt that I must pay back gradually, even though this will take years. I then asked him whether I need to perform hataras nedarim (the procedure whereby one renounces vows) for my practice of giving maaser money, since in the interim I will be significantly behind on my usual maaser giving. He told me that he was uncertain about this latter question and that I should ask someone else.
“Subsequently, I approached the son of a prominent posek requesting that he ask his father whether I should perform hataras nedarim, telling him the whole story. He returned with the reply, ‘My father said that, in your circumstances, you are not obligated to give maaser kesafim from the inherited money.’
“Now, I am a bit confused and I have a new shaylah. I know that one may not ask the same shaylah from a second rav after receiving a ruling. However, I did not ask the prominent posek to rule on whether I must give maaser. May I rely on the answer I received from the second posek absolving me from paying maaser, since the second rav is a greater authority than the first? Does it matter that I was not asking the second rav the same shaylah I asked the first?”
REQUESTING A SECOND OPINION
Before proceeding with surgery or some other major medical procedure, people usually seek additional information and opinions. Similarly, why not ask a different rav his opinion? Possibly, the second rav may even influence the first rav to change his opinion!
In order to explain this matter, we must first examine why one may not re-ask a shaylah. This topic is often simply referred to as chacham she’horah, lit.,a wise man (or Torah scholar) who ruled.
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 7a) states, “One who asked a shaylah from a Torah scholar and he prohibited, the questioner may not ask a different scholar hoping that he will permit.” This ban forbids not only asking the shaylah a second time, but also prohibits a different scholar from answering the shaylah, as the Gemara states elsewhere (Niddah 20b): “If a Torah scholar forbade something, a different one may not permit it.” Thus, we see that not only is it forbidden to go “heter shopping” after receiving a psak, but also that a rav may not assist someone to “heter shop.”
The Rishonim deliberate why, indeed, one may not re-ask a shaylah. Here are three approaches:
Approach #1: RESPECT FOR A TALMID CHACHAM
Some explain that seeking a second opinion implies that the first rav is incompetent; re-asking the shaylah is an affront to his honor (cited by Ran to Avodah Zarah).
Approach #2: THE RAV DETERMINES
The Rosh (ad loc.) explains that when a rav is asked a shaylah, his ruling makes the item either permitted or forbidden. According to this approach, the rav’s ruling determines the halachic status of the item in question, and there is no purpose in asking the shaylah again.
Approach #3: ACCEPTING THE PROHIBITION
A third approach explains that, when submitting a question to a rav, the questioner accepts the rav’s decision and considers the item either permitted or prohibited, according to the ruling. Therefore, if the rav rules the item forbidden, the questioner has accepted this decision as binding. Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 7a s.v. hanishal) views this as an example of “shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura – considering something as prohibited,”even when everyone else knows that it is not. I will clarify this principle with a different case.
A man believes that he is a kohen, although there is insufficient evidence for his assumption. Since most Jews are yisroelim and not kohanim, his basic status is a yisroel, and he has none of the rights of a kohen. Therefore, he may not duchen, redeem a bechor or receive the first aliyah to the Torah. However, since he considers himself a kohen, he must assume the stringencies of a kohen, such as not attending funerals or becoming tamei to a corpse in any other way, or marrying a woman prohibited to a kohen. Since he himself believes that he is a kohen, he is shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura – he must consider himself prohibited as if he is a kohen.
According to this approach, when I ask a shaylah, I am accepting the rav’s opinion as binding halacha. I cannot change this psak by asking a different rav, even if the second rav is more competent.
HOW DO THESE APPROACHES DIFFER?
According to the first approach quoted, one may not seek a second opinion, because attempting to circumvent the rav’s decision slights his honor. However, if one happens to become aware of a differing opinion without attempting to go “over the first rav’s head,” one might be permitted to follow the second opinion. This is because, even though asking a shaylah a second time shows lack of respect to the first rav,once one becomes aware that the matter is disputed, the status of the case changes to the general shaylah of what to do when there is a dispute among poskim. This general shaylah is beyond the scope of this article.
Thus, according to the first approach, Reuven might be free to ignore the halachic decision of the first rav. Unfortunately for Reuven, most Rishonim do not follow this approach.
Is there any halachic divergence, however, between the Rosh’s position that the rav’s decision determines the halacha (Approach #2), and that of Tosafos, that the questioner accepts the rav’s decision (Approach #3)? The usual way to understand their argument is that according to the Rosh, the decision creates the law, whereas according to Tosafos, it is a stringency that the questioner must observe but it does not become the law. Is there any practical difference between the two positions?
Indeed, there is! According to Tosafos’ approach, the first rav’s ruling is binding only if he was stringent, but not if he ruled leniently. If the first rav ruled leniently, not only may one ask a second opinion, but also, if the second rav ruled stringently, one is bound to follow the strict opinion. According to the Rosh, the first rav’s ruling is binding in either case, since his decision creates the law, and one would not be obligated to follow the second rav’s opinion.
HOW DO WE RULE?
The poskim dispute whether we follow the opinion of Tosafos or that of the Rosh. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) and the Taz rule like the Rosh, whereas the Shach (ibid. 59) and the Gra rule like Tosafos.
WHAT IF THE RAV ERRED?
Although the Gemara states that someone who asked a shaylah may not ask a different scholar, hoping that he will be lenient, Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 7a) rules that if one feels that the first rav erred, he may ask a second rav. If the first rav’s ruling was clearly an error, his decision is overruled. This is because such a basic error is not considered a halachic ruling at all.
What type of error is overruled?
There are three possible reasons why two poskim might disagree:
A. Machlokes beshikul hadaas – a difference of opinion.
The most common case is where two poskim understand the subject differently, resulting in different rulings. This is not an error but a difference in outlook, and the first rav’s verdict cannot be overturned.
B. Ta’us beshikul hadaas – an error in judgment
Sometimes the original decision was because the first rav ruled like one side of an earlier dispute; however, accepted practice follows the conflicting view of that dispute. This is considered an error of judgment, ta’us beshikul hadaas, since it was based on judging which opinion to follow. The poskim dispute whether such an error can be overturned (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 242:31; Shach, ad loc., and Choshen Mishpat 25:14:17).
C. Ta’us bidvar mishna – an error in facts
There are instances where the ruling is clearly erroneous. This is when the rav was unaware of information that overturns his ruling, such as where the ruling conflicts with an undisputed statement in earlier poskim or is based on inaccurate factual information (see Mishnah, Bechoros 28b). It also includes cases where the rav subsequently discovered that contemporary halachic authorities rule differently from the way he did, and he would have accepted their position, had he known (see Sanhedrin 33a).
If, indeed, the first rav erred, his ruling is invalid. Because this is so, one may ask a second rav to investigate whether the first rav’s ruling is erroneous (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 7a).
The Rama (Shu”t #28) discusses such a case. While salting a large pile of meat on Pesach, someone discovered a wheat kernel lying on one piece of meat. The question was whether all the pieces of meat are now chometzdik and must be thrown out, or whether only the piece that actually touched the kernel is prohibited. The rav who answered the shaylah ruled leniently, but a different rav disagreed vociferously. The question was submitted to the Rama for arbitration. What is the status of the meat?
In a lengthy discussion, the Rama demonstrates that one cannot prove that the first rav erred. Therefore, the Rama rules that the meat is permitted, since he contends, like the Rosh, that once the first rav ruled leniently, that is the halacha – unless the ruling was an error. According to the opinion of the Shach, who rules like Tosafos, if the second rav’s opinion is more likely accurate, all the meat is prohibited. This is because the first rav was lenient; if he had ruled stringently, both the Rosh and Tosafos would agree that the first ruling is binding.
(By the way, the second rav who contended that all the meat was forbidden may not eat it, because of shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss whether he may eat food cooked in the pots used to cook this meat.)
Thus, we can now answer Reuven’s original shaylah. Although he would like to follow the more lenient opinion of the second posek, once he asked the first rav, he is bound by this decision and must give maaser.
MAY THE RAV CHANGE HIS MIND?
We now understand that unless the original rav erred, one cannot follow the opinion of a different rav who disagrees. However, what happens if the rav who originally prohibited the item changes his mind and now feels differently about the issues? Can the rav change his mind from what he originally ruled and change his psak halacha in that case?
Although one might think that this is certainly permitted, if one considers the reasons mentioned above, it is by no means obvious. Once the rav declared the item prohibited, who says that even he can change his ruling? Indeed, many poskim contend that he cannot, unless his first ruling was an error (Shach, Yoreh Deah 242:58), although others rule that he may change his ruling (Ran, Avodah Zarah 7a, Rama, Yoreh Deah ad loc. and Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 242:58-60). An authoritative responsum on this subject appears in Shu”t Panim Meiros (#2).
A RECURRING SHAYLAH
What happens if the shaylah recurs? If someone asked a shaylah from a rav and the rav ruled stringently, and now the questioner has the same shaylah again, is the questioner bound to follow the psak he received previously?
The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) rules that the binding decision of a rav applies only to the shaylah just asked. However, if the same shaylah recurs, one may ask the shaylah to a different rav. Also, if the first rav changed his mind and someone subsequently asks him a similar shaylah, he may and should rule differently, reflecting his current opinion.
THE SAUSAGE FACTORY
I found a very interesting halachic discussion about this very point. In the United States of the 1930s and ’40s, kashrus supervision was very chaotic. It was not uncommon for a businessman to own both kosher and non-kosher food operations, and, unfortunately, this led to many scandals when unscrupulous individuals sold non-kosher food as kosher. The Agudas Harabbanim, then the pre-eminent rabbinic organization in North America, issued a ban on the practice of providing a hechsher to a business owned by someone who also owned a non-kosher business.
A new shaylah arose when large conglomerate corporations that owned non-kosher businesses purchased kosher abattoirs or sausage companies. Was the rav who had previously provided the hechsher to the kosher business now required to remove his hechsher, simply because the parent corporation also owned non-kosher businesses, or did the prohibition to give a hechsher apply only to a business whose management or active ownership included non-kosher operations?
The Agudas Harabbanim assembled a beis din to adjudicate the matter. While this beis din was deliberating, someone questioned whether this beis din could debate the subject, contending that the Agudas Harabbanim had previously prohibited this practice in an earlier ruling. Thus, claimed the naysayer, it was a case of chacham she’horah – the issue was already a closed matter and there was no room to reopen the case!
In a teshuvah penned on Tu Bishvat 5694, Rav Yosef Konwitz, who had previously been the rav of Tzfas and at the time wasa rav in New York, argued that this is a different shaylah, and that the earlier ruling had covered only the case at hand then (Shu”t Divrei Yosef #10). Although the reasons behind the previous ruling may indeed be brought to bear on this case, the newly created beis din has every right to rule on the new cases and to rule differently from the earlier case, if the dayanim disagree with the earlier psak.
We have now established the basic rules whether the psak one receives can be overturned. The basic rules are:
I. If the original psak was an error, as defined above, then the psak is not valid.
II. If it was not an error, then, according to most poskim, the original psak is valid and the rav himself cannot change his ruling on that case. Some poskim contend that the original rav may change his opinion on the original case.
III. The original psak does not affect subsequent cases, even if they affect the same person and he asks the same rav.
Most importantly, we learn from our discussion that once one receives a psak prohibiting something, one may not shop for a heter to permit it.