Halachic Decisions (Psak)

Choosing a Rabbi

You may not normally ask multiple rabbis for halachic decisions about different questions, but if you do not have a primary rabbi, you may do so.

You may not generally ask different rabbis for their decisions of halacha in order to get the answer you want. You may also not ask a specific rabbi a question based on your expectation that he will give you the answer that you are seeking. But if someone asks you to recommend a rabbi, you may refer him or her to a rabbi who will give the answer that he or she would like to receive.

When You Must Follow

You must follow the decision you are given if you asked for a psak if the psak is more stringent that what you want to do but if it is more lenient, you may still be more stringent than what you were told to do. If the decision affects anyone other than yourself, you may not be more lenient or more stringent but must follow what you were told.

If you didn’t ask for a psak but just heard someone talking about a halachic decision, you may ignore it.

Doubt (Safek)

Doubt in halacha (safek) refers to when it is impossible to know or determine the situation.

We are stringent in applying laws if we are uncertain about Torah commandments.

We are lenient in applying laws if we are uncertain about rabbinic commandments.

Mitigating Circumstances

The ideal and preferred means of observing or fulfilling a halacha is called l’chatchila.

Sometimes the halacha’s requirements may be fulfilled b’di'avad (after the fact) under less-than-ideal circumstances.

You may not intentionally do an action at the b’diavad level if you are able to do it at the l'chatchila level.

The only type of laws that may sometimes be overridden to help with shalom bayit (promoting peaceful family relations) or kibud av va'eim (honoring parents) is rabbinic law, not Torah law. A rabbi should be consulted in these cases.

Human life is valued in Judaism, unlike in some other religions. The Talmud says that if someone saves one human life (pikuach nefesh), it is as if he or she saved an entire universe.

Almost all halachot may be overridden in order to save a life; the main exceptions are for Adultery, Murder, and Idol Worship.

Example: You may drive a car on Shabbat or even Yom Kippur in order to take a seriously-injured or ill person to the hospital. This includes pregnant women who are about to give birth.

The Talmud says that a person must allow himself to be killed rather than violate any of three commandments that may not be violated: adultery; murder; idol worship. Note that in Jewish law, not all types or conditions of killing a person are defined as murder.

Although human dignity (kavod ha’briot) cannot override Torah commandments, kavod ha’briot allows violating some d’rabanan laws in order to avoid embarrassment.


1) Tearing Toilet Paper

Situation: You need to use toilet paper on Shabbat but none is torn.

What To Do: You may tear some toilet paper using any non-standard method or change from the normal way (shinu’i), such as not using your hand, or dropping something on the paper.

2) Hearing Aid

Situation: You may speak to someone who uses a hearing aid on Shabbat to avoid embarrassing him or her.

New Facts

A halachic determination may be voided or changed if factual information is found that contradicts the information on which the halachic determination was made (such as incorrect science or incorrect statement of a condition or situation). However, you must check with the originator of the psak or the original source of information on which the halacha was based.

Copyright 2015 Richard B. Aiken. Halacha L'Maaseh appears courtesy of www.practicalhalacha.com Visit their web site for more information.

This material is provided for informational purposes only - not a substitute for the consultation of a competent rabbi.