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Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Answering Monetary Questions part II

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: [We present a discussion that emerges from a set of questions.] People often ask us questions about financial disputes they are involved in. We respond that we do not get involved in practical monetary situations that affect another side whose view we have not heard. Most take this in stride. Others take offense. One pointed out that there are monetary discussions on our site. So, I decided to discuss our approach in more detail.


 Answer: Last time, we cited sources and reasons not to answer such questions. Now we will explain why we answer a minority of such questions and relate to others.

Questions of consistency on this topic go way back. Many of the “fathers” of the prohibition to answer questions about conflicts without hearing both sides seem to violate it in other teshuvot. Perhaps the most important compilation of distinctions is found in the Pitchei Teshuva, Choshen Mishpat 17:11, upon which much of the below is based.

First, it is standard, recommended practice for dayanim who are unsure of the proper ruling to send the case’s details to get a greater authority’s opinion (Shulchan Aruch, CM 14:1). The dayanim are responsible for presenting the claims accurately and ruling; the expert may rely on them.

The Me’il Tzedaka (53) cites sources and a broad practice for a talmid chacham to answer when he knows the querier and is confident he wants to know the truth and will not formulate false claims. (The Me’il Tzedaka rejects this leniency unless the respondent believes the case does not apply to the querier.)

Other sources for leniency refer to various cases with great need to get involved, such as: 1. The information is needed to save people from sin (Shut Maharashdam, Yoreh Deah 153). (There are many teshuvot about poskim who got involved when there were suspicions about a shochet.) 2. Someone was attacking the integrity of a talmid chacham (Shvut Yaakov III,99). 3. The opinion was needed for the mitzva of helping a widow (Shut Maharshal 24).

Another type of case where some permit discussion is where the question relates to general halachic issues and not to factual background about which everyone agrees (Shut HaRama 112). In a related justification, poskim will often also say that they are not suggesting a ruling for the case, but are just explaining gemarot or general halachic issues to interested parties, and it is not their responsibility what conclusion those who now understand the halachic topic will say about their case.

The Pitchei Teshuva also cites an exception when the question is about which beit din has jurisdiction. The logic is that the alternative of addressing the matter formally before beit din does not apply if they cannot agree on a beit din.

While some of the cases where we are lenient are based on one of the above, our most common justification to express tentative opinions is in cases where there are not clear litigants. (Most of the sources discuss those who are or are expected to be litigants.) For example, a person does not want to go to beit din and is happy to pay or forgo the money if he is wrong. We often say: “We cannot tell you that you are right, but only if you are wrong” (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. I, J-1), and even then only when we know the person or have indications that he is sincere on this point. When it appears that someone wants to adjudicate, and we feel that he will create enemies and head/heart aches with a small chance of winning, we often will advise in general terms (and with a lack of certainty) that he would be wise to drop the matter.

The above are some of our guidelines. We request of those who turn to us: if you believe you belong to the exception, not the rule, and we are not convinced, respect our right to be more machmir than you were expecting or are used to. We think this is proper for an organization serving anonymous people about whose circumstances we know little and which runs a Beit Din which pursues ethical excellence, including impartiality, even when the advice-seeker wants answers.

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