Writings from the Rabbis

Rabbi2Rabbi: an email dialogue between Rabbi Adam Cutler and Rabbi Adam Scheier (February 2017)
March 21 2017


EPISODE 29 - February 2017

Dear Rav Adam,

For me, I am especially sensitive to issues of pikuaẖ nefesh (saving a life), k’vod habriyot (human dignity), mamonam shel yisrael (monetary cost) and chilul hashem (desecration of the Divine name). While there is no perfect formula into which one can plug the variables and receive a correct policy or halakhic decision, these four areas, for me, are especially weighty in making any determination.

On an individual level, we can all learn from Chabad’s zeal in assisting Jews to do just one more mitzvah. I appreciate their ability to meet Jews where they are (both physically and spiritually). At the same time, on a synagogue level we have to make decisions that are appropriate for our communities. As rabbis we have obligations to the Jew in front of us and the corporate whole.

I try, however, not to be afraid of creating a precedent. We know that once we do something for one family or try a service at a non-standard time, the future will only bring similar requests. We can only
deal with the situation that is presented before us. Tomorrow is another day.

Have you ever made a policy decision that you have regretted? What was a situation where you  hesitatingly said yes and were later thankful?

Rabbi Adam Cutler
Beth Tzedec Congregation
Toronto, ON
416-781-3514 ext. 219

Dear Rav Adam,

In rabbinical school, as we learn the process of “psak”: analyzing complicated scenarios and determining the correct approach according to Jewish law. We were taught to “pasken the sha’ala and the sho’el,”
which means to consider both the question and the questioner. That is, the answer to a question can have a subjective component; halakhah is deeply nuanced.

There is a story told about Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, from the period when he was a community rabbi in London during the first World War. He was often approached by community members with questions about the kashrut of slaughtered chickens. When he would determine that a chicken was
not kosher, he would send the questioner away with charity funds sufficient to purchase a new chicken. He knew that if someone were making the effort to verify a chicken, that they were financially stressed and could only afford that one animal for their Shabbat meal. In other words, when hearing a question about halakhah, he would hear the bigger picture of that person’s life.

The challenge in establishing community policy based on the approach that sees the individual within the halakhah question is that some answers are, indeed, catered for a specific individual and not for a larger
community. Of course, there are times when moral instincts empower me to be bold. However, knowing that any halakhah decision has the capacity to establish precedent, I do often find myself pausing and considering the implications for my broader community.

Rabbi Adam Scheier
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim
Westmount, QC