Session 5 – March 23: Halakhic Values & Psak

This week, we’re exploring the values & principles that drive halakhic decision-making and action. There are some terms in the reading this week that may be new to you! Feel free to Google them, or write to me or Zissel with any clarifying questions that come up in the reading. Two terms in particular may be useful as you move through this piece:

  • psak (פסק) – a halakhic decision
  • posek (פוסק) – someone who makes halakhic decisions

These terms describe a process in which someone has a question about how to engage in a particular practice, and asks a posek for psak (i.e., asks a leader or teacher to help them figure out what their practice should be, and how it can be expressed through halakhic language).

Readings for this session:

  • Friendly Halakha and the Friendly Poseq” – Daniel Sperber
    • Specific pages:
      • Start with a brief introduction on p. 3. You should feel free to skip the next 10 pages or so, where Sperber gives a bunch of examples.
      • You can pick up on p. 13 (“What all these examples have in common is that…”) through p. 14. (“These values figure most prominently in cases that pose a conflict between what appears to be the formal halakhic decision and what appears to be required as a matter of human justice and religious ethics.”)
      • You can pick back up on p. 21 (“Having identified various directions in halakhic decision-making, we turn now from the process to its practitioners and examine the qualities that properly characterize a rabbi acting as decisor.”) through the end. Feel free to skim as much or as little as you want!

Optional readings (if you want to go deeper into the idea of “psak”):