Accepting lenient rulings
6 August, 2006
I listened to Mrs. Braunstein a'h 's review classes on taharat hamishpacha. in which she emphasizes, repeatedly, the importance of asking questions of a rav. She said that preferring to be stringent rather than show a question is incorrect.
She said that she asked dozens of rabbonim, Chasidish and Litvish, and all agree that there is no basis not to show a question on a hefsek tahara to a rav, though some people have the idea that this is a good stringency.
However, someone challenged me on this and said that a respected rav told her that although a rav may say a bedika (or hefsek) is fine, it's important to know whether it's fine according to all, or whether he is being lenient. And if he's being lenient, it would be praiseworthy to do the hefsek tahara again. That this is a yiras shomayim issue and one which the couple has to decide. She also referred to not putting oneself in a "question situation" and asked whether I was truly advocating a "very bedieved hefsek tahara, 7 nekiim etc but as long as husband and wife are reunited its fine" and "what about hidur mitzva?"
This position of the rav goes counter to what I learned. I learned that it's better to have a bidieved hefsek and not postpone going to the mikva! That the ikar l'chatchile is to be matir isha l'baala (permit the couple to be reunited)!
She asked me for a source for this latter statement. I don't have one. Do you?
Do you have any sources for me, one way or the other?
Is it indeed an extra measure of hidur and yiras shomayim if, when my husband brings a bedika to a rav and gets the okay, that my husband then ask him whether his decision would be accepted by all outright or whether he was being lenient?
I also wonder what it means if a rav is lenient when he looks at a question. After all, kareis is involved here! Am I right in assuming that a reputable rav is very careful to permit only that which is truly permissible! Where would leniencies come in here?
I'd appreciate any sources you can provide, and look forward to your response.
We agree strongly with Mrs. Braunstein a"h. We do not understand this rav's position. We show our yir'at shamayim (fear of Heaven) by bringing cloths only to rabbanim who are yir'ei shamayim and are highly competent to issue halachic rulings. To second-guess the ruling of a competent rav, or neglect even to ask a question, shows a lack of emunat chachamim – acceptance of Torah authorities. Sometimes, even a genuine blood stain has a non-uterine origin and does not affect the woman's niddah status. A chumra (stringency) on matters of taharat hamishpachah is often a kula (leniency) in the mitzvot of peru urevu and of onah (both d'oraita).
Stringencies are already built in to the process of evaluating stains and bedikot. For example, originally, even some red shades of blood were not considered to render a woman niddah. Thus, "leniency" is a relative term. The only way a rav may be lenient is if he rules, in a sha'at had'chak (extenuating situation), that a borderline shade he might ordinarily be stringent on is acceptable. If he does so, he is using his halachic expertise to rule and the ruling rests on his halachic shoulders. A person in such a situation is performing no hidur by destroying shalom bayit (marital harmony) in order to be more stringent than his or her rebbe. A rav will never permit a stain he knows to be tamei!
As for sources, in Berachot 4a we learn that David HaMelekh took pride in his getting his hands dirty with "dam, shapir and shilya" in order to permit a woman to her husband, suggestive of the approach above. Any number of niddah books for the masses include admonitions not to be lenient or stringent on oneself, but to ask a rav — for examples, see the introductions to the books of Rabbis Forst and Eider.
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