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Toledot HaPoskim, History of the Jewish Codes, by Chaim Tchernowitz.

Posek (Hebrew: פוסק [poˈsek], pl. Poskim, פוסקים [pos'kim]) is the term in Jewish law for a "decisor" — a legal scholar who determines the position of Halakha in cases of law where previous authorities are inconclusive, or in those situations where no clear halakhic precedent exists.

The decision of a posek is known as a psak din or psak halakha ("ruling of law"; pl. piskei din, piskei halakha) or simply a "psak". In Hebrew, פסק is the root implying to "stop" or "cease"—the posek brings the process of legal debate to finality. Piskei din are generally recorded in the responsa literature.

Formulating a ruling (psak din)Edit

In formulating a ruling, a posek will base the psak din on a careful analysis of the relevant underlying legal principles,[1] as well as a careful study of the application of these principles. A Posek must therefore be thoroughly versed in rabbinic literature, from the Babylonian Talmud, through the major medieval codifications of the Law and up to recent decisors.

The process of analysis usually entails today:

  1. an initial study of the relevant Talmudic Sugyas with commentaries;
  2. tracing the development of all related material in the Rishonim (Medieval rabbinic authorities prior to the Shulkhan Aruch) through the Arba'ah Turim and Shulkhan Arukh;
  3. and finally, a close analysis of the works of the Acharonim (rabbinic authorities from about the 16th century onwards) discussing the halakha as recorded in the literature of the Rishonim (and earlier Acharonim).

The ruling itself is an attempt to apply the precedents and principles of the Tradition to the question being asked.[2] One common goal of poskim in this regard is, as far as possible, to be consistent with the codified law, as well as with the maximal relevant legal precedents, generally being decisions recorded in the responsa literature.

The role of the PosekEdit

Orthodox JudaismEdit

Poskim play an integral role in Orthodox Judaism in general and Haredi Judaism in particular.

  • In the Haredi world, each community will regard one of its poskim as its Posek HaDor ("Posek of the present Generation").
  • Hasidic Jews rely on the Rov in their community (sometimes but not always Rebbes also get the position as Rov) or leading posek recommended by their Rebbe. Yet there are some Jews who are Hasidic but are not part of a specific movement. These hassidim will vary in who they follow sometimes following generic hassid-style poskim like Rav Shmuel Wosner.
  • Modern Orthodox Jews may select a posek on a more individual rather than a communal basis, although customs vary.

The approach taken here will, generally, be as above. Thus poskim will not overrule a specific law unless based on an earlier authority: a posek will generally extend a law to new situations but will not change the Halakhah; see the article on Orthodox Judaism.

In 2014 the first ever book of halachic decisions written by women who were ordained to serve as poskim (Idit Bartov and Anat Novoselsky) was published.[3] The women were ordained by the municipal chief rabbi of Efrat, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, after completing Midreshet Lindenbaum women’s college’s five-year ordination course in advanced studies in Jewish law, as well as passing examinations equivalent to the rabbinate’s requirement for men.[4]

Conservative JudaismEdit

Conservative Judaism approaches the idea of Posek, and Halakha in general, somewhat differently, and Poskim here apply a relatively lower weighting to precedent, and will thus frequently re-interpret (or even change) a law through a formal argument; see Conservative Halakha. Although there are some "poskim" in the Conservative movement - e.g. Rabbis Louis Ginzberg, David Golinkin, Joel Roth, and Elliot Dorff - the rulings of any one individual rabbi are considered less authoritative than a consensus ruling. Thus, the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly maintains a Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, whose decisions are accepted as authoritative within the American Conservative movement. At the same time, every Conservative rabbi has the right as mara d'atra to interpret Jewish law for his own community, regardless of the responsa of the Law Committee.[1]

Progressive JudaismEdit

Both Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism do not regard the halakha as binding.

Although Reform stresses the individual autonomy of its membership, it never completely abandoned the field of Responsa literature, if only to counter its rivals' demands. Even Classical Reformers such as Rabbi David Einhorn composed some. Rabbi Solomon Freehof, and his successor Rabbi Walter Jacob, attempted to create a concept of "Progressive Halacha", authoring numerous responsa based on a methodology laying great emphasis on current sensibilities and ethical ideals. Full text collections of Reform responsa are available on the website of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.[5]

The Reconstructionist position is that if Jews would have formed cohesive communities again, their rulings would be binding, yet presently Judaism is in a "post-Halakhic state". Therefore, their basic policy is to allow tradition "a vote, not a veto" in communal and personal affairs.[6]

List of poskim and major worksEdit

Poskim of past yearsEdit

Pre-20th centuryEdit


Conservative and ReformEdit

Living poskimEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Kosher Get: A Halakhic Story of Divorce". trained in halakhic psak ... proper subject of analysis ... embody the individual posek's ..
  2. ^ "Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Vol V, Introduction". The decisor .. understanding .. underlying principles and postulates of Halakhah
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-03-25. Retrieved 2015-03-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-03-25. Retrieved 2015-03-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Walter Jacob, Liberal Judaism and Halakhah, Rodef Shalom Press, 1988. pp. 90-94.; Michael A. Meyer, Changing Attitudes of Liberal Judaism toward Halakhah and Minhag, Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1993. See a collection of CCAR Responsa.
  6. ^ Jonathan Sacks, Crisis and Covenant: Jewish Thought After the Holocaust, Manchester University Press, 1992. p. 158.

Further readingEdit