Can a Rabbi know everything?

I saw an interesting question and answer from Rabbi Aviner’s web page. I’d describe Rabbi Aviner as Charedi Leumi, but unlike regular Charedim, he is acquainted somewhat more with the real world. Here is the question and answer

Q: Sometimes when a Rabbi is asked a question, he responds: “I don’t know” or “I am not familiar with that”. Is this and answer, or a was of avoiding taking a position?

A: It is a type of answer and of taking a position (The Chazon Ish said: ‘I don’t know” is also part of the Torah, meaning that when a person reviews his learning, he need to points out I know this and I don’t know that. Sha’arei Aharon vol. 1, p. 44 in Kuntres Sha’arei Ish. And the Steipler complained to a great Rabbi: When I say that I don’t know, the world explains it as if it is a doubt. Orchot Rabbenu vol. 1, p. 38 in the additions at the end. And Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski was asked: When Ha-Rav answers a question with “I haven’t heard”. Does this mean that he does not agree with that position? He answered: It is the simple meaning of the words. She’eilat Rav Vol. 1, p. 22 #8. Segulot Raboteinu, p. 257 note #319).

I recall being taken aback when Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Hershel Schachter occasionally said to me over the phone “I don’t know”. This to me is Gadlus, otherwise known as intellectual integrity as opposed to papal infallibility (lehavdil). It could have lots of meanings

  1. I don’t know you well enough to make a determined ruling
  2. I need more facts, and based on what you’ve told me, “I don’t know”
  3. I never had a Mesora on how to decide this issue, and I don’t pasken without a Mesora (this is a Hungarian trait), others (like Dayan Usher Weiss isn’t afraid to say Libi Omer Li)
  4. I can’t answer you on the spot, I need to look into it very carefully (the Rav told all his Talmidim to never answer immediately, and to always say you have to check, and to look in Shulchan Aruch and call back, even if you know)
  5. Rav Hershel always encourages his Musmachim to discuss every Shayla with a Chaver (Rav) before answering
  6. He’s not convinced I’ll listen to him, so and not say something, he says I don’t know.

As opposed to Poskim, I would posit, that most Rebbes, and Rebbalach, never seem short of an answer. Similarly, the same can be said of Mekubalim (the real ones, and the shyster money grabbers).

Right to left Rav Abaranok ז’ל, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Balbin, and me, on the Upsherin.

I’ve never seen it as a negative! Moshe Rabenu needed to consult what to do with Zelafchad, the Mekoshesh Etzim. Consultation is a good thing, and human frailty to me is Gadlus. Mori, V’Rabi Rav Abaranok, always said his “tentative opinion” then invited you to his office or house, where he went through the Mekoros and explained his Psak (or withdrew it!). They say ( I think in the name of R’ Moshe Tendler) that R’ Moshe when asked a question would answer at the bottom of the stairs, and by the time he got to the top of the stairs, reviewing everything out loud, he either kept his Psak or changed it.


Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

18 thoughts on “Can a Rabbi know everything?”

            1. In Krakow before the war there wasn;t one frum Doktor, all the medical practioners and chirurgen were frei assimilated polish secularists. In contemporary times maybe one can find after a very very long search a truly frum doktor who is well versed in Halocho, but this would be 1 in a 100,000. Hashem is the Roifeh Kol Bossor, not the doktor down at the local bulk billing clinic who is rying to rip off medicaid.


            2. It takes one minute to find good frum doctors. We’ve (some of us anyway) have moved onto anti-semitic Kracow.
              Perhaps you might have heard of the Rambam.


        1. That’s of course not a Halachic stance. It is something which seeks to promote the incorrect idea that the two aren’t instrinsically linked. You see, we aren’t dealing with K’Meias here, we are dealing with evidence based best practice. This, is what we need to follow L’Halocho and L’Maaseh, and to imply that the two aren’t somehow linked, is to show that your weltanshauung is limited between Kodesh and “Chol” to the extent that you can’t take the Chol, even when it’s embedded in Halacha and think that it could be Kodesh. God help you, and I hope you and your family never needs it, that a Doctor helps them Al Pi Science, which Hashem created, and which Hashem asked the Doctor to understand and use. It’s not us vs them. You think there was a Mesorah from Moshe about what would cure the currently incurable? There was not. Some things, yes, including understanding a Tosfos, were given to this world, to us, for us, and we are to involve ourselves in them, because they ARE Kedusha. You may find it more uplifting that a Rav came late to Ne’ilah because he heard a woman crying in a hovel. I find it at least as uplifting when a Doctor struggles to understand the Science, that is Hashem, to try and heal the unhealable. V’Dal.


          1. Growth in medical knowledge and advancement is at the cost of kedusha. E.g. As technology increases the level of Torah knowledge decreases. Its called the kodesh/Chol trade off. For instance 1000 years ago the knowledge of Torah was all pervasive and medicine was primitive. Today the situation is reversed. Another example, today a doctor can perform groundbreaking fractional laser surgery and other such medical wonders, but how many are able to navigate a basic Tosafos?


            1. You aren’t serious are you? There is no COST of Kedusha. Their work IS Kedusha.
              When you find me the Pasuk which says that Kedusha = understanding a Tosfos, I’ll be convinced.
              Even Parshas Dvarim where Moshe Rabenu repeats things, doesn’t mention a Tosfos. What the Torah DOES say that the Refuah was created before the Macoh. Finding that is Kedusha clearly because according to everyone, even rabid and wrong hungarian Rebbes, it’s a Mitzvah Gedola.


          1. Can’t see the relevance of Rebbes here. Not knowing the Halacha is one thing. Rebbes generally do not pasken. They are usually there to help yidden out with advice and brachos. Many poskim also did that. So again, relevance?


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