Education By Psak (Halachik decisions) – Rabbi Barry Gelman
When Rabbis render Halachik decisions for they are doing much more than answering a technical question. Psak Halacha can also serve an educational function in that it teaches entire communities about values.
One area where Rabbis can make a strong educational impact via Psak Halacha is in the area of Pesach preparation and cleaning. It is very much the Rabbi who sets the tone for how Pesach is viewed, appreciated and enjoyed by communities.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes that it is prohibited to impose stringencies on people that will cost extra money and cause distress, even on Pesach when it is customary to be extra careful. (She’eilat Shlomo 1:157)
Rabbis who do not get caught up in the whirlwind of pesach stringencies and teach that pesach can be enjoyed and not ruined by pre pesach preparations are teaching their communities a valuable lesson about simchat Yom Tov and the value of moderation.
Ethical lessons are also taught from how Rabbis rule on participating in charity drives for gentiles. The recent earthquake in Haiti was an unfortunate opportunity for Rabbis to teach the Halachik sources and via that process, educate communities about the value of all life and the importance of seeing ourselves as part of the global community. The sources from Rambam, Meiri and others are classical legal sources, the message they leave behind goes further than a one- time legal ruling.
There are many examples of education by psak in the writings of Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, known as the Sridei Eish. In one Teshuva he forbids burying the cremated remains of a Jews in a Jewish cemetery. For Rabbi Weinberg, prohibiting burial in the Jewish cemetery made clear that cremation crossed a “red line”. It was his hope that by prohibiting burial in the Jewish cemetery, others who were considering cremation would realize just how deplorable that action was and change their minds. This is a very good case of a posek using Halacha to educate his community. Bear in mind that Rabbi Weinberg was dissenting from the view of another great German posek, Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman who argued that those who choose cremation are no different than any other sinner who is permitted burial in the Jewish cemetery.
Rabbi Yitzchak Blau has written about other rulings of Rabbi Weinberg that serve educational purposes. Go here for an introduction to the life and thought of Rabbi Weinberg http://vbm-torah.org/archive/modern/31modern.htm and here for an article noting some of those decisions http://vbm-torah.org/archive/modern/32modern.htm.
There is much that Rabbis can accomplish in terms of ingraining values in communities via Psak Halacha. Great Poskim have used their piskei halacha for this very reason and it is my hope that more rabbis can do the same.