Iyar 5761 – Can A Woman Be A Posek?

15 Iyar 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

Can, according to Halacha, a qualified woman act as a posek?

Thank you,

Name withheld upon request

Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for your question! We have to realize that the term Posek is used very loosely today, and can mean different things to different people. The root of Posek is “Psak”, which means to stop. As a matter of fact, in modern Hebrew a “time out” is a “Psak Zman”. In the context of Halacha, a Posek is someone who is qualified to actually figure out what the “bottom line” Halacha should be in a certain situation. Although people commonly use it for anyone who instructs others as to what the Halacha is, such a person is actually a “Moreh Hora’ah”- someone who teaches what others have already determined to be the Halacha.

There is no doubt that a woman is permitted to teach others and inform people what the Halacha is. This has been done throughout our history, and is being done today, not only in the forum of teaching Halacha in classrooms, but there are also many Rebbitzens who will take phone calls for their husbands and answer Shaalos, if they are confident that they know the answers. In this manner, there are many women who can and do fill the capacity of teaching and informing others of Halacha. Acting as a Posek in the strictest meaning of the word, i.e. actually applying the Halacha in new situations, comparing one thing to another, and arriving at a conclusion of what the Ratzon Hashem is in a new situation, is not something that is commonly done by women. Theoretically, if a woman would be the most qualified person to make a determination of Halacha in acertain situation, she would of course be permitted, and obligated, to doso. However, practically speaking, from a Torah perspective this is generally not considered the role of women. Consequently, there are no women today (at least that I know of) who have the training and breadth of knowledge to be able to arrive at a truly objective Psak Halacha in a new situation based solely on the principles handed down to us from Sinai by our Chaza”l which are used to determine the Ratzon Hashem.

According to Halacha, even if a woman was expert in Halacha, it would not be permitted for a Jewish community to hire her and give her the authority to impose her “Psak” on members in the community. They could, of course, hire her as a teacher, in manner in which the community would voluntarily decide to act in manner consistent with Halacha based on her teachings.

I hope that this is helpful for you.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler