Sunday, 14 December 2008

Poll Results - How Do You Choose Your Halachic Behaviour?

These are the results of the last Nishma poll which ran the month before Rosh Hashanah 5769
This was the poll question:

How Do You Choose Your Halachic Behaviour?
It is often the case, within the Halacha, that variant opinions are presented and we are called upon to choose the opinion which we will follow. The question is: how do we make that decision?The case of mayim achronim, the washing of hands before Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after meals, is an example of just such a case that may illustrate the various ways that we approach this question. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 181:1 clearly states that mayim achronim is a chovah, an obligation (for both men and women). In sief 10, though, he writes about others that do not have the custom of washing their hands at this time, which is an opinon of Tosafot, Berachot 53b. The Mishnah Brura, 181:22, though, brings four eminent poskim - The Vilna Gaon, the Magen Avraham, the Maharshal and the Birkei Yosef -- who still maintain that people should wash their hands at this time.So what do you do...and, more importantly for this survey, why?
The poll choices and responses: I wash or do not wash mayim achronim because...
(Vote total 26)

a) it is what I feel is the dominant halachic opinion within the poskim; [belief in Halachic consensus]
Response 4/26 - 15%

b) my personal Torah study and research leads me to believe that my position is the correct one; [following one's conscience regardless of external pressure]
Response 5/26 - 19%

c) I wish to follow the normative behaviour of the community in which I live [peer pressure] Response 0/26 0%

d) I like doing something a bit different than what others are doing [non-conformist, original] Response 1/26 - 4%

e) it is what I simply want to do
Response 0/26 - 0%

f) it is the way I was brought up
Response 8/26 - 30%

g) it is what I was taught when I became religious
Response 2/26 - 9%

h) uninformed habit
Response 6/26 - 23%


While most respondents indicated that they basically act in a manner the mirrors what they have seen (option "f" and option "h") it is quite significant that there was still a sizeable majority which indicated that they have made an informed decision on the matter (option "a" and option "b"). These latter two options actually reflect the two major poles in halachic methodology today, whether our approach to psak should be as collators, presenting the reasoned basically majority opinion of the past, or as decisions makers, presenting our conclusions on a matter.

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