Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Adventures in Semantics: Shailah and Machlokes

Sometimes it feels as though every shailah ends in a machlokes.

A shailah is a question requesting a religious ruling. You are usually asking your own LOR (local orthodox rabbi).

Here are some examples: 
  • Do I need to kasher a can opener? And if so, how?
  • Can I scoop cat litter on Shabbat? Probably not, so can I just throw out all the litter to avoid separating bad from good?
  • Should I report a co-worker who has admitted a violation of company policy to me in confidence?
  • Should my child with a disability attend a school other than the local yeshiva?
  • X has happened. Am I niddah?
  • Are my children allowed to play with legos on Shabbat?
  • Can I brush my teeth on Shabbat?
  • Is Bailey's Irish Creme kosher?

Machlokes (also pronounced machloikes) is when the answer to that question is disputed. You know the old cliche, 2 Jews = 3 opinions. Or in stereotypical lawyerspeak, "It depends." Just about every shailah can be a machlokes.

For instance, I learned from a Twitter debate between rabbis that the lego question above is a machlokes. Whodathunkit? 


  1. What's the answer to the last example?

    1. Originally posted: August 10, 2011 at 2:49 PM

      Yminoh, all US authorities say no. The London Beit Din (aka, THE certifier for the UK and many former colonies) says it is. London is who oversees the plant, and it's only produced in one place worldwide. So it's considered kosher in the UK, Australia, etc. Some say the difference is that LBD only checks ingredients (I don't have trustworthy verification of that). Others say the difference is rabbinic politics that I also don't know the source of.

      Good clarification, Larry!

      Thanks, Leah Sarah! I always forget that pronunciation because it sounds weird to me :P

  2. In principle the guiding statement is 'these and these are the laws of the living G-d, but the halacha is according to Hillel." I.e., while there are legitimate views on all sides ideally one has a particular rabbi or set of rabbis of whom one asks shailot and then you do what they tell you.

  3. It's also worth saying that it can be pronounced machloket :P

  4. wrt your last comment ... I am always VERY confused about situations like this and how it applies to the individual (I have heard about Minhag Hamakom ... and I think it confuses me more than any other area of halacha I have yet discovered, given today's flexible idea of 'community', and travel in an international world). If you were visiting London, would you be able to drink Bailey's? If not, does this just apply to items considered 'not kosher' in your community if they are obvious (i.e. ordering Bailey's in a bar) or would you have to check with your hosts and/or kosher restaurant that ANY items about which there is a disagreement are not in your food? The former seems fairly arbitrary, but the latter almost impossible!

    Forgive a poor confused nonJew her possibly ridiculous questions! - Katherine.

  5. ha! when I first heard "shailah" I seriously thought it was the name of a person. "we need to ask a Shailah"... I thought it must be some kinda seriously wise person who knows halachic answers of all sorts. Like THE head honcho of Rav's or something. I was surprised when I learned it just meant "question". and slightly embarrassed too, but that's nothing new. I think you get used to being embarrassed as a convert ;)

  6. thank you so much! I always 'look forward' to your posts, but 'looking forward' to something specific has a certain quality of even more excitement about it!

  7. Originally posted: August 12, 2011 at 4:17 AM

    Katherine: look out for a post on that issue on Aug 23!

    Elle:'re totally right.