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Situations of Doubt in Halachah

Shalom. What is the general hashkafa and way for someone to conduct themselves in a situation where they think there might be a halachic issue and do not know what the halacha is? I am not saying where the person can simply “Shev v’al Ta’aseh” but I am referring to a situation where not doing something will cause another person to become embarrassed or offended. The example that someone asked me: They were in someone’s house for Shabbos and they thought the ba’al habayis was warming food in an improper way. They did not know if it was/was not permissible to eat the food so they decided not to eat the food…this was a very awkward situation for everyone at the table. What is the proper approach (both in this situation as well as in general? Are there differences in D’oraysa vs. D’rabbanan? What if you don’t know what level prohibition?)

Thank you.


If a person is eating or present with observant people, and does not know the halachah, he can rely on the fact that an observant person generally keeps to the halachah, and there is no need to be concerned that perhaps they are acting against the halachah. The above example is a good illustration of the point, and it appears that the discomfort could have been prevented.

If there is a special reason to be in doubt, the question of the halachah can be raised in a delicate manner (“I know that reheating food is among the most complex of Shabbos laws”), and waiting for the response. Of course, if an observant person affirms that he knows it is permitted, he is believed.

If, however, the situation is such that there is nobody to rely on, and a person is afraid that a prohibition might be involved, he should not do the action without first checking if it is permitted. This is generally easy to find out, by means of calling up a rabbi. On Shabbos, it is important to be prepared, though a kitzur sefer such as Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah can be very helpful in times of need.

I hope this helps, and best wishes.

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