When you’re a safek or part of a family with one, life is full of unanswered questions. I often talk with Jews who casually mention calling their Rav’s for a question or that their Rabbi came by to show them how to do something and I have to remind myself that, one day, that may be our reality.
For now, though, we have Rabbi’s we can ask, but it’s never been a sure thing that they will answer. There are many reasons and I don’t blame the Rabbis for it. Sometimes, the lack of answer is because they don’t want to make a ruling on something that really could be either way. With my husband in particular, it’s hard for anyone to know what he really should and should not be observing. Jewish law is tricky and often what is an obligation for a Jewish man is forbidden for a non-Jewish man. This means that when a Rabbi can’t really be sure what a man is, any ruling could be wrong either way.
Another reason is simply time. Most Rabbis lead amazingly hectic and rushed lives. They do their best to balance the needs of their congregations with their large families and their own Torah study. With limited time, they often have to kind of triage issues. Issues affecting a known Jew necessarily take priority over the issues of someone who might be Jewish and whose family is verifiably not. It’s not personal, but Rabbis only have so many hours in a day. It also doesn’t help that conversion candidates often come and go.
It used to drive me crazy. There are so many areas in Jewish law and practice where you’re told to “ask your Rabbi” so you can know how to apply this to your life. We’re told we need to learn how to do these things for when we are converted. Yet, very often when we bump up into a “ask your Rabbi” situation…there isn’t a Rabbi to ask or the answer we’re given might is evasive. We eventually began joking that the next question we asked we’d probably receive an interpretive dance as a response. More often, though, the answer comes in the form of…no response. It’s as if the question never existed. At first, I assumed this was by mistake and I’d ask the question again, but over time I learned that this only annoyed Rabbis, whose good will we depend on.
I keep asking, though, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by a speedy answer. I’m not surprised, though, when questions are left unanswered. Other times, I’m given a vague answer without any further clarity because the Rabbi I’m asking doesn’t want to make a ruling. I do my best to shake it off and not take it personally and then I go and try to figure out an answer, digging through what resources I have. Even if it’s not the “right” answer, I try to find something that will at least work until the day there are answers.
They say you should never posken (make halakhic rulings based on Jewish law) for yourself, but I’m hoping it’s a habit we’ll be able to break one day. Until then, we just do what we must as best we can and look forward to that day when answers are easier to find.