Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rav Ovadia Yosef: Obeying Rabbinic authority even when they are wrong?d

The Torah tells us that we must obey the Sanhedrin in the well known
verse in Devarim (17:11) According to the Torah which I will teach you
and the laws which they will tell you, don't turn from that which they
say right or left. Rashi(Devarim 17:11) comments that this requirement
to obey them is, Even if they tell you that "right" is "left" and "left"
is "right" and surely if they tell you that "right" is "right" and
"left" is "left". The Sifre (Devarim 154:11) modifies this a bit, Right
and left - Even if it appears in your eyes that "right" is "left" and
that "left" is "right" – you should obey them. Thus there is a clear
requirement to obey the Sanhedrin or Rabbinic authorities even if they
tell you the opposite of what is or seems to be correct.

On the other hand the Yerushalmi(Horius 1:1) states, You might think
that you must obey the [Sanhedrin or Rabbinic authorities] even when
they tell you that "right" is "left" and that "left" is "right"
–therefore the Torah says that you are to follow after them "right and
left". Thus it is only when they tell you that "right" is "right" and
"left" is "left" that you should obey them. On the surface then it seems
to be simply a dispute between the Babylonian and the Yerushalmi.
However Horious (2b) states that if a person knows the truth and yet
follows the mistaken ruling of the Sanhedrin he must be a korbon as an
act of repentance. Thus clearly the Bavli also requires that you do what
you think is right - even against the Sanhedrin.

An interesting and persuasive explanation is given by Rav Ovadia Yosef.

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabiah Omer Y.D. 6:7.2): … The Yerushalmi (Horious
1:1) states, that you might think even if they tell you that "right" is
"left" and that "left" is "right" that they must be obeyed. Therefore
the Torah says that you should only obey them if they say that "right"
is "right" and "left" is "left". But this is the opposite of the Sifre
[that you must obey them even if they tell you that "right" is "left"
and "left" is "right"…. However according to the explanation of the
Ramban (Sefer HaMitzvos Shoresh I) and those who support him [Ran
Sanhedrin 87a] there is a reconciliation. According to the Ramban as
long as the dissenting view has not been directly presented to the
Sanhedrin [or Rabbinic authority] then he must refuse to eat that which
the Sanhedrin insists is kosher. [If he eats food that he regards as
unkosher because he is relying on the Sanhedrin he must bring a korbon]
However once he has directly discussed the issue with the Sanhedrin and
they have rejected his view [despite his best efforts] then the halacha
becomes that he must obey them [even if he is still convinced he is right.]


  1. The ramban is very difficult as the mishna and Gemara in the bavli in horayos is talking about a member of the Sanhedrin. It is very difficult to emission that a member of the Sanhedrin didnt present his opinion and have it rejected.

  2. I do not see how his is relevant today?

  3. it should be noted that it seems Ramban/R' Yosef are noting that if and when Sanhedrin might be matir something and the person has reason to believe it shud be prohibited, he cannot just rely on their opinion. the pt to note is that we cannot imply from this discussion that were sanhedrin (or current rabbinic authority) to prohibit something (or rule against something) and we "know it" to be wrong, that we can just declare the issue hefker.
    [please note: i am in no way making judgments on any political issues. just pointing out a diyuk in the argument.]


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