The Twenty Commandments Regarding Text Messaging Rabbis

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Terumah 5774 - Translated by R. Blumberg]


1. Fundamental Questions of Faith: Don’t ask in a SMS why evil was created in the world, why man was created, why the Holocaust occurred, how do we know that G-d exists.  Doing so shows a terrible disrespect for such questions.


2. General Halachic Questions (they are too complex for a short answer): Don’t ask why the Chief Rabbinate forbade ascending the Temple Mount; whether a soldier can refuse orders; how we know whether food is Kosher.


3. Questions in Torah Learning: Don’t ask in an SMS for help with understanding a text from the Talmud, Rambam or Shulchan Aruch. This is not how one learns Torah.


4. Sources: In an SMS, don’t ask for sources, either to help you with homework, a university assignment or out of general interest. This is not an "information booth".


5. Education and Marriage: In an SMS, don’t ask questions about education or marriage. That shows disrespect for these important topics. Make a phone call.


6. Halachic Surveys: We ask Rabbis halachic questions in order to abide by the answers. If you are just asking out of curiosity, be honest and say so in advance.  The Rabbi can then decide whether to answer, and how to answer. When questions he is asked have practical relevance, he works hard to answer them. Don’t burden him for no reason.


7. Another Rabbi’s Opinion: Don’t ask Rabbi A what Rabbi B thinks. Ask Rabbi B, or one his students, directly.


8. Collation of Opinions: Don’t ask what are the opinions of all the Rabbis on a particular topic. An SMS is not an encyclopedia or a Torah lecture. The Rabbi answering only provides his own view.


9. Yeshiva Students: If you are a high school or post-high school Yeshiva student, ask

your Rebbe or Rosh Yeshiva.  Don’t bother someone from the outside.


10. The Local Rabbi: With questions that relate to a specific place, ask the Rabbi there: In a particular yeshiva, ask the Rosh Yeshiva. In a city or town, ask the local Rabbi. In a synagogue, ask the synagogue’s Rabbi. In a youth movement, ask the movement’s Rabbi, or the Rabbi of its local branch.


11. Mistakes: Before you send a Rabbi an SMS, make sure that there are no mistakes and that the language is clear. Such inaccuracies can make the question unintelligible and the answer will be wrong.


12. Don’t start a dialogue: Ask your question with all the facts and don’t disclose details bit by bit in more and more SMS’s. Don’t follow up your question with, “Does that apply to Ashkenazim, too? To Sefardim?” Ask up front. If you don’t, assume the answer is all-inclusive.


13. Clarifications: Don’t respond, “I don’t understand,” because it is impossible to guess what you didn’t understand. Also, in the midst of hundreds of questions, it is impossible to guess which question was yours.


14. Rationale: Don’t respond, “Why?” As above, amongst hundreds of questions, the

Rabbi cannot guess to which question you were referring. If you want an explanation, ask for it in advance. You can also peruse the published response of the Rabbi in question.


15. Urgent!: Don’t write “Urgent!” Once the Rabbi sees it, he will answer it immediately. Before he sees it, when he is dealing with a hundred other questions that arrived first, he cannot guess that there is question marked “urgent”. If it’s urgent, call.


16. Repeat Questions: If you were not answered, don’t send the same question several times, and don’t send a demand for an answer. It won’t help. Either the Rabbi has not yet gotten to the question, or he has decided not to answer it for one reason or another.


17. Hatred: Don’t ask questions about whether it is permissible/appropriate/a Mitzvah to hate evildoers/Leftists/Rightists/Charedim/secularists/National Religious/politicians – in short, anyone who is not exactly like you. The answer to all those who crave hatred is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). "As yourself" means without discriminating or making exceptions, without any tricks or plotting.  Literally, “as yourself” (Mesillat Yesharim 11).


18. Closing the Door: Many Rabbis have stopped answering SMS’s due to the plethora of unjustified, foolish or insulting questions. The result is that even those who truly need this important, vital service like the air they breathe, are left without it. Therefore, don’t cause the door to close. Love your neighbor as yourself.


19. Squandered Time: Many Rabbis have likely stopped answering because it causes them unjustified loss of their Torah-learning time. Only a Mitzvah that cannot be done by others justifies our forfeiting Torah-learning time (Moed Katan k9:1-2). So consider well whether this Mitzvah and this kindness that you are asking for has to be performed in this manner.


20. Thank you: Some petitioners say thank you, while others do not, thinking this is a service that is due to them. In any event, the Rabbis forgive them in advance.