“Emotional input is the reason why mature people go to a human being for psaq halakhah and not a computer”

There is a beautiful narrative in Ketubot 23a where Shmuel considered declaring a group of women captives tema’ot, and his father challenged his halakhic thinking by asking, “If they were your daughters, would you disgrace them?”

Shmuel’s father’s point is that the correct psaq requires feelings of empathy and compassion by the poseq.

More generally, all acts of hesed are generated more by a feeling of compassion and empathy for the other, rather than some “objective” principle or pasuk. See Rambam in Hil Avadim 9:8, who insists that correct Torah behavior towards others must be governed by rachamim and hesed. Indeed, this is the primary meaning of v’halakhtah b’derachav for Rambam as well as for amara’im in Sotah 14a.

Rav Soloveitchik used to denigrate those who ignore emotions and “the human factor” when paskening by referring to them as (mere) technicians. R. Aharon Lichtenstein felt the same, as he indicated in an article in Tradition whose title was “The Human and Social Factor in Halakha”.

The willful disregard of emotions is probably the chief reason that so many psaqim today are morally flawed. Correct ethical reasoning and judgement requires the strong moral imagination to put yourself in the other’s place, i.e. to feel what (s)he is feeling and act toward toward her/him on that basis. Moral philosophers call this requirement “reversibility” and it is what the Torah has in mind when demanding “V’ahavtah l’reachah k’mocha“, which is the clearest example of emotion being a major factor in halakhah.

Emotional input is the reason why mature people go to a human being for psaq halakhah and not a computer.

Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, email to IRF listserv (8 December 2016). {quoted with permission of the author}