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"You Shall Not Place a Stumbling Block Before the Blind" (3)

Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


Translated by David Silverberg




            Theoretically, we may view the prohibition of linei iver (causing others to sin) in two ways:


1)     We may view it as an independent prohibition; meaning, one who leads another to violate Shabbat, violates the prohibition of lifnei iver.

2)     Alternatively, lifnei iver may constitute an extension of the prohibition that the individual helped facilitate.  For example, when someone leads another to violate Shabbat, lifnei iver renders the former guilty of Shabbat desecration.  Likewise, one who causes another to steal is himself considered as having stolen.  We may add that this approach would understand lifnei iver as essentially viewing the facilitator as a participant in the transgression itself.  The severity of the prohibition he commits thus directly corresponds to the severity of the prohibition he facilitated.


At first glance, the first approach appears more straightforward.  However, there is compelling logic to adopt the second possibility, as I heard from Rav Lichtenstein shlit"a.  The second understanding simply cannot accept an equation between leading another to steal and causing one to murder.  It therefore stands to reason that a violation of lifnei iver reflects the sin that occurred as a result of one's assistance.


            This fundamental question yields several practical ramifications:


1.         The gemara in Sanhedrin (74b) asks why Ester did not sacrifice her life rather than marrying Achashverosh.  Since this violated the prohibition of relations with a gentile and was committed publicly (as everyone knew about the marriage), halakha should have required her to give her life.  Abayei answers that given the woman's passive role in this prohibition, she was not required to sacrifice her life.  Rava posits a different reason: "their personal benefit is different."  Meaning, when a gentile forces a Jew to violate a prohibition not in an attempt to undermine Torah law, but for his own pleasure and the like, a Jew need not sacrifice his life rather than violate the prohibition.  Rava draws proof for his theory from the prevalent phenomenon in his time of giving idolaters brass coal containers used for heating in pagan houses of worship.


            The Ba'al Ha-ma'or proves from this gemara that even when it comes to the severe prohibition of idolatry, a Jew need not sacrifice his life when a gentile compels him to worship idols for the gentile's own, personal interests.  The Ramban (in "Milchamot Hashem") rejects the Ba'al Ha-ma'or's proof.  In the case of the heating apparatuses described by the gemara, the Jew does not actually perform pagan worship.  As such, he does not violate the prohibition of idolatry, but rather of lifnei iver.  We therefore cannot reach any conclusions from this gemara regarding cases when a Jew must actually engage in idolatrous practices for the personal benefit of a gentile.


            Rav Soloveitchik zt"l explained that this dispute between the Ba'al Ha-ma'or and the Ramban surrounds the nature of lifnei iver.  The Ramban understood lifnei iver as a general prohibition, encompassing all instances of leading others to sin.  Thus, when one facilitates the idol worship of another, we view him as having simply violated this general prohibition, rather than having actually participated in idolatry.  This transgression, then, does not qualify as one of the three cardinal sins for which one must sacrifice his life (idolatry, murder, and adultery).  The Ba'al Ha-ma'or, by contrast, understood lifnei iver as an extension of the resulting transgression.  Thus, one who assists another in idolatry is seen as having personally engaged therein.  The Ba'al Ha-ma'or therefore reached conclusions about idolatry itself from Rava's comment regarding assisting others in their idol worship.


2.         Last week we discussed the issue of leading others to violate "issurim de-rabbanan," rabbinically enacted prohibitions.  One view maintained that one who does so violates lifnei liver but only on the level of a rabbinic prohibition.  This position becomes clearer in light of our current discussion.  If lifnei iver renders the facilitator guilty of participation in the transgression, then one who helps another violate an "issur de-rabbanan" has himself, likewise, transgressed only a rabbinic prohibition.


3.         The mishna in Shabbat (2a) establishes, as we saw last week, that if a beggar stands outside a house and places his basket into the homeowner's hands inside, the beggar has committed a Shabbat violation, whereas the homeowner has not.  The gemara (3a) adds that the homeowner is even permitted to do so.


            The Ran asks (as do Tosafot) why the homeowner's involvement does not violate lifnei iver, as he has facilitated the beggar's transfer of the basket from one domain to another, in violation of Shabbat.  He first suggests that the mishna speaks of a gentile beggar, who is not included in the prohibitions of Shabbat.  (When the mishna spoke of the beggar's having violated Shabbat, it meant that were this to have been done by a Jew, it would constitute a Shabbat violation.)  Secondly, suggests the Ran, the mishna here is interested only in the halakhot of Shabbat; it does not concern itself with other prohibitions, such as lifnei iver.


            It would appear that the two answers posited by the Ran reflect the two possibilities we have raised.  His second approach views lifnei iver as an independent prohibition, and thus not of direct relevance in the narrow context of hilkhot Shabbat.  According to the Ran's first answer, however, lifnei iver constitutes an extension of the prohibition violated (in our case, transferring items on Shabbat from one domain to the next).  The homeowner has thus participated in a Shabbat violation, and the mishna must have therefore spoken of a case of a gentile beggar.


4.         The Peri Megadim (Ginat Veradim 43) limits lifnei iver to cases where the facilitator is included in the prohibition he helps bring about.  If, however, one leads another to violate a prohibition that does not apply to himself, he has not violated lifnei iver.  It would seem that this issue would depend on the two views mentioned by the Ramban (Yevamot 84b) regarding a woman forbidden to a kohen who marries a kohen anyway.  While one view renders her liable for lifnei iver for having facilitated the kohen's sin, others argue that since the prohibition applies to the kohen and not to her, she has not violated lifnei iver.


            This issue, too, appears to relate to our fundamental question.  If we view lifnei iver as an independent prohibition, then clearly it would make no difference whether the one facilitating the transgression is himself included in the given prohibition.  After all, he led another person to sin.  However, if lifnei iver constitutes an extension of the given prohibition, then one perhaps cannot violate lifnei iver by leading one to transgress a prohibition that does apply to himself.


5.         The Peri Megadim posits another novel theory, that a gentile who leads another to sin has violated lifnei iver.  The Sedei Chemed (Ma'arekhet Alef, 26:23) argues.  After all, the gemara lists only seven mitzvot binding upon gentiles, and the list does not include lifnei iver!


            How would the Peri Megadim respond to this refutation of his view?


            It would appear that these Acharonim debated the nature of lifnei iver, as we have been discussing.  The Sedei Chemed viewed lifnei iver as an independent prohibition, and it thus cannot apply to a gentile, who is bound by only the seven "mitzvot benei Noach" (Noachide laws).  The Peri Megadim, however, follows consistently his view noted earlier, that lifnei iver constitutes an extension of the given prohibition violated; the facilitator is seen as having actually participated in the forbidden activity.  Therefore, a gentile may not assist in the violation of one of the seven "mitzvot benei Noach," as he will have thus himself participated in the given prohibition.  (For further discussion about these issues, see the work, "Iyun Be-lomdut.")




            Another important question regarding the fundamental underpinnings of lifnei iver relates to the definition of the prohibition.  Did the Torah forbid the actual "placing of a stumbling block," meaning, providing one with the means to violate a transgression, or only actually causing one to sin?


            According to the first approach, the Torah prohibited the act itself of facilitating a sin, while the second position focuses on the result: one may not cause a violation.[1] In other words, the first approach views lifnei iver not as a means to prevent the infliction of spiritual harm on others, but as requiring one to train himself not to do anything that might lead others to sin.  According to the second approach, lifnei iver is meant to protect people from committing transgressions resulting from the actions of others.[2] The ramification of this issue, of course, relates to instances when one "placed the stumbling block" but the potential victim did not actually violate the given prohibition.  According to the first approach, the attempted facilitator has violated the prohibition despite the fact that no transgression resulted from his efforts.




            May one do something that may or may not result in a violation on the part of someone else?  This question must be addressed regarding both situations in which the potential sinner could not achieve his goal without assistance ("two sides of the river"), as well as cases where he could have sinned even without someone else's involvement ("one side of the river").




As we mentioned last week, the gemara in Bava Metzia writes that shepherds are generally suspect of theft, as they often bring their animals to graze in other people's fields.  If, however, a shepherd tends to the sheep of others in their fields, then we may assume that he would not bring the flock to strangers' fields, as this would serve him no benefit.  If, theoretically, we could not have made such an assumption, it seems that giving sheep to a shepherd would constitute lifnei iver, as it facilitates theft.  We may understand this in two ways.  Although we do not know for sure that the shepherd will bring the sheep to graze illegally, lifnei iver still applies given the likelihood of this occurring.  Alternatively, once the gemara considers every shepherd suspect of theft, we assume beyond a doubt that he will lead the sheep under his care to the property of others.  According to this second understanding, lifnei iver in fact would not apply when we cannot ascertain that a transgression will occur.


            The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) tells that Rav Huna once tested his son, Rabba, by tearing expensive garments in his presence to see if he would react disrespectfully.  The gemara then asks why this did not involve lifnei iver, as Rav Huna's action could have easily led his son to violate the prohibition of disrespectful behavior towards parents.  We could perhaps understand the gemara as meaning that Rav Huna seems to have violated lifnei iver immediately upon conducting this test, given the possibility of his son's ensuing transgression.  We would thus conclude that lifnei iver is prohibited even when the resulting violation will not necessarily occur.  Rashi, however, explains that only when Rabba would speak disrespectfully to his father would Rav Huna have violated lifnei iver.  Apparently, lifnei iver does not apply when the transgression is uncertain.


            The gemara in Mo'ed Katan states that one who hits his grown son violates lifnei iver, as doing so may cause the son to smite his father (which constitutes a Biblical prohibition).  This would seem to imply that merely bringing about a situation that allows for the transgression to occur violates lifnei iver.


            As for the final halakhic ruling, some authorities (Shut Penei Yehoshua 1:3; see also Shut Machaneh Chayim 1:47 and Sedei Chemed 2, Ma'arekhet "Lifnei Iver," 10) ruled leniently when the resulting transgression will not definitely occur.  (Although generally we are stringent when dealing with cases of doubt relevant to Torah obligations, here we do not consider the accomplice as facilitating the sin if it will not necessarily occur as a result of his actions.)  Others rule leniently only when one does not give the prospective sinner a forbidden object, but rather the means through which he may perform a violation.  For example, they would allow giving a cow to one who may use it for forbidden agricultural activity during the shemita year (Minchat Shelomo p.192; Yechaveh Da'at 3:67, based on the Ritva in Avoda Zara 63b; see also later, section J).




            Recall from our previous shiurim that the gemara in Avoda Zara allowed helping another commit a transgression when he could have done so even without assistance.  For example, one may hand a nazir a glass of wine if he had access to it anyway.  The Ritva (Bava Metzi'a 5b) raises the possibility of limiting this provision to cases where the nazir will likely, but not necessarily, violate the prohibition.  This comment yields an important stringency: when the sin will definitely occur as a result of a given action, then even if the perpetrator could have committed the transgression independently, one may not assist him.[3]




            Let us return for a moment to the gemara in Bava Metzi'a that forbade giving sheep over to the care of shepherds as they will likely lead the animals to graze in stolen property.  The Ritva asks, doesn't the shepherd have sheep of his own to which he must tend?  If so, he will steal from other people's fields in any event.  Why, then, does one violate lifnei iver by entrusting the shepherd with his sheep?  The Ritva offers two answers: 1) one does not, in fact, violate lifnei iver, and the gemara referred to the prohibition of "mesayei'a" (see last week's shiur); 2) the gemara refers to a shepherd who has no sheep of his own.


            By implication, the Ritva here establishes a remarkable concept: if someone will violate a given transgression in any event, no prohibition is involved when causing him to further violate the transgression.  Thus, although the shepherd further violates the prohibition of theft with each additional animal he brings to graze illegally, giving him more animals does not constitute lifnei iver.


            This position appears in the Ritva's writings on Avoda Zara (6b) as well.  There, as mentioned, the gemara speaks of selling animals to an idolater who already owns animals suitable for pagan worship.  In such a case, the gemara considers lifnei iver inapplicable as the idolater can perform his worship even without making this purchase.  The question arises, will not the idolater now have the opportunity to sacrifice yet another animal as a result of this sale?  As such, the Jewish seller has facilitated an additional violation of pagan sacrifice, and should thus be in violation of lifnei iver!  We could perhaps answer that the gemara assumed that the idolater would bring only one animal as a sacrifice.  If the Jew does not sell him an animal, he will select one from his own herd.


            The Ritva, however, understood differently: "Whenever he could commit the transgression even without us, lifnei iver does not apply, and even though through us he may increase his forbidden activity."  Once again, the Ritva does not apply lifnei iver to situations where the assistance offered merely adds to the forbidden activity that would occur in any event.


            Interestingly, however, the Ritva speaks of a case where "he MAY increase his forbidden activity… "  We should perhaps deduce that if through our involvement the violator will undoubtedly increase his forbidden activity, even the Ritva would prohibit such involvement.  However, the Ra'a, the Ritva's mentor, explicitly extends this provision to cases where the additional violations will definitely occur (Shitat Ha-kadmonim, Avoda Zara 2a).


            This view of the Ritva brings us back to our previous discussion as to the nature of the prohibition of lifnei iver.  If we view lifnei iver as an extension of the prohibition violated, such that the facilitator becomes an active participant in the transgression, then we could not accept the Ritva's leniency.  If someone facilitates an additional violation on the part of another, then it should make no difference that the assisted party would have committed the same transgression anyway.  One a person causes another to commit a violation, he becomes a participant therein and hence violates lifnei iver.  We can better understand the Ritva's position according to the other approach, that views lifnei iver as an independent prohibition against leading others to sin.  Thus, if someone will sin anyway, facilitating further violations of the same prohibition will not constitute lifnei iver.  (We may also relate the Ritva's position to the other issue raised earlier, of whether lifnei iver prohibits the placing of the "stumbling block" or the resulting transgression.  According to the former approach, once the individual has placed the stumbling block he has violated lifnei iver, even if the sinner commits the transgression without this particular stumbling block.  The Ritva can be better understood in light of the second perspective, which focuses on the result of the transgression.  Since in any event the individual engages in forbidden activity, any additional assistance in this regard would not violate lifnei iver.  This analysis, however, is far from simple and requires further discussion.)


X.   "DARKHEI Shalom"


            Last week, we encountered the mishna in Gittin that permitted lending utensils to a woman suspected of making prohibited use of shemitta produce.  The Rishonim dispute the circumstances of the case in which the mishna grants this permission.  Rabbeinu Tam applies the mishna's halakha even to cases where we know that the borrower has only shemitta produce in her possession.  Since she may use the utensils for permissible activity (Rabbeinu Tam gives the example of counting coins), the mishna allows lending them to her in the interest of "darkhei shalom," peaceful relations among friends and neighbors.  Despite the remoteness of the likelihood of the borrower's use of these utensils for purposes other than food preparation, Chazal allowed lending them nevertheless.


            The Chatam Sofer (Y.D. 19) questioned the practice he observed of Jews selling eggs to gentiles.  The gemara indicates that the consumption of eggs should be forbidden on the grounds of "eiver min ha-chai," the prohibition against eating limbs detached from a live animal.  However, since the Torah explicitly sanctioned their consumption, we may eat eggs. Tosafot write that this permission was granted only to Benei Yisrael; gentiles, who are included in the prohibition of "eiver min ha-chai" but did not receive the Torah, may not eat eggs.  Thus, asks, the Chatam Sofer, does not the sale of eggs to gentiles violate lifnei iver?


            The Chatam Sofer answers that one may sell a whole egg to a gentile because he may use it for purposes of incubation, to raise chicks.  Although this is certainly unlikely, the Chatam Sofer adds, Rabbeinu Tam similarly allowed lending the non-observant woman utensils due to the remote possibility of her using them for permitted purposes. 


            Next week, we will use the material studied in these three shiurim to consider practical applications of lifnei iver.




[1] The Rambam (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, "lo ta'aseh" 299; and the Sefer Ha-chinukh 232) implies that the prohibition of lifnei iver focuses on the result: "He warned against any of us causing anyone else to stumble… and the warning came [to prohibit] tricking him or causing him to stumble."  Whereas the Torah wrote "You shall not place a stumbling block," which is open to both interpretations, the Rambam phrased the prohibition differently: "causing him to stumble," implying that the Torah forbids the resulting violation.


[2] This question may very well relate to the previous issue discussed, as to whether we view lifnei iver as an independent prohibition or as an extension the prohibition violated, but this lies beyond the scope of our discussion.


[3] We will further discuss the Ritva's view later in our discussion.

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