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"You Shall Not Place a Stumbling Block Before the Blind" (4)

Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


Translated by David Silverberg



            Over the last three shiurim we have delved into the major issues relevant to the prohibition of lifnei iver, causing others to sin.  Today we will explore some of the practical ramifications of the material studied.


Giving or Selling Food to a Non-Observant Jew


            The Rema (O.C. 163:2) writes that one may not give food to someone who will eat without reciting a berakha, as this would violate lifnei iver.  This ruling gives rise to a serious problem regarding serving soldiers in the Israeli army.  This would also suggest that one may not offer a drink to a secular, Jewish technician who comes to work in the home.


            At times the secular Jew in question has access to other food, perhaps rendering the situation a case of "one side of the river," meaning, the potential violator could commit the transgression without the other's assistance.  (See previous shiurim.)  However, the Magen Avraham (163:2) writes that even in such instances the prohibition of "mesayei'a," providing non-essential assistance in a transgression, would perhaps apply.  (As we saw in earlier shiurim, even when the violator has access to the prohibition without any assistance, the rabbinic prohibition of "mesayei'a li-dvar aveira" forbids taking part in the prohibited activity.)  The Machatzit Ha-shekel there questions the Magen Avraham's hesitation in this regard.  Why did the Magen Avraham write that "mesayei'a" would "perhaps" apply?  What reason is there for it not to apply?  After all, the Shulchan Arukh explicitly codifies this prohibition, of helping one commit a sin even when he could have done so independently (O.C. 347).  The Binyan Tziyon (15) answers based on his theory that we encountered in part 2 of our series.  He distinguishes between "mesayei'a" during the actual performance of the forbidden activity and assistance given beforehand.  Only in the former case, when one helps a sinner during the act of violation itself, does the prohibition of "mesayei'a" apply.  Therefore, the Magen Avraham was unsure whether to forbid giving food to one who will not recite a berakha if he has access to other food.  Since the assistance is offered prior to the transgression, "mesayei'a" would perhaps not apply.  (See Yad Malakhi 361 and Bei'ur Ha-Gra, Y.D. 151:8 who apply "mesayei'a" even to granting assistance before the transgression.)


            In light of this distinction, the Netziv (Meishiv Davar, vol. 2, 31-32) allows a Jewish butcher to sell non-kosher food to non-observant Jews.  Given that they can purchase meat elsewhere, lifnei iver does not apply; and since the sale takes place before the transgression (i.e. the actual consumption of the non-kosher meat), "mesayei'a" cannot apply, either.


            In many situations, however, the non-observant Jew in question has no other access to food.  It would seem, then, that lifnei iver should forbid giving food in such cases, as the services rendered are indispensable to the prohibition violated.  (If, however, the possibility exists that the individual could find other food to eat, then we may perhaps consider the case as "one side of the river," according to Rashi's view, as discussed in part 1.)


            Regarding these situations, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo 35) established a remarkable, novel theory.  If one refuses to give a drink, let's say, to a secular Jew, he will lead him to violate more severe transgressions, involving contempt for Judaism and the like.  Conversely, by inviting non-observant Jews to one's home, one enhances their appreciation of Judaism.  One may therefore give food and drink to secular Jews who will not recite berakhot, since doing so prevents far more severe violations.  Rav Shlomo Zalman compares this situation to one of a person suffering from a disease in his leg, which must be amputated to prevent the illness from spreading to the rest of the body.  Similarly, if someone pours a glass of wine from "orla" (fruits grown during the first three years from the tree's planting) and we can stop him only by offering him instead wine from "tevel" (produce that hasn't been properly tithed), we should do so.  Since the consumption of "tevel" nowadays constitutes but a rabbinic prohibition, we prefer that the individual drink wine from "tevel" rather than the Biblically-forbidden "orla."  In other words, when it comes to lifnei iver, we must look at the general picture, rather than focusing only on the immediate result.


            We may, however, assess this theory in light of our discussions in earlier shiurim.  Recall that we raised two possible approaches as to the nature of lifnei iver.  It either constitutes an independent prohibition or expands the violated prohibition to include the facilitator.  Meaning, one who leads another to sin has either violated the independent prohibition of lifnei iver, or the prohibition whose violation he facilitated.  Rav Shlomo Zalman's position assumes that lifnei iver constitutes an independent prohibition.  Only then can we focus on the larger picture.  If, however, lifnei iver marks an expansion of the prohibition violated, and we view the facilitator as an active participant in the violation, then the broader picture would appear irrelevant.  The seller of the food becomes a participant in the buyer's transgression of eating without a berakha; the issue of what will or could happen in the future does not come into play.  Indeed, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit"a, raised this point regarding Rav Shlomo Zalman's position (though he accepts Rav Shlomo Zalman's ruling, as we will see later).


            Last week, we discussed the view of Rabbeinu Tam concerning the interests of "darkhei shalom" (peaceful and harmonious existence among people).  When "darkhei shalom" is at stake, then one may give another an item that he will most likely use for prohibited activity, so long as there exists even the remote possibility that he will use it for permissible activity.  The Chazon Ish based himself on this view when ruling in cases where it is not certain that a violation will result:


"It would seem that the sages ruled leniently in situations of doubt… because if we seek to rule stringently with regard to doubts, then we will also end up placing a stumbling block, preventing kindness and ways of life and peace from us and them [non-observant Jews].  They are simply ignorant, and we are commanded to help them live and benefit them, not to mention that we may not increase hatred and tension between us and them.  They [will thus] violate 'Do not hate' and several other commandments, whose prohibition is no less severe than the given prohibition from which we seek to save them… Therefore, Chazal carefully weighed the extent to which we should fine them and withdraw our hands from them, that we not create greater stumbling blocks for them and us.  They concluded that we be stringent when it will certainly lead to a sin and lenient in cases of doubt; this is a balanced and fair approach."  (Chazon Ish, Shevi'it 12:9)


            The notes in Rav Shlomo Zalman's work, Minchat Shlomo, claim that the Chazon Ish disputes Rav Shlomo Zalman's position discussed above, as he allowed giving the food only in cases of an uncertain violation.  However, I heard from Rav Lichtenstein shlit"a that the Chazon Ish may not have, in this context, referred to cases where the potentially forbidden action could result in the violator's spiritual growth.  He spoke merely of the concern that withholding the assistance (in our case, the food) could result in more serious violations.  The Chazon Ish may, in fact, concur with Rav Shlomo Zalman when rendering the given service could spiritually benefit the recipient.[1] As for a final ruling, Rav Lichtenstein allowed educational programs that may cause violations on the part of the non-observant participants, as we will see in the next section.  (See the yeshiva's publication, "Daf-Kesher," vol.4, p.43.)


            We may also take into consideration the position of the Shakh, that the prohibition of "mesayei'a" does not apply to helping a "mumar" (a Jew who routinely ignores the authority of mitzvot) commit a transgression, even if the "mumar" ignores only that particular prohibition.  The Turei Even (Chagiga 13a) and Machaneh Chayim (1:45) concur with this view.  Although some authorities disputed this leniency (see footnote in Beit Shelomo, O.C. 38), we may nevertheless enter his view into the discussion as yet another factor.  Nevertheless, one giving food to a non-observant Jew should preferably (when possible) eat with him and recite the berakha aloud.


Invitations to a Bar-Mitzva or Educational Program on Shabbat


            May one invite a non-observant Jew to a function on Shabbat, knowing that he will clearly violate Shabbat in order to come?


I.      "Mesayei'a": As we saw in previous shiurim, the Ketav Sofer maintains that "mesayei'a" prohibits only assistance lent during the actual performance of the forbidden act.  Here, the host extends the invitation before Shabbat, whereas the violation occurs on Shabbat.

II.   Lifnei iver: Rav Shlomo Zalman, as mentioned, considers lifnei iver inapplicable in situations where the general purpose is one of spiritual growth.  Rav Moshe Feinstein, however, argues (Iggerot Moshe, O.C. 99).  He contends that an invitation to a Shabbat function violates lifnei iver as well as another prohibition, "meisit" - luring another to sin.  He permits such invitations only to those who could arrive by foot (even if they will most likely come by car).  Even then, Rav Moshe writes, lifnei iver would still apply if the host actively publicizes the affair through flyers and the like; he may only extend an invitation.  In short, Rav Moshe rules quite stringently in this regard.

III. We may also introduce the view of the Ritva discussed last week, that lifnei iver does not apply when the violator commits the transgression in any event, even if one's involvement results in further violations of the same sin.

IV. Additionally, the Shakh, as noted, permits "mesayei'a" when dealing with a "mumar," one who as a matter of course ignores the given prohibition.


            As for the final halakha, one may be lenient in this regard if the individual in question can transgress the prohibition in any event ("one side of the river"), if the function features an educational quality or is otherwise spiritually beneficial.  In a case of "two sides of the river" (the violation would not occur otherwise), Rav Shlomo Zalman requires that the host of the affair offer the guests lodging in the area.  The invitation is then permissible even if the guest refuses the offer, so long as the function serves an educational purpose.  The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit"a, accepts this view.


Performing a Wedding for a Non-Observant Couple


            May a rabbi officiate at a wedding of a couple who will clearly not observe the family purity laws?


            The Netziv (Meishiv Davar, vol. 2, 31-32) allows doing so since they will violate these laws even if the rabbi does not perform the wedding.  "Mesayei'a" does not apply, since the rabbi's involvement occurs before the violation.


Purchasing Shemita Produce


            One may not engage in commercial activity with produce of the shemita year.  Today, many observant Jews in Israel rely on the "heter mekhira," by which the agricultural land is "sold" to a gentile, effectively rendering the laws of shemita inapplicable.  Others, however, do not rely on this leniency and hence consider the produce as infused with shemita status.


            Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo 44; Ma'adanei Eretz, Shevi'it - Kovetz He'arot 8) asks whether one who does not rely on the "heter" may purchase produce from a storekeeper who does.  Does such a purchase constitute "lifnei iver," as the buyer, who views the produce as bearing shemita status, has facilitated the storekeeper's violation of selling shemita produce for a profit?


            Rav Shlomo Zalman rules leniently for two reasons:


1.     Since the shopkeeper will sell this produce as merchandise in any event, we may compare this case to one of a nazir prepared to drink the cup of wine in his hands and someone switches the cup for another.  In such a case, lifnei iver certainly does not apply.

2.     The storekeeper relies on the "heter mekhira"; purchasing from him thus does not violate lifnei iver.


            This second reason may relate to a fundamental question we raised last week concerning lifnei iver: does the prohibition relate to the act of placing the "stumbling block" or the resulting transgression?  In other words, does the Torah forbid affording one the opportunity to sin, or leading another person to sin?  If the prohibition focuses on the placing of a stumbling block, then it stands to reason that we should follow the criteria of the one who places it.  If the one who enabled a given act considers that act a violation, then - according to this approach - he has violated lifnei iver for having placed a "stumbling block," in opposition to Rav Shlomo Zalman's ruling.  By contrast, if we focus on the resulting sin, then we must look at the violator's criteria.  If he follows a view that does not consider the given act forbidden, then facilitating this act would presumably not violate lifnei iver, as Rav Shlomo Zalman argues.


            (We may likewise relate Rav Shlomo Zalman's ruling to the issue discussed earlier, as to whether lifnei iver constitutes an independent prohibition or an extension of the prohibition violated.  According to the latter approach, one facilitating a violation becomes a participant in the act; as such, that the one he assists considers the act permissible is of no consequence if the helper deems it forbidden.  Rav Shlomo Zalman's stance would thus assume the first understanding, viewing lifnei iver as an independent prohibition.)


            We will briefly address several more practical issues related to lifnei iver.


            The Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 9, 17:11) allows a Jewish nurse to hand medical forms to a non-Jewish doctor on Shabbat, even if he will write on them for purposes not vital for the preservation of human life.  Lifnei iver does not apply since the physician can take the forms himself.  "Mesayei'a," he claims, does not apply either, since this prohibition is based on the legal concept of "arvut," that Jews have accepted guarantor status regarding the religious obligations of one another ("kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh").  Given the Dagul Mei-revava's position restricting "arvut" to men, the prohibition of "mesayei'a" does not apply to women.  One may question this ruling in light of the fact that Rabbi Akiva Eiger disputes the Dagul Mei-revav's position and includes women in the obligations of "arvut."  Accordingly, "mesayei'a" applies equally to men and women.  However, "mesayei'a" may not apply in this case for a different reason: the assistance lent occurs before the actual transgression, in which case, as we saw, "mesayei'a" does not apply.  Therefore, both male and female nurses can hand the doctor the forms he requests.


            When a Jewish driver on Shabbat stops and asks a Jewish passerby for directions, it would seem that, strictly speaking, one may respond, for several reasons:


1.     The driver can just as easily violate the prohibition without the passerby's directions.  (In fact, assistance in this case actually lessens the amount of driving to the destination.)

2.     As for the prohibition of "mesayei'a," here, too, the help is given before the violation.  Additionally, the passerby here does not assist in the forbidden activity itself, but rather in its ultimate purpose.  (He does not help the driver to drive, but rather informs him of a certain location.)

3.     We may also bring into consideration the view of the Re'a and the Ritva discussed last week, that if one already engages in forbidden activity, there involves no prohibition to assist him in further violating the same prohibition.  Thus, since the questioner already violates the prohibition of driving on Shabbat, the passerby does not violate lifnei iver by causing further violations.


            Nevertheless, it seems preferable to simply reply, "I don't know."  This does not violate the prohibition of speaking falsehood since one does so out of concern for social harmony.  This is, indeed, the ruling of Rav Shlomo Fisher shlit"a.  If one nevertheless prefers to explain why he cannot give directions, he should preferably conclude with a friendly "Shabbat Shalom" greeting.


            May one cross the street on Shabbat when doing so will cause a Jewish driver to stop his car?  Beyond the considerations raised regarding the previous case (which apply here, as well), we may add that one seemingly need not alter his routine behavior in order to prevent the violation of another.  When an individual goes about his normal behavior and does not perform a specific act, he cannot thereby violate lifnei iver.  Rav Silverstein raises a similar argument to allow protest demonstrations on Shabbat in Israel (see Techumin, vol.7, p.117).[2] Nevertheless, one should preferably wait for the car to pass if this does not pose an inconvenience.


            When a secular soldier in the army asks to borrow his comrade's radio, the latter may not give it to him.  He should politely explain that by lending him the radio he will have participated in an act he deems forbidden.  If the soldier has other means of access to the radio, there is room for leniency.  However, as we saw in the first shiur of the series, the Mishneh Le-melekh applies lifnei iver if the violator requires the assistance of another Jew to reach his goal.  Thus, in a setting such as the Israeli army where the secular soldier would require the help of another Jew, giving him the radio would be prohibited, especially given the possibility of politely explaining one's refusal.[3]


Ordering a Taxi Service on Friday Afternoon: At times, using a car service (with non-observant, Jewish drivers) to reach one's destination late on Friday afternoon results in the driver's returning home by car after Shabbat sets in.  Often, the taxi driver finishes his workday before the onset of Shabbat, and thus the late-afternoon passenger becomes solely responsible for his drive home after Shabbat has begun.  One must therefore make a point of ordering a taxi from the area of destination, so as to not to facilitate a Shabbat violation.


            Needless to say, the same concern arises on Motza'ei Shabbat, when the driver may have to leave home on Shabbat in order to pick up his passengers on time.  (This also raises the issue of "ma'aseh Shabbat," the prohibition against deriving benefit from Shabbat desecration, a separate topic unto itself.)


            There is room for much more discussion and analysis relevant to this topic.  In these shiurim we tried to explain the central principles that govern the process of halakhic decision-making in these situations.  We should note that this area of halakha is a particularly sensitive one, and every given situation has its own nuances and specific features.  One must therefore carefully examine each question independently before arriving at a conclusive halakhic decision.




[1] The work, "Pe'eir Ha-Dor" (vol. 3, p.195) records that the Chazon Ish allowed serving food to a guest who will clearly not recite a berakha.  We prefer that one eats without a berakha, in violation of a rabbinic prohibition, over the hatred towards the host that may result from his refusal to serve food, which transgresses a Biblical prohibition.


[2] We may bring further support for this view in light of the mishna in Masekhet Gittin (61a) discussed in previous shiurim.  The mishna allowed, in the interests of "darkhei shalom," lending kitchen utensils to a woman suspected of making prohibited use of shemita produce, if the possibility exists that she will use them for permissible purposes.  The Ramban, Rashba and Ritva note that only with regard to lending does the mishna require these two factors: a concern for "darkhei shalom" and the possibility of permitted use.  In cases of selling, however, one may sell the given item even regardless of "darkhei shalom," so long as the buyer may use it for legitimate purposes. For example, one may sell a cow to someone suspected of performing forbidden agricultural activity on Shabbat, since he may use the animal for other, permitted activities.   Since the seller intends for his own profit, and not to assist the buyer, the transaction is allowed.  This halakha applies as well to cases where one seeks to benefit both himself and the other; the very fact that he has personal interest in the given act renders it permissible.  Similarly, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. vol. 3, 90) writes that one need not avoid engaging in even non-mandatory activity out of concern that it may lead another to a violation.  Therefore, for example, one should not abstain from teaching Torah because a gentile listens in (despite the fact that gentiles are forbidden from studying Torah).  In our case, then, where the pedestrian crosses the street solely for his own purposes, we have ample room to allow doing so.


[3] The same applies to a case of a general with an army vehicle who wishes to transfer it on Shabbat to another solider.  In some cases, however, there is room for leniency, particularly when "darkhei shalom" becomes a significant consideration.  One must carefully assess each situation independently.



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