My essay in the current (Succot 5774/Fall 2013) issue of
The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society
May You Invite For Shabbat Someone Who May Desecrate the Sabbath To Attend?
Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is a Rebbe in the Mesivta of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan
1. The Issue
Is it permissible to invite a person who does not observe the Sabbath to come somewhere on Shabbat when it is very likely that the person will desecrate the Sabbath in order to get there? Does the purpose of the invitation make a difference?
2. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
In 1956, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan1 sent a query to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein: Some members of the community wanted to create an educational prayer service for children that would take place on Shabbat. However, it was clear that the children who lived at a distance from the synagogue would be driven there. Was it permissible to institute this prayer service?
Rabbi Feinstein2 responds that it is clearly not permissible for the children – even if they are not yet of Bar Mitzvah age – to be driven to the prayer service, for education in the area of prayer certainly does not take priority over education in the area of Sabbath observance! Moreover, continues Reb Moshe, instituting such a prayer service is tantamount to directing the children to come to pray there despite the desecration of the Shabbath that is involved. Therefore, writes Reb Moshe, Rabbi Kaplan should not consent to the institution of this prayer service, which will not constitute education in mitzvah observance – but, on the contrary – education in the opposite direction.
Reb Moshe acknowledges that Rabbi Kaplan's options are limited to verbal protestations, and that in all likelihood the community will disregard Rabbi Kaplan's objections and institute this destructive prayer service that will harm the cause of Sabbath observance. Nevertheless, writes Reb Moshe, Rabbi Kaplan should consistently expound on the severity of desecrating the Sabbath. Moreover, if at any time an opportunity to cancel the prayer service arises, Rabbi Kaplan should take advantage of that opportunity. Furthermore, so long as the prayer service does exist, Rabbi Kaplan should speak with each one of the children individually and try to get them to come by foot, as perhaps such efforts might prove effective with some of the children. In this way, concludes Reb Moshe, Rabbi Kaplan will fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah, remonstrating with a person who is committing a transgression,3 and instruction.
3. Lifnei Iver
Earlier, in 1953, Rabbi Feinstein was asked by Rabbi Naftoli Carlebach of Detroit if the prohibition of Lifnei Iver – placing a stumbling block before a blind man4 – pertains to a scenario in which one invites people to come to pray in a synagogue on Shabbat knowing that they will come by car and thus desecrate the Sabbath.
Before proceeding to Reb Moshe's responsum, let us briefly review the parameters of Lifnei Iver. The Rabbis understand the verse as a metaphor, and that its import is a prohibition to give misleading advice (to “place a stumbling block”) to an unsuspecting individual (“before a blind man”).5 They further understand that the Torah here is prohibits a person to facilitate the commission of a transgression by another person. The Torah itself, however, only prohibits such facilitation in cases in which the sinner could not have committed the transgression without that facilitation. Where the sinner could have committed the transgression in any event, then the individual who facilitates the commission of the transgression violates a Rabbinic prohibition, that of mesayei'a yedei ovrei aveirah – assisting those who commit transgressions.6
Reb Moshe7 responded to Rabbi Carlebach that on account of Lifnei Iver it is certainly forbidden to invite individuals who live far away (i.e., so that they cannot possibly come to the synagogue without desecrating the Sabbath). Moreover, continues Reb Moshe, there is an even worse prohibition involved here, as the person issuing the invitation may be categorized as a Meisit, a person who proselytizes another person (or persons) to commit a transgression. Reb Moshe acknowledges that the Meisit described in the Torah8 is a person who specifically proselytizes another person to commit idolatry. Nevertheles, asserts Reb Moshe, the severity of the prohibition, the divine punishment it entails, and the unique law that proscribes defending a Meisit in court9 – all these parameters also pertain to an individual who proselytizes another individual to commit any transgression. As evidence to this understanding, Reb Moshe cites a Gemara10 in which Rav Shmuel bar Nachman states in the name of Rabbi Yonatan that the law proscribing the defense of a Meisit in court is derived from the case of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In that case, a case may have been made on behalf of the serpent that he should not be held responsible for Adam's sin. After all, when a Master (in this case, Hashem) and a disciple (in this case, the serpent) issue an individual conflicting orders, whose order should the individual obey? Surely that of the Master! Why then, should the serpent have been held responsible for Adam's sin? That such a defense was not mounted on the serpent's behalf, posits Rabbi Yonatan, indicates that we are proscribed from the defense of a Meisit in court. Reb Moshe posits that the transgression that the serpent proselytized Adam and Eve to commit was not one of idolatry, but that of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. We thus see that a person who proselytizes another person to commit any transgression falls into the category of a Meisit.11 Therefore, while the death penalty specified in the Torah only pertains to the case of a person who proselytizes another person to commit idolatry, the other parameters apply to any case of proselytizing.
Reb Moshe further posits that the prohibition of Lifnei Iver even pertains to the individuals who do not live so far away that they would have to drive to the synagogue (evidently because they would not have committed the transgression if the invitation had not been issued), and it is only the characterization of Meisit that does not pertain in their case.
What if the synagogue does not word the promotion of its services as an invitation, but rather as a generic notice – intended primarily for those who live nearby – announcing the existence of a prayer service, and that prizes would be distributed to anyone who attends? Reb Moshe states that if it known that those who live further away will also come – by car – then although the characterization of Meisit does not pertain, it is unclear whether Lifnei Iver does pertain, or not (i.e., whether an announcement is tantamount to an invitation). Accordingly, writes Reb Moshe, it must be specified in the notice that prizes will only be distributed to individuals who come in a permissible manner – viz., by foot.12
5. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
In 1988, Rabbi Michael Schoen of Yeshivat Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem asked Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to clarify the parameters of a prayer service targeted at individuals who are not observant with the goal of bringing them to Torah and mitzvot.
Reb Shlomo Zalman13 prefaces his rulings with the statement that he is basing them on Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman's14 compendium of the position taken by many great Halachic authorities – viz., that people who desecrate the Sabbath in our time are treated as tinokot she'nishbu, as if they were children who were taken into captivity at an early age, and therefore grew up ignorant of Judaism – including the laws of Shabbat and their severity. Accordingly, they are not culpable for desecrating the Sabbath to the same extent as an individual who is knowledgeable and observes the Sabbath. Reb Shlomo Zalman also clarifies that the following rulings are based on the purpose of the prayer service – viz., the sacred goal of bringing those who are far from Judaism close to Torah and the awe of Heaven.
Reb Shlomo Zalman then specifies four parameters:
- It is permissible to invite an individual who lives at a distance from the prayer service's location, so long as he is offered a place to stay over Shabbat that is within walking distance of the prayer service. Once the offer is made, even if the individual declines the offer, it is not necessary to tell him to refrain from attending the prayer service. Moreover, it is not necessary to tell him that he may not arrive by car.
- The parking lot of the location in which the prayer service takes place must be closed throughout Shabbat and/or Yom Tov.
- It is preferable not to count an individual who still desecrates the Sabbath in public towards the quorum of ten men.
- So long as there is a quorum of ten people who observe the Sabbath present – not including those who still desecrate the Sabbath in public – it is permissible to grant aliyot (the honor of reciting the blessings before and after a Torah portion is read) to the individuals who do not observe the Sabbath, and also to allow any of them who are Kohanim to bless the congregation when the priestly blessing is recited.15
6. Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner
Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner differs with Reb Shlomo Zalman on two accounts.
In regard to the application of the category of tinokot she'nishbu in our day, Rabbi Wosner16 writes that it only applies to children who were born to parents who were apostates. Such children are treated as oness – compelled – not to accept mitzvot upon themselves.17 Rabbi Wosner includes within this category children who were raised in an environment of non-Jews, or of Jews who have cast off the yoke of Torah and mitzvot. These children, therefore, neither heard of – nor accepted – neither Torah, nor mitzvot, nor belief in the primary principles of Judaism.
This definition obviously circumscribes severely the number of people who can be classified as tinokot she'nishbu. Accordingly, most of the people that would be invited to a prayer service or to a meal on Shabbat are as culpable for desecrating the Sabbath as any knowledgeable people who observe the Sabbath.
Rabbi Wosner subsequently18 writes that it is forbidden to issue a Shabbat invitation to a person who desecrates the Shabbath if it clear that he will drive to the location to which he is invited. Rabbi Wosner writes that this sometimes entails the prohibition of Lifnei Iver on a scriptural level, and other times on a rabbinical level.
In a subsequent responsum,19 Rabbi Wosner writes that regardless of the issue of Lifnei Iver, there are additional issues of desecrating Hashem's name (Chillul Hashem) and rendering assistance to those who commit transgressions (mesayei'a overei aveirah). Therefore there is no choice other than to either refrain from issuing invitations, or to specify that the recipient may not accept the invitation if he will not come to the location on foot.
7. A Different Form of Lifnei Iver
All of the aforementioned authorities touch on the issue of Lifnei Iver as it pertains to the prohibition of desecrating the Sabbath.
However, there is a very different form of Lifnei Iver that needs to be taken into account as well.
Reb Shlomo Zalman20 begins a responsum on the topic of putting food and drink out in honor of a guest that you know will not make a blessing before eating or drinking as follows (free translation):
In that which every person must assess his conduct and direct his deeds for the sake of Heaven. These are my thoughts concerning the case of a person is visited by a distinguished guest who does not observe Torah and mitzvot, but still harbors a love of Torah-true Jews, and also supports Torah institutions, etc. whom the host knows will not make a blessing on his own over the food. Moreover, if the host asks his guest – even in a dignified manner – to wash his hands and recite a blessing, the guest will perceive the request as an affront and an insult to his honor, and will become very annoyed. Yet, on the other hand, if on account of the prohibition against giving food to someone who will not wash and pronounce a blessing,21 a host does not conduct himself with the common courtesy of offering his guest something to eat and drink, it is possible that the guest will, Heaven forfend, become even more distant from Torah. Moreover, as a result, he may become angry and hateful towards all those who walk in the Torah's ways. In such circumstances, I believe that, in truth, it is proper for the host to honor the guest with food and drink. The host need not concern himself with the prohibition of Lifnei Iver. For although we do not instruct a person to commit a minor violation so as to save other persons from a major prohibition...22 Nevertheless, this case is unique, since the only prohibition preventing the host from honoring his guest with food and drink is the potential sin of “placing a stumbling block before him.” But a host does not honor his guest with food and drink will cause the guest to commit an even greater violation!23 Accordingly, by honoring the guest with food and drink the host commits no violation – since in extending the food and drink he is not placing a stumbling block before the guest. On the contrary, by actively placing a smaller stumbling block before him, the host is saving the guest from a very great stumbling block.
At the end of the responsum Reb Shlomo Zalman gives an analogy: Just as a person who amputates his friend's toe so as to save his friend's entire arm is not regarded as harming his friend, but as healing him – and is not considered as having a committed a sin, but as having performed a mitzvah – so too in our case, the host is not considered to be tripping the guest up. On the contrary, he is saving the guest from the severe sin of hating the Torah and those who study it.
8. The Chazon Ish
In a footnote, Reb Shlomo Zalman notes that the Chazon Ish24 suggests a similar line of reasoning – albeit he only applies it to a case in which the person in question may commit a violation, not one in which he will definitely commit a violation.
The issue the Chazon Ish deals with is the rule that prohibits certain forms of commerce with a person who is suspect on the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year. The law25 is that it is not permitted to sell wine-barrels to a person who is engaged in commerce of wine that has been illegally hoarded during Shemittah (meshumar), on account of Lifnei Iver. However, if a person is only suspected of engaging in such commerce, it is permitted to sell him wine-barrels. This holds true even in a case in which his commerce involves a large quantity of wine – even though the large quantity makes it a reasonable possibility that some of the wine in question is illegally hoarded Shemittah produce – so long as the issue remains in doubt. The Chazon Ish explains that if we were to be stringent in such circumstances, we would be putting a stumbling block in place for ourselves and for the others, for we would be curtailing our mutual benevolence and our mutual sustaining of the lives and of the peace of our brethren who are engaged in the commerce, who are – at worst – Amei Ha'Aretz (ignoramuses). whom we are obligated both to sustain, and to treat with benevolence – and certainly not to bring to greater detestation and animosity. Curtailing commerce in these circumstances would bring both sides to violate Lo Tisna (the prohibition to detest another Jew) and other prohibitions that are no less severe than the prohibition of Lifnei Iver that we are trying to prevent!26 Accordingly, continues the Chazon Ish, our sages carefully balanced the extent to which we should penalize those who violate the laws of Shemittah and disassociate from them, with the extent to which we should not place both before them and before ourselves even greater stumbling blocks. The balance that the sages decided upon was to forbid the sale of wine-barrels to a person who is definitely engaged in commerce with illegally hoarded wine, and to permit the sale when the wine may have been illegally hoarded.27
9. Revisiting the Stringent Position and a Possible Reconciliation of the Perspectives
It is a common practice to try to reconcile positions that seem to be in conflict. On the basis of the insights we have gained both from Reb Shlomo Zalman's latter responsum and from the analysis of the Chazon Ish, perhaps we can go back to re-examine the rulings of Reb Moshe and Rabbi Wosner and make an attempt at reconciling the varying positions that the authorities take on this issue.
Let us put the two cases addressed by Reb Moshe in their proper context – viz., the prevailing conditions in the America of the 1950s, well before the advent of systematic attempts to bring Jews who are distant from observance to Torah and mitzvot (Kiruv Rechokim). Moreover, let us revisit the circumstances of both inquiries – viz., situations in which the entire purpose of the prayer serviceim in question was to promote and popularize prayer. There was no thought to use these services as stepping stones towards greater commitment and observance. Indeed, as Reb Moshe notes, by placing the value of these prayer services above the value of Sabbath observance, their implementation might be regarded as a form of proselytization away from Torah-true Judaism. It goes without saying that they were certainly “stumbling blocks” and violations of the prohibition of Lifnei Iver..
The case addressed by Rabbi Wosner may also be placed in a similar context: The circumstances as he describes are those of social invitations, not invitations issued with the intent of bringing the guests to greater commitment and observance.
On the other hand, in the case described in Reb Shlomo Zalman's former responsum the explicit purpose of the prayer service is to serve as a stepping stone towards greater commitment and observance. In a manner similar to that described by the Chazon Ish, Reb Shlomo Zalman carefully balances the reduction of the probability of a violation taking place (by the offer of a place to stay over Shabbat) – thus “downgrading” a definite Lifnei Iver to a doubtful one – with the concern with the potential of committing a greater, opposite Lifnei Iver by alienating the not-yet-observant individual by pressing the issue. Moreover, since the purpose of the invitation is to bring the participants in the prayer service to Torah and mitzvot, such invitations – even according to Reb Moshe – cannot be regarded as proselytizing away from observance, but towards observance.
A similar rule of thumb would apply to invitations to Shabbat meals: If they are intended for the purpose of bringing those who are invited to Torah and mitzvot, and an offer of a place to stay over Shabbat is extended to them, they would not be categorized as desecrations of Hashem's name but rather as sanctifications of Hashem's name (Kiddush Hashem), leading ultimately to enhanced Sabbath observance.28
1At the time, the later-to-become-legendary Rabbi Kaplan was teaching at Eliyahu Academy, the (now defunct) non-orthodox community day school in Louisville, KY. (There also existed at the time a Orthodox day school called Talmud Torah). Accordingly, he assumed that his students would come by car on Shabbat (http://meirweiss.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/lost-aryeh-kaplan-part-3-2/).
2Iggerot Moshe 1:98. The responsum is entitled, “Ba'alei Battim who want to institute a prayer service for children's education [chinuch ha'yeladim], and it is clear they will come by car on Shabbat.”
3See Sefer Haeducation and Minchat education mitzvah 239.
5Sifra de-vei Rav, Kedoshim 2:14.
6See Avodah Zarah 6b. See also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 163:2; Yoreh Deah 160:1 and 240:20 and Choshen Mishpat 70:1.
7Iggerot Moshe 1:99. The responsum is entitled: “A clarification of the prohibition to invite people to come pray in a synagogue on Shabbat when it is known that they will come by car.”
9See Sefer HaChinuch and Minchat Chinuch mitzvah 462.
11See, however, Margaliyot HaYam ad loc. #25 who infers from the language of Rashi that the serpent was, in fact, proselytizing for idolatry, and how this may be the import of the serpent's seductive suggestion: And you shall be as the Lord (Bereishit 3:5).
12Reb Moshe then addresses an inquiry by Rabbi Carlebach as to whether he should resign his membership in this synagogue – in which many of the individuals who come to pray do not conduct themselves appropriately. (While in Detroit, Rabbi Carlebach was primarily an educator in Yeshiva Beth Yehudah. For a time he also served in the rabbinate, but he later handed over the rabbinate to his uncle, an elderly rabbi and a Holocaust survivor with no means of support. Evidently, by the time he posed this query he was no longer the rabbi of the synagogue in question, but retained membership in it.) Reb Moshe responds that in his opinion Rabbi Carlebach should not resign his membership, but rather remain in order to protest the improprieties. Reb Moshe advises Rabbi Carlebach not to give up hope and not to assume that no one will heed his admonitions, as a little bit of light banishes much darkness. This, however, qualifies Reb Moshe, is only so long as no change is made in the manner in which services are conducted. If changes – such as the mechitza being removed or the manner of prayer or Torah reading being altered – are made, then all the members who are God-fearing have to resign their memberships.
13Minchat Shlomo, first edition, vol. 2, 4:10. This responsum is omitted in subsequent editions of Minchat Shlomo, but is preserved in Rivevot Ephraim 7:402. Both responsa are available at hebrewbooks.org.
14Melamed L'Ho'il 1:29.
15See also Teshuvot V'Hanhagot (Sternbuch) 1:358 for similar parameters in the case of a Ba'al Teshuvah who would like to invite his parents who are not observant for a meal on Shabbat.
There is a prevalent supposition that it is customary in Chabad circles to permit such Shabbat invitations based on the reasoning that since the invited individuals will drive on the Sabbath in any event, at least let them drive for a good purpose!
However, this is not the official Chabad position. From two sources it emerges that the Chabad position is that although a direct protestation is not called for, the prohibition must be publicized.
In a 1950 letter to Rabbi Mordechai Fischer of Brantford, ON, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's personal secretary (my great-uncle) Rabbi Rabbi Mordechai Hodakov wrote, in the name of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson: “Do not cancel the public classes on Friday night because of the worry maybe someone will drive, rather since he knows people will drive, he should figure out a way to teach them the prohibition about it, and encourage them to stop desecrating the Shabbat” (from http://www.chabadinfo.com/?url=article_en&id=28210).
In a 1957 letter, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, wrote: “[As to] how to remedy what occurred on Simchat Torah, that among the participants in the Hakafot of Yeshiva Ohalei Yosef Yitzchak were individuals who came by car. The remedy is simple, and it is astonishing that it was not carried out this year – viz., several days before the holiday notices should be placed in newspapers... [stating] that it is definitely obvious and well known that it is forbidden to travel by car on the Sabbath and on holidays, and that it is paradoxical to participate in a Torah event in a manner antithetical to the Torah” (Likutei Sichot vol. 34 p. 313).
Why is the reasoning cited above not addressed by the authorities we have cited in this essay?
The Gemara in several places (Shabbat 69a; Shevuot 26b) considers the status of a person who is eino shav me'yedi'ato, one who does not refrain when he is aware – viz., a person who committed a transgression inadvertently (shogeig) that' had he known, he would have committed deliberately (meizid). The Gemara rules that even if the transgression is one for which a person who commits it inadvertently would normally bring an atonement-offering (chatat), an eino shav me'yedi'ato may not bring that offering (this is derived from Scripture).
With the one exception of this restriction barring him from bringing atonement-offerings, an eino shav me'yedi'ato is exactly like any other Jew. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that all the normal parameters of Lifnei Iver apply in the case of an eino shav me'yedi'ato. Accordingly, no matter how many transgressions he commits on his own initiative, it remains forbidden for anyone else to cause him to commit any additional transgressions.
16Shevet HaLevi vol. 8, Orach Chaim 165:1.
17See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 159:3 and 340:5.
18Shever HaLevi, ibid., 165:6.
19Shevet HaLevi, ibid., 256:2.
20Minchat Shlomo 1:35:1.
21Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 169:2.
22Reb Shlomo Zalman here gives an example: It is forbidden for one person to violate the “minor” prohibition against tithing terumah and ma'aser on Shabbat to prevent another person from violating the “major” prohibition against eating tevel, untithed produce.
23At the end of the responsum Reb Shlomo Zalman states the the prohibition the guest will violate is lo tisna et achicha b'levavecha, not to hate one's fellow Jew (Vayikra 19:17). This is besides causing the guest to distance himself yet further from Torah and mitzvot.
25Mishnah, Shevi'it 5:7.
26In a bracketed passage, the Chazon Ish notes that a similar principle serves as the basis to permit trade with idolators: Since non-Jews are required to maintain amicable relations with Jews, if we were not to treat them appropriately we would be placing a stumbling block before them! The Chazon Ish goes on to explain the prohibition on striking one's grown children (Mo'ed Katan 17a) in a similar vein. (See also the Gemara, Chagigah 22a, for a similar Halachic issue in regard to how to relate to an Am Ha'Aretz – viz., whether we accept the testimony of an Am Ha'Aretz lest we come to animosity.)
27An apocryphal story is told concerning the famous 1952 visit of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to the Chazon Ish. It is related that the Chazon Ish faced a quandary similar to the one considered by Reb Shlomo Zalman – viz., on the one hand, it would not be appropriate to host the leader of the State of Israel and not honor him with refreshments. On the other hand, it would probably be considered a faux pas to ask the prime minister to pronounce a blessing before partaking of the refreshments! What was the Chazon Ish to do?! According to the legend, the Chazon Ish placed refreshments on the table, but out of Ben Gurion's arm's reach. He assumed that Ben Gurion would feel it undignified to ask for the refreshments to be passed to him. In this manner the conundrum would be resolved: The refreshments would be available, as befitted the occasion, while the issue of a blessing would be moot, as the guests would not avail himself of those refreshments!
However, whether the Chazon Ish did or did not go through this thought process, the fact is that Ben Gurion himself, in his diary entry on the meeting, states that it took place at a table that was completely empty (http://bengurionblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/blog-post_28.html)!
28Although not brought up by the authorities that we have cited here, the principle of “desecrate for him one Sabbaths so that he will come to keep many Sabbaths” (Yoma 85b) – which pertains both to physical and spiritual crises (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:14 with Magen Avraham ad loc. #29) – may apply here as well. See also http://www.vbm-torah.org/halakha/EducationalProgramming.htm for different analyses of some of the responsa we have perused.