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Lifnei Iver: Halachic Stumbling Block (Part II)

This week we continue the discussion of the prohibition of lifnei iver that we opened last week. Does the prohibition of lifnei iver apply even to possible transgressions, or does it relate specifically to transgressions that are certain? What are the parameters of the prohibition against assisting somebody in a sin, aside from the prohibition of lifnei iver? Is it permitted to offer a non-observant Jew a drink if he won’t make a berachah? It is permitted to officiate at a wedding of non-observant Jews, knowing that the couple won’t observe the laws of family purity?

These questions, among others, are discussed below.

Lifnei Iver for Possible Transgressions

Does the prohibition of lifnei iver apply only when it is certain that there will be a transgression, or does it apply even where a transgression is only a possibility?

A possible source for the answer is a Gemara concerning Rav Huna and his son Rabba (Kiddushin 32a). The Gemara relates that Rav Huna once tested his son, Rabba, by tearing expensive garments in his presence to see if he would react disrespectfully. The Gemara asks why this did not involve a violation of lifnei iver, as Rav Huna’s action could have led his son to violate the prohibition of disrespectful behavior towards parents.

A possible understanding of the question of the Gemara is that Rav Huna appears to have violated lifnei iver immediately upon conducting this test, due to the possibility of his son’s ensuing transgression. We would thus conclude from the       question that lifnei iver is prohibited even when there will not necessarily be a resulting violation. However, Rashi explains that only if Rabba spoke disrespectfully to his father would Rav Huna have violated lifnei iver. This implies that lifnei iver does not apply when the transgression is uncertain.

On the other hand, the Gemara in Mo’ed Katan (as cited in last week’s article) states that one who hits his grown son violates lifnei iver, since doing so may cause the son to smite his father (which constitutes a Torah prohibition).  This appears to imply that merely bringing about a situation that promotes the transgression violates lifnei iver.

This proof can be deferred if we assume that lifnei iver is only transgressed when the potential transgressor actually commits the sin – see Yad Malachi 367 who discusses the question of somebody who facilitates a transgression that ultimately never takes place. However, the wording of the Rambam (Malveh Ve-Loveh 2:7) who prohibits lending money without witnesses because of the chance that the money won’t be repaid, “anybody who lends money without witnesses transgresses the prohibition of lefnei iver,” indicates that the prohibition is transgressed even if there is no final sin.

Some authorities (Shut Penei Yehoshua [of the Maginei Shlomo], Yoreh De’ah 3; see also Shut Machaneh Chayim 1:47 [concerning a case where a person’s income is at stake] and Sedei Chemed 2, Lifnei Iver 10) rule leniently when the resulting transgression is not a certainty or a near certainty (such as handing a cup of wine to a Nazir who clearly wishes to drink it). They rule that if the sin is not even a near certainty, the prohibition of lifnei iver does not apply.

Other authorities qualify this ruling, making a distinction between giving the prospective sinner a forbidden object and providing a means by which he can perform a violation. According to this distinction it is forbidden to give a potential transgressor a forbidden object (such as non-kosher food), even if the sin is only a possibility. Yet, it is permitted to give a cow to somebody who may (or may not) use it for forbidden agricultural activity during the shemitta year (Minchas Shlomo, Vol. 1, p.192; see Yechaveh Daas 3:67 and Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 4, 5:3).

Assisting a Sinner: Mesayei’a Li-Dvar Aveirah

As we discussed last week, the prohibition of lifnei iver does not apply when the potential transgressor can access the prohibited item of his own accord. Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 6b) write that one may not hand a forbidden food item to a Jewish idolater even if the idolater himself owns the item, since he will certainly partake of the forbidden food. Tosafos add that the prohibition only applies where the recipient is unable to reach the item without the giver’s assistance.  If the idolater could reach the item independently, it is permitted to hand it to him despite the certainty of the ensuing violation. One could understand that Tosafos is only discussing the prohibition of lefnei iver, however, some authorities interpret Tosafos as saying that if the idolator has the food anyway there is no prohibition whatsoever.

A similar view emerges from a number of additional sources (see Semag, lavin 168; Radbaz Vol. 3, no. 535). According to these opinions, it seems that where the prohibition of lifnei iver does not apply, it is permitted to assist the transgressor in his actions.

However, we find in the following situation that Tosafos forbids assisting a halachic transgression, even where lifnei iver is not applicable.

The Gemara (Shabbos 3a) writes that it is permitted for a homeowner standing in his home to receive a basket that a pauper standing in the public domain hands him on Shabbos. Although the pauper is desecrating Shabbos by passing in the basket, there is no prohibition for the homeowner to receive it.

Tosafos raise the question of why the homeowner does not violate the prohibition of mesayei’a for having assisted the pauper’s violation. Although the beggar can of course easily place the basket inside the house without the owner’s involvement, Tosafos write that “nevertheless there is a rabbinic prohibition, for he must separate him from the transgression.”

Thus, according to this Tosafos, even when the violator could commit the sin independently, so that the prohibition of lifnei iver does not apply, a rabbinic prohibition forbids a person from assisting him in his sinful endeavor (Tosafos therefore interpret the Mishnah as dealing with a non-Jewish pauper).

Distinctions in Assisting a Sin

The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 151:1) cites the two positions of Tosafos, and understands that they represent two different opinions. He writes as follows: “Some say that the prohibition against selling them [idolaters] items used for worship applies only if they have no other similar items… If, however, they can purchase them elsewhere, one may sell them anything. Others are stringent. But the common practice is to be lenient.”

In contrast with the Rema, the Shach reconciles the two opinions of Tosafos, drawing a distinction between assisting a Jew and a non-Jew or a heretic: Although there is a rabbinic prohibition against assisting a Jew to commit a transgression, this prohibition does not apply to non-Jews or even to a Jewish heretic. Thus, in the case of the Jewish idolater there is no prohibition, whereas in assisting a Jew the prohibition applies.

The Turei Even (Chagiga 13a) and Machaneh Chayim (1:45) concur with the view of the Shach, though some dispute the leniency (see footnote in Beis Shlomo, Orach Chaim 38).

Another distinction raised in the context of mesayei’a is made by the Ritva (Avodah Zarah 6b). According to the Ritva, the prohibition of assisting a transgression (mesayei’a) applies only where the potential transgressor will certainly perform the prohibited action. Where the transgressor might, but might not, transgress, it is permitted to assist him even if there is a likelihood of violation.

According to the Ritva in circumstances of a possible transgression, meaning that the sinful intention of the perpetrator is not clear, the prohibition of lifnei iver does apply (unless the prohibition is independently available). The rabbinic prohibition of assisting (mesayei’a) applies only where the intention to sin is clear, and not where the matter is in doubt.

Assisting Before and During the Sin

The Kesav Sofer (Yoreh De’ah 83) suggests an additional distinction concerning the mesayei’a prohibition, differentiating between assistance offered prior to the forbidden act, and assistance given as the violation occurs.

Facilitating a sin prior to the act is permitted (when the sin could have occurred regardless), such as selling an animal to an idolater if he already owns suitable animals. However, it is forbidden to give assistance during the actual performance of the forbidden act, such as when the pauper places an item into the hands of the homeowner, even though the violator can commit the sin independently (see Binyan Tzion 15).

The Ritva (Bava Metzia 5a-b) however, according to one approach, writes that the prohibition of mesayei’a applies to entrusting one’s animals to shepherds who are suspect of theft. This indicates that the prohibition applies even in facilitating the prohibition in advance, and not only in assisting at the time of transgressing.

Offering a Drink to a non-Observant Jew: Mesayei’a

The Rema (Orach Chaim 163:2) writes that one may not give food to someone who will eat without reciting a berachah, as this will violate lifnei iver. This ruling raises day-to-day concerns regarding offering food or drink to secular workers, soldiers, and so on, where the person will otherwise not have access to the food (so that the issue of lifnei iver is raised). Is it permitted to offer a secular person something to eat or drink?

In fact, the Magen Avraham (163:2) writes that even where the other Jew has independent access to the food, the prohibition of mesayei’a will perhaps apply. The Binyan Tziyon (15; see Machatzis Ha-Shekel) explains that this is not a clear-cut ruling, because of the possibility that the prohibition of mesayei’a applies only when the forbidden activity is actually taking place. Assistance given beforehand might not fall under the prohibition, and therefore the Magen Avraham was unsure whether giving food to one who will not recite a berachah is included in the prohibition (see Yad Malachi 361 and Bi’ur Ha-Gra, Yoreh De’ah 151:8, who apply the prohibition of mesayei’a even to granting assistance before the transgression).

Based on the same distinction, the Netziv (Meishiv Davar, Vol. 2, 31-32) permits 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 even the prohibition of mesayei’a will not apply. The Netziv likewise permits a rabbi to officiate at a wedding of a couple who will probably not observe the family purity laws; the couple will violate these laws even if the rabbi does not perform the wedding (so lifnei iver does not apply), and  mesayei’a does not apply since the rabbi’s involvement occurs before the violation.

Lifnei Iver in Offering a Drink

In many situations, however, the non-observant Jew will have no other access to food, in which case it appears that the full prohibition of lifnei iver will apply to giving food (though where food can be obtained in nearby stores, the question will be contingent on the discussion among authorities as noted in the previous article).

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo 35) writes that it is permitted to offer a drink to a secular Jew who respects the Torah, because refraining from doing so (and certainly refusing a request for a drink) will lead him to violate more severe transgressions, such as contempt for Judaism. Conversely, by inviting these types of non-observant Jews to one’s home one enhances their appreciation of Judaism, and brings them closer. One may therefore give food and drink to these secular Jews who will not recite berachos, since doing so prevents more severe violations.

Based on an opinion of Rabbeinu Tam (who writes that lifnei iver is waived for darchei shalom under circumstances where the transgression is not absolutely certain), the Chazon Ish (Shevi’is 12:9) writes a similar opinion concerning some types of secular Jews:

“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 be 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 to 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 must be stringent when it will certainly lead to a sin, and lenient in cases of doubt. This is a balanced and fair approach.”

Although the Chazon Ish appears to rule stringently when there will be a certain transgression, the common custom is to be lenient even for a certain transgression, and there is certainly room for leniency when the prohibition in question is rabbinic (see the discussion in last week’s article). In fact, the work Pe’er Ha-Dor (Vol. 3, p. 195) records that the Chazon Ish allowed serving food to a guest who will clearly not recite a berachah, preferring the transgression of eating without a berachah over the hatred towards the host that may result from his refusal to serve food (which transgresses a Biblical prohibition).

Concerning inviting a non-observant Jew for Shabbos, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 99) rules that one may not invite somebody who will certainly drive, and the invitation is only permitted where there is a realistic possibility of arriving on foot.


Helping and Hindering Jewish Drivers

Concerning helping a Jewish driver who asks for directions on Shabbos, the issue of lifnei iver will apparently not apply: The driver will find his way in the end, and in any case the directions are not contributing in any way to the prohibition (he’s driving anyway). Moreover, the Ritva (Avodah Zarah 6b) writes that lifnei iver does not apply to extending a violation, but only to initiating one.

The issue of mesayei’a also seems to be inapplicable, because there is no help in performing any forbidden activity, but only in finding the way (in fact, helping will minimize violation of Shabbos by getting him to his destination as soon as possible).

Yet, giving directions to a Jewish driver remains somewhat out of place for Shabbos, and it is perhaps better to reply with a polite, “I don’t know.” Of course, if rebuke is in place, one should show his displeasure with the driver’s behavior.

Similar considerations to those above also apply to causing a car to stop on Shabbos by crossing the road. One should avoid this situation by crossing after the car has gone past.

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