Shabbat table 521.
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Around the world, many non-observant Jews are increasingly interested in
participating in traditional Shabbat experiences, even though they do not
necessarily desire to become firmly observant. This is a wonderful phenomenon
which helps strengthen Jewish identity and unity. Yet it raises the question of
whether more observant Jews can invite them to Shabbat services or meals,
knowing this will likely entail them driving in a car or performing other
May one encourage Shabbat observance even if will
entail Shabbat desecration? The desire to increase Shabbat observance, as well
as the concern regarding encouraging its desecration stem from one broad value:
“All Jews are responsible for one another.” This dictum reflects many Biblical
commandments in which the Torah depicts all Jews as comrades, such as “Do not
hate your kinsfolk... Reprove your fellow but incur no guilt because of him...
Do not bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself”
Jews bear an obligation to help others perform
positive activities and avoid bad deeds.
This sentiment is embodied in
the so-called lifnei iver commandment: “You should not place a stumbling block
in front of the blind,” which the Sages interpreted as prohibiting the enabling
of sinful behavior of others. Thus a Jew may not give a ham sandwich to fellow
(Similarly, one cannot help a non-Jew worship an idol.)
Accordingly, many decisors including rabbis Shmuel Wosner, Moshe Feinstein and
Yosef Elyashiv believe Shabbat invitations such as discussed above transgress
Yet a number of scholars have questioned whether
Shabbat invitations violate the lifnei iver prohibition, or if not, whether it
can be overridden by other considerations.
The Talmud states that one
only violates lifnei iver if the transgressor is “on the other side of the
river,” i.e., could not otherwise sin. Thus if the ham sandwich is readily
available, a Jew does not violate any Biblical prohibition by helping another
Jew to get it; he could have gotten it himself.
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however, claim that even when a Jew does not facilitate the transgression, he
still violates a rabbinic prohibition of mesayea (“aiding and abetting”).
Medieval commentators, for example, debated whether Jews could sell non-Jewish
religious artifacts to Christians since the latter could always find suppliers
within the gentile community. Our case might be similarly contingent on this
debate since the non-observant Jews have access to their own automobiles to
Some scholars believe one should rule stringently on
this matter since any public toleration of Shabbat violation constitutes an
affront to the religion. Yet others contend that such fears are overridden by
the fact that participation in Shabbat rituals is an important step toward
stronger religious identity. Several further argue, albeit for various reasons,
that Shabbat invitations do not violate the prohibition of aiding and
Some contend that the Sages only prohibited a direct, physical
act of assistance at the time of the actual sin; a verbal invitation, issued
before Sabbath, might not technically fulfill that criteria.
scholars have noted that mutual responsibility only goes so far and therefore
the entire prohibition on aiding and abetting does not apply to those who have
chosen to be nonobservant.
Others have rejected that claim, yet asserted
that there is no greater act of taking responsibility for another Jew than
showing them how to observe the Sabbath.
A different argument for
leniency accepts the fact that such Shabbat invitations are theoretically
prohibited, yet contends that this relatively minor transgression may be
tolerated in order to facilitate broader religious commitment from
This claim, in part, relates to a larger discussion on whether
one may commit a transgression to prevent themselves or others from committing a
more severe violation.
In medieval times, for example, scholars allowed
outright Shabbat violation in order to save a Jew from apostasy or prevent a
Jew’s marriage to a gentile. In that case, however, the effect of the “rescue”
is immediate, whereas the impact of Shabbat invitations is less direct, not
immediate, and far from guaranteed.
Taking these considerations into
account, rabbis Yaakov Kaminetsky and Shlomo Auerbach argued that one must frame
the invitation in a manner that would not necessarily lead to Shabbat violation.
Accordingly, one could invite someone for a whole Shabbat, even if they are
unlikely to stay that long, and then encourage them to come for a Friday night
meal, when guests may arrive before Shabbat begins, even as we assume they will
drive home later.
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, however, allows Shabbat-day
invitations because he believes Jews cannot violate the lifnei iver prohibition
if they intend to bring others closer to Judaism. This leniency was recently
adopted by the Beit Hillel rabbinic organization, even as it stressed that it
should be used cautiously and only in cases of great need, such as to foster
family unity. ■ The writer teaches at Yeshivat Hakotel and directs the Tikvah
Israel Seminars for Post High School
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