Rabbis allow Sabbath invites for non-religious Jews

Rabbis permit Sabbath invites even if guests will break Jewish law for the purpose of positively impacting Jewish identities.

Jewish woman lights the Shabbat candles 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
Jewish woman lights the Shabbat candles 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
Rabbis from the Orthodox Beit Hillel organization have issued a ruling that it is permissible to invite a non-religious person to your home for a Shabbat meal, even if they will travel by car on the Sabbath itself.
In general, it is forbidden according to Jewish law to suggest any kind of activity to someone who might, through doing it, break Halacha. Therefore, inviting someone for Shabbat when it is known that they will travel by car, and thus infringe upon the precepts of Jewish law, has traditionally been heavily discouraged.
But a new ruling issued by the rabbis of Beit Hillel states that if the invitation is for the purpose of positively impacting the Jewish identity of a non-religious person, then there is room to be lenient.
According to Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, director of Beit Hillel, many secular Israelis are today seeking spiritual input and experience in their lives, and the opportunity to expose someone to a traditional Shabbat atmosphere should be embraced in order to provide this positive experience.
“Shabbat is one of the most unifying experiences and it is a real opportunity to create a connection between religious and secular Jews,” Neuwirth said. “By inviting a non-religious friend, neighbor or work colleague for a Shabbat meal, it can help bring society together, unite families in which some members are religious while others are not, strengthen a person’s Jewish identity and draw people closer to their heritage,” the rabbi continued.
Neuwirth insisted, however, that inviting a non-religious person for Shabbat for the purpose of business or general socializing would not be permitted according to Beit Hillel’s ruling.
He also noted that it was preferable to invite someone to either stay for the entire Shabbat or to come before Shabbat begins.
In dealing with the principle in Jewish law of “not placing a stumbling block before the blind” – the basis of the prohibition against inviting a non-religious person for a Shabbat meal, if it is known they will break Jewish law to do so – Neuwirth cited a ruling by Rabbi Moshe Shternboch, the second most senior rabbi in the radical Eda Haredit communal organization.
Neuwirth explained that according to Shternboch’s ruling, based on the opinion of medieval rabbinic source Rabbeinu Yonah, the principle applies only when something tangible has been proffered that might lead someone to break Jewish law, which would not apply to an invitation for a Shabbat meal.
“We want people to be partners in what we see as a new spirit in Israel where so many people are looking for spiritual input, and the purpose of this ruling is to help religious people feel comfortable in inviting non-religious people over Shabbat,” Neuwirth said.
Beit Hillel has also issued guidelines for religious people wishing to accept an invitation for a meal at a non-religious person’s house who may not adhere strictly to Jewish dietary laws.
Neuwirth said that there are a series of possible leniencies that would allow an observant person to eat catered food from crockery and cutlery in a non-religious household, something which has traditionally been considered highly problematic according to Jewish law.
Eating food prepared in the kitchen of a non-observant household would not be permitted according to this ruling.
Neuwirth said that both rulings were designed to “help strengthen the bonds of Israeli society,” by providing greater opportunities for religious and non-religious people to interact and be exposed to traditional Jewish experiences.