Sometimes understanding the whole picture forces a posek to radically reimagine how a Halachic concept will be applied. Rarely have I seen a posek who did this more masterfully than Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach and his understanding of lifnei iver with non-religious Jews. The shiur and sources are available here.
The Gemara (Chullin 107b) rules that one cannot give food to a waiter unless he knows that the waiter will wash his hands first. Rabbenu Yonah (Brachot Perek Eilu Devarim) extends this to forbidding giving food to someone who won’t make a bracha, a position accepted lehalacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 163, 169). This is based on lifnei iver. There is some discussion amoung the poskim as to whether this applies only when he will definitely not wash or make a bracha or even by safek, whether this also applies when by giving food one is mekayem a mitzvah (such as tzedakah), what happens if the person can get the food by himself, etc. We will not get into details here.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman (Minchat Shlomo 1:35), however, notes that there is a complicating factor that is especially pronounced in modern times. Especially with the existence of multiple denominations, there are many people are truly love and support Torah, but are not themselves shomer Torah u-Mitzvot. Continue reading The Changing Parameters of Lifnei Iver
I was always intrigued by the quasi-legal discussions in the Gemara that reflect highly sophisticated philosophical issues. Even more fascinating is when those same discussions are translated into law. Perhaps the most striking example emerges from a passage about the nature of sin that appears in several places in Shas (Kiddushin 81b and Nazir 23a). By coincidence, I was reminded of R. Shlomo Zalman Aurbach’s approach to this Gemara from a legal perspective when giving a shiur on soldiers/doctors switching shifts on Shabbos (here) and another shiur on Yichud (here). Continue reading The Nature of Sin in Philosophy and Law: Doctors/Soldiers Switching Shabbos Shifts and Yichud
Rabbi Daniel Mann just posted a very sensitive teshuva (here) about a secular Jew whose religious relatives are worried that the more he learns about Judaism, the more likely he will lose his tinok shenishba status and become a Rasha. I encourage reading his teshuva. One point that jumps out at me is the inherent tension created by the obligation to educate (or rebuke). By educating, we provide opportunities for religious growth, but at the same time, we remove the excuse of ignorance from those students who choose to willfully ignore what we teach. At face value, this flies in the face of the principle mutav sheyiyhu shogegin, it is better that willful sinners remain accidental sinners, a principle that under certain circumstances allows us to refrain from rebuking. However, it is clear that cannot be the case. As a community, our goal is to educate and improve the members of our community. We cannot be held hostage by the possibility that people will choose, despite knowing what is right, to do what is wrong. Mutav Sheyiyhu Shogegin by definition must therefore be limited. Continue reading Balancing Education, Rebuke, and the Fear of Causing Estrangement