Cooking for Non-Observant Jews on Yom Tov by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Techumin volume 31 includes an important ruling from former Chief Rabbi Rav Yisrael Meir Lau on an exceedingly sensitive topic, the propriety of inviting non-observant Jews for Yom Tov meals.  Elsewhere (Gray Matter volume 4) we discuss the propriety of inviting non-observant Jews for a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal in a situation in which they will drive in violation of Halacha.  Here, we discuss an issue relevant specifically for Yom Tov: the problem of cooking on Yom Tov for the non-observant.  This issue arises even if the non-observant individual will be staying in one’s home the entire Yom Tov.  We shall present a somewhat modified presentation of Rav Lau’s ruling that reflects the common practice in our community regarding this issue.

The Prohibition to Cook for a Nochri on Yom Tov

As is well known, the Torah (Shemot 12:16) permits us to cook on Yom Tov.  The Torah presents this exception as follows: “However, that which is done for eating purposes may be done for you (Lachem).”  Chazal (Beitzah 20b) interpret the word “Lachem” to teach that we are permitted to cook “Lachem,” for Jews but not for Nochrim.  The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 512:1) codifies this rule as normative Halacha with no dissenting opinions voiced either by the Shulchan Aruch or any of is commentaries.  The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 512:1) and Biur Halacha (ad. loc. s.v. Ein Mevashlim) agree that this constitutes a Torah level prohibition.

Chazal (Beitzah 21b) instituted that one is not even permitted to invite Nochrim to a Yom Tov meal lest one come to cook extra for him on Yom Tov.  This rabbinic prohibition is also codified in the Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc.).  One who hosts candidates for conversion on Yom Tov should consult one’s Rav for guidance regarding this issue.  At minimum, the food that will be served should be prepared before Yom Tov. 

Applying this Prohibition to Non-Observant Jews

The Gemara (Chullin 5a) categorizes Jews who publicly desecrate Shabbat as Nochrim.  While Shabbat violators remain Jews, as the Gemara (Sanhedrin 44a) famously proclaims “He remains a Jew even if he sins,” Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in Nefesh HaRav p. 282) explains that Sabbath violators are missing an aspect of Kedushat Yisrael (the holiness of a Jew).  Rav Soloveitchik notes that Shemot 15:2 refers to Hashem as “my God” and “my father’s God.”  Rashi (ad. loc.) explains that the connection to Hashem began with our forefathers and the individual continues that holy status.  The Sabbath violator remains Jewish by virtue of his ancestry, but the aspect of holiness of a Jew that emerges from one’s accepting Hashem as one’s God, is missing from a Jew who publicly desecrates one of the most basic laws on the Torah, Shabbat observance. 

The Mishnah Berurah (512:2) rules that the prohibition to cook for Nochrim on Yom Tov applies to those who publicly violate Shabbat.  The Sha’ar HaTziyun (ad. loc. number 2) cites the Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 30:15) as a source for his ruling.  The Rambam states that the status of a Shabbat violator as a Nochri applies to all areas of Halacha.  However, this is not a simple matter as there are undoubtedly some areas of Halacha where the Shabbat violator is considered to be Jewish, such as the need for a Shabbat violators to execute a Get in order to remarry (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 140:11).  Indeed, Teshuvot  Maharam Schick (O.C. 281) is inclined to permit preparing food for a Sabbath desecrator on Yom Tov but refrains from doing so in deference to the Pri Megadim (O.C. 512:1) who rules strictly.  Rav Lau notes that even the Chafetz Chaim in another work (Likkutei Halachot Zevachim chapter two, section “Zevach Todah” page 36) expresses uncertainty as to whether a Shabbat violator is considered a Nochri for all matters of Jewish Law.

Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer (8:17) cites the Rashba (Beitzah 21b s.v. Gezeirah Shema)        from whom it is clear that this prohibition applies only to Nochrim and is not intended for non-observant Jews (though Rav Moshe Shternbuch [cited ad. loc.] notes that most Rishonim, such as the Ran to Beitzah 10b in the pages of the Rif s.v. Ve’Ein Mezamnin, disagree with the Rashba).  In addition, the Tzitz Eliezer suggests that the Mishnah Berurah’s strict ruling applies only to cooking on Yom Tov on behalf of non-observant Jews but not to inviting Shabbat violators and serving them food cooked before Yom Tov. 

Tinok SheNishbah

Moreover, even the Mishnah Berurah (512:2) cites opinions that this rule does not apply to Sabbath violators who are considered “Tinok SheNishbah.”  The Gemara (Shabbat 68b) discusses the laws of a Tinok SheNishbah, one who is unaware of the laws of Shabbat because he was abducted as a baby and raised among gentiles.  The Gemara rules that if such an individual desecrates Shabbat, he is nonetheless regarded as an inadvertent sinner.  Accordingly, we do not view one who was raised among non-Jews as a deliberate sinner, for he never realizes the problems with his actions.

Does the same apply to a Jew who is raised among non-observant Jews?  Perhaps he should be treated the same way, for he also likely does not understand what Mitzvot are, or why he should keep them.  In fact, when the Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 3:1-3) codifies the harsh actions that the Halacha prescribes for a known Apikores (someone who rejects one of the pillars of traditional Jewish thought), limits the Apikores’ application as follows:

This rule applies only to one who has consciously rejected belief in the Oral Law on his own thoughts and reasoning, such as Tzadok, Baytus (both of whom started sects that rejected parts of our Oral Law), or their followers.  However, children and grandchildren of those who go astray . . . who were born to Karaites and were raised with these tenets, such a person is like a Tinok SheNishbah . . . He is like one who was coerced [to violate Mitzvot].  Although he heard as an adult that he is Jewish and saw practicing traditional Jews, he is still like one who is coerced, since he was raised on mistaken beliefs.  It is therefore appropriate to try to influence them to return to traditional Jewish observance and beliefs and draw them with pleasant engagement until they return to a Torah life.

Applications to Contemporary Jewry

In modern times, we have seen a lamentable rise in the number of non-observant Jews, many of whom are raised this way from infancy.  Is such a Jew considered a Tinok SheNishbah?  In the early nineteenth century, Rav Yaakov Etlinger (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion HaChadashot 23) wrote the following about the Jews of his time:

It is difficult for me to issue a ruling regarding contemporary non-observant Jews.  We see that the majority of the Jewish community is no longer observant and Shabbat desecration has become the norm.  It is possible that these people should be considered as ones who think what they are doing is permissible, and as such they are Karov LeMeizid, falling short of being considered deliberate transgressors (see Makkot 7b).  In addition, many of them recite Kiddush and later engage in Shabbat desecration.  Thus, they do not deny that God is the Creator.  The children of these people, who are ignorant of the laws of Shabbat and are merely emulating their parents, should be regarded as Tinokot SheNishbeh’u.

Several decades later, Rav David Tzvi Hoffman echoed Rav Etlinger's view of non-observant Jews (Teshuvot Melameid LeHo’il 1:29), “The Binyan Tzion [wrote] that Shabbat desecrators in our time are somewhat like Tinokot SheNishbeh’u, because most Jews in our land unfortunately are Shabbat desecrators, and it is not their intention to deny our basic beliefs.”  However, many Poskim such as Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:21) and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo, Moadim, 9:322) do not, generally speaking, regard contemporary secular Jews as Tinokot SheNishbeh’u. 

Common Practice in our Community

Common practice among our community is to host non-observant relatives for Yom Tov.  Moreover, it is common practice for observant Jewish hotel owners to host and feed Jews who are obviously non-observant.  Outreach professionals routinely invite non-observant Jews for Yom Tov, especially for the Seder.  People either rely on the opinions that this prohibition does not apply to non-observant Jews or that contemporary non-observant Jews are regarded as Tinokot SheNishbeh’u.  It is certainly preferable in such a situation to cook all the Yom Tov food in advance in order to eliminate concern for violating a Torah level prohibition.  In any event, the Halacha (Mishnah Berurah 495:5) prefers preparing food before Yom Tov so as not to be preoccupied with food preparation during the holiday. 


Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (ad. loc.) laments the inability to properly observe this Halacha in today’s circumstances. Nonetheless, we should aspire to create highly joyful and spiritual Yom Tov atmospheres in our homes that will inspire non-observant Yom Tov guests to return to a life of Torah observance.


It is ironic that we rely on the opinions that contemporary non-observant Jews are compared to a Tinok SheNishbah in regard to inviting them for Yom Tov.  However, in many circumstances we rely on Rav Moshe Feinstein’s opinion that today’s non-observant Jews are not classified as Tinok SheNishbah, and are considered to be invalid witnesses.  These circumstances include situations regarding a child of a woman’s second marriage who did not receive a proper Get from her first husband.  In such cases, we embrace Rav Moshe’s opinion that the child is not a Mamzeir (illegitimate) if all witnesses to the mother’s first marriage were non-observant. (For further discussion of this issue, see Gray Matter: Volume One pages 83-92.)  While there are ways to resolve this inconsistency, it highlights the fact that Rav Moshe’s ruling should be relied upon only if no other options exist.  We should all make efforts to ensure that civilly divorced non-observant Jews should receive a proper Get even if they were married in a non-Orthodox ceremony where all witnesses were non-observant Jews.  Our discussion raises the very distinct possibility that non-observant Jews are not necessarily disqualified from serving as witnesses, since they may be regarded as Tinokot SheNishbe’u.

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