One of the most difficult Halachot to observe is the prohibition (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 169:2) to serve food to a Jew who will not recite a Brachahh or serve bread to a Jew who will not wash Netilat Yadayim (Rama O.C. 163:2).The Rama explains that one who does so violates Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol (Vayikra 19:14), the prohibition to cause another to sin.This Halacha, however, could potentially alienate non-observant Jews from observant Jews and prevent interaction between the two groups.
We shall review four Teshuvot written in the twentieth century by Halachic authorities who seek to grapple with this serious dilemma, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Rav Yehuda Amital (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion) and Rav Dov Brisman (a prominent Rav and Dayan who resides in Philadelphia). These Poskim, who styles of Halachic decision making differ significantly, provide four differing perspectives on how to manage this challenging Halacha.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
Rav Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:35) writes: “Regarding the fact that one must measure his ways and intend his actions be done for the sake of Heaven, if one is visited by a prominent guest who does not observe Torah and Mitzvot but nonetheless loves observant Jews, and supports Torah institutions and the like, and if the host does not act with accepted manners and offer his guest some food and drink because of the Halacha forbidding serving food to someone who will not recite a Brachah, and even if in a respectful manner one will request that he wash Netilat Yadayim and recite a Brachah, he will perceive this as an insult and will anger him greatly, and it is likely this will alienate him Heaven forfend even more from Torah, and will become angry and hate those who walk in the path of Torah, in such a situation I think that it is proper to serve this guest food and drink”.
Rav Shlomo Zalman notes that Halacha (Shabbat 4a) forbids violating a minor sin in order that another Jew should not violate a major sin such as separating Terumot and Maaserot (tithes) on Shabbat in order to spare another Jew from the very serious sin of consuming Tevel (non-tithed foods).Accordingly, Rav Auerbach does not espouse violating Lifnei Iveir in order to spare another Jew from the sin of hating others.
Rather, he explains that the host is faced with the following dilemma. He can either facilitate the sin of eating without reciting a Brachah or he can facilitate the sin of hating others. Accordingly, Rav Shlomo Zalman argues that one should choose to facilitate the lesser sin thereby sparing the other party from a more serious violation. Accordingly, one who serves the food in such a situation does not violate Lifnei Iveir since he reduces the other party’s sin. One may add that not inviting the guest altogether does not solve this issue as this will also fuel hatred.
Rav Shlomo Zalman notes that this is an example of Shlomo Hamelech’s advice to not reprimand the scoffer lest he come to hate you (Mishlei 9:8). In fact, Rav Brisman (Teshuvot Shalmei Chovah number 33) cites Teshuvot Chavot Yair (number 185) that this Halacha does not apply when it will cause enmity and hatred, as support for Rav Auerbach’s ruling. Nonetheless, Rav Auerbach expresses hesitancy at the conclusion of his responsum and writes “nonetheless the matter needs a decision”. It seems that Rav Shlomo Zalman’s hesitancy emerges from his fear that his ruling would create the perception that a Halacha from the Shulchan Aruch has been eliminated.
Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv
Rav Eliashiv was asked by someone who worked for a large firm where he was required to bring lunch to his boss who does not wash Netilat Yadayim or recite a Brachah and to serve coffee and refreshments to visitors many of whom will not recite a Brachah. The employee would be fired if he refused to serve food to his boss and visitors. Rav Eliashiv notes that if the boss would prepare his own lunch if the employee refused to serve him then it would be possible to be lenient. Rav Eliashiv cites Teshuvot Torat Chessed (number five) who permits a restaurant to serve food to those who will not recite a Brachah as a precedent for this ruling.
The basis of this ruling is the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 6b) which states that if the sin could have been performed by the sinner with assistance (such as one who brings wine to a Nazirite that he in any event had easy access – Chad Avra D’nahara, literally, one side of the river) one does not violate Lifnei Iveir. Although many authorities (such as Tosafot Shabbat 3a s.v. Bava) rule that even in such a case there is a rabbinic prohibition to assist someone to sin (Mesayeiya Lidei Ovrei Aveirah), nonetheless in a case where the sin in question is only a rabbinic prohibition and the food is not intrinsically prohibited (such as non-kosher food) the Torat Chessed rules leniently.
Nonetheless Rav Eliashiv notes that if the boss would not serve lunch to himself if the employee would not assist him, it would pose a very serious problem. Rav Eliashiv argues that even though another employee would in any event serve the boss lunch, this does not mitigate the violation of Linei Iveir. Rav Eliashiv notes the ruling of the Chochmat Adam (130:2) in accordance with the Mishneh Lamelech (Hilchot Malveh V’loveh 4:2) who argues that it is not considered to be “one side of the river” unless there is a non-Jew who would facilitate the sin if the Jew would not do so. The scenario presented to Rav Eliashiv appears to have been in Eretz Yisrael where all the employees of the firm were Jewish.
Moreover, Rav Eliashiv argues that even if there was a non-Jewish employee who would serve the food and drink, it would not mitigate the problem, since the employee is simply doing the bidding of the Jewish employer and thus it would be considered that the Jewish employer is facilitating the sin even if his sends a non-Jewish employee to do the deed.
Rav Eliashiv rules that the same applies in regards to serving coffee to the guests since they certainly would not serve themselves coffee in such a circumstance. Thus he rules that the essential Halacha prohibits serving food in such a circumstance if one is certain that the employer and/or guest will not recite a Brachah. Nonetheless, Rav Eliashiv writes that if the employee depends on the job to support his family and cannot find alternative employment it is possible to be lenient. The basis for this leniency is the Poskim (such as Teshuvot Ketav Sofer Yoreh Deah 83) who disagree with the Mishneh Lamelech and argue that Chad Ivra D’nahara applies even if only another Jew would facilitate the sin and the Rishonim (Tosafot, Rosh and Meiri) who believe that facilitating a violation of rabbinic law does not constitute a Torah level prohibition. Rav Eliashiv concludes by advising the person who posed the question to pray to Hashem that he find employment where he will not need to rely on this leniency.
Rav Yehudah Amital
Rav Amital (Alon Shevut, number fifteen) was asked: “Must one refrain from serving food from those who do not perform Netilat Yadayim and recite Brachot, based on what is stated in Shulchan Aruch O.C. 163:2 and 169:2? I have not seen people observing this Halacha and it is common practice to invite to meals and celebrations even those who are not careful about Netilat Yadaim and Brachot and I have not heard anyone raise any objections”.
He responds: “I will begin with your conclusion – already a few generations earlier the Maamar Mordechai (commentary to O.C. 169) after he concluded that one should act strictly in this regard, writes ‘but we are not careful about this matter, and may Hashem forgive us for this’. It is our obligation ‘to search for leniency and to justify the common practice not to be concerned with Lifnei Iveir regarding this matter’ (quoting Teshuvot Torat Chesed number 5).
Rav Amital infers that already Tosafot (Avodah Zarah 6b s.v. Menayin) was lenient about this matter, as they write “It is forbidden to present apostate Jews with non-kosher food”. Rav Amital infers that Tosafot permit giving apostates kosher food even though they obviously will not wash Netilat Yadayim or recite Berachot.
Rav Amital presents a number of arguments to be lenient. He infers that some authorities limit the prohibition to actually placing food into the recipient’s mouth and did not include placing food before someone in this prohibition. He also notes that Rama (O.C. 169:2) cites Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (near the conclusion of their commentary to the eighth chapter of Berachot) who permit serving food to a poor individual who will not recite Berachot, for the sake of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. Rav Amital notes that the Vilna Gaon (Biur Hagra ad. loc.) cites the Mishnah (Demai 3:1) which permits serving Demai (produce regarding which there exists a relatively small chance that it is not properly tithed) to the poor and guests. Rav Amital suggests based on this that if one invites non-observant Jews for the sake of Heaven to bring them closer to Torah “which undoubtedly constitutes a Mitzvah in our days as is stated a number of times by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook and the Chazon Ish (Hilchot Rotzei’ach 4:5 and Hilchot Dei’ot chapter six), there is room to be lenient”.
He finally notes that the Mishnah (Demai 4:2) and Rama (Y.D. 112:15) are lenient regarding food related matters, since refusing to serve food can lead to severe strife. Rav Amital believes that there is room to apply these leniencies since this prohibition constitutes only a rabbinic prohibition. Somewhat surprisingly, Rav Amital does not conclude with a resounding endorsement of the lenient approach to this Halacha. Rather he states “In my opinion in Tzahal (The Israel Defense Forces) as long as one does not place the food directly in the other person’s mouth one should not be strict at all”. The concern for religious soldiers functioning in the Israeli armed services is of course a major concern for Rav Amital, a Rosh Yeshiva of a Yeshivat Hesder where Torah study and service in Tzahal is combined.
Rav Dov Brisman
Rav Brisman presents a lengthy discussion of this topic as he suggests many possible avenues of leniency. Among his points is that one may be lenient if he is unsure that a Brachah will not be recited (Rav Eliashiv implies this as well, despite the fact that Shulchan Aruch O.C. 169:2 might indicate otherwise). He also applies the principle that a positive Mitzvah may cancel a negative prohibition if they are B’idna (at the moment one violates the prohibition he simultaneously fulfills the Mitzvah, see Tosafot Gittin 41a s.v. Lisa). Rav Brisman argues that if one serves a meal to someone who is not observant with the intention of trying to sway him to live a Torah life then at the time that Linei Iveir emerges as a concern the Mitzvah of reproving his friend (Tochachah; Vayikra 19:17) is fulfilled and thus the Mitzvah of Tochachah overrides the prohibition of Lifnei Iveir. However, Rav Brisman only permits serving food buffet style, to reduce the direct connection between the presentation of the food and the recipient not reciting a Brachah.
The Poskim who grapple with these issues struggle with balancing fidelity to Halacha on the one hand with helping observant Jews function appropriately in the broader society. We noted the hesitancy expressed by each of the Poskim we cited and this should remind us to try within reason to gently prod one’s guests to recite Berachot. Our discussion also serves to highlight the paramount importance of the recitation of Berachot, to the extent that Halachah forbids serving food to one who will not recite them.