Have I Caused Someone to Stumble? The Laws of Lifnei Iveir

clip_image002Recently, the main office of Yated Neeman received the following inquiry:

“To the Editor:

“I am an avid reader of Yated and I was wondering if you could forward a query to Rabbi Kaganoff. I especially enjoy his Halacha Talk column and was hoping he could discuss the following issue:

“Our extended family is not observant. Often as major holidays approach, they ‘threaten’ to drive to our home to join us for meals. We know they have no intention of staying over for the entire Yom Tov (although we do extend the invitation). Also, we really do not feel we are doing kiruv since they are coming just to eat and are not interested in anything religious. We advise them that it is not permissible to drive on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but they sometimes show up anyway. They feel that they are taking responsibility for their own actions and they assure us they would be driving anyway, albeit somewhere else.

“Would Rabbi Kaganoff mind discussing the halachic issues in this situation? I would really be interested in seeing how he tackles this problem.” Alan. *(all names have been changed)

Within a few days of receiving Alan’s inquiry, I received a similar shaylah, this one from Shifrah:

2. “My boss asked me to call businesses to offer their employees a chance to go on a healthy cruise complete with Jacuzzi, sauna etc. There was no mention of separate amenities, nor can I imagine that the prospective clientele would want such a thing. In essence, I am being asked to solicit people to purchase a cruise that violates halacha. May I make these phone calls, or is it considered that I am causing people to do something prohibited?”

The following e-mail came the next day from Rachel, an attorney:

3. “A client wants a will or contract drawn up that runs counter to halacha. May I draw up the will or contract the way he wants it?”

In order to answer these common shaylos, we need to understand the rules of lifnei iveir, being an accomplice to someone violating halacha, a prohibition based on the verse, “lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol,” “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition.

Actually, causing someone to sin may involve three different Torah prohibitions and one rabbinic prohibition, each one with its own definitions. They are:

I. Inciting – maiseis

This occurs when a person was not even considering doing an aveirah until someone encouraged him. Thus, the instigator incited the performing of the aveirah and is therefore a maiseis.

II. Encouraging — chanufah

One violates this prohibition by complimenting someone for doing a sin, thus implying that sinning is acceptable.

III. Enabling – lifnei iveir

One violates this prohibition if the sinner wanted to do the aveirah, but was unable to do so without assistance. The person who enables the performing of the aveirah violates lifnei iveir.

IV. Even when none of these Torah prohibitions are involved, helping the sinner do the aveirah sometimes violates the rabbinic prohibition of mesaya’a y’dei ovrei aveirah, assisting someone who is sinning.

Our job is to define each of these prohibitions and see whether the activities mentioned above violate any of them. What makes the entire mitzvah and its interpretation more complicated is the contemporary situation in which most Jews are unfortunately not educated in the basic halachos of Judaism. Thus, although they are not observant, they transgress halacha only because they do not perceive the beauty and wonder of Torah. Thus, we must strive our utmost to bring them closer to Torah without compromising any halachic tenets.

I. Inciting Someone to Sin – maiseis

The classic case of maiseis is when the nachash encouraged Chavah to eat the forbidden fruit. Even though the nachash itself did not eat, Hashem punished it for inciting Chavah to sin (Gemara Sanhedrin 29a). Similarly, if Reuven incites Shimon to sin in a way that Shimon had not considered, Reuven is a maiseis. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that scheduling a shul program for children on Shabbos knowing that their parents will have to drive them to attend violates a Torah prohibition of maiseis, even though the intention is to encourage people to keep mitzvos (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:99).

Many people, and even some poskim, have difficulty understanding this ruling of Rav Moshe. After all, the parents of these children would be driving on Shabbos anyway, and isn’t it better that these children and their parents be exposed to Yiddishkeit so that they might eventually become frum?

Allow me to explain the rationale behind Rav Moshe’s position:

If a person is an idol-worshipper, may I introduce him to an idol he has never worshipped before? Of course not!

And if I did so, would I be guilty as a maiseis?

“Of course!” Even though he has worshipped idols anyway, I have incited him to this different act of idol worship.

Similarly, even if someone desecrates Shabbos anyway, I may not cause him to violate Shabbos an extra time. Some who causes him to violate Shabbos is guilty of lifnei iveir, and someone who incites him to violate Shabbos in a way that he would not have considered on his own is a maiseis!

Thus even if the parents of these children would drive on Shabbos anyway, since they would not have performed this particular act of Shabbos desecration, arranging this chillul Shabbos is an act of maiseis.

However, some other poskim disagree with Rav Moshe. They contend that if my intention is to bring the person closer to observing mitzvos, we do not consider him a maiseis, but on the contrary fulfill a big mitzvah (see Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:358, 483). Others rule that the prohibition of maiseis is restricted to inciting idolatry and related violations. According to this opinion, the nachash was a maiseis because he was inciting Chava to attempt to become like Hashem, which is similar to idolatry (Margaliyos Hayam to Sanhedrin 29a #25).

Shifrah’s shaylah, quoted above, might be dependent to this dispute. “My boss asked me to call businesses to offer their employees a chance to go on a healthy cruise that violates halacha. May I make these phone calls?”

According to Rav Moshe, placing these phone calls presumably violates maiseis since the called is inciting someone to violate halacha that he/she would not have considered before. There may be grounds for lenience in this case, since if Shifrah refuses to make the phone calls, the boss will certainly have someone else call. Shifrah must ask her Rav a shaylah whether she must refuse this task even at the cost of her job or does the situation provide sufficient mitigating circumstances to allow her to keep her job.

II. Encouraging Someone to Sin — chanufah

Complimenting someone, either directly or indirectly, for violating the Torah commits the Torah prohibition of chanufah, sometimes called flattery. One violates this prohibition by approving or implying approval when someone sins, and also by giving honor to a known sinner. (For a full discussion of this prohibition, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah 3:187-199.) Thus, if someone who sued in civil court without proper rabbinic approval asks Yehudah if this was acceptable, and Yehudah nods or smiles approvingly, Yehudah has violated the prohibition of chanufah. Instead, Yehudah should inform the litigant of his error, teaching him that a huge share in olam haba awaits those who acknowledge that they have sinned and do teshuvah.

III. Enabling Someone to Sin – lifnei iveir

A person violates the prohibition of lifnei iveir if he enables a sinner to do an aveirah that he wanted to commit, but was unable to without assistance. . For example, if a nazir, who is prohibited from drinking wine, wanted to drink some inaccessible wine, the person who hands him the wine violates lifnei iveir, even if he does not incite or encourage the nazir to sin. Merely enabling the nazir to drink wine is considered “placing a stumbling block (the aveirah) before a blind person,” since the nazir is “blinded” to the harm the aveirah brings upon him. Similarly, one may not give someone bread to eat if he will not wash netilas yadayim before eating (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 169:1; Rama, Orach Chayim 163:2), one may not hand food to someone who will eat without reciting a bracha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 169:2) and a Jew who borrows from or lends to a Jew with interest violates lifnei iveir by causing a Jew to violate this prohibition (Rambam, Hil. Malveh 4:2).


The poskim raise the following question: If the person committing the aveirah could not have done so without someone assisting him, but could easily have found a different accomplice, does the facilitator violate lifnei iveir? For example: A Jew who lends to another Jew with interest who would certainly have found another Jew willing to borrow under similar terms. Does the borrower violate lifnei iveir for enabling the lender to charge interest or do we argue that the lender could in any case have violated the prohibition without this borrower’s participation. (The reverse is also true, that the lender causes the borrower to violate.)

Many poskim contend that although the lender would indeed have violated anyway, this is only because he would find someone else who also was willing to violate halacha. But if every borrower observed the halacha correctly, the lender would be unable to violate the prohibition. Therefore, whoever actually borrows the money violates livnei iveir (Mishneh L’Melech 4:2; Chavos Daas, Yoreh Deah 160:1; See also Sdei Chemed; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 160:1). Others disagree, contending that because the sinner can find a willing accomplice, the individual who actually facilitated the prohibition does not violate lifnei iveir (Shu’t Pnei Moshe 2:105; Shu’t Ksav Sofer, Yoreh Deah 83).

One of our original shaylos, asked by Rachel the attorney, was whether she may draw up an interest-bearing loan document between two Jews who are not interested in employing a heter iska which would structure their transaction in a permitted way. Does she violate lifnei iveir by drawing up this document?

It would seem that if there is a non-Jewish attorney who would draw up the document if Rachel refuses then she may draw it up. However, if only Jewish attorneys are available, then whether or not she may draw it up is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between the Mishneh L’Melech and the Pnei Moshe. (Of course, every individual should ask his/her own Rav what to do.)

IV. Assisting – mesaya’a y’dei ovrei aveirah.

As I mentioned above, if the sinner could violate the prohibition without any assistance, someone who helps him does not violate the Torah prohibition of lifnei iveir. This is because the facilitator did not trip him; he tripped himself. Thus, if the wine is within the nazir’s reach, albeit with difficulty, the facilitator passing him the wine does not violate lifnei iveir. However depending on the circumstances, he might still violate the Rabbinic prohibition of mesaya’a, because under certain circumstances, Chazal prohibited helping someone violate the Torah even though he could have sinned anyway. For example, you may not prepare food in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel that does not observe shmittah, since you are assisting them while they violate shmittah (Mishnah Shvi’is 5:9). This is prohibited even though you are not causing them to violate shmittah.

In conclusion, someone who incites another person to sin when he was not interested in doing so, violates the Torah prohibitions of maiseis and lifnei iveir. If the sinner wanted to violate the prohibition anyway, there is no violation of maiseis, but there is still a violation of lifnei iveir unless the person could have sinned without the facilitator’s assistance. Even when the sinner was motivated on his own to violate the Torah — so that there is no prohibition of maiseis — and he could have sinned without help – so that there is no violation of lifnei iveir — the facilitator may still violate the Rabbinic prohibition of mesaya’a.

The Gemara mentions various cases, some prohibited because of mesaya’a y’dei ovrei aveirah, and others apparently not, and the poskim devote much literature attempting to resolve these seeming inconsistencies. I am aware of several different approaches to resolve these questions. Here are two:

(1) Some contend that the prohibition of mesaya’a does not apply when one facilitates a Jew who does not observe mitzvos to violate the Torah (Shach, Yoreh Deah 151:6).

(2) Others understand that mesaya’a applies only to someone who violates the halacha by mistake, but that it does not apply to someone who sinned intentionally (Dagul Mei’revavah ibid.). (Although these two approaches seem similar, they are not identical. For example, according to the second approach one may not assist a sinner if he is presently unaware that he is violating halacha. According to the first approach, one may assist him. Later in the article I will mentioned another two explanations.)

The rationale behind both of these approaches is that the prohibition of mesaya’a is an extension of lifnei iveir that applies only to someone who is “blind” and violates the law in error. However, it does not apply to someone who ignores the law on a regular basis or to someone who was intentionally violating the law.

Here are another two approaches that define the prohibition of mesaya’a very differently.

(3) Some explain that one violates mesaya’a only when one is an accessory at the time the sinner is doing the aveirah, but not if one assists him before or after he sins. Here is a halachic ruling that clarifies this issue:

Reuven wants to bring a job to a non-Jewish printer, but he is aware that there are Jewish employees who work in this print shop on Shabbos. May he use this printer knowing that Jews might work on the project on Shabbos? Thus, is he an accomplice to their desecrating Shabbos?

Some poskim rule that Reuven may use this printer since he is not involved at the time the workers are desecrating Shabbos. This is opposed to working in a kitchen that does not observe the laws of shmittah since one is working with the kitchen staff at the time they are desecrating shmittah (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #15).

(4) A fourth reason explains that mesaya’a applies only when someone will definitely be violating the prohibition. This reasoning would also permit supplying work to the print shop since the shop may not do Reuven’s work on Shabbos. For these reasons, , the Binyan Tziyon permits bringing a project to a non-Jewish shop that employs Jewish workers, even if the work might be performed on Shabbos.

We must address one more important issue before we discuss the remaining shaylos that introduced this article. Is halacha concerned whether the facilitator is influencing the sinner towards or away from observing Torah? According to several prominent poskim, one does not violate lifnei iveir is one’s goal is to influence someone to greater Torah commitment. For this reason, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh #35) discusses whether one may serve bread to a non-observant guest who financially supports Torah study and is respectful of those who observe Torah and mitzvos. Rav Shlomoh Zalman rules that if asking him to wash before eating bread may offend him and result in distancing him from mitzvos, one looks at the long-term benefit, not the short term. He contends that in lifnei iveir one evaluates what will benefit the sinner’s observance level on a long term basis, rather than only considering the specific mitzvah at hand. Similarly, Rav Moshe Shternbuch, now Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim, ruled that a son may invite his parents for Shabbos meals even though they will drive on Shabbos if he feels that this will influence them towards greater mitzvah observance (Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:358). However, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one does not take long-term calculations into consideration; rather we consider whether one is causing an aveirah in this particular case.

We can now analyze our original shaylos. The first question we raised was:

“Our extended family often drives to our home uninvited to join us for Shabbos or Yom Tov meals and we feel that they are not interested in kiruv.”

Even if we assume that no kiruv will result from this interaction (a debatable point), many poskim permit Alan to host these relatives for Yom Tov meals since he never invited them, and specifically asked them to spend the rest of Shabbos with him to avoid desecrating Shabbos afterwards.

May Alan invite these relatives? According to Rav Moshe’s approach, one may not invite a guest who will certainly violate Shabbos to come; I may only invite them if there is a good chance that he/she will walk, or if I invite him to arrive before Shabbos starts. In the latter case, I must make arrangements that the guest could spend the rest of Shabbos without driving. According to Rav Shternbuch’s ruling, if this influences the guest to be more observant I may invite them notwithstanding that they may drive on Shabbos to arrive.

We see that in this exact same shaylah, one posek considers inviting the non-observant guest to be a violation of halacha, whereas another considers it to be a mitzvah, since one may influence him to observe mitzvos! Thus we see the importance of asking a shaylah and following the guidance provided by one’s Rav. This way one’s actions are always encouraging mitzvos and not, chas v’shalom, the opposite.