Recent newspaper articles point to a ruling by the Israeli organization Beit Hillel permitting you to invite non-observant Jews to your home on Shabbos even if it means they will drive (article 1, article 2). I do not understand why this is newsworthy. The subject has long been a matter of debate. In fact, leaders of the Tzohar rabbinical organization, which some might say is to the right of Beit Hillel, and R. Moshe Sternbuch, a rabbinic judge for the Edah Charedis in Jerusalem, have permitted this as well… and the Beit Hillel responsum (link) quotes them!
In short, this issue is a matter of debate between R. Moshe Feinstein and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, with the former forbidding such invitations (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:99) and the latter permitting them within a few simple parameters (Minchas Shlomo 2:4:10; Rivevos Ephraim 7:402). R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 170) reportedly rules strictly as well. R. Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos 1:358), R. Ya’akov Ariel (Be-Ohalah Shel Torah 5:22) and R. Aharon Lichtenstein (quoted by Beit Hillel) also rule leniently. R. Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Ha-Levi 8:165:6; 8:256:2) forbids but also recommends asking that, if people drive, they park at a distance. R. Shlomo Aviner (She’eilas Shlomo 4:109) leans toward stringency but allows relying on the lenient view if necessary. R. Yosef Tzvi Rimon (Halakhah Mi-Mekorah: Tzava, p. 287) rules leniently. In a book discussing halakhic issues of outreach, R. Chaim Avraham Zakutinsky (U-Mekarev Bi-Yemin, no. 16) also reaches a lenient conclusion.
Here are the main considerations:
I. Stumbling Block
You are biblically prohibited to cause someone else to sin (lifnei iveir). Your invitation leads to your guest driving. Therefore, you are facilitating his violation of Shabbos, which itself is forbidden as lifnei iveir.
Others counter that your guest would be driving anyway. You are not facilitating his sin but rather offering him one of many reasons to sin. In Talmudic terms, you are on the same side of the river (Avodah Zarah 6a). He does not need you to sin and would probably do it anyway. Therefore, lifnei iveir does not apply.
R. Ya’akov Ariel (ibid.) is uncertain about the facts of this case. Maybe without your invitation, your guest would stay home or go for a walk. At best the above argument creates a doubt about the porhibition, a safek lifnei iveir, which must remain forbidden. This doubt perhaps lessens the severity and allows for including other reasons for leniency. But on its own, this calculation is insufficient to permit an invitation.
R. Moshe Sternbuch (ibid.) argues that lifnei iveir is about causing someone to sin. Here you are trying to cause him to refrain from sinning, in the long term. Since your intention is to bring your guest toward religious observance then the invitation does not fall under lifnei iveir at all. This is especially so if you tell him that you do not want him to drive.
However, there is a further rabbinic prohibition against assisting in a sin (mesayei’a yedei overei aveirah). Even if you are not causing the sin, you are encouraging and facilitating it. He might sin without the invitation but you cannot be a part of that sin.
Others reject this because the Dagul Me-Revavah (Yoreh De’ah 151 on Shakh 6) interprets the Shakh as saying that mesayei’a does not apply to someone who is sinning intentionally. When he wants to sin, your role is irrelevant. He will do it without you. If so, this prohibition does not apply to someone who regularly drives on Shabbos. His driving to your house is intentional and not your fault.
Others reject this reason based on the rulings of the Binyan Tziyon (15) and Netziv (Meishiv Davar 2:31-32) that mesayei’a only applies during the actual sin. You cannot stand there and facilitate a sin while it is occurring. But if you are somehow involved in advance, you do not violate this rule. Inviting someone, which take place long before the driving, would therefore not violate this rule.
R. Moshe Feinstein (ibid.) argues that inviting someone to sin is a step beyond helping him. You are not just facilitating the act but instigating the driving. This falls under the biblical prohibition of incitement to sin (meisis) even if it does not qualify for lifnei iveir. While this prohibition primarily applies to incitement toward idolatry, R. Moshe Feinstein points to a discussion in Sanhedrin (29a) which implies a broader application.
However, many question R. Feinstein’s interpretation of that passage. Yad Ramah rejects that interpretation. R. Ya’akov Ariel (ibid.) even suggests that R. Feinstein did not literally mean incitement and only intended to emphasize the severity of the issue, to which R. Ariel agrees.
IV. Sin to Save
An additional consideration is the concept of committing a minor sin in order to save someone from a more severe sin. We do not ordinarily permit such a violation, R. Akiva Eiger (Glosses to Yoreh De’ah 181) argues that lifnei iveir is an exception. You may violate lifnei iveir, you may cause someone else to sin, in order to prevent him from committing a more severe sin. This seems particularly relevant to a Shabbos invitation which may inspire the guest toward greater religious observance.
However, R. Ya’akov Ariel points out that in R. Akiva Eiger’s case, the other person is definitely saved from a greater sin. In our case, the invitee may not be religiously inspired and may have otherwise stayed home and done nothing. On the other hand, the guest will definitely violate Shabbos in the future. Perhaps we can permit lifnei iveir for the chance to prevent these definite violations in the future just like we violate Shabbos to save someone’s life so he can observe Shabbos in the future.
Even those who rule leniently recognize the gravity of the situation. For the person driving on Shabbos, he is merely acting as he normally does. It is no big deal. This entire calculus will probably seem strange to him. However, the person inviting shudders at the thought of driving on Shabbos and does not want to imply that he considers such an act acceptable. We must not lose sight of the seriousness of offering such an invitation. Indeed, there is an element of hypocrisy in asking someone to do something you consider sinful.
On the other hand, many will testify of the spiritual benefit, sometimes transformational, of spending a Shabbos meal in a traditional setting. We need to balance the message of Shabbos observance and our own sensitivity to it on the one hand and the openness we must have to those who are less observant on the other. For these reasons, and because of the limited nature of the reasons for leniency described above, those who are lenient require a number of conditions:
- Try to invite for all of Shabbos, or at least Friday night so your guest can arrive before Shabbos
- Offer your guest a place to spend the rest of Shabbos after he arrives, so he does not have to leave.
- There must be a possibility that he will stay until the end of Shabbos
- Ask them not to park near your house. Apparently, at least according to R. Sternbuch and R. Wosner, doing so is a Chillul Hashem. I’m not quite sure why.
Even with all the conditions, R. Moshe Feinstein forbids inviting guests on Shabbos who will drive. However, some authorities, including Charedim like R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Religious Zionists like R. Ya’akov Ariel, hesitatingly permit such invitations. Similarly, the Beit Hillel responsum hesitatingly permits invitations to the non-observant who will drive on Shabbos.