Feeding the Non-Observant

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The Gemara (Hullin 107b) writes that a person may not give bread to a servant (shamash) unless he knows for sure that the servant has washed his hands. The Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah on Berakhos (42a in the Rif) add that one may similarly not give food to someone whom one suspects might not recite a blessing before eating. The concern, clearly, is of causing another to sin. A religious individual may not abet a religious crime.

The Beis Yosef (Orah Hayim 169) takes this to be an absolute prohibition, even unviolable in the face of a charitable need. One may not give food to a beggar whom one suspects will not recite a blessing before eating. However, the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah explicitly permit charity to override this matter, and the Bah and Rema concur with this leniency.

At first glance, the Beis Yosef‘s position seems to be the most tenable. One may not abet a crime even in the case of performing a mitzvah. Lifnei iveir, assisting the commission of a religious offense, is a biblical prohibition. Even if lifnei iveir does not apply, e.g. if the beggar can get food elsewhere and therefore the “crime” can be committed without the assistance of this individual, there is still a rabbinic prohibition called “mesaye’a li-dvar aveirah” that prohibits assisting the commission of a sin in any way. Why should this case be different? We will return to this issue later.

This matter is of significant contemporary concern because we live in a world in which the majority of Jews are not observant and do not recite blessings before eating. May an observant Jew serve food to his non-observant friends, family, colleagues or even strangers? The posekim have unanimously permitted this, but their rationales vary.

R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orah Hayim vol. 5 no. 13) rules that one should ask the person to recite a blessing but, if he refuses, to serve him food anyway so as not to have him think that religious Jews lack basic manners. However, one should ask again, in future cases, that the person recite a blessing before eating.

R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minhas Shlomo, vol. 1 no. 35) writes that if asking someone to recite a blessing will so offend him that he will start to hate observant Jews, it is better not to ask him to do so.

R. Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Ha-Levi, vol. 4 no. 17) writes that this is only a rabbinic prohibition and may be set aside so as not to antagonize a non-observant Jew, particularly if he might otherwise eat non-kosher food.

R. Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos, vol. 1 no. 483) takes the long view and states that kiruv, bringing a fellow Jew closer to Torah, in the long run creates less violations than otherwise so it is a good thing to offer a non-observant Jew food even if he will not recite a blessing before eating. He further states (ibid., vol. 2 no. 138) that an employer who gives food to his non-observant employees should also explain which blessings to recite and set out yarmulkas for the employees, in case they are willing to try.

R. Shammai Gross (Shevet Ha-Kehasi, vol. 4 no. 329) writes that the prohibition is only when one knows for certain that the person will not recite a blessing. With a non-observant Jew, it is a mitzvah to invite him for a meal and to serve him food. At worst, the giver can recite a blessing out loud so as to be exempt everyone within earshot. As we shall see, R. Gross’ claim, that the prohibition is only in the case of someone who will definitely not recite a blessing, is not at all clear.

R. Ya’akov Kamenetsky (Emes Le-Ya’akov on Orah Hayim 169 n. 197) is quoted as saying that it is more important to feed someone kosher food, and thereby prevent him from eating forbidden food, that to be concerned about him not reciting a blessing. However, he adds that there is no need to be concerned that he might come to hate religious Jews because if we explain properly he should understand our concern.

R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 22 no. 3) argues that there is no issue of lifnei iveir in this case because people can always find food elsewhere. The only issue is of mesaye’a, and R. Waldenberg dismisses this concern based on the ruling of the Shakh (Yoreh Deah 151:6) that mesaye’a does not apply to someone who regularly violates this prohibition (cf. Dagul Me-Revavah, ad loc.). Therefore, there is absolutely no prohibition against giving food to someone who never recites a blessing on the food. The only concern is with someone who sometimes recites a blessing and sometimes does not. To him, there is a prohibition against giving the food because he might not recite a blessing.

Furthermore, R. Waldenberg points out that the original language of the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah seems to be more of a praiseworthy behavior – midas hassidus – than a prohibition. [I am now starting my own analysis. R Waldenberg never developed this point.] If that is the case, the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah must have been referring to a case of someone who never recites a blessing – because otherwise there is a prohibition against offering him food – and stating that there is no actual prohibition but it is praiseworthy to refrain from offering food to someone who is so irreligious as to not recite a blessing. If so, the non-observant today are significantly different from the non-observant in Rabbenu Yonah’s day, and it is quite plausible to suggest that even the praiseworthiness no longer applies to refraining from offering food to someone who will definitely not recite a blessing.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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