Hachnassat Orchim

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim in its purest form consists of hosting and serving the needs of those who are destitute and have no place to eat or sleep. In the olden days, before the proliferation of inns or hotels, a Jew who had found himself stuck in an unfamiliar village would be at the mercy of the villagers to let him in for the night. Such a person had no choice but to randomly knock on a Jewish home, potentially at any hour of the day or night, and hope that the homeowner would welcome him in to stay the night. Some authorities hold that every community has an obligation to build a hotel that guests to the city would be able to make use of.[1]

There is a misconception that today’s widespread practice of inviting a family or even a few different guests to one’s home for a Shabbat meal is the fulfillment of the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. Many authorities contend that in our society, inviting friends over to our home to eat, drink, or even sleep, who could have just as well eaten or slept in their own home, is nothing more than a social gesture, and is not true fulfillment of the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim.[2] Nevertheless, some authorities do append such social gatherings to the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim,[3] insisting that social bonding is to be considered a component of Hachnassat Orchim as well.[4] 

Some authorities rule that it is a fulfillment of Hachnassat Orchim to invite over a friend whose spouse is out of town, or a family whose home is under construction.[5]  So too, inviting over newcomers to the neighborhood with the purpose of making them feel welcome is also considered to be the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim.[6] We learn from none other than the infamous Lavan that relatives should get extra special treatment when they are our guests.[7] 

Though hosting any friend or neighbor is certainly praiseworthy and may be deemed a component of the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim,[8] one should also endeavor to provide for one’s guests according to their financial status and expectations.[9] One should not accept payment for undertaking Hachnassat Orchim,[10] though one who does so can still claim merit for the mitzva. It is especially auspicious to take in guests who are Torah scholars.[11] One who is truly kind will actually go out of their way to find guests who are destitute in order to show them hospitality.[12] 

One should not ask one’s guests any questions or even a Dvar Torah if there is a chance that doing so might embarrass them due to their lack of knowledge.[13] One must escort one’s guests[14] out as they leave, especially if they may be in unfamiliar surroundings,[15] and provide them with anything they may need for their journey.[16] In fact, all travelers, or anyone else otherwise away from home, is to be treated as “needy” with all its usual halachic implications.[17] It is considered especially meritorious to set aside a room in one’s home specifically for guests to sleep over and use.[18] 

It is interesting to note that there are a number of halachot whose regulations are relaxed in honor of guests.[19] For example, many authorities who ordinarily prohibit one to make ice cubes on Shabbat will permit doing so in the event that they are needed for guests, and by extension, to better enhance one’s Shabbat.[20] It is also permitted to manually exert oneself to re-arrange a room in order for guests to sleep comfortably, something otherwise forbidden on Shabbat.[21] So too, in the event that one is pressed for time when kashering meat in preparation for cooking, one is permitted to shorten the required salting time if the meat is being served in honor of guests.[22] It is especially important to be sure to include guests at holiday meals.[23] 


[1] Ahavat Chessed;Hachnasat Orchim

[2] Rema O.C. 333:1

[3] Minhag Yisrael Torah 132:7

[4] Maharil Likutim 60, cited in “The Right and the Good: Halacha and Human Relations”, Volume II, by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Yashar Books, 2008

[5] Sefer Habayit 33:note 11, cited in  Halacha Encounters, Hachnosas Orchim, by Rabbi Avi Weinrib at http://www.cckollel.org/2005/parsha/bereishis/vayera-2002.html

[6] cited in  Halacha Encounters, Hachnosas Orchim, by Rabbi Avi Weinrib at http://www.cckollel.org/2005/parsha/bereishis/vayera-2002.html

[7] Midrash Rabba, Bereishit, 70:13, cited in “The Right and the Good: Halacha and Human Relations, Volume II”, by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Yashar Books, 2008

[8] Sefer Hachaim 3:3

[9] Yesh Nochalin, Tzedaka, cited in Ahavat Chessed

[10] Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:197

[11] Berachot 10b

[12] Shabbat 104a

[13] Sefer Chassidim 312

[14] Rambam Avel 14:2, Sma;C.M. 427:11, Aruch Hashulchan C.M. 426:2

[15] Ahavat Chessed;Hachnassat Orchim

[16] Sota 46b

[17] Peah 5:4, Yesh Nochalin 2:7, Yashiv Yitzchak 12:10, all cited in “The Right and the Good: Halacha and Human relations”, Volume II, by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Yashar Books, 2008

[18] Ahavat Chessed;Hachnasat Orchim

[19] Shach;Yoreh Deah 92:29

[20] See “Hilchot Shabbat” by Rabbi Shimon Eider in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Tzitz Eliezer 6:34

[21] Shabbat 126b. See also O.C. 510:9

[22] Rema, Y.D. 69:6

[23] Rambam Yom Tov 6:18

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

18 comments

  1. Does the halacha of escorting guests still apply today? Which sort of guests does it apply to? Do I have to escort my lunch guests out into the street?

  2. Yes, absolutely. I have more on this in my notes (email me off-line) and if I recall correctly Rabbi Daniel Feldman discusses it at length. Escort them at least a few feet.

    Ari Enkin

  3. An interesting tangent is that many pubs in London (and further afield) in the early 20th century were owned by Jews and quietly provided services to fellow Jews — particularly traveling businessmen. Here is a short writeup about some in central Central London: http://www.movinghere.org.uk/stories/story361/story361.htm

  4. Nice post.

    Can I add three points?

    1) We live in a small Jewish community that is away from the greater NYC area. As such, people will often visit and ask our Shul to arrange hospitality for them. Hosting visiting families for a Shabbos is not easy for anyone. Is it fair for our hospitality committee to call upon our limitted number of families who can host all because another family completely unconected to our community just wants to get away and vacation near a Shul for a Shabbos?

    2) Where did people get the idea that asking another family to host them while they vacation is normal behavior? Although I’m not an anti-Chabad person, I’d say that this is just another one of Chabad’s gifts to Judaism. They’ve gotten everyone to think that this is what “out of town” Shuls and their communities are there for — provide a Kosher vacation / free bed and breakfast for Jewish travelers. While it’s one thing to call upon a Jewish community for hospitality if there’s a reason why one must be in the area (i.e. job, hospital, car broke down, etc.), I do not think vacationing is a legit reason.

    3) If anyone out there will indeed welcome a complete stranger into their home, please remember how crazy this world has become. Do some background checking first. At the very least, please speak to the visitor’s hometown rabbi back to make certain this person is safe and that you are not welcoming a monster into your home.

  5. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Barbara,

    Excellent points. If there’s a hotel within walking distance and takeout that can be bought, point your tourists towards those!

    R’ Ari,

    The Pischei Tshuva on when you can relax the salting requirements “for guests’ needs” is a classic; off the top of my head, something like: “when we say guests, we mean poor people who travel from place to place — so providing for them is a kindness; or for Torah scholars, or people of especially good deeds. Or for rich and influential people, ASSUMING THEY ACT DECENTLY. Just having your local peers over for a meal may not qualify, but if they’ve already been invited and you’re stuck, go ahead.”

  6. Barbara-

    Great points.

    R’ Shalom-

    Yes, as is the view of the Rema cited in the footnotes.

    Ari Enkin

  7. R. Enkin:

    no reference to the model behavior for hachnasas orechim exhibited last week by avaraham avinu and the shunamite, particular the latter’s fulfillment of “It is considered especially meritorious to set aside a room in one’s home specifically for guests to sleep over and use.” be honest were you napping in shul or even visiting the kiddush club during leining/haftarah? 😉

  8. Abba-

    Nope.

    ….I was just worried that some hard-core litvacks might not except navi as a source of halacha without a posek backing it up… 😉

    Ari Enkin

  9. maybe hachnasas orechim is a segulah for having kids? it worked for sara imenu and the shunamite.

  10. I submit that any action a person undertakes with the intent of “fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim”, as opposed to simply wanting to help people, will be seen by the guest as awkward or even condescending, and thus will end up causing LESS of a fulfillment of the mitzvah.

  11. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Shlomo,

    Of course. Rabbi Breitowitz asked why Hillel phrased his “golden rule” in the negative (“don’t do unto others”); one answer was: “while you’re so busy running around racking up your chessed points, make sure you’re not treating people in a condescending way that you would despise.”

  12. R’ Enkin
    Chazon Ish held no more mitzva of leviya now that we have cars and people all arund at all times.

  13. “Some authorities hold that every community has an obligation to build a hotel that guests to the city would be able to make use of.[1]”

    In Europe there was something dubbed a ‘hekdesh’, where indigent travelers could stay. It may have been connected to the Shul. Even in the time of Chazal travelers were looked after in Shul, as the old minhog of making kiddush on Friday night there testifies.

  14. Barbara B.: You raise some important points.

    It sounds like you are overburdened and have been taken advantage of, which is unfortunate.

    I can definitely see a distinction between the classic hachnosas orchim as Rabbi Enkin describes it, and people leisure trips. If people are not indigent and are just traveling for leisure and want to be hosted, perhaps they should A) be directed to a hotel or motel near the Shul – some Shuls have info on such places at hand ready to give to such vacationers, B) (especially if they are Lubavitchers themselves) referred to the local Lubavitcher outpost, C) be told that they have to compensate their hosts, esp. if they can afford it and their hosts are struggling, in these tough times.

    There is a interesting website called Shabbat dot com, which can be seen as a high-tech version of the expanded definition of hachnosas orchim, which facilitates placement for Shabbos guests, that you might want to check out. However, it allows hosts to reject possible visitors they are not comfortable with and also allows for references.

    The point is that hachnosas orchim, however it is defined, should be done with seichel, and hosts should not be made dangerously vulnerable or taken advantage of. They have rights as well, not just guests.

  15. Actualy the Maharil says the opposite
    if the have no food etc. its chesed
    but having guests that have their food is hachnasos Orchim

  16. Re the assistance rendered by Kehillos to indigent travelers (classic haschnosas orchim) in Eastern Europe via the Hekdesh and other means, see beginning of paragraph five at http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Money

  17. MiMedinat HaYam

    r ari — but these same litvaks will not accept your kulot regarding ice cubes (which ROY allows anyway), less salting, rearranging rooms, etc anyway. (unless, of course, its the RY, or a rich man).

    2. unfortunately, in my travels (business, personal, other) i find that few jewish communities have hotels or motels (or even low quality motels) nearby. let alone low floors, no electronic door locks, etc,). even major jewish communities.

  18. Yasher Koach R’ Ari-
    I would just add that the first sentence is slightly misleading. The mitzva of hachnasas orchim does not only apply to the destitute- it applies even to a wealthy person who has no place to stay/ eat. If the person is poor there is an additional mitzva of tzedaka

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter


The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter

Archives

Categories

%d bloggers like this: