Relating to our non-observant co-religionists becomes extra complex on Shabbos. Even if they choose to desecrate the holy day, we cannot be a part of what we consider a sin. But we must be careful that our own religious observance not alienate others. Navigating such situations requires charm and skill… and perhaps a leniency or two.
R. Benjamin Yasgur is a student of Nechama Leibowitz who maintained a long-standing correspondence with the eminent Bible teacher. He carefully recreates their discussions and exchanges of letters in a new book, Torah Conversations With Nechama Leibowitz. This short book offers numerous biblical insights that the two scholars shared with each other, often explaining the commentarial significance of fine grammatical points. Leibowitz’s careful eye and reverence for commentators can be seen throughout. Additionally, R. Yasgur conveys her personality with descriptions of her attitudes and minor comments, what the Talmud calls her sichas chullin.
One exceptional chapter, totally unrepresentative of the book but fascinating to me, relates a dilemma in which Nechama regularly found herself. When walking to synagogue on Shabbos, she passed a major thoroughfare and was often asked for directions by Jewish drivers. What should she do? Her gut told her to simply remain silent. Eventually, a student convinced her to ask R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who told her the following (p. 51):
Rabbi Auerbach ruled that Nechama should answer drivers who asked for directions on Shabbat for two reasons. The first was that if she did not answer, the drivers might commit additional violations if they chose the wrong way to travel. The second reason was that not answering might create animosity (evah), and it was very important to avoid this type of discord between Jews.
At once you see her piety and her attendant refusal to rule leniently for herself on a complex issue. Additionally, we see a somewhat surprising leniency by R. Auerbach. Note also that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 173) is quoted as ruling similarly based on R. Auerbach’s first reason.