Required Suspicions About Fellow Jews

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Yoreh De’ah 119, Continued

We’re in the middle of thinking about when we must worry a fellow Jew might affect us with his/her wrong actions. (In paragraph twenty, AH reminds us chashud, implicated, means we do not have firm evidence. If we did, we would have to act more stringently.)

When and to What the Chashad Applies

Paragraph twenty-one disallows believing people who dislike someone else, even to raise a concern, because their negative feelings will shape their view. Nor does halacha accept people’s negative statements about themselves. [Although I can assure you that whatever I say about myself is, sadly, the least of it.]

In se’if fifteen of Yoreh De’ah 119, AH also limits our concern to the area of weakness. Someone we have reason to think eats prohibited food won’t therefore steal it. This lets a Jew entrust food to a Jew who eats non-kosher (the example is a mother in law), without having to worry she might substitute her prohibited food. While with a non-Jew, food needs two seals to be sure it wasn’t switched for other food (as AH discussed in siman 118), this food would not.

Except. In se’if eighteen, AH limits the leniency to where the Jew eats what many others also do. Where s/he eats what the mass of Jews do not, we can’t trust him/her about switching foods, either, and would need two seals to be sure we got back what we gave.

Further, although we said the suspicion is only for that area of halachah, it will include all lesser prohibitions in that area, says AH in se’if 24. Some thought the chashud status would include all lesser prohibitions to that one, regardless of area of halacha. In se’if 28, AH disagrees, because then the Gemara would not have needed to make a special statement about a Jew who worships a power other than God or violates Shabbat being suspect in everything. Since everything is lesser to those two, were these authorities correct, the Gemara’s statement would be superfluous.

(An interesting side point. AH in se’if 31 wonders why Sabbath violation must be public to have us consider the sinner to have abandoned all of Judaism. He suggests a person’s refraining from public violation shows a concern with communal standards that itself allows us to think s/he should not be considered an overall chashud. Where s/he doesn’t care about public, either, we lose our faith about his/her care for anything Jewish. It’s a nuanced world out there, people.)

The Good-Hearted Sinner

All this changes if we the Jew might switch foods to do us a favor. If a son in law asked his nonkosher-eating mother in law to prepare food he gave her [something I doubt we would do today, because who would trust her kitchen?], the Jew would have to think she might trade his food for better quality victuals.

The same applies to anyone who has positive feelings towards us, an innkeeper, hostess, landlady. Although it’s sort of stealing, AH likens it to the prohibition of coveting, where the Gemara says people don’t believe it counts if they pay for the item. Here, people do not believe it is stealing if they give back other, better (but not kosher), food.

Where the person involved doesn’t care enough about us to exchange the foods for our benefit, Rashi and Tosafot disagree about whether the Jew should worry the other way, the less observant person will swap in inferior food. If s/he is being paid to prepare the food, they agree the worry goes away. Rambam (se’if 17 in AH) restricts this whole idea to an innkeeper.

Getting Out of It, Back Into It

The person retains this status until s/he repents (publicly, to tell us s/he has chosen to act more responsibly). Until then, we refrain from buying items of or related to this sin. In se’if 29, AH explains that becoming a chashud in any area makes a person an am ha’aretz, someone not trusted in any area halachah already thought of as shaky, including tithing produce, observing shemittah, caring about taharah.

The needed repentance involves agreeing to divrei chaverut, striving for full observance of all halachot. As Rambam said in a responsum, he adds in se’if thirty.

Where a Jew had been a chashud in two areas, repented both, and then backslid in one of those, s/he is also thereby restored to being a chashud in the other. Succumbing to temptation makes us worry all the old temptations have found their way back. But only these, the known areas of weakness.

The Assurances of a Chashud

While we keep saying a chashud in one area will not be suspect in others, we still cannot trust his/her oaths about the topic area itself (we might have thought oaths is a whole different prohibition). First, all Jews are considered mushba ve-omed me-Har Sinai, we all swore at Sinai to keep the Torah, so any Jew who abandons observance in a particular area has ipso facto [how often do I get to write ipso facto?] shown a lack of concern with oaths.

Otherwise, says AH in se’if 34, we wouldn’t have to check the knife of a shochet who eats non-kosher, we could instead have him swear he won’t feed others neveilah.

He quotes the idea from Ramban, then adds that he doesn’t think its literal, because people don’t really experience themselves as oath-bound to keep the Torah; as in other areas we’ve seen before, where people don’t think they’re doing something wrong, we don’t consider them chashud for that. Rather, he says, being chashud for an area of halachah brings along with it the willingness to lie about it, even under oath. [Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first leave Torah and mitzvot!]

To close on a hopeful note regarding chashudim, to whom we’ll return next time, AH in se’if 38 notes that in some areas, we trust such people more on Shabbat because eimat Shabbat, the awe of the day, means they won’t lie. A reminder that people’s sense of observance doesn’t always match the technical legal view, that people who are willing to violate the Torah will nonetheless sometimes respect Shabbat enough that they will not lie on that day (although they will on others!).

Who is like your nation, O Israel!

Stringent and Non-Stringent Jews Interacting

Se’ifim 41 and 42 take us briefly to Jews with higher standards, a more pleasant topic. Where a particular Jew thinks of some food as prohibited, perhaps as a matter of law, perhaps as a stringency, s/he may eat with those lenient on the matter, because we have no reason to worry they’ll mislead him. From their perspective, they are Torah-true Jews; he thinks they’re eating something with insufficient supervision, or that does not meet some extra standard he adopted. A Torah true Jew would never violate lifnei iver, mislead a fellow Jew into committing a sin (even if just from his/her perspective).

AH makes clear the others need to know of this Jew’s different practice, so they can be sensitive to it. We can’t expect them to avoid serving what s/he thinks prohibited unless s/he brings it up in advance. (Like allergies or other food issues).

AH also notes the discrepancy with SA YD 112;13, where SA allows a Jew who normally does not eat pat akum, bread baked by a non-Jew without Jewish involvement, to eat such bread if s/he is being hosted by those who never had such a practice. There, SA said to eat the bread, to avoid friction and bad feelings. Jews not doing anything wrong should ideally not be confronted with someone insisting on another practice, but if the Jew can be clear it is a personal stringency, s/he can expect other Jews to accommodate.

A Quick Review for the Stringent

Paragraph 42, the last one we will see this time, gives Shach’s summary of when a personal practice gets in the way of enjoying a meal at someone else’s home. For foods easily noticed—the hosts eat turkey, this Jew thinks there is no tradition certifying that turkey is a kosher bird, for my example—the host may serve the food without any specific warning, the other Jew will know not to eat.

Where the questionable food is mixed in undetectably, or whose taste was embedded in the pots and pans used to cook this on his/her behalf (even if the taste is more than 24 hours old, a bedi’avad—after the fact– leniency we cannot rely on proactively), the Jew cannot partake. On the other hand, where the host cooked for many people, the situation can be considered bedi’avad, and this Jew could eat.

Matters get murkier where the Jew refrains as a matter of personal, familial, or place custom. For the host to serve it at all is like holding a cup of wine before a nazir, too tempting because the ban on it has too weak a hold on this Jew (it’s “only” custom). To match a leniency to a stringency, such customs did not extend to worrying that pots and pans might have absorbed taste of the food, so this person could cook in the kitchen of a person who does not follow this custom.

Unless the person who normally cooks with these pots is here, where it is too easy to check if the utensils might be benei yoman, might have been used in the past twenty-four hours to cook the material this Jew’s custom prohibits. When easy to check, the Jew must indeed check.

Two more leniencies. Some people had a custom to refrain from something at home. This doesn’t work; if their custom is to abstain from this food for fear it is prohibited, that has to be everywhere. However, such a person could use pots in which the food was recently cooked.

Finally, Shach thought a person who lived where people had adopted what s/he considered an unnecessary stringency could eat the food in question when elsewhere. AH finds this problematic, because as long as a Jew lives in a certain place, s/he is bound by the customs of the place, and their custom is not to eat this. He suggests Shach meant the custom was an error; if it were a stringency, the Jew would have to follow it.

That’s a digression I intend to resist, to get drawn into a discussion of custom and how or when it binds. I’ll stop here with the issues of Jews of different levels of observance, returning next time for our last run at what it means to be a chashud, how one gets there, gets out of there, and gets back there.

About Gidon Rothstein

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