Inviting Non-Observant Guests for Shabbat
Last week, hundreds of thousands of Jews participated in the ‘Shabbat Project,’ an initiative that began in South Africa in 2013 and quickly spread worldwide. As part of the initiative, Orthodox families are encouraged to invite non-observant guests to their homes to experience a Shabbbat.
According to their website: The Shabbat Project is a global, grassroots movement that’s united 1,000,000+ Jews around the magic of Shabbat.
For those of us who have been inspired by the magic, majesty and beauty of Shabbat - and felt its warm embrace – it’s only natural to want to share that experience with others.
But is it permissible to invite a non-observant Jew for a Shabbat meal, knowing that they may desecrate the Sabbath in order to attend?
It is prohibited to enable a fellow Jew to violate a transgression. The Torah (Vayikra 19:14) states “…You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.” The Talmud (Avoda Zara 6a-b) provides the example of a Nazir, standing on one side of a riverbed and another individual on the other side of the river, who stretches his arm across the river to give the Nazir the wine. The implication being that the Nazir would not be able to violate his nazirite oath without this individual. The individual is directly responsible.
While Rambam (Peirush Ha-Mishna, Shevi’it 5:6) rules that even “assisting” one in a prohibition that could have been violated by other means is prohibited by the Torah, most authorities assume that “assisting” is only a Rabbinic Prohibition (See, for example, Tosafot to Shabbat 3a, s.v. Baba).
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC 1:99) was asked if it is permissible for a rabbi to encourage his congregants to attend services on Shabbat, knowing full well that they will drive to the Synagogue. Rav Moshe rules that doing so would be a violation of the Biblical Prohibition of placing “a stumbling block before the blind.” Rav Moshe goes as far as suggesting that one is even in violation of “incitement,” (Devarim 13:7-12). While technically this prohibition forbids instigating idolatry, based on Sanhedrin 29a, Rav Moshe applies this to instigating any Torah violation.
A lenient approach is taken by Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, who questions the very root of the prohibition of placing “a stumbling block before the blind.” Responding to a Ba’al Teshuvah who would like to invite his parents for Shabbat, Rav Shternbuch rules that he may invite them, and writes, “If one’s intent is only good, it is not called a ‘stumbling block,’ rather it is comparable to a surgeon who is not called one who ‘injures his fellow.’ Similarly, here, his intent is not for evil or to offer improper advice, rather through this, he hopes to direct them and bring them close to the true path… There is no violation of [‘Do not place a stumbling block] before the blind,’ since he did not command them to drive – just the opposite – he made them aware that this causes him pain...” (Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:358).
The Mishnah (Shevi’it 5:6) instructs what types of farm equipment may not be sold to a Jew who is suspected of working his land during the Shemittah year, and what types of farm equipment may be sold to such a Jew:
“Theses are the utensils that the artisan may not sell during Shevi’it: The plow and all of its utensils, the yoke, the rake, and the hoe. But one may sell a sickle, a scythe, and a wagon and all of its utensils. This is the rule: All [utensils] whose use is specifically for a prohibited activity is prohibited [to be sold]. [All utensils which may be used for something] prohibited or permissible is permitted [to be sold].”
The Mishnah allows one to sell equipment that may or may not be used to transgress a prohibited type of work during Shemitta. It is up to the purchaser to decide the use, and the seller is exempt from any liability (See Ritva to Avoda Zara 15b).
Similarly, with Shabbat guests, one may provide his guest with the choice to sleep over and refrain from violating the Sabbath. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that one may invite a non-observant Jew who lives far from the synagogue and offer them a place to stay overnight, even should he decline the offer (Minchat Shlomo 2:4; Rivevot Ephraim 7:402).
Many contemporary authorities have adopted this approach and rule that one may invite guests to arrive before Shabbat begins, and offer them a place to stay. Should they decline the offer that is their prerogative, and one is not held liable for participating in their desecration of the Sabbath. This allows one to invite guests and share the beauty of Shabbat with them, without violating the prohibition of enabling or assisting a fellow Jew to violate a transgression.