B'Yachad

For the week ending 29 December 2018 / 21 Tevet 5779

Sharing food with a Non-Observant Co-Worker

by Rabbi Ari Wasserman
Library Library Kaddish

QUESTION

A non-observant Jewish co-worker often asks me for some of the chocolate, rice cakes or other snacks I have lying around. I am happy to share my “stash,” but am I allowed to?

I am concerned that I am causing a fellow Jew to sin inadvertently by encouraging him to eat, knowing he will not make the requisite blessings (before and after the snack). Am I violating the Torah prohibition of “do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (lifnei iver) in doing so?

HALACHIC BACKGROUND

The Torah warns “do not place a stumbling block before the blind (lifnei iver).” This prohibition, according to the Rambam, applies to anyone who helps somebody to sin or who causes somebody to sin by placing the temptation before him. Rambam’s ruling is based on a Talmudic discussion which makes it clear that the Torah is not only speaking literally of blind people, but of anyone — including unsuspecting, ignorant or weak people — and forbids causing them to sin.

As for the sin of eating without a blessing, a number of halachic rulings apply.

First and foremost, the Talmud prohibits giving someone bread to eat if that person is not going to wash his hands as prescribed by Jewish law. States the Talmud: “One shouldn’t place a slice [of bread] in a servant’s mouth unless one knows the servant washed his hands.” This is also the ruling of the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema.

Secondly, Rabbeinu Yonah cites an opinion that extends the Talmud’s ruling to the recitation of blessings: “[From the Talmudic maxim that] one shouldn’t place a slice [of bread] in a servant’s mouth unless one knows the servant washed his hands, some learn that it is fitting to feed only that person whom one knows will recite a blessing.” Rabbeinu Yonah then makes an exception: “However, if

one intends to do the mitzvah of providing food as a form of charity, it’s permissible [to give it even to those who won’t recite a blessing].”

That brings us to the question: “Who can be given food?”

In response, relying on Rabbeinu Yonah, the Bach states: “If one knows that [the recipient of the bread] hasn’t washed his hands and one puts [the bread] in his mouth or hands it to him in order to feed him, he violates the prohibition of … lifnei iver. But if one [serves food to a poor person] not knowing whether the recipient will recite a blessing or not, one violates nothing. On the contrary, he fulfills the mitzvah of giving charity to the poor, and if the poor person doesn’t recite a blessing, the giver doesn’t violate lifnei iver when he gives the food, and, what is more, he fulfills the mitzvah of giving charity.”

The Chofetz Chaim is also in favor of supplying food as a form of charity, stating in the Mishnah Berurah: “We don’t uproot the mitzvah of charity just because [the recipient] might not recite a blessing.” But then he adds: “However, if one is certain that [the recipient] won’t recite a blessing, it’s forbidden to give him [the food] even in the form of charity. [This ruling applies] only if he refuses to say a blessing… but if he simply can’t recite one, the mitzvah of charity should not be uprooted because of this.”

Piskei Teshuvos cites a number of prominent Achronim who absolve from the violation of lifnei iver those who serve food to non-observant Jews under certain circumstances:

“We should tell those who host non-observant Jews and give them food or drink that they should teach them to wash their hands [before eating bread] and say a blessing before and after eating and drinking. And it’s a very good idea to also offer them a head covering when reciting the blessing. Nonetheless, if they’re not receptive and don’t say a blessing beforehand or afterward, that’s not our concern, and we have not violated the prohibition of lifnei iver of assisting sinners….

“Furthermore, all halachic authorities of our day concur that if [the non-observant Jew] might take offense at the suggestion that he say a blessing… it’s better not to suggest it. Nonetheless, one may offer him food or drink if withholding refreshments will be a chillul Hashem [causing him to think badly of G-d and His Torah]… or if he will then say that observant Jews are impolite and disrespectful, leading him to anger and hatred toward all who walk the Torah path.

“Therefore, it is possible even to invite [non-observant Jews] over or to attend their family celebrations and the like if they might draw closer to Judaism thereby, even though we know they won’t wash their hands or say blessings over their food.”

Finally, Teshuvos VeHanhagos addresses the issue right on point by answering the question: “If a worker asks for food and drink but won’t say a blessing, may one give it to him?”

Teshuvos VeHanhagos answers that one may do so, adding: “The main thing seems to be that if not offering food or drink is liable to interfere with cordial relations, then it’s permissible to offer it.”

Teshuvos VeHanhagos goes on to explain that the prohibition of lifnei iver is based on the fact that one is causing harm to another by leading him into sin. But in an instance such as this, the intention is the opposite – one is trying to do something that will benefit the other, i.e. that he will draw near to Judaism and not feel antagonism towards it. Furthermore, the one setting down the food and drink is being passive – it is not as if he feeds the worker with his own hand. Therefore giving food to a non-observant worker is permissible, but it seems that one must at least suggest that the worker cover his head and say a blessing.

The bottom line, says Teshuvos VeHanhagos, is that if the worker requests food or water, one must give it to him in order not to create a chillul Hashem and to maintain cordial relations. But it is proper to ask the other to say a blessing.

RESPONSE

If your refusal to share your “stash” would cause friction with your co-worker, it’s permitted to do so. Especially if you shared with others but refused to share with this one, it might cause hurt, offense and bring about interpersonal tension.

However, it’s best that you let the co-worker take the food himself and not actively hand it to him. In that way you are not directly involved in handing over the food and in violation of halacha when he eats it without a blessing.

Best of all, if you could see this as an opportunity to bring someone closer to G-d and His Torah, that would be wonderful! For example, you might mention that you personally say a blessing before and after eating even snacks and how good it makes you feel to acknowledge G-d’s bounty even in small things. And then you might recommend that he/she say a blessing with you.

It’s been my experience that, in general, non-observant Jews do agree to say a blessing if asked, and are willing to repeat the words after me. Doing this would be especially important if the snacking is a recurring habit and not just an occasional event.

· L’iluy nishmas Yehudah ben Shmuel HaKohen Breslauer

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