Eruvin 32 Halachic compromises for the greater good
One of the greatest challenges facing Rabbis, educators, and religious outreach groups in our times is treading the line between the tolerant and open approach needed to bring and keep people close to Torah, and avoiding or limiting halachik compromises at the same time.
For example, many traditional shuls are based on the idea that the service inside is run on Orthodox lines but many people drive to shul on shabbos- Is a Rabbi permitted or supposed to encourage people to come to shul knowing full well that they will drive?
One of the greatest tools in the “kiruv” toolkit is sharing the incredible shabbos meal experience with those less observant, hereby drawing them closer themselves (in addition to the mitzva of הכנסת אורחים [hospitality] , אהבת שלום בין אדם לחבירו , and so much more.)
Is it right to invite non-observant guests for shabbos meals for the above reasons, even if one knows that they will drive?
Sometimes, the Rabbi, educator, or kiruv worker is faced himself with the “need” to make halachik compromises of his own for the greater spiritual good of others- this is very common when it comes to being present in places where the standards of modesty are not in keeping with those of a place where he is normally permitted or encouraged to be present, or in interfaith or multi-denominational environments.
In come congregations, compromises might need to be made regarding the height or even presence of a partition between men and women, in order to encourage people to come.
Often, spiritual duties might require one to move one’s family to a small community with limited religious infrastructure, in order to bring spiritual life to that community.
There are many who take the approach that one’s own spirituality and halachik obligations always come first, and that compromising on those for the sake of someone else’s spirituality is not acceptable.
They might also take a stringent approach regarding encouraging others to do something in the long-term interests of their spiritual development, if it involves their desecrating shabbos or other commandments in order to do so, even if they are not shabbos observant in any case.
Others take a more “long-term” approach, stretching or even violating certain laws for the greater good of their own or other’s long-term spiritual survival, or to prevent them or others from an even worse prohibition.
Neither approach is straight-forward, and the correct Torah approach to this can probably be found in a spectrum between these two extremes, depending very much on the circumstances, and of course, how certain primary sources are to be interpreted- A great understanding of the relevant sources, and a lot of יראת שמים (fear of heaven) are required to be able to make such decisions.
A discussion on our daf forms one of the most important Talmudic sources on the subject.
The case discussed is where a חבר (learned person) tells an עם הארץ (ignorant person ) to fill up a basket of produce for himself from his farm.
The question is whether it may be assumed that the person first separated the required tithes, thus making it unnecessary to separate them before eating, or not.
Rebbe and his father, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, disagree on this.
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel is of the view that we should not assume that tithes have been separated.
That is because there is a rabbinical decree against separating tithes in one place for produce in another, and we should thus not suspect the חבר of having done so.
Rebbe counters that seeing as the עם הארץ eating untithed produce is a far more stringent, biblical prohibition, we should assume that the חבר compromised on the rabbinical requirement and separated tithes from a distance after he gave permission to the עם הארץ to collect the produce.
The Gemara seems to understand that according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, it is forbidden to transgress a less severe prohibition in order to prevent someone else from transgressing a more serious prohibition.
In contrast, Rebbe seems to hold that it is permitted to transgress a less severe prohibition in order to prevent someone else from transgressing a more serious one.
Rebbe was so confident in his ruling, that he said that his view seemed more logical than his father’s. Although it seems obvious that he felt that way (otherwise he would not have disagreed with him,) it is possible that Rebbe was making this statement using his authority as sealer of the Mishna, indicating that his approach is the final word.
To what extent this is a general rule, as opposed to a more limited concession, requires serious analysis.
As Tosfos points out, it is clear that this cannot be the case under all circumstances.
We know this from a famous case (Shabbos 4a) where the Gemara discussed someone who unknowingly placed unbaked bread in the oven on shabbos.
One suggestion briefly entertained there was that someone else could be permitted to remove it before it becomes baked to the point that the first person will have desecrated shabbos.
It seems that we were not dealing with loaves of bread baked in baking pans, but a pita-style bread that was placed directly on the oven floor or rack.
As a result, removing the bread from the oven (רדית הפת) was considered a skilled activity rabbinically forbidden on shabbos.
The Gemara unequivocally rejected that suggestion, taking for granted that אין אומרים לאדם חטא כדי שיזכה חברו – we do not tell someone to sin in order that his friend should get merit.
In both cases, we are discussing transgressing a rabbinical prohibition in order to save someone else from transgressing a biblical one, yet in our case, Rebbe disagrees with his father and permits it, while in the case in Shabbos, there is no dissent and it is clearly forbidden.
In truth, there are many other places where halachik compromises seem to be permitted for greater objectives, among them:
1. Even though freeing a Canaanite slave was forbidden, it was permitted (or more narrowly interpreted) under certain circumstances to allow him to fulfill the great mitzva of פרו ורבו (Gittin 41b) or to allow him to make a minyan (Brachos 47b.)
2. Greeting one’s neighbor with Hashem’s name was permitted (Brachos 54a) based on the verse עת לעשות לה’ הפרו תורותיך (it is a time to act for Hashem, go against his Torah (Tehillim 119/126).) The value of making Hashem’s name a vessel of peace seems to have overridden the concern of saying his name in vain or alternatively, redefined it as not being in vain.
3. The sons of Shaul was put to death for their role in the starvation of the Givonim, in order to avoid a Chillul Hashem( Yevamos 79a- (“מוטב שיעקר אות אחת מן התורה ואל יתחלל שם שמים בפרהסיא”
4. One of the sources (albeit rejected as the primary source) for permitting the desecration of Shabbos to save a life (Yoma 85b) is in order to allow him to keep many more shabbosim in the future (חלל עליו שבת אחת כדי שישמור שבתות הרבה ) – it is possible that this applies not only to preventing physical danger to life, but also preventing a life-time of non-observance of shabbos, a discussion that comes up in various halachik discussions on the subject.
In our two cases, the Baalei Tosfos offer two ways of reconciliation:
1. The fundamental difference between the two cases is that in our case, the חבר is the one who initially put the other person in danger of sinning- as such, he is permitted to transgress a lesser prohibition in order to fix up what he did. According to this approach, there is no general permission to transgress a lighter prohibition to save someone else from a more serious one, except in a case where one is guilty of causing him to perform that more severe prohibition.
2. Based on various other sugyas, Tosfos takes issue with the former explanation, and takes a different approach. Here, the general rule is that one is permitted to transgress a lighter prohibition to prevent someone else transgressing a more serious one, except in a case where that person was negligent in the first place, like in the case where he put something into the oven at a time that even he knew was very close to shabbos.
These two approaches obviously have huge ramifications for our discussion in general, and whichever approach is accepted, it will be important to define clear criteria for what is considered a light or severe transgression. This could be based on various factors, among them
1. Whether it is biblical or rabbinical
2. The severity of the punishment
3. Whether it harms someone else or not
4. How many people are affected
5. Whether each prohibition is relatively short- term or long-term
6. How many prohibitions are entailed
There is so much more to discuss, but hopefully this serves a reasonable introduction to what is a very complex and important issue.
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.