Informal Jewish educational work often demands dealing with situations that are complex halakhically, spiritually and socially. A common problem arises when arranging Shabbat educational programs for participants who are not Shabbat observant. Arranging programming on Shabbat itself is of prime educational importance for obvious reasons, but can easily bring about Shabbat desecration when participants drive or are driven to activities. A similar dilemma arises in social situations; when invited for a Shabbat meal, friends or relatives who are not Shabbat-observant may very likely arrive by car during Shabbat. Although the problem is multi-faceted, we will focus mainly on the halakhic issues involved.
Rav Moshe Feinstein relates to our issue in Igrot Moshe OC vol.I, responsa #98 and #99 (pp. 159-160). Rav Moshe writes [in response to a question (#98) posed by Rav Aryeh Kaplan] that one who invites people who drive on Shabbat to participate in a minyan, transgresses the prohibition of “Lifnei iveir lo titein mikhshol” (Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind) because of his involvement in their Shabbat desecration. He goes a step further in responsum #99 and claims that besides transgressing lifnei iveir, one who invites another to do something that inevitably involves desecration of Shabbat is defined as a “meisit” (one who incites another to sin – see below for a discussion).
The Torah prohibits facilitating a transgression by one who is obligated to keep the Torah’s laws but does not realize this, or who is temporarily “blinded” by the inclination not to follow the Torah’s laws. The main talmudic source on this transgression is a passage in Avoda Zara (6b):
“How do we know that one should not pass a cup of wine to a nazirite (who has vowed against drinking it)?… The Torah teaches us [that this is prohibited] when it says, ‘Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind’…. When does this prohibition apply? When you and the nazirite are standing on two opposite sides of a river.”
“Lifnei iveir,” according to the gemara, does not apply when the nazirite does not need any assistance to commit his transgression ( = the nazirite and the cup of wine are on the same side of the river). Only facilitating another’s transgression by exposing him to a new, previously non-existent possibility is considered “lifnei iveir.”
There are, though, two limitations to the “same side of the river” clause:
1. The Mishneh La-melekh in Hilkhot Malveh Ve-loveh claims that it is permissible only if the transgressor could have accomplished his goals without any assistance at all. If, however, the nazirite cannot commit a sin without assistance, but there are two Jews available to give him his cup of wine from the other side of the river, it is prohibited for both of them to hand it to him. Lifnei iveir still applies when the sinner needs help and the only question is WHO will provide it; it is forbidden to be the person who provides the help. Some Acharonim claim that the Bach disagrees with the Mishneh La-melekh’s principle.
2. The “same side of the river” clause might be applicable only when the transgressor has a LIVE OPTION to achieve his goals without assistance, not when he just has the POTENTIAL to transgress by himself.
However, it is clear that in our situation the biblical prohibition of lifnei iveir does NOT apply, because the non-observant Jew does not need any assistance in order to drive on Shabbat and his ability to do so is a live option. Inviting him to come to a minyan may prompt him to drive and this would be a problem of meisit according to Rav Moshe. However, lifnei iveir is not a problem, since the invitation does not open him up to any new options of Shabbat desecration that were not open to him beforehand.