Is it permitted to invite a guest to a Sabbath meal when that guest will presumably violate the Sabbath by driving to or returning from that meal?
Regarding family members who do not observe the Sabbath, who are interested in joining the family for the Sabbath meal, but who are not willing to stay for the entire Sabbath: Is it preferable not to invite them at all, or is it permissible to host them for the Sabbath meal, knowing that they will violate the Sabbath by traveling to or returning from the meal?
The Sabbath is a fundamental commandment of the Torah. It is considered equal in its importance to all the other commandments combined, and its violation is comparable in its severity to idolatry. The Sabbath experience has the unique power of drawing Jews to Jewish values. This has eloquently been pointed out by Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi:
The Sabbath has the power to draw the nation to God in repentance; the nation’s redemption will stem from the Sabbath … if indeed the nation, including those who do not scrupulously observe all of the commandments of our religion, will consistently observe this ritual, if they are meticulous in celebrating the spiritual Sabbath… The Sabbath itself will purify them, will perfect their attitudes, will elevate their souls, and, ultimately, will distance them from transgression, will inspire them to redemption and will bring about their speedy redemption.”
Herein lies the dilemma: On the one hand, we would like to enable every Jew to partake of the Sabbath’s special flavor. On the other hand, the heart weeps: how can one experience the inherent essence of the Sabbath, through the very act of violating it?
On the one hand, we are dealing with a kind of “mitzvah arising from a transgression”, Sabbath delight that arises from Sabbath violation, and, on the other hand, it can be seen as a kind of “transgression in God’s name” – a forbidden act that is geared at bringing Jews closer to each other and connecting them to a world of Sabbath and of sanctity.
The fundamental decision regarding this question rests on matters that are the subject of a debate in rabbinic literature. The general tendency among contemporary rabbinic authorities is to permit such invitations, subject to restrictions which will be discussed.
The preferable way of inviting guests for the Sabbath is to invite them for the entire Sabbath – from before the onset of the Sabbath until after it ends. Potential hosts should be encouraged to extend invitations before the Sabbath sets in. This is the position of Jewish law a priori.
If the guest ultimately decides not to accept an invitation for the entire Sabbath, it is permissible to consent to a guest’s arrival for only part of the Sabbath, when there exists an element of outreach toward Jewish values or elements of family harmony. In such cases, it is preferable that the guests arrive before the Sabbath and leave during the Sabbath, than to arrive on the Sabbath itself. This being the case, all efforts should be made to extend such an invitation for the Friday evening meal, rather than the Sabbath day meal.
In cases of great need, particularly when family harmony is at stake or other domestic issues are of concern, there exists the possibility of consenting to the guests’ arrival on the Sabbath itself, based on rulings of those rabbinic authorities who adopt a more lenient position.
Coming to a decision with regard to these questions is in no way a simple task. It requires balancing various personal, communal and social factors, while the sanctity of the Sabbath lies in the balance. It is therefore advisable to consult with the local rabbi and other Torah scholars, informing them of whatever specific personal and family considerations are involved.
Sources and Expanded Discussion
A. The Law of “an Obstacle before the Blind.”
Many of those residing in Israel and, more significantly, abroad, can testify that the experience of the Sabbath table, the family atmosphere, the warmth and the serenity are highly meaningful for those Jews who are alienated from the Torah and its commandments. Indeed, the Sabbath meal experience plays a significant role in connecting Jews to the values of the Sabbath and of Judaism in general.
Many contemporary rabbinic authorities have dealt with this issue, and much has been written about it. Rabbi Abraham Wasserman in his book, “Re’akha Kamokha”, (pages 155 – 163) deals at length with this issue. He reaches the conclusion that there are authorities who prohibit such invitations and those who permit them. In this article, we will attempt to survey the major factors involved in the issue, we will cite many opinions of rabbinic authorities, and we will attempt to determine the criteria for prioritizing values that should optimally be applied in such situations.
The major consideration raised by the authorities against inviting guests who travel on the Sabbath is the injunction of “thou shalt not put an obstacle before the blind.”
The source of this prohibition can be found in the Talmudic tractate Avoda Zara (page 6). The Talmud discusses the prohibition against selling religious ceremonial objects to idol worshippers and offering wine to a nazir, who is forbidden to drink wine.
There are Rabbinic authorities who compare inviting a nonobservant Sabbath guest to the injunction of “an obstacle before the blind”. This comparison requires an understanding of the prohibition itself and the scope of its application, as well as its relevance in the presence of other considerations. The detailed response presented below will deal with the various aspects of the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind.”
The Talmud states explicitly that the prohibition against offering wine to the nazir applies only when the offerer and the nazir are standing on opposite sides of a river. The authorities differ as to the meaning of this qualification.
Most of the Rishonim understand that what the Talmud means is that the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” exists only when the nazir cannot reach the wine without the other’s assistance, and in general terms – only if the transgression cannot take place without the collaborator’s assistance.
As far as practical Jewish law (halakha) is concerned, the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 151, 1) rules that one may not sell an idolater any object that is specific to the worship of idols unless it is evident that the idolatrous individual is not purchasing those objects for the sake of idolatrous practice. Conversely, items that are not specific to idol worship may be sold to such an individual, in which case we are not concerned that the purchaser will use them for idolatrous purposes unless he states explicitly that he is buying them in order to worship idols.
Regarding the aforementioned halakha, ReMA (Rabbi Moshe Isserles) states that common practice was to adopt a lenient position permitting the sale of objects specific to idolatry to idol worshipers in cases in which those individuals already possess such objects, or can easily procure them elsewhere. That is to say, his opinion, like the opinion of most Rishonim, is that the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” applies only in cases in which the transgressor cannot commit the transgression without the aid of the assisting party, although, ultimately, he advises that “a cautious individual should choose the stricter position.”
This being the case, we may conclude that, given the opinion of the majority of the Rishonim and the ruling of ReMA, inviting nonobservant guests for the Sabbath does not constitute an explicit violation of the rule of “an obstacle before the blind” in cases in which the guest would travel on the Sabbath in any case, regardless of the invitation. Certainly, if the guest was offered an invitation to stay for the entire Sabbath, and nevertheless chose to drive, this does not constitute any collaboration on the host’s part in the guest’s transgression.
B. The Law of “Collaboration”
Even in cases in which the explicit biblical injunction of “an obstacle before the blind” is absent, there are those authorities who maintain that there still exists a rabbinic prohibition of collaboration with a transgressor. This issue is indeed the subject of debate between the various Rishonim. Most of the Rishonim are of the opinion that even when the biblical injunction of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply, there nevertheless exists a rabbinic injunction against abetting a transgressor. There are however, those Rishonim who disagree, and who maintain that in the absence of any biblical prohibition, the rabbinic injunction against abetting a transgressor cannot exist.
However, with regard to the injunction against collaboration, there are two considerations which may be applied in the interest of leniency in certain cases:
The opinion of ShaKh (Sifte Kohen) and Dagul MeRevava (YD 151, 6) is that the rabbinic prohibition of collaboration does not apply with regards to an individual who does not observe the commandments, since refraining from collaboration in such situations would not serve to prevent the transgressor from transgressing in general.
In the opinion of Rabbi Jacob Etlinger (responsa Bene Zion 15), the injunction against collaboration applies only at the time that the actual act of the transgression is being committed. However, when the collaboration is not concurrent with the commission of the prohibited act, there is no injunction whatsoever against collaboration. In his responsum, he permits submitting a printing order to a Gentile printer who employs Jewish workers on the Sabbath. Those workers, he states, would perform forbidden labor on the Sabbath with or without the order, and the collaboration does not take place at the same time as the transgression.
This being the case, inviting a guest who travels on the Sabbath fulfills the criteria for leniency mentioned in this chapter.
In accordance with the opinion of ShaKh (Sifte Kohen) and Dagul MeRevava, the specific violation of the Sabbath on the part of the guest is not an isolated incident of transgression, and withholding Sabbath hospitality would not prevent the guest from violating the Sabbath in general. According to Rabbi Etlinger, an invitation extended before the Sabbath is not considered to be directly linked to the transgression itself. For these reasons, we may maintain that the law of collaboration with a transgressor does not apply in our case.
C. The Law When the Collaborator Initiates the Act
All of the examples from the sources cited above regarding “an obstacle before the blind” and “collaboration with a transgressor” are of situations in which the transgressor himself is the initiator of the act under discussion. The questions, then, are whether it is permissible to collaborate with him, and under what circumstances one may do so. There exists, however, an additional Talmudic discussion which would imply that a more severe prohibition exists when it is the host, rather than the guest, who initiates the invitation.
The Talmud states in the tractate Hullin (107a): “One may not place a piece of bread in the mouth of an attendant unless he is certain that the attendant washed his hands”. The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 169:2) similarly rules: “One should not place food in front of any individual unless it is clear to him that that person will say a blessing”. This ruling does not mention the qualification of “both sides of the river”, and it would seem that the Shulhan Arukh believes that the prohibition exists even when the individual desiring to eat can procure the food elsewhere, since the injunction is against the actual assistance to an act that constitutes a transgression (see, however, responsa Shevet HaLevi (4, chapter 17), who states the opinion that this does not fall under the category of “both sides of the river”, and that such an act constitutes, at the very most, a rabbinical injunction against collaboration with a wrongdoer).
This being the case, when one invites a Sabbath guest, the initiative for the Sabbath violation originates with the host. Even if the visit is initiated by the guest, it is the host’s compliance with the request that is the cause of violating the Sabbath by driving. When Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim Volume 1, responsum 99) was asked whether it was permitted to invite Sabbath violators to a synagogue when it is clear that they would travel on the Sabbath, he ruled prohibitively:
I responded that to reach out to secular Jews by inviting them to synagogue when it is impossible for them to do so without violating the Sabbath is certainly prohibited. This is even more severe than the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind”, since an individual who does so is also violating the prohibition of inciting a Jew to perform a transgression… the prohibition of placing “an obstacle before the blind” applies even when dealing with individuals who are not totally alienated from Judaism, when it is clear to us that they would choose to drive to synagogue rather than make the effort to walk to there. In the event that the announcement is not phrased as an invitation, but rather as a notification to potential worshipers that a prayer service is taking place and that rewards are offered to those who attend, when the intention is specifically to notify the observant, but it is clear that non-observant Jews will come in their vehicles as well, there seems to be no violation of the injunction against incitement and it is questionable whether the rule of “an obstacle before the blind” applies.”
Sedeh Hemed (2:6:26:32) cites authorities who maintain that the injunction of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply at all when the obstacle is established verbally, rather than by a specific act. Many other authorities, however, including Rabbi Soloveichik (cited in “Divrei HaRav”, selected customs, page 170) and the responsa Shevet HaLevi (8, Orah Hayyim 165 and 256) side with Rabbi Feinstein, who writes that individuals who do not observe the commandments should not be invited to an event that takes place on the Sabbath, when it is clear that they will violate the Sabbath by driving, either coming or going. Of course, in the case in which the guest decides on his own to attend the event, such as a traveler, and such an individual would attend even if he were not explicitly invited to the synagogue, no question of an “obstacle before the blind” exists, and in such a case, there is no hindrance to invite such an individual to attend.
Nevertheless, many authorities point out that there is a difference between serving a slice of bread to an individual who is known not to say blessings and extending and inviting a nonobservant Jew to a Sabbath meal. In the case of the invitation, the host is not physically offering a forbidden object to the guest. Not only did he offer his guest the opportunity of hospitality for the entire Sabbath, there also exists a significant passage of time between the invitation and the guest’s driving.
We will cite the opinions of three great authorities of the last generation who adopted a lenient position regarding this matter:
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Responsa Minhat Shlomo 2:10, “Otzarot Shlomo” publishers, Jerusalem, 1999) rules:
It is permitted to invite an individual who lives far from the place of worship and offer him a place to sleep nearby, in such fashion that he will not have to violate the Sabbath at all. Even if that individual refuses the offer of hospitality, there is no need to advise him to refrain from visiting for that reason, nor is there any need to caution him not to drive a vehicle.”
For some reason, this responsum was omitted from the later edition, but it is quoted in the responsum Rivevot Efraim (Volume 7, chapter 402).
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel (responsum Ohola Shel Torah Volume 5, chapter 22), states the following, in reply to a query from emissaries abroad regarding outreach activities:
We must make a distinction between inviting a guest for the evening meal and inviting him for the daytime meal. A Friday night guest should be invited before the Sabbath and should receive a genuine offer to stay for the entire Sabbath. If he refuses to remain, and decides to return home on the Sabbath, that is his own personal decision, and the rule of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply, for two reasons: First, because the host took measures to ensure that the guest would not be required to violate the Sabbath, and because the guest’s decision, on his own initiative, to violate the Sabbath actually stands in opposition to the purpose of the invitation. Second, because the guest does not violate the Sabbath at the time that he accepts the invitation, but only after the meal, when driving home. Last, the invitation itself does not directly lead to Sabbath violation, but rather causes it indirectly.”
Notwithstanding, Rabbi Ariel forbids inviting a guest for a meal on the Sabbath day:
Regarding a guest who is invited for the Sabbath day meal, when it is clear that he will drive a vehicle and will violate the Sabbath, such an invitation violates the biblical injunction of “an obstacle before the blind”, as the host is the sole and direct agent of the guest’s transgression of the Sabbath, comparable to the case of one who offers a cup of wine to nazir… this is because of the host’s intention, which is what causes his fellow Jew to travel on the Sabbath… and also because of the time of the commission of the transgression, which is committed at the time that the guest fulfills the host’s instructions.”
Rabbi Ariel’s second justification for permitting Friday night invitations is based on a discussion by Magen Avraham (169:6), who raises the possibility of a distinction between giving food to an individual who will not wash his hands, which is the more severe violation in terms of the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind”, and offering food to an individual who would not recite the grace after meals, which is less severe, since the transgression was not committed at the time the food was offered, but rather afterwards, separate from the act of offering the food.
Later in this article, we will cite a different aspect of this issue from Rabbi Ariel’s responsum, which he cites as grounds to permit, albeit reluctantly, even an invitation for the Sabbath day meal.
In a lecture on Jewish law which can be found at the Yeshivat Har Etzion website, Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein deals with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s ruling regarding the invitation to prayer services in a synagogue, in a case where some of the invitees would travel to the synagogue on the Sabbath. His position seems to imply that there is room for leniency, even when the invitation is for the Sabbath day itself:
According to the responsum of Rabbi Feinstein, if we take his position to its extreme conclusion, we would have to close down three quarters of the synagogues in the Diaspora. Practically, on the individual level, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that it is possible to extend such an invitation, when we grant an alternate option and offer local hospitality, and only in cases in which the goal is for a worthy cause. On the public level, the need is even greater, but, on the other hand, the feeling that the synagogue itself is encouraging violation of the Sabbath is problematic. Having said that, since the alternative is usually that nothing whatsoever will take place on the Sabbath, there is room for leniency. However, it must be emphasized that the synagogue does not condone driving on the Sabbath.”
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin related to us, from his own personal experience, that during his tenure as a community Rabbi in New York, he personally asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein how to rule regarding this issue. Contrary to the implications of his responsa as printed in Iggerot Moshe, Rabbi Feinstein ruled that it is permitted to offer hospitality when the invitation offered to the guests is for the entire Sabbath, even if the guests, in actual fact, would arrive by driving during the course of the Sabbath, arguing that the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply in this case.
D. From a Greater Prohibition to a Lesser Prohibition
Even for those who maintain that inviting nonobservant guests for Sabbath meal constitutes a violation of the injunction against setting an “obstacle before the blind”, it is possible that if the stated purpose of the invitation is to fulfill other commandments and to prevent other transgressions, the “obstacle before the blind” injunction does not apply. Indeed, there are authorities who rule that when the “collaborator’s” intention is to save the transgressor from greater wrongdoing, an act cannot be prohibited on the grounds of the injunction against setting an “obstacle before the blind.”
In the question of a man having the sides of his head shaved by a woman, who is not forbidden by the Torah to shave her own head , Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Yoreh Deah 281:6) rules that when it is clear that the man would shave his temples anyway, it is preferable that the act be carried out by a woman, thus reducing the extent of the transgression: Rather than violating two separate injunctions, one of shaving the temples and the other of being shaved, that individual would violate only the single prohibition of being shaved. Since having the temples shaved by a woman decreases the number of violations, the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Responsa Minhat Shlomo 1:35) innovates that in any case in which the intention is to prevent a greater wrongdoing, there is no room for discussion regarding the prohibition of an “obstacle before the blind”. In his responsum, he permits offering food to a Jew who will clearly not say a blessing over it, because the provider of the food is saving the recipient of the food from the greater transgression of general alienation from Judaism or from hatred or resentment toward his host. Had the host not offered the food, he would have transgressed the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” in even greater force. The idea that the we must consider the severity of the injunction from the position of the transgressor of the commandment (and not from the position of the initiator of the obstacle) is based on the rulings of the authorities cited in Sedeh Hemed (2:6:26:1) who decided, regarding the discussion in “Yad Malachi”, that if the transgressor did not sin, the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” does not exist.
Based on this fundamental principle, Rabbi Ariel, in his responsum cited above, permitted inviting guests even for the Sabbath day meal, stating:
as I understand, the need to welcome Jews to experience the Sabbath atmosphere can be fulfilled specifically during the day, when there is more time… it seems, therefore, that, in extreme cases, it is possible to permit… inviting guests to the Sabbath day meal, taking into account the following considerations:
Ideally, guests should be invited for the entire Sabbath. However, if the invitee will accept only a partial invitation, it is acceptable to consent and to offer him hospitality until the end of the Sabbath… this ruling rests on several variables: It is possible that the invited guest might have driven in any case for a different purpose, and possibly even further; that the individual might have transgressed a greater number of other violations of the Sabbath of a possibly greater severity than that of traveling to the home of the host, knowing that, during his stay at the host’s home, it is presumable that he will not perform any forbidden acts on the Sabbath at all…
An additional consideration for leniency is the matter of “does one say to another: “commit a sin, so that your fellow Jew benefits”” (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, 48). It was clear to those who posed the question that inviting these nonobservant Jews to Sabbath meals is the only way to familiarize them with Jewish values. Without such an invitation, we are concerned that they will stray from Jewish values to the point of assimilation. This being the case, we must consider not only the violation of this specific Sabbath, but the violation of all Sabbaths and the transgression of all of the Commandments. We must return to the concept that a lesser lapse in the present is preferable to complete alienation in the future. Rabbinic literature discusses a case in which a father was permitted to violate the Sabbath under certain conditions in order to save his daughter who had left Judaism… all the more so should we permit a questionable violation of “an obstacle before the blind” in order to observe the Sabbath. For this reason, there are grounds to permit, under these difficult circumstances, inviting such guests for Sabbath meals, even during the day, if it is impossible to invite them for the evening meal.”
This ruling suggests that in a situation of great need and given the possibility of great benefit, there exists the possibility of inviting guests even if they will unquestionably violate the Sabbath as the direct outcome of the invitation. After all, this invitation might possibly prevent them from violating the Sabbath in many and varied other ways, at least during the time the guests are enjoying the hospitality of their hosts. Therefore, the invitation actually reduces Sabbath violation, rather than causing it.
E. Collaboration with a Transgression When the General Intention Is for the Sake of Performing a Commandment
Regarding the halakha stated above that one should not offer food to another Jew unless it is clear that that person will recite a blessing, Rabbenu Yona (commentary to RiF, Hullin , page 71 in the pages of RiF printed in the Babylonian Talmud) states an innovative concept: If the donor’s intention when giving bread to an individual who will not say a blessing over it it is to fulfill the commandment of giving charity, this supersedes the injunction of “an obstacle before the blind”, since the intention of the donor is to fulfill the positive commandment of charity, and not to collaborate in a transgression.
Rabbi Yosef Karo, in Bet Yosef (his commentary on the Arbaah Turim) takes issue with Rabbenu Yona’s statement:
“This does not seem correct, since giving a slice of bread to an attendant is also a mitzva, and even then, we are commanded not to give him the bread if we are certain that he will not wash his hands”.
For this reason, Rabbi Karo did not cite Rabbenu Yona’s innovative position when he wrote the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 169:2). ReMa, however (ibid.), explicitly rules according to Rabbenu Yona, stating that “there are those who adopt a lenient position if the food is given to the poor person as charity”. The common explanation for Rabbenu Yona’s position is summarized in the words of the Mishna Berura (169:11):
“We do not disregard the commandment of charity based on the possibility that an individual might not say a blessing.”
Turei Zahav and Magen Avraham (ibid.) rule that is possible to accept Rabbenu Yona’s position only when there exists some doubt as to whether the recipient of the food will make a blessing; if it is clear to us that he will not recite a blessing over the food, it is forbidden to give it to him.
Rabbi Jacob Yehiel Weinberg, author of the responsum Seride Esh, (sec. 2, 9, page 366), argues that, possibly, what Rabbenu Yona is saying is that in any case in which the collaborator’s intention is for the transgressor’s benefit, the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply, since the very purpose of the act is to perform a Commandment or to benefit the transgressor:
regarding the principle that underlies the rule of “an obstacle before the blind”: if not for fear of contradicting the great rabbinic authorities of the last generations, of blessed memory, I would say that when the collaborator’s intention is the performance of a Mitzva, there is no prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind”… and therefore we must conclude, in theory, that it any case in which there is a Mitzva to be performed, one should not refrain from performing it, even when performance of that Mitzva may cause another Jew to commit a transgression, since it is not his intention to collaborate with transgressors, but rather to perform the will of his Creator. Moreover, this can arouse feelings of repentance and remorse in the heart of the transgressor and cause him to see the way of the truth, when he sees how much his fellow Jew takes pains to perform the Commandments of the Creator. These words have been said explicitly by Rabbenu Yona … see the commentary of the Vilna Gaon to Orah Hayyim 169:2 who found a source for Rabbenu Yona’s position in the Mishna, Tractate Demai, ….. Bet Yosef’s objection to this principle is easily resolved: If a host places a piece of bread in the mouth of an attendant, he is not fulfilling the mitzva of charity, since it is the host’s obligation to feed his attendant. Even though this seems extremely clear to me, my heart does not allow me to rule in opposition to our teachers, the great authorities of the recent generations… I have written all of the above de jure and not de facto, and the decision is in the hands of the great Rabbis of the Land of Israel and the Diaspora.”
According to Seride Esh, in any case in which the intention is for the benefit of the transgressor, it would seem that the “obstacle before the blind” rule does not apply. If so, it is possible that there is no prohibition whatsoever when the intention of the host is to reach out to his guest and expose him to and familiarize him with the Torah in general and the Sabbath in particular. Rabbi Weinberg emphasizes that his words were not stated as an actual ruling, but his reasoning can certainly be added to the considerations that have been cited above.
However, an actual ruling in this direction was given by Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, leader of the Edah Haredit of Jerusalem, in his responsum, “Teshuvot veHanhagot” (1:358), in answer to a query by an individual who had become observant, who had invited his parents to his home in order to bring them close to Judaism, and had seen that this had positive results. The petitioner wondered whether it was permitted to invite his parents for the Sabbath, when it was clear that they would drive on the Sabbath for that purpose. In his reply, Rabbi Sternbuch states that if the intention of the host is in the guest’s best interests, the injunction of “an obstacle before the blind” does not exist:
It seems that the basis of the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” is its similarity to the case of a blind person who is caused to stumble. However, if the host’s intention is only for his guest’s benefit, he cannot be considered as placing an obstacle. Just as a surgeon is not guilty of stabbing his patient, here too there is no malevolent intention or any desire to provide harmful advice. The host’s sole intention is to educate his guests and to bring them closer to the truth. When another Jew violates the Sabbath as a result of this, it is not the host but the guest who causes harm to himself, and therefore the prohibition of “an obstacle before the blind” does not apply. Because he did not order them to drive, but rather informed them that their driving on the Sabbath pained him, the host is absolved of any further liability to prevent his guest from public Sabbath violation….
There is, however, an element of desecration of God’s name in the fact that the parents drive to their son’s home in an automobile in public on the Sabbath day. Therefore, it should be arranged that, in any case, they would not park their vehicle adjacent to the host’s home in such fashion that others would understand that the guests came especially to visit this particular host. Regarding the transgression of desecration of God’s name, intent is not a factor and the fact that the host’s intentions are honorable is irrelevant. It seems to me that the host should make every effort to prevent his parents from violating the Sabbath. However, if this is impossible, and the host feels that this is an effective way of guiding his parents in the right direction, he should not refrain from inviting them out of concern for “an obstacle before the blind”, but should rather bring them close to the Torah to the best of his ability. He should teach them regarding the gravity of violating the Sabbath and the sweetness of observing it, and, with God’s help, he will return them to the correct path. There is no greater honor of parents than this.”
Elsewhere, I have cited the opinion of Mishna Berura… that a father must care for his daughter lest she leave the faith, since he is her custodian and her flesh and blood. Family members, therefore, have a special obligation. This being the case, it seems, in my humble opinion, that even though there is usually no obligation to rebuke a public Sabbath violator… there is nevertheless an obligation toward parents who have been assimilated among the nations. The reason for this obligation arises not only from the charity that a Jew is obligated to provide for every other Jew, but also from the principle of redemption of relatives. One must make every possible effort to rescue relatives who violate the Sabbath, as this is a special halakha.”
Rabbi Sternbuch’s summary makes it clear that there is greater room for leniency with regard to “an obstacle before the blind” in situations in which we must reach out to a family member and to strengthen the important family ties between that family member and his observant family.
(Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weiss, in Tehumin 18, page 184, rejects Rabbi Sternbuch’s position, arguing that this is a “mitzvah arising from a transgression”. We chose to prefer Rabbi Sternbuch’s position, since, by definition, a situation can only be classified as a “mitzvah arising from transgression” when the transgressor himself is committing the transgression in order to perform the commandment, whereas our case deals with two separate individuals.”)
In our opinion, which is based on the rulings and the actual practice of the great Torah authorities of recent generations, across all sectors and communities, it is proper to invite family and friends to Sabbath meals with the intention of reaching out to other Jews and bringing them closer to Jewish values, or with the intention of preserving unity and goodwill in families, communities, and society.
The sanctity of the Sabbath and its reverence require that we impose certain restrictions on this trend in several ways:
The importance of observing the Sabbath should be explained to the guests. It is preferable to invite the guests in advance, and for the entire Sabbath. In any case in which the guests refuse their host’s offer of hospitality for the entire Sabbath, it is preferable to extend an invitation for Friday night, asking the guests to arrive before Sabbath sets in. The guests’ departure after the meal is of their own free will, and the result of their own refusal of their host’s invitation to spend the night at their home, and there is no direct link between their driving home and their host’s invitation. The less preferable option is to invite guests for the Sabbath day meal, when it is clear that the guests will travel on the Sabbath in order to attend the meal. However, in situations in which such an invitation is desirable and highly necessary, especially when family harmony and integrity are at stake, the possibility of extending an invitation for the Sabbath day may be considered as well.
Because of the complex individual and communal nature of this issue, it is important and highly recommended to consult a local Torah authority who is aware of the local situation, and who is able to arrive at the appropriate decision in context, taking into account the multitude of considerations. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein regarding a different matter (Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:81): “Aa local rabbinic authority, who is aware of the local situation, and who it is competent to make the ruling in this case, based on his greatness in knowledge of the Torah and his fear of God, should take into account the neighboring communities, which do not require such leniency. They should take measures not to rely on the permissive ruling granted to this particular place, lest the damage outweigh the benefit.”