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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My brother's keeper?

A good friend emailed me late last night with the following question:

"when we in israel are enjoying isru chag [ed: the day after a holiday] jews outside must keep to the same standard for their second day of chag.  it is for this reason that I try to avoid emailing anyone who may be jewish, or calling anyone, in order to avoid either the "lifnei iveir lo titain michshol" or the "m'saiyeya lid'var aveira" transgression [ed: basically causing someone else to 'stumble' or transgress'].

so I was wondering if you ever asked your rav about blogging on isru chag, and if it was your responsibility to take into account the two factors that could shine the interrogation spotlight on you, those being 1)  many of your readers are jews outside of israel and 2) many commentors are as well.

yes, of course they are online anyway, and it is their "choice" to surf over, read and reply - you are not forcing or pushing.  however, the but-for argument can certainly be made, enough at least to warrant the investigation.

have you ever asked?"

[My note: Just a little background for the uninitiated...  Jews in Israel keep one day of holidays while Jews outside of Israel keep two.  You can find out more about this practice here.  The second day here in Israel, called isru chag, is free from all of the work prohibitions... but as stated here, many have the custom to add a little extra levity to the day.]

So, aside from my friend's very e e cummings-like scorn for capitalization, he makes an excellent point... and asks some equally excellent questions.

What my friend was essentially saying was, 'While Jewish law certainly permits the use of computers in Israel on isru chag, by posting on the blog, aren't you encouraging Jews in the diaspora to transgress by giving them an invitation to read your site and perhaps even comment?'

My knee-jerk reaction was to email him, saying that I don't respond to Jews outside of Israel when it is still Yom Tov for them.  But after I hit the send key I realized I was completely full of **it.  I have become so accustomed to having only one day of holiday here that I honestly didn't even think about the restrictions still in force outside of Israel.  I absolutely responded to several Jewish readers yesterday!

So... thinking out loud here... let me share the following things that crossed my mind just now:

Arutz 7, an Israeli news site that shuts down for shabbat and holidays, resumes publication on isru chag.  I have to assume that they have a large readership outside of Israel and have taken that into consideration.  They also allow talk-back comments, although I haven't checked to see if they disable this function while it is still holiday or shabbat in the diaspora..

It isn't as though I called someone in the Diaspora up on the phone and yelled 'SINNER! when they answered the phone.  I have to believe that the siren song of fresh content at treppenwitz is not the only reason someone is turning on their computer in New York or LA.

By acknowledging someone's comment I may, indeed, be sort of initiating a dialog of sorts... but again, there is no immediacy as with a telephone call.  They may not go back and see my response until hours or even days later!

What if someone comments on an older post that was up days or weeks before the holiday.  Is that OK or do I need to take down my site altogether on Shabbat and holidays (don't laugh... there is a service that will do exactly this for you if you want!)?

As my friend pointed out, there is certainly a prohibition in Judaism against placing a stumbling block in front of someone or causing them to 'sin' (for lack of a better word).  But to what point is a Jew responsible for his/her fellow Jew?  To what extent are we our brother's (and sister's) keepers?

OK, I'm done thinking out loud. 

Your turn.

Posted by David Bogner on June 11, 2008 | Permalink


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....Wouldn't you be just as liable, morally, for posting after the day(s) of rest starts anywhere else or before it ends, thus expanding the "one day" of rest to nearly two--or two into *three*?

A beautiful woman who dresses right is not responsible if others see her and commit sin in their hearts; so you, who posts in a valid manner, are not responsible if others take action and by that action, sin.

Posted by: Foxfier | Jun 11, 2008 12:47:07 PM

Friday in Israel is Shabbat in Australia.

Saturday night in Israel (or early Sunday morning at certain times of year) is Shabbat in parts of the US - there must be a market for Chumrot al pi haVebbe Rebbe.....

Posted by: Gilly | Jun 11, 2008 1:36:02 PM

Way to much thinking like this makes my head hurt.

Posted by: Baila | Jun 11, 2008 1:47:58 PM

It would seem that passively posting something online is different than proactively tempting someone to transgress with a sure-fire temptation. You're not asking them to turn on their computer, after all. They don't know for sure if you're going to post or email anything. And, chances are, they're not turning on their computer because yours is the only site they will visit. If it really bothers you, think of it as outreach for aliya, ie. "if you lived here, you would be able to read this without guilt." :>)

Posted by: Ari | Jun 11, 2008 3:36:53 PM

Let's pretend that your home is across the street from the best treif restaurant in the world. Is it your fault that every time people visit you they are tempted to go eat there.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 11, 2008 5:51:07 PM

Too many 'what if's' here. Do your thing the way you want, Dave. Let others be responsible for what they do or don't do.

Posted by: val | Jun 11, 2008 5:55:24 PM

The problem for you is worse yet, since each Shabbat ends seven hours earlier than in New York. Can you carry on a dialogue with non-orthodox Jews in New York when Shabbat is over for you? I think not, but I am not a Rav. Better to ask, don't you think?

Posted by: jerry | Jun 11, 2008 6:29:23 PM

I've asked a similar question. Basically, you aren't responsible if someone else doesn't observe Halachah. Lifnei ivair would apply if you went to a non-Shomer Shabbos friend and said (using a random example) "Go check out my blog and see that one of my essays will be taught in college courses." Then the irresistable temptation to check out your blog would constitute the placing of a stumbling block.

For a related article see here.

Posted by: soccer dad | Jun 11, 2008 10:15:32 PM

I think that this is similar to an old t'shuva about inviting Jewish guests over for Shabbat. The question is whether one is permitted to invite a non-observant Jew over for a meal on Shabbat if you find it likely that they will drive to your home. The bottom line is that it's okay (subject to certain restrictions), though the supporting logic is somewhat more complex.

Lifnei iver is certainly an issue nowadays with all of the easy ways to accidentally cause another person to transgress. Yet I think that the general 'feel' of most of the t'shuvot on this issue is that unless one's actions are causing someone to uniquely sin, then ancillary halachic principles tend to take precedence over lifnei iver. Thus, if you make some clam chowder and waft it in front of the face of a ba'al t'shuva, that's definitely lifnei iver. But if you invite a non-observant Jew for coffee at Starbucks and they end up buying a non-kosher croissant as well, I hardly think that qualifies as 'lifnei iver'. Similarly, posting on your blog at a time when others should not be reading it is not causing a unique transgression (unless your fans are even more rabid than I thought ;) ) - they wouldn't even know you had posted if they weren't on their computer anyways. It may be 'participating' in a transgression in some way, but it is NOT facilitating it.

If, say, you had a one-day contest for your readers on isru chag, I can see there being some arguments. But just posting normally? Unless you're into the Kol Koreh crowd or whatever (in which case you shouldn't have a blog anyway), I think you're fine.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 11, 2008 10:46:52 PM

Well, this is certainly tempting me to sin. In particular,

"[calling] someone in the Diaspora up on the phone and yell[ing] 'SINNER! when they answered the phone" and

"[making] some clam chowder and waft[ing] it in front of the face of a [newly religious guy]"

sound hillarious! They're definitely going on my to-do list.

Posted by: Albert | Jun 11, 2008 10:58:39 PM

Dave, Dave, Dave. What am I going to do with you? Don't you know that the internet is treife?? Don't you know the spiritual and moral dangers we are all being subjected to daily simply by OWNING a computer? Haven't you seen all of the warnings from the Gedolei Hador in Ir Hakodesh? (Lakewood)It doesn't matter when you post, everyone here is going STRAIGHT to gehennom, do not pass go, do not collect $200 shekels. Tizku L'mitzvos! Love ya, babe!

Posted by: Marsha in Stamford | Jun 12, 2008 4:55:05 AM

I find it fascinating that my blog, which deals with Torah analysis and hermeneutics that should only appeal to the blackest of the Orthodox, gets serious hits on Shabbat, Rosh Hashanna, and the like. Who on earth knows Yeshiva jargon and understands Yeshiva Torah and is spends serious time reading this stuff on Shabbat????

Anyway, I don't think what you're doing is in any way aiding and abetting or lifnei iveir. It's not ephemeral, it'll be there after Shabbat, and if someone chooses to read it when he shouldn't, that is not your doing. The benefit they get from getting acquainted with a religious but nonetheless relatively normal Jew will ultimately count for far more.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jun 12, 2008 6:04:32 AM

As an outsider to the issue, I must say that it seems like focusing so much on the brush strokes and failing to even notice the picture.

Posted by: Mark Patterson | Jun 12, 2008 5:34:45 PM

I think I can answer Barzilai's question. I am not Jewish, but I frequently find myself reading websites with all sorts of Yeshiva jargon that I don't understand. Usually, I can get my question answered anyway, but sometimes I have to google some strange words (it doesn't always work). I do try to observe shabbat, but I don't necessarily come up with the same rules that Jews do. I haven't figured out how I feel about using the internet on shabbat, but I could easily see someone like myself observing those days by increased Bible study, using their favorite study tool -- the internet. I have done that in the past, though my favorite theology site (Tim Hegg's) shuts down on holy days. (I get the idea that Jewish opposition to the internet on shabbat is because of the electrical issue, and I have no problem using electronics on shabbat.)

Posted by: Channah | Jun 14, 2008 3:39:04 AM

Hi Channah - re: the opposition to using electricity on Shabbat, it's not only because of the electrical issue. I believe it has also to do with the spirit of Shabbat and/or Chag (Holiday). In fact, one could just leave their TV, Radio or computer on throughout Shabbat and not break any rules as long as they don't touch it (is that right David?)

Posted by: jaime | Jun 15, 2008 5:15:01 PM

So how does studying torah on the internet violate the spirit of Shabbat/Chag? (Assuming you are isolated from others who you might otherwise be worshipping with.)

Posted by: Channah | Jun 16, 2008 11:25:24 PM

There is a service for people concerned about others visiting their website on shabbatot or chagim: http://www.shomershabes.com/shomershabes-eng/about.asp.

How does it work?:
"So, whenever a surfer visits the site a check is automatically made of his or her longitudinal and latitudinal location in the world and a calculation is immediately made of the Sabbath or Jewish holiday times currently in force based on a calculation of the date, time of sundown and appearance of the stars at a specific geographic location. That is to say two surfers can visit the site at the same time; the first during the Sabbath and the other on a normal weekday. The surfer who visits during the Sabbath (or during a Jewish holiday) will receive a notice that the site is now closed and will reopen at the end of the Sabbath giving exact times at his/her geographic location."

"The Spiritual Endorsement:
The system has been halachically endorsed by the erudite Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Shalita, and Rabbi Aharon Yerachi Shalita, and has won the ardent support of former Sephardi Rishon LeZion Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Shalita."

Posted by: Idit | Jun 19, 2008 4:59:07 AM

Channah, again, I would assume it doesn't matter if you are alone or with others. But I am not shomer shabbat (observing the sabbath)and have no training in Jewish Law, so perhaps someone else could answer that for you. As implied before, what I wrote above is just my assumption and a guess to your comment about the electrical issue.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 21, 2008 4:24:26 PM

I assume jaime will never see this, but I will clarify for completeness sake. If you are in a community setting, you should be worshipping in the community on Shabbat/Chag, and therefore have no particular need to use the internet to worship or study. There is a good argument in this cause for avoiding something which might be all right, but others don't think so. Also in this case, study materials are likely present at your synagogue, and your leaders can answer questions. OTOH, if you are miles and miles from any other Shabbat/Chag observers, and just can't get to them how do you celebrate by yourself? What if you also have little written information other than what is found in an ordinary translation of the Bible?

Posted by: Channah | Jun 23, 2008 4:34:55 PM

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