Lifnei Iver - Part Two

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The last shiur addressed a basic structural question regarding the prohibition of "lifnei iver lo titen mikhshol" (do not place a stumbling block before the blind).  Does the prohibition consist of placing the "stumbling block," - namely creating a situation which would facilitate future transgression? Or does the violation consist of your role in the future transgression itself? Among the issues considered was the possibility of violating lifnei iver when your action occurs well before the actual transgression is performed.  This shiur will address a separate (but possibly related) issue: Is the prohibition of lifnei iver considered part of the "base transgression" or does it constitute a completely separate and independent category? Said otherwise, if one violates lifnei iver is it considered as if he violated the very prohibition whose transgression he facilitated? Or do we consider him as having violated an independent prohibition unrelated to the transgression whose performance he assisted? (See the AFTERWORD for interesting parallels to this concept.) 


     The most explicit hint that a transgression of lifnei iver is considered a transgression of the "base" prohibition can be located within an interesting debate between the Ba'al Hama'or and Ramban surrounding the events of Purim.  These Rishonim debate the justification for Esther (whom Chazal claim was legally married to Mordechai) consenting to her marriage to Achashverosh.  The gemara in Sanhedrin poses two solutions, and these in turn are dissected by the Rishonim.  At one point in his discussion, the Ba'al Hama'or implies that the requirement to die rather than violate one of the three cardinal sins applies to lifnei iver of these sins as well.  Just as a Jew must surrender his life rather than murder, worship false gods, or engage in illicit relations, so must he avoid committing lifnei iver for these prohibitions at the cost of his life.  Evidently, the Ba'al Hama'or defined lifnei iver as an integral part of the base prohibition.  Just as the violation of the base prohibition must be avoided even at the cost of death, so too must the associated lifnei iver be avoided at this cost.


     A related question might be the relevance of lifnei iver to a Gentile.  As a Gentile is only commanded in seven mitzvot, he might not be obligated to avoid lifnei iver – unless, of course, lifnei iver is considered part of the base prohibition.  For example, if assisting theft is considered as theft proper, a Gentile (commanded against theft) would be prohibited from this behavior.  The simple reading of the gemara in Avoda Zara (14a) suggests that lifnei iver would indeed apply to a Gentile.  Tosafot, however, in Avoda Zara (15b) s.v. l'oved, reinterpret the gemara to claim that lifnei iver does not apply to a Gentile.


     Yet a third manifestation of our question would pertain to the applicability of lifnei iver to someone who is not commanded against the transgression he is facilitating.  For example, can a non-Kohen facilitate a transgression for his Kohen friend if that transgression does not apply to him? This question also arises within the context of Tosafot in Bava Metzia 10b (examined in the previous shiur).  Tosafot claim that a Jew who serves as an agent to betrothe a divorcee to a Kohen has violated lifnei iver.  As stated in the previous shiur, the Ritva in Kiddushin (32b) argues with Tosafot since the ultimate prohibition will only be concluded when the Kohen lives with his wife.  As that culmination occurs after the accomplice has already concluded his participation, no violation of lifnei iver has occurred.  However, there is a different way to question Tosafot's position.  Since a non-Kohen Jew is not prohibited from marrying a divorcee, how can he violate lifnei iver when assisting a kohen in this prohibition?  If lifnei iver is merely an extension of the base prohibition only those commanded in the base prohibition can violate lifnei iver. 


Interestingly enough, Tosafot's position seems consistent: Lifnei iver is a separate category, unrelated to the original prohibition.  A Gentile is not obligated by this separate category (as it is not included in his seven commandments), while a Jew violates this prohibition even if he assists a violation which he himself is not proscribed from. 


     A second but related conclusion emerges from this Tosafot.  They claim that since the agent is not prohibited from marrying a divorcee (even though he violates lifnei iver), his mission is valid.  In general, the gemara rules that "ein shali'ach lidvar aveira" (agency to commit a transgression is disqualified), yet in this instance, since the agent is not subject to this prohibition, the agency is valid.  This statement as well suggests that Tosafot did not consider a lifnei iver accomplice as someone who violated the base prohibition.  Had Tosafot believed this, he would have cancelled the agency based on the lifnei iver prohibition – since in fact this prohibition is merely an extension of the base prohibition. 


     In conclusion, it is important to assess the relationship between the question addressed in this week's shiur and the one posed in the previous one.  On the surface the questions are unrelated.  The previous shiur posed a STRUCTURAL question: Does the prohibition consist of the creation of this halakhic hazard or in the actual participatory role which your actions play in the final transgression?  By contrast, our current question is a NOMINAL issue relating to the categorization of lifnei iver within the base prohibition or as a separate track.  Yet, there seems to be some linkage between the two issues.  Certainly, if lifnei iver is categorized as part of the original issur, we would focus primarily upon the facilitating effect upon the ultimate transgression.  Halakha would define an act which ultimately evokes a transgression as a violation of that prohibition proper.  If, however, lifnei iver constitutes a completely independent category, we would be free to highlight the very creation of halakhic hazard, even if it did not ultimately directly pave the way to the actual prohibition. 



This NOMIMAL question about the possibility of categorizing "extension" mitzvot as part of the base arises in several parallel locations.  Most relatedly, the question applies to the inverse of lifnei iver - the mitzva of arvut, to assist others in the performance of a mitzva.  Is the mitzva of arvut considered an independent obligation: Namely, beyond my obligation to blow shofar, I must also assist others in the performance of this mitzva? Or is arvut an incorporated part of my base mitzva: Until I have assisted others in their mitzva of shofar, I have not fully performed my own mitzva of shofar. 



     Another area in which this question arises is the prohibition of marit ayin – to avoid actions which even resemble a prohibition.  A similar question arises: Is marit ayin a separate track of avoiding arousing people's suspicion, or do we view it as an extension of each and every particular prohibition?  For example, would potential marit ayin of the three cardinal sins also require submission to death? (This interestingly enough, is also the subject of a debate between the Ba'al Hama'or and Ramban in Avoda Zara.)