Parashat Toldot: The Obligation of a Blind Person Regarding Mitzvot
The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #06: The Obligation of a Blind Person Regarding Mitzvot
By Rav Binyamin Tabory
In our parasha, Yitzchak asked Esav to take his gear, hunt an animal and prepare a meal (Bereishit 27:1-4). Rashi comments that the request to take his gear implies that he should prepare his knife properly so that the shechita would be kosher. Yitzchak also intimated that Esav should not steal the animal. In fact, Esav's reply hinted that if he would not be successful in his hunt, he would steal an animal for his father's meal (Rashi ad loc.).
The Kli Chemda (R. Meir Dan Plotzki) and other Acharonim raised the question of why Yitzchak deemed it necessary to tell Esav his halakhic requirements. Would Esav, who was so meticulous in honoring his father, have brought him non-kosher food? Even if Esav would be personally inclined to steal, how could he give stolen food to his revered father?
One answer is that inasmuch as Yitzchak was legally blind, Esav felt that his father was exempt from all halakhic obligations. It therefore follows that Yitzchak could eat non-kosher or even stolen food. However, despite the letter of the law, Yitzchak asked Esav to bring him kosher food.
Let us determine the halakhic status of the blind and see if this answer is tenable.
The gemara (Kiddushin 31a) cites the opinion of Rav Yehuda that a blind person is "patur" (exempt) from all mitzvot. Apparently, this issue was subject to dispute, as can be deduced from an incident related in that gemara. Rav Yosef (who himself was blind) offered to host a festive meal if he would be informed that the Halakha follows the opinion of Rav Yehuda. He felt that fulfilling the mitzvot, even though he was not obligated, would reflect a great commitment to God. However, he was told that the person who IS commanded and fulfills the mitzvot is on a higher level than one who fulfills even though he is not commanded. He therefore reversed his position and said he would host the meal if he would be told that the Halakha is not in accordance with Rav Yehuda, and a blind person is obligated in all mitzvot.
The Peri Megadim (introduction to Shulkhan Arukh, OC Part 3) maintains that, even according to Rav Yehuda, a blind person is exempt only from positive mitzvot, but is obligated in all the negative mitzvot (i.e. he cannot violate prohibitions). According to this opinion, no one would permit a blind person either to eat non-kosher food or to steal.
However, the Noda Bi-Yehuda (Responsa 112 of Orach Chaim) questions this premise. He cites the Tosafot (Bava Kama 87a), who say that even according to Rav Yehuda, a blind person is required by the Rabbis to observe all biblical laws. Tosafot assume that the Rabbis obligated the blind to observe mitzvot in order that they would not seem to be non-Jews. The Noda Bi-Yehuda asks: if the blind would be obligated in negative mitzvot, why would he not "appear" Jewish? He would not be allowed to work on Shabbat or eat non-kosher food or eat chametz on Pesach. Moreover, one could argue that he would have to make kiddush on Shabbat and eat matza on Pesach, inasmuch as they are connected to a negative mitzva. [The gemara (Pesachim 43b) says that anyone who is enjoined from eating chametz must eat matza. The gemara (Berakhot 20b) says that anyone who is forbidden to work on Shabbat must make kiddush.] Therefore, the Noda Bi-Yehuda reasons that the argument of Tosafot that a blind person would seem to be not Jewish implies that he is not obligated in any biblical laws and could, in fact, eat non-kosher food.
Would he also be permitted to steal? The Minchat Chinukh (Mitzva 2) maintains that even if a blind person is not commanded in all biblical mitzvot, his status is not less than that of a Noachide, and he must observe the seven Noachide laws.
The Minchat Chinukh further adds (Mitzva 26) that he is unique and differs from a non-Jew in several respects. Firstly, he would not be punished as a Noachide. Secondly, whereas a Noachide is not allowed to observe Shabbat, he would certainly be allowed to do so. Presumably, the restriction of teaching Torah to a non-Jew (Chagiga 10a) would also not apply to him.
To summarize: there is an opinion that a blind person is obligated in all biblical and rabbinic laws. Rav Yehuda maintains that he is exempt from biblical mitzvot. There are two ways to understand Rav Yehuda's position: a) he is exempt only from positive mitzvot but obligated in negative mitzvot (Peri Megadim); b) he may also be exempt from negative mitzvot (Noda Be-Yehuda), but it seems inconceivable that he is not obligated at least in Noachide laws (Minchat Chinukh).
Inasmuch as Rav Yosef was undecided which opinion was accepted as halakha, there is a dispute among the codifiers. The Ran (Kiddushin 31a) says that since Rav Yehuda argued with Chakhamim, the general rule would be that the halakha is like the majority. Indeed, the Ran maintains that Rav Yosef himself knew this and merely discussed the issue in theory. Rabbeinu Yerucham (Sefer Adam 5:4) is one of the few scholars who said that the halakha follows Rav Yehuda. Latter day poskim, such as Arukh Ha-Shulchan (58a) and the Mishna Berura (53:41), all follow the majority and say that a blind person is obligated in all mitzvot. Even according to Rabbeinu Yerucham, a blind person is required by rabbinic law to observe all mitzvot.
The Rashba (Bava Kama 87a) clearly argues with this opinion and says that the Rabbis did not obligate a blind person to perform mitzvot according to Rav Yehuda.
It therefore follows that no opinion would allow a blind person to steal, and it seems surprising that Yitzchak felt it necessary to tell Esav not to steal. On the other hand, it is permitted by biblical law for a blind person to eat non-kosher food according to the Peri Megadim's understanding of Rav Yehuda. Yitzchak did not wish to eat non-kosher food and therefore told Esav to slaughter the animal properly.