A Sephardic storekeeper notices that an Ashkenazic customer wishes to purchase egg matzah for Pesach. He wonders if he is permitted to sell him this item. As we learned last week, although Sephardic Jews may consume egg matzah on Pesach, Ashkenazic Jews are forbidden save for exceptional circumstances such as for a sick or elderly person. The Ashkenazic customer, though, appears robust and healthy. May the Sephardic proprietor sell this product to the Ashkenazic shopper?
Lifnei Iver Considerations
Providing forbidden items violates the Torah prohibition of lifnei iver lo titein michshol, placing a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14). Rav Ovadia Yosef accordingly rules (Teshuvot Yechave Daat 1:10) that it is forbidden for Sephardim to serve egg matzah to Ashkenazim even though Sephardim regard egg matzah as permissible. A precedent for this approach is the mishna (Yevamot 13b) that states that men and women from the families of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai used to marry each other. The Gemara explains that this occurred despite the fact that Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai had different standards regarding mamzeirut. They were not concerned that a prospective mate was a mamzer because they informed each other if a prospective mate would be considered a mamzer according to the other’s standards.
Accordingly, the Rama (Yoreh Deah 119:7) teaches that a host must inform his guest that a food item is forbidden to the guest by his standards, even though the host abides by the lenient standard. Thus, Chacham Ovadia (Teshuvot Yechave Daat 4:53) rules that one may not serve products whose kashrut depends upon the heter mechira if his guests do not subscribe to the heter mechira. Similarly, one should not serve milk that was not rabbinically supervised to someone who subscribes to the strict opinion regarding chalav Yisrael.
Rav Ovadia notes that one who does not obey these rulings violates the prohibition of lifnei iver lo titein michshol (Vayikra 19:14). Rashi (commentary to Vayikra 19:14) explains that the pasuk prohibits offering someone bad advice. Presenting someone with an item that is forbidden to him by his standards falls into the category of giving bad advice. This is similar to the Minchat Chinuch’s (mitzvah 232) assertion that one violates a Torah prohibition of lifnei iver if he facilitates the violation of a rabbinical prohibition by his bad advice.
Hence, kashrut organizations print on the boxes of egg matzah that Ashkenazim are forbidden to eat this product unless they are old or infirm. Bakery owners must prominently display signs that indicate which products are forbidden to Ashkenazim. However, what should one do if he sees an Ashkenazic Jew purchase egg matzah on Pesach?
Rav Ovadia rules that one may attribute (toleh) the purchase of egg matzah to a permitted purpose such as feeding it to a sick or older individual. The precedents to this ruling are as follows. The mishna (Shviit 5:8) teaches that one may sell an ox in the shemita year to a farmer who is lax in his observance of shemita. The Mishna permits us to be toleh that the farmer is purchasing the ox for a permitted purpose such as for slaughtering. The Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot Y.D.19) takes a similar approach regarding his ruling that a non-Jew is forbidden to eat eggs because it is defined as eating a limb from a live animal according to the halachic standards for Bnei Noach. He defends the accepted practice of Jews selling eggs to non-Jews, because the Jews are toleh that the non-Jews are purchasing the eggs for a purpose that is permitted to them.
Parenthetically, I am aware of one rav who instructed his congregants to avoid serving eggs to their non-Jewish workers because of the Chatam Sofer’s ruling. However, it appears that poskim have not accepted the ruling of the Chatam Sofer regarding eggs (see Encyclopedia Talmudit 3:131-132 where this ruling of the Chatam Sofer is merely referenced in a footnote, though Chacham Ovadia in his teshuva does not cite a divergent opinion). In fact, even the Chatam Sofer introduces this assertion by stating that it is a novel idea. One should consult his rabbi for a decision whether he must abide by this ruling of the Chatam Sofer.
The strength and vitality of llal Yisrael rests upon respecting and revering the diverse halachic practices of the various segments of the Jewish community. As MIT professor Dr. Jeremy England elegantly phrases it, “There are multiple faces to Har Sinai.” Each legitimate group has a rock-solid basis for its practices and we should respect and protect them. A synergy of the diverse sections of klal Yisrael is created when we value our differences. Hence, we are forbidden to cause someone to sin according to his standards even though we regard the matter as permissible. Nevertheless, we may give someone the benefit of the doubt when there is a plausible halachic justification for what he is doing.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.