April 10, 2024
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Restaurants Serving Meat During the Nine Days: A Sephardic Approach

Owners of meat res­taurants face a dilemma during the Nine Days. If they refuse to serve meat items during this time, marginally observant and non-observant Jew­ish customers will likely choose to eat non-ko­sher meat elsewhere. The question is wheth­er Halacha permits storeowners to serve meat during the Nine Days to help prevent others from eating non-kosher food.

We will review the basis and development of the custom to avoid eating meat during the Nine Days and some of the parameters of the prohibition to cause others to sin, Linei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol (Vayikra 19:14). We will base our discussion on a teshuva of Hacham Ova­dia Yosef (Teshuvot Yehave Daat 3:38) who presents a characteristically Sephardic ap­proach to this issue. While each communi­ty adopts a policy appropriate to the spiritual needs of its own community, it is very worth­while sharing a Sephardic perspective on this important topic.

The Mishna (Taanit 26b) and Gemara (ibid. 30a) record the rabbinical prohibi­tion to eat meat during the Seudah Hamaf­seket, the last meal before the Tisha B’Av fast. There is no rabbinical prohibition to eat meat before the Seudah Hamafseket. The Rambam (Hilchot Taaniot 5:6) notes that the custom has emerged to abstain from eating meat during the entire week that Tisha B’Av occurs (e.g., if Tisha B’Av falls on Thursday, one would abstain from meat beginning the previous Saturday evening). The Rambam notes that some avoid eating meat beginning from Rosh Chodesh Av.

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Chaim 551:9) records three different practices in this re­gard. Some refrain from meat only during the week that Tisha B’Av is observed, some avoid eating meat during the entire Nine Days, and some avoid meat during the en­tire three weeks. The Rama (ibid.) notes the accepted practice among Ashkenazim is to refrain from eating meat during the Nine Days. Hacham Ovadia Yosef notes that the practice among both Sepharadim and Ash­kenazim in Israel is to abstain from eating meat during the entire Nine Days.

The members of Congregation Shaarei Orah, Teaneck’s Sefardic Congregation (who come from a wide variety of Sephardic sub-groupings) report that the custom to avoid eating meat during the Nine Days is practiced by Sepharadim in the Diaspora as well. One difference, though, between Ashkenazim and Sepharadim in this regard is that while Ashke­nazim do not eat meat on Rosh Chodesh Av (Mishnah Berurah 551:58), Sepharadim do eat meat on Rosh Chodesh Av (Rav Ovadia Yosef, Teshuvot Yechave Daat 1:41).

Halachic authorities view this custom very seriously. The Shulhan Aruch (O.H. 551:11) writes that one who violates this custom “will be bitten by a snake,” a term used by Halach­ic authorities to emphasize the importance of a particular custom and that it should not be lightly dismissed. In fact, the Aruch Hashulhan (O.H. 551:23) deplores the practice of some in his time (late 19th-century Lithuania) to disre­gard this custom. He writes that since our an­cestors have accepted this practice, it has be­come a “communal vow,” which is a Biblical obligation to uphold. He concludes that God will severely punish those who fail to observe this custom.

There are at least two explanations for this custom (see the Beit Yosef O.H. 551 s.v. Katav Hakolbo). First, the Gemara (Pesachim 109a) states that there cannot be a festive occasion unless meat is consumed. Thus, since the Nine Days are a time of mourning, we should avoid meat, as it is associated with joy. Another ex­planation is based on the Gemara in Bava Ba­tra (60b) that records that a proposal was made to abstain from meat entirely as an ex­pression of mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Chazal rejected this pro­posal because they felt that it was an edict that the majority of the community cannot tolerate. We see, however, from this passage in the Gemara that abstaining from meat is a form of mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

The Rema (O.C. 551:9), though, rules that a sick person may eat meat during the Nine Days.

Despite the seriousness of this practice, it is still only a custom and is not to be treat­ed with the same severity as a rabbinical ob­ligation. In fact, Poskim assume that our an­cestors did not intend to accept to observe customs in case of great need. A competent Halachic authority should be consulted to determine if a situation constitutes a great need to the extent that one may eat meat during the Nine Days.

Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol. According­ly, it is forbidden to serve meat to a healthy in­dividual who is a guest in one’s home during the Nine Days. However, the storeowner is in a somewhat different situation. There are many alternatives to his restaurant and the non-ob­servant Jew will eat at the non-kosher estab­lishment if the kosher restaurant does not serve meat during the Nine Days. The Gemara (Avo­da Zara 6b) states that the prohibition of Lifnei Iveir applies only in a situation of “Trei Avri De­nahara,” which literally means “two sides of the river.” This means that the prohibition applies only when one facilitates the performance of a sin that would have otherwise have been dif­ficult or impossible to perform. For example, if one brings wine to a Nazirite from one side of the river to another side of the river, he has vi­olated the Torah level prohibition of Lifnei Iver. Accordingly, the restaurateur does not violate the Torah level prohibition of Lifnei Iver since there are many other restaurants available to serve meat.

The Rishonim debate, though, wheth­er there is a rabbinical prohibition to assist someone to sin in a situation where there are many others available to assist in the perfor­mance of the sin. Tosafot in Avodah Zarah 6b (s.v. Minayin) imply that there is no prohibi­tion if it is not a situation of Trei Avri Denaha­ra. On the other hand, Tosafot in Shabbat 3a (s.v. Bava Dreisha) assert that there is a rab­binical prohibition to aid a sinner even if it is not a situation of Trei Avri Denahara. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 151:1) cites both opin­ions and concludes that common practice is to follow the lenient opinion but it is best to abide by the stricter opinion.

Thus, a restaurateur has a Halachic basis to serve meat during the Nine Days, as com­mon practice is to rely on the lenient opin­ion of Tosafot that appears in Avoda Zara 6b. In Israel, however, the situation is a bit more complicated. In Israel, Jews own the alterna­tive establishments that serve meat during the Nine Days. In such a situation, argues the Mishneh Lamelech (commenting on Ram­bam’s Hilchot Malveh Veloveh 4:2), the Torah level prohibition of Lifnei Iver applies even if it is not a Trei Avri Denahara situation. The Acharonim vigorously debate whether the Mishneh Lamelech is correct (for a summary and analysis of the opinions see Rav Yosef Sha­lom Eliashiv’s Kovetz Teshuvot number 20). It appears that the general consensus is that one should abide by the strict ruling of the Mish­neh Lamelech.

There might be another reason to permit serving meat during the Nine Days based on a controversial ruling of Rav Akiva Eiger. Rav Akiva Eiger (commenting to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 181:6) suggests that it is permis­sible for a woman to shave a man with a ra­zor if the man would have otherwise shaved himself with the razor. This is because if a man shaves himself with a razor he violates two prohibitions—the prohibition to shave with a razor and the prohibition to be shaved with a razor (see Makkot 20b and Shulchan Aruch Y. D. 181:4). However, a woman is not prohibit­ed to shave with a razor (see Kiddushin 29a). Thus, when a woman shaves a man with a ra­zor, the man violates only the prohibition to be shaved. This ruling is quite relevant for fe­male nurses who are required to shave male patients.

The logic for Rav Akiva Eiger is that the es­sence of the prohibition of Lifnei Iver is that one should not offer “bad advice” to another. Causing another to sin is certainly offering bad advice. However, if by one’s actions one mini­mizes the severity of the sin that would have been violated in any event, then he might in­deed be offering good advice rather than bad advice.

The Israel Chief Rabbinate permits meat restaurants to serve meat during the Nine Days because of a similar rationale. They are aware of the fact that in Israel today a very sig­nificant percentage of the population fit the description of the Gemara (Chullin 4a) that “Lo Shvak Heteirah Veachil Issura,” that they will not eat kosher if kosher food is available. Thus, they reason that it is certainly preferable that these people violate the minhag to abstain from meat during the Nine Days rather than vi­olate the Torah prohibition to eat non-kosher meat. Thus, the restaurateur is saving his cus­tomer from violating a severe transgression by serving him meat during the Nine Days.

Although many authorities do not accept the approach of Rav Akiva Eiger (see the sourc­es cited in Rav Eliezer Waldenberg’s Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 15:19), Hacham Ovadia Yosef en­dorses the approach of the Israeli Chief Rab­binate. He notes that one may rule leniently because we are dealing with the question of the observance of a custom, and the fact that some authorities reject the aforementioned stringent approach of the Mishneh Lamelech. Although the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s lenient approach is somewhat debatable, it certain­ly is an expression of love and concern for the spiritual health of all of Am Yisrael.

This author followed this ruling in a case presented to him by a congregant. The con­gregant prepared and sold meat sandwich­es to not yet observant Israelis for lunch. If they refused to sell meat to them during the Nine Days the customers would almost cer­tainly purchase their sandwiches at a non-ko­sher establishment (and might continue to do so after Tisha B’Av as well). Following Hacham Ovadia’s ruling, I permitted the congregant to continue to serve meat sandwiches during the Nine Days.

This is a typical Sephardic approach, which stresses love and concern for all Jews. This love is reciprocated by almost all Sephardic Jews, who even if they do not yet observe all of the Torah’s laws, observe some basics such as Kashrut and Taharat Habayit and visit an Or­thodox synagogue at least a few times year­ly. With God’s help the love shown by Hacham Ovadia for all Jews will lead all Jews to live their lives fully in accordance with Torah Law. We hope this, in turn, will usher in an era in which the mourning of the Nine Days will be trans­formed to a time of joy.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

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