The Case of the Suspecting Mother-in-Law: Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein Shlita

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    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

    It was an unexpected phone call that the Kallah teacher received.  A young lady had engaged her to prepare her in halacha.  And now, the young lady’s would be mother-in-law was on the phone.

    The woman said, “Our side is about to break-off this shidduch.  We have been made aware that the young lady is a kleptomaniac.  This is not something that we wish to deal with in our family. We also do not wish even to risk it. On the other hand, we did not wish to listen to false rumor without foundation.

    This is our request of you.  And, we fully understand if you do not wish to involve yourself.  We would like you to leave a one hundred dollar bill in a position where it appears to have been dropped by accident and is unnoticed to you.  We would like you to leave the room.  In this manner, you can test her to see if indeed she is a thief.  Once again, we understand if you do not wish to involve yourself.  But this is the last chance for this shidduch – as we have exhausted all other avenues of investigation.”

    The Kallah teacher was in a quandary.  She had no desire whatsoever to be involved in this skulking and underhanded activity.  On the other hand, if she could possibly save the shidduch of the young lady, perhaps she should do it.  She decided to pose the question to Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein.

    RAV ZILBERSTEIN’S RESPONSE

    Rav Zilberstein responded (in the Cheshvan 5781 edition of Vavei HaAmudim Vol. LXXXVI Siman 11) that she should first investigate with the Kallah’s friends.  If they tell her that the concern is far-fetched and remote – then the Kallah teacher should conduct the test – just to prove to the would-be mother-in-law that all is in order.  But if the friends respond that there is substance to the allegation – she should not involve herself in the test.

    Rav Zilberstein cited a responsum from the Sridei Aish (Vol. I #58) regarding a business owner who wish to test one of his employees   – as to whether or not he was trustworthy.  He wished to place money in a hidden spot and see if the employee would seek to find the owner or pocket it.  The Sridei Aish cited a Tosfos in Kiddushin 32a that one is still in violation of Lifnei Iver – even if at the outset, the owner of the money was mochel.

    The underlying question of course was the concept of Lifnei Iver – is it permitted to place a stumbling block before the employee.  Rav Zilberstein concluded that if the possibility of the infraction occurring is remote it is permissible to test.

    A FASCINATING CONTRADICTION

    In light of the recent passing of one of the Gedolei haDor, Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l, this author would like to recount a conversation he had with Rav Feinstein zt”l some 17 years ago.

    In the Talmudic texts that deal with the concept of Lifnei Iver – there is an apparent contradiction.  Depending upon how we resolve the apparent contradiction, we will gain new insight into the actual parameters and guidelines of Lifnei Iver – parameters and guidelines even beyond the cases under discussion themselves.  It is this author’s view that Rav Dovid Feinstein zatzal’s guidelines differ substantially from the guidelines of Rav Zilberstein shlita.

    There is a concept known in halacha as Tliya – that whenever it is possible to assume a permitted purpose, even if that possibility is statistically, or factually dubious, we do so.

    The Gemorah in Nedarim 62a tells us that Rav Ashi had an Avah, a forest, that he sold to an Avodah Zarah fire temple.  When asked about Lifnei Iver he responded that most of the wood would be for ordinary heating and not Avodah Zarah.  The Ran explains that it is permitted because of Teliya.  The Ran’s view is cited by the TaZ in YD 151.  The Chasam Sofer in a responsum (YD #9) fully explains this idea.

    On the other hand, there are other passages in the Gemorah that indicate that there is a prohibition of Lifnei Iver whenever a strong likelihood of a violation exists.  In Bava Metziah 75b, we see that it is a violation of Lifnei Iver to loan money when there are no witnesses.  There is also such an indication from Bava Metziah 5b.

    THREE APPROACHES TO RESOLVE THE CONTRADICTION

    One approach to resolving the contradiction is that whenever there is a greater probability of a violation than a non-violation then we do not assume a permitted purpose, and there is no lifnei Iver.  This is the approach of the HaGaos Tosfos Anshei Shaim in Mishnayos Shviis 5:7 and the TaZ in YD 151.  This is also the approach of Rav Zilberstein in the above case of the suspecting mother-in-law.

    Another approach is that the Talmudic cases that forbid it when the likelihood of a violation is stronger are only a Rabbinic Lifnei Iver (See Tzitz Eliezer Vol. IV 5:3).  [This would create an additional leniency, in case of a doubt, as we are more lenient on Rabbinic Lifnei Iver than Biblical Lifnei Iver.]

    REB DOVID’S APPROACH

    Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l related his approach to resolving the contradiction.  He explained that that if the action being performed will directly lead to a violation on the part of the recipient, and without him the recipient would not have had the desire to violate Halacha – then it is a violation of Lifnei Iver.  Rav Feinstein’s view is recorded in this author’s Sefer on Lifnei Iver entitled “Misguiding the Perplexed” on page 97. [It is also a possibility offered by the Tzitz Eliezer as well].

    CONCLUSION

    It is this author’s view that Reb Dovid Feinstein zt”l would not have agreed to Rav Zilberstein’s psak.  He would have instead ruled that the Kallah teacher would not have been permitted to test the Kallah if she would steal even if her friends had reassured her that there is no basis to the rumors.   Of course, this does not mean that one of these illustrious Poskim is incorrect, chalilah.  It just highlights the different approaches we find in halacha and in understanding of Gemorahs.

    The author would also like to point out that one could speak to Reb Dovid Feinstein zt”l in any sugyah in Shas at great depth.  This was on a moment’s notice.   We have suffered a great loss in his passing.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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