Some of the more confusing halachas

It is forbidden to give a child (of any age) something that will cause him to violate a commandment. For example, one may not feed non-kosher food even to an infant.  For me that went without saying, but in halacha a fine distinction is made, with some of the “law”.  Here is one illustration that is very confusing to me.

Dan comes home from shul on Shabbat evening and finds that the light in his bedroom was mistakenly left on. This will make it difficult for him to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Can he encourage his child to turn off the light?

We just learned that one may not give a child something that will cause him to violate a commandment. However, it is permitted to place a forbidden item in front of a small child, for the child to play with as s/he sees fit. Therefore, one could hold a very small child (age 2) in front of a light switch, and even “hint” to the child by saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play with this knob?!” ( Children in Halacha p. 67)

Further, if the child is only breaking Shabbat on a rabbinic level, and the act is something that the child needs, the child needs not be stopped from doing so. (Talmud–Yevamet 113-4; Orach Chaim 343:1 with Mishah Berurach, and Blur Halacha s.v. M’Divrei Sofrim).  For example, on Shabbat where though there is no eruv, a child may be given a prayer book to carry to the synagogue, provided that the child will be using it there. (Biur Halacha 343).  

There are many Halacha like this that really seem hard to understand.  Yes, by all means I will ask my Rabbi but I just wanted to get your thoughts on issues like this one.

Another question that has always found its way to question for me is a very simple one.

A non-Jewish friend comes to visit and I know s/he eats pork and I want to offer them something to drink.  Do I give them a disposable cup and possibly offend them or allow them to drink from my glass?  If it is my glass then what do I do with the glass?

I know that many of you may see this as things that don’t require thought but for a person practicing Judaism, it is all important.

The Schwartz family has run out of baby formula for their infant, and has run out of medicine for their 2-year-old. They may ask a non-Jew to drive to the store and make these purchases for them on Shabbat.

For me this would fall under the rule of a stranger in your home.  But it seems that this is allowed.  Why would I encourage another to break the law of Shabbat?  Rather s/he is a Jew or not.  Is it not important to teach the world the importance of Shabbat?  If not, why?



One thought on “Some of the more confusing halachas

  1. Hello Nitza,

    The more you learn the more you will realise there are hundreds of these types of contradictions some more serious than others and some down to personal practice rather than the accepted viewpoint. Like it is permissible to nullify the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashannah (a Torah command) if it falls on Shabbat because we are afraid someone might ‘carry it’ to someone to be repaired if broken (a rabbinic command today). Now because most places we carry outside today are halachically defined as a ‘Karmelis’ (a rabbinic area) it is a rabbinic transgression not a Torah transgression to carry something outside on Shabbat. The Torah area, ‘A Reshut HaRabim’, hardly exists today in most countries according to its halachic definition and certainly not in 99.9% of populated areas. You would have to get a very wide and VERY busy motorway, almost, to find a Reshut HaRabim and I don’t think anyone will cross one of those on Shabbat (or at least no one in their right mind anyway). So above a Torah command is nullified for the observance of a Rabbinic command. The way it is learned is that the Rabbis have the authority to nullify a Torah command in certain cases. You can learn about this in the Talmud Yevamot 89b-90b. It is worth noting that the rabbis should only nullify a Torah command to preserve another Torah command but nowadays the nullification is done even though it preserves a rabbinic command!!!

    Many disagree with even letting a young child do as you said due to the possible dangers of going beyond the leniency. For example, I once went to a Seudah at a Chassidic family’s house on Shabbat. They came home and the timer had malfunctioned for their lights. The switch to get it back on was high up near the ceiling! They had a child aged 3 years old and the last thing he was thinking of was the switch near the top of the ceiling. So the father got a broom, turned it around so the end of the handle was on the switch (about 7 foot or so high), called his son, held him and gave him the broom (with his wife’s help). The child at first looked in bewilderment. Then he looked at the father who said nothing but nodded towards the switch. The child looked at the brush, then his father, smiled and “Hey Presto!” switched on the lights! Now that’s what you call, ‘Jumping through the loops.’ If that wasn’t giving a child something I do not know what is.

    A Simple Jew.

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