07. Marit Ayin and Causing a Jew to Sin

Every case where we have learned that a Jew may rent his store or factory to a non-Jew or give his field to a non-Jewish sharecropper applies only where there is no marit ayin (“appearance” of transgression). However, if the site is known to be Jewish-owned, and those who see it operating on Shabbat are liable to suspect the owner of hiring non-Jews to work for him on Shabbat, such rental or profit-sharing arrangements are prohibited.

This is what the Sages meant when they forbade a Jew to contract his bathhouse to a non-Jew to operate on Shabbat. Since generally bathhouses were run by day laborers, people who saw the bathhouse open on Shabbat would suspect that a Jew had desecrated Shabbat by hiring non-Jews. This could breach the boundaries of Shabbat, as others might begin hiring non-Jews to work for them on Shabbat. However, if it was publicly announced that the Jew rented the bathhouse to a non-Jew, it is permitted. So too, if the widespread local custom is to operate bathhouses under profit-sharing arrangements, the custom may be followed (SA 243:1-2).[8]

The same applies to a store. If it is known that a store is Jewish-owned, one may not rent it out to a non-Jew who will open it on Shabbat, because of marit ayin. However, if it has been publicly announced that the store has been rented to a non-Jew, it is not prohibited.

Even if there is a possibility that Jews who do not observe Shabbat will enter this store and shop there on Shabbat, the Jew is not viewed as aiding their transgression, since they could buy what they need in a different store. However, if most prospective customers are Jews, and keeping the store open breaches the boundaries of Shabbat, then the arrangement is prohibited (see Tzitz Eliezer 13:39).[9]


[8]. The Sages distinguished between different cases: If a melakha is performed outside the teĥum, one need not be concerned about marit ayin (SA 244:1). It is important to be aware that big businesses stand to lose large amounts of money if they do not operate on Shabbat. In such cases, even if the business is known to belong to a Jew, a profit-sharing arrangement can be made with a non-Jew. The Jew may even buy the business le-khatĥila with such an arrangement in mind (SA 244:6). One may be lenient to prevent a large potential profit from being forfeited (Igrot Moshe, OĤ 4:53). One may rent a business to a non-Jew for all Shabbatot (Rema, ad loc.). It is preferable to rent it for a few hours on Friday as well, so that the Shabbat rent can be subsumed within the weekday (see BHL ad loc. s.v. “de-vimkom” and MB 243:16). Additionally, when dealing with big businesses, there is less concern about marit ayin, because whatever the companies do is generally public knowledge.At first glance, it seems problematic to forbid certain arrangements because of marit ayin, as doing so would seem to violate the principle that we do not make a protective fence around a protective fence (“gezeira li-gezeira”). After all, the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do melakha is already rabbinic. So why disallow these arrangements? Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 244:1) explains that the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do melakha is supported by a verse and therefore treated more stringently than regular rabbinic rules.

[9]. Binyan Tziyon §15 and Meshiv Davar 2:31 permit a Jew to assign work to a non-Jewish contractor who has Jewish employees who might work on Shabbat, because even without him they would desecrate Shabbat; thus, the Jew does not transgress lifnei iver (“Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind” – Vayikra 19:14). If he were to assign them the work on Shabbat, he would be viewed as aiding (mesayei’a) their violation. However, when it is assigned before Shabbat, there is no prohibition. This point is made in the book Amira Le-nokhri 77:16. Along the same lines, Maharsham 2:184 permits renting one’s home to Shabbat desecrators. However, if most customers of a rented store will be Jews, R. Eliezer Waldenberg forbids the rental (Tzitz Eliezer 13:39). It seems correct to be stringent when such an arrangement will breach the boundaries of Shabbat.

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Editor: Nechama Unterman