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14.04.2015 13:29    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  shemini  

“You shall not eat them for they are an abomination”

You shall not feed them –cautioning adults regarding minors

The Torah has been interpreted in several sources as teaching that Jews must not only refrain from committing transgressions but also prevent aiding and abetting other Jews to transgress. For example, the prohibition against eating unclean animals and birds, insects and swarming creatures is addressed twice in Sifra:[1]

“The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination…” (Lev. 11:13-46)—to place responsibility on the one who feeds others just as on the one who eats…just as I observe the command not to eat them, so a person who feeds others incurs responsibility just like the one who eats.

Similar warnings are repeatedly made to minors regarding the prohibition against eating abominable things and crawling creatures, as in Tractate Yevamot 114a: These ye shall not eat, for they are a detestable thing [is to be understood as] ‘you shall not allow them to eat’, this being a warning to the older men concerning the young children.”[2] Likewise, about eating blood, Sifra teaches: “ ‘You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh’ (Lev. 17:14)—to caution adults about children”;[3] “‘No person among you shall partake of blood’ (Lev. 17:12)—to caution adults about children”; and with respect to uncleanness of priests: “‘Speak…and say to them’ (Lev. 21:1)—to caution adults about children”: adults must take care not to cause children to transgress, doing that which the Torah forbids. These warnings are dwelled regarding children more than adults, because children do not know to distinguish between what is forbidden and what is permitted, and do not have the strength to stick to their position and oppose someone who tries to make them violate religious proscriptions.

The amoraim discussed the case of a “minor who eats nevelah (= animal that died as result of anything other than ritual slaughter): must the forbidden thing be taken away from the minor or not? While Rabbi Johanan is doubtful on the point and in the light of this doubt the adult, or the court, is obliged to take away the forbidden thing from the minor, by the ruling of Rabbi Pedath on a case presented to him it follows that there is no obligation to keep the minor from the prohibited thing. Here we present the case at issue:[4]

Rabbi Isaac b. Bisna once lost the keys of the school house in a public domain on a Sabbath. When he came to Rabbi Pedat the latter said to him, ‘Go and lead forth some boys and girls [to the spot] and let them take a walk there, for if they find [the keys] they will bring them back.’

Rabbi Pedat’s opinion pertained to the prohibition against carrying on the Sabbath, but further on in the Talmudic discussion the difficulty is noted that the sources from midrash halakhah which we quoted and the parallel texts in Tractate Yevamot’s discussion of issues pertaining to priestly purity, reptiles and the prohibition against eating blood[5] all indicate that it is incumbent upon “adults to caution children,”[6] meaning that the court or any Jew must keep children away from that which is forbidden. The argument is made there that one must distinguish between not being obliged to prevent a minor from doing on his own accord something which is prohibited, as opposed to being forbidden to “feed with their own hands” proscribed foods to a minor.

What is meant by the prohibition of “feeding with one’s own hands,” and how does it differ from not being obliged to prevent a minor from eating nevelah or terefah? Is this proscription limited to literally feeding a child with one’s hands, or is instructing another person (who is not Jewish) to feed a child food forbidden by the Torah considered “feeding him”? What about the case of a child who is placed in a foster home or an institution where children are given non-kosher food?

A halakhic ruling by the tosafist Rabbi Barukh b. R. Yitzhak, author of Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, asserts:[7]

It is forbidden to anoint the body of an infant with pig fat, for that is nothing short of pleasure; but one may let a gentile anoint them and feed them; it is not forbidden by the principle that “adults must caution the children” (Yevamot 114a), except if they anoint or feed the child with their own hands.

Ostensibly this distinction holds with regard to all minors irrespective of their physical or mental condition. It was adopted plainly as put by Rabbi Moshe Sofer, author of Hatam Sofer, in the important responsum[8] in which the guardians of an orphan with insanity wished to place him “in a school for the deaf and insane, that he be educated there; although he would then be entrusted to people of another faith, not of our people, and so it would be impossible to provide him food, drink and other of his needs in accordance with the laws of the Torah; and now he is around seven years old.” The child required treatment in an institution so that he could improve his abilities. Basing his responsum on Rabbenu Barukh, Rabbi Moshe Sofer ruled that it was not forbidden to place the child in the institution. However, after his far-reaching lenient answer, at the end of his responsum he noted:

This, in my humble opinion, appears to be the essence of the law: in any event, our predecessors of blessed memory attested that by eating forbidden foods in one’s youth the heart becomes stupefied and produces a bad nature; nevertheless, I still say that it is better for him to remain insane his entire life…

Therefore he restricted institutionalizing to insane children, and even then, only until they come of age to be bound by the commandments. Rabbi Yitzhak Blazer disagreed with the Hatam Sofer, interpreting Rabbi Barukh’s words differently in his responsum:[9]

The position taken by Sefer Mitzvot Gadol in the name of Rabben Barukh—that one may let a non-Jew anoint them and feed them—does not mean that it is permitted to tell a gentile to anoint them and feed them; for this is surely forbidden. What this means is that if the gentile of his own accord anoints and feeds them, the gentile need not be prevented from doing so.

He explained his reasoning:

In my humble opinion it seems that to tell a gentile to feed a minor something forbidden…is also like feeding with one’s own hands. Primarily what we learn about adults cautioning the children, which is understood by the gemara as “not to feed with their own hands,” is that this does not mean actually feeding with their hands the way one might feed an ox; rather, it also forbids telling the person to eat something forbidden. This is as explained in the discussion there, that “a person should not tell a young child, ‘bring me the key,’” as set forth by the rishonim (early rabbinic authorities).

Rabbi Yitzhak Blazer based his innovative ruling on primary Talmudic sources, some of which we have presented above. Rabbi Blazer appears to have been the first to interpret “feeding” as causing someone to eat, even when a minor actually receives his food from a gentile third party.

Like the Hatam Sofer, the eminent halakhic authority of our time Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked regarding “whether the father could place his insane daughter in a state-run institution where forbidden foods are served.” The daughter had been “insane from early childhood and according to doctors suffered from an incurable mental condition.” Rabbi Moshe Feinstein followed the approach of the Hatam Sofer and expressed the opinion that institutionalizing the daughter did not constitute “feeding with one’s own hands.” Regarding the Hatam Sofer’s stricture that permission to institutionalize only applied to minors, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein made a distinction between the case brought to the Hatam Sofer and the case presented to him:[10]

Clearly this pertains only to the case where the person can be cured by the teachers educating him to the point of being able to undertake to obey the commandments; then stupefaction of the heart as a result of having eating forbidden foods in the period of insanity might cause the person to do things which, having become bound by the commandments, would make the person wicked in the eyes of G-d. But in a case where by nature the person will not be cured and will never reach the point of being bound by the commandments, even stupefying the heart will not lead to the person being wicked in the eyes of G-d, and there will never be any strict expectations of the person. And, if the Holy One, blessed be He, should happen to work a miracle such that the girl become cured and mentally competent, the her heart will surely not have become stupefied, for the Holy One, blessed be He, would not work a miracle that causes there to be more wicked people in the world. Therefore, I say it is permitted, as set forth by the Hatam Sofer.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s stand amounts to an independent approach of his own. The fear of “stupefaction” only applies to the insane who, when they become sane, will allow themselves everything as a result of having eaten forbidden foods. But when there is no chance of the patient’s condition improving, there is no need to fear “stupefaction.”

We conclude from his remarks that not only a minor, but any person whose condition is unlikely to improve, even an adult, may be placed in an institution. Rabbi Feinstein does not separate the case of insanity which might be cured from that of mental retardation. Rabbi Feinstein’s position is challenged by Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg, who holds that the Hatam Sofer’s ruling that a minor may be placed in a closed institution applies only to minors, and only until they reach majority, and that permission to institutionalize the person only applies when there is a chance the person’s condition will improve. Putting the mentally retarded, whose mind is “weak,” in an institution where he or she will be given forbidden foods,[11] in his view is never permissible.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

* Prof. Gilat teaches at the law school of the Netanya Academic College and the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University.

[1] Sifra, Shemini, chapter 5.1 (Weiss ed., p. 50a); chapter 12.1 (p. 57a).

[2] Sifra, Shemini, chaper 12.2 (Weiss ed., p. 57a): “What if someone were to feed them to minors? Therefore we are taught: ‘they shall not be eaten.’”

[3] Aharei Mot, 11.12 (Weiss ed., p. 84b); loc. cit., chapter 8.6 (Weiss ed., ibid.): “‘Therefore I say to the Israelite people: No person among you shall partake of blood’—to caution adults about minors.”

[4] Loc. cit., 113b.

[5] Yevamot 114a.

[6] Ibid. Also Sifra de-be Rav (I. H. Weiss) Shemini, chapter 12.2; loc. cit., Aharei Mot, chapter 8.6.

[7] Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Negative Commandments, 65. Also cited in Yam Shel Shlomo, Yevamot, chapter 14, halakhah 8.

[8] Resp. Hatam Sofer, Orah Hayyim, par. 83.

[9] Resp. Pri Yitzhak, Part I, par. 12.

[10] Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim, Part 2, par. 89.

[11] Resp. Tzitz Eliezer, Part 14, par. 69.

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