Marit Ayin, Perception and Not Giving into Ignorance

On the daf we did erev Pesach, Menachot 40, we saw that because of various concerns R. Eliezer son of R. Tzaddok said (perhaps in explanation of the position of Beit Shamai) that it was prohibited to wear wool techelet tzitizt on a linen garment.  In explaining what the concern may have been, Rebbe [Yehudah haNassi] states that the concern was the reaction of those who would see this phenomenon  and who were not conversant in the law.

Rebbe does not explicate what exactly people might think or say, but Rashi explains that they would not be aware that there was a special allowance to have shatnez tzitzit – to use wool strings on a linen garment.  As a result of seeing this phenomenon of shatnez tzitzit and not knowing the law, people would – Rashi explains – come to allow shatnez in general.

The Gemara, however, objects that this is a legitimate concern, and asks that if the problem is people’s ignorance, than rather than giving into this ignorance, we should try to correct it.  Let’s just make a public display of this permitted behavior, says the Gemara!  The Gemara rejects this, stating that people’s beliefs will not change as a result – they will just think that everyone else is doing something wrong!  The Gemara understands human nature and the nature of ignorance or mistaken beliefs.    People do not abandon mistaken beliefs so easily, says the Gemara.  Even presented with behavior of others to the contrary, people will dig in their heels and see the problem lies in those others, and not in themselves.

Still, the Gemara is not willing to give in to people’s ignorance, and it states that if public demonstration won’t do the trick, then people should be educated correctly, and that the Rabbis should use their “pulpit” as an opportunity to educate people.  The Gemara actually accepts this argument, and moves on to suggest other explanations of what R. Eliezer’s concerns could be.

It is quite understandable why the Gemara accepts this argument.  The entire enterprise of the Rabbis was, after all, talmud Torah, the teaching of Torah and educating every person as to correct Torah laws and religious principles.   Consider the contrast to medieval Christianity which aimed to keep the masses ignorant and to have the priests as the sole caretakers of religious knowledge -and all knowledge for that matter.   The entire endevor of the Gemara, in contrast, is based on the belief that all Jews needed to learn and be educated, that ignorance was an evil that must be fought against, and that teaching had the power to uproot ignorance and to change people’s beliefs and actions.

This approach – to refuse to give into ignorance and to refuse to conform one’s actions accordingly – finds echo in a teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein.  In Iggrot Moshe OH 1:96, Rav Moshe responds to a rabbi who rebuked him (!) for driving to shul after candlelighting, before sunset, becuase in many people’s eyes this looks like a violation of Shabbat.  Rav Moshe responds in a beautiful teshuva, in which every line brims with the humanity and the humility of Rav Moshe.  He thanks this rabbi both at the beginning and at the end for his willingness to rebuke him, and his concern for protecting the honor of Shabbat and the Torah.  More significantly, Rav Moshe, after rejecting any tinge of any halakhic concern regarding his activity, states that because this rabbi believes that his – Rav Moshe’s – driving to shul after candlelighting will have a deleterious affect on people’s Shabbat, he – Rav Moshe – will attempt to change his behavior and to no longer do this in the future!  Such a teshuva leaves us astounded by not only Rav Moshe’s humanity – which is well known – but also his profound humility.

What is most significant in our context, is how he addresses the concern of marit ayin.  This rabbi told Rav Moshe that some people are not aware that a man [who is not assumed to accept Shabbat at candellighting] is allowed to do melakha after candlelighting, and thus they will think that Rav Moshe is violating Shabbat  Rav Moshe states that this does not constitute marit ayinMarit Ayin is when people know the law, but are not aware of the facts, for example, seeing a person eat a hamburger with soy cheese on it.  Since people are not responsible to know the specific facts of other people’s lives, we have to be concerned that they will (reasonably) think that this is a real cheeseburger and thus we have to forbid such activity based on marit ayin.  [This is different if people know that soy cheese is common.]

Rav Moshe clarifies that in his case people did know the facts – that he and other men did not accept Shabbat upon themselves – so the only issue is that they might be misinformed about the halakha.  This, says Rav Moshe, does not warrant prohibiting the activity because of marit ayin.  Eachoing the sentiment of our Gemara, he states that we need not give in to people’s ignorance.  The goal is to make sure that they are better informed, not to accept their ignorance and reinforce it.  Here is the critical paragraph for our concerns, and what follows is the teshuva in full.

ורק אפשר יש איזה נשים טועות שחושבות שמזמן הדלקת הנרות אסור אף לאנשים לא שייך לאסור בזה משום מראית העין, דלא איכפת לן שיודעו האמת שלאנשים מותר כיון שעדיין לא קבלו שבת. 

At most it is possible that there are a few women who are misinformed (lit. err) and think that from the time of candlelighting it is forbidden even for men – for this concern there is no basis toprohibit [such activity] due tomarit ayin.   For it is of no matter to us that they should know the truth – that for men it is permissible [to do melakha at this time], since they have still not accepted Shabbat upon themselves.

Here is the entire teshuva, from Iggrot Moshe, OH, 1:96.

בדבר נסיעה לאנשים בקאר /במכונית/ אחר הדלקת הנרות לביהמ”ד סמוך ערך שני מינוטין /דקות/ לכל היותר אם יש איזה חשש איסור מע”כ ידידי יר”ש ר’ משה מעצגער נ”י. 

In the matter of men in a car after candlelighting [on Friday night] togo toa beit hamidrash which is at most 2 minutes away.  Is there any possible prohibition?  To the honorable R. Moshe Mezger.

נהנתי מאד אשר מע”כ נזדרז לקיים מצות תוכחה לפי דעתו ותשואות חן חן למע”כ וח”ו לי להקפיד בזה, ואי”ה בלא נדר לא אסע עוד משעת הדלקת הנרות בקאר אף שאין בזה שמץ איסור אף לא משום מראית העין. 

I was so pleased that your honor was zealous in fulfilling the mitzvah of tochacha, rebuke, according to your understanding [that it was deserved].  You are deserving of much praise, and God forbid that I would bear any resentment regarding this, and G-d willing, without a vow, I will no longer travel after candlelighting in a car, even though there isn’t the slightest hint of a prohibition, nor any concern of marit ayin, bad appearances.

כי ידע ידידי אשר איסור מראית העין הוא רק בדבר שנעשה זה ברוב הפעמים באופן האסור והוא עושה זה באופן המותר אסרו מפני מראית העין, כגון לעשות ע”י עכו”ם בקבלנות מלאכה כזו שהרבה עושים בשכירי יום שהוא אופן האסור, לכן אסרו גם בקבלנות משום מראית העין, וכן בנשרו כליו במים אסרו משום מראית העין לשוטחן בחמה במקום שרואין בנ”א שיחשדו שכבסן.

For my dear friend, [you] know that the prohibition of marit ayin only applies to something that most of the time [when done this way] is done in a prohibited manner, and a particular person is now doing it in a permissible manner – that is what is forbidden because of marit ayin.  For example, [it is forbidden based on marit ayin] for a person to have a non-Jew do construction on Shabbat on a contractual basis for the entire job, but it is a type of job that many people do [not through contracting, but] by hiring daily labor, which is a prohibited way [of having a non-Jew work for you on Shabbat].  Because of this context, the Rabbis forbade having the work done even on a contractual basis, because of the problem of marit ayin.  Similarly, if a person’s clothes fell into water [on Shabbat], they forbade oneto spread them out in a in the sun in a visible placeto dry them, because people would suspect him that he laundered these clothes [on Shabbat].

אבל לעשות דבר היתר מפורסם בשביל איזה אנשים שיטעו לחשוב שהוא דבר איסור לא אסרו. 

But to do an activity whose permissibility is well-known out of concern that a number of people will err and think that what was done was a prohibited activity – that they [the Rabbis] did not forbid.

ועובדא זו שידוע לכל שנשים מקבלות שבת בהדלקת הנרות ואנשים מקבלים שבת בתוספת קטן כי זמן הדלקת הנרות קבעו בעשרים מינוטין קודם השקיעה בכאן וברוב המקומות וא”כ הוא דבר מפורסם לכל אף לנשים שהאנשים עדיין מותרין במלאכה קרוב לי”ח מינוט אף לכתחלה אם לא יקבלו שבת, והשקיעה היתה בפ’ ויצא /ארבע ושלשים ושתים/ והיו עוד אחד עשר מינוטין מהרגע שישבתי בקאר שהיה /ארבע ותשע עשרה/ עוד אחד עשר מינוטין למלאכה לכתחלה שאפשר בזה הזמן ליסע בקאר אף דרך רחוקה חמשה פעמים מהשיעור שעד הישיבה, ועוד ישארו איזה מינוטין לתוספת שבת. 

This case is one where it is known that all women accept Shabbat when they light candles, and men accept Shabbat only with a small addition [i.e., a few minutes before sunset].  For the time of candlelighting has been fixed here and in most places at 20 minutes before sunset, therefore it is well known to all – even to women – that the men are still allowed to do melakha upto nearly 18 minutes [after candlelighting] even ab initio if they did not [otherwise] accept Shabbat upon themselves.

ורק אפשר יש איזה נשים טועות שחושבות שמזמן הדלקת הנרות אסור אף לאנשים לא שייך לאסור בזה משום מראית העין, דלא איכפת לן שיודעו האמת שלאנשים מותר כיון שעדיין לא קבלו שבת. 

At most it is possible that there are a few women who are misinformed (lit. err) and think that from the time of candlelighting it is forbidden even for men – for this concern there is no basis toprohibit [such activity] due tomarit ayin.   For it is of no matter to us that they should know the truth – that for men it is permissible [to do melakha at this time], since they have still not accepted Shabbat upon themselves.

 אבל מ”מ כיון שמע”כ כותב שיש ח”ו קלקול לאיזו נשים ואנשים שידמו שיש בזה זלזול לשבת קדש אראה בלא נדר שלא ליסע עוד בקאר משעת הדלקת הנרות. 

 Nevertheless, since your honor writes that there is – God forbid – some negative religious impact to some women and men who will imagine that in this activity there is disesteem to the Holy Shabbat, I will attempt – bli neder –to no longer travel by a car after candlelighting.

 ידידו המברכו בזכות מצות התוכחה שקיים לכבוד השי”ת ולכבוד השבת קדש לשפע ברכה שבא ע”י קיום שמירת השבת ולסוכת השלום, משה פיינשטיין.

 Your dear friend, who blesses you with the merit of the mitzvah of rebuke which he has fulfilled to protect the honor of God and the honor of Shabbat – that this merit should bring to you an overflow of blessing that will come through the observance of the Holy Shabbat, and to a protective covering of peace.  Moshe Feinstein.

Iggrot Moshe, OH, 1:96


About Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a groundbreaking Orthodox smicha program. Rabbi Linzer spearheaded the development of YCT to create an innovative four year smicha program which provides its students with rigorous talmud Torah and halakhic study and sophisticated professional training in the context of a religious atmosphere which cultivates openness and inclusiveness. Rabbi Linzer has published Halakha and machshava articles in Torah journals and lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity. He is most recently the awardee of the prestigious Avi Chai Fellowship.
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