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Parsha Mitzvot: Vayakhel: Books Printed on Shabbat

Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, born in Karlsruhe 1798; died in Altona, 1871, German leader of orthodoxy, was one of the earliest German rabbis to receive a university education. He represented the merger of modern culture with Talmudic learning. He was Rabbi in Mannheim in the early part of his career, but most of his rabbinical career was in Altona. He was a strong opponent of the reform movement which began in his day in Germany. He was the last rabbi in Germany to serve as a judge in civil law, because in the year 1803 the Danish government, Altona belonged to Denmark, abolished the right of rabbis to serve as civil judges. He is perhaps best known among scholars for his notes on the Talmud; Aruch Laner, and also for his responsa, Binyan Tzion.

The responsum which we site was written to the leading Orthodox rabbi of southern Germany at the time, Rabbi Seligman Baer Bamberger, whose son was married to Rabbi Ettlinger’s daughter. The question discussed was part of ta problem which was beginning to disturb European orthodoxy, namely the increase in the number of Jews who worked on the Sabbath. The question of their status in Jewish law was a serious one, for technically, a man who violated the Sabbath in public was described in the Talmud is equivalent to an idolater. But such a complete rejection, of course, could hardly be carried out, since Sabbath violation became almost the rule in Western Europe.

Rabbi Ettlinger discusses this question in two places: volume 2, number 23; and volume 1, number 15, which is here cited. The discussion of the second responsum takes a special form and involves the question of whether a pious Jew may do business with another Jew who works on the Sabbath. Specifically, the question is this: may we assign the printing of Hebrew books to a Christian printer who employs Jewish workmen who work on the Sabbath? If we do, are we not aiding these Jewish printers in their iniquity?
There is a modern form of this question: may Yeshivot and the like print notices in Jewish newspapers which are printed on the Sabbath? Rabbi Ettlinger’s responsum seems to be the first discussion of the subject:



Your honor has asked me whether we should be concerned about having the book printed by a Christian printer who employs Jewish workmen, when we may well presume that they will print the book on the Sabbath. Thus we would be violating the command against placing, “a stumbling block before the blind.”


In a well-known passage the Talmud says, “Rabbi Nathan said, from where do we derive that a man should not hand over a cup I cup of wine to a Nazirite? Or a limb torn from a living animal to a son of Noah? The reason is implied in the verse: “place not a stumbling block before the blind.” But this applies only when the two people stand “when the opposite banks of the River.” For if you did not handed over to him, he would not sin.

Thus it is written in the Tosafot on that page: according to this, you may not handover any forbidden food to Jewish violators, even if it is there; for it is known that they would eat it, and they are forbidden to do so since they are still considered Jews. But this applies only when the Jewish violator stands in the place where he could not reach it if you did not give it to him, as the Talmud says, “when they stand on opposite sides of the river.”

From this it is seen that the Tosafot say that, simply, when it is not “when opposite sides of the river”, then it is permitted to give him what is forbidden, and this action does not involve violating the verse: “put not a stumbling block.” Since if this is the case, we need not be concerned about the possible violation of “put not a stumbling block,” in the case of the question we are discussing. For clearly the printer has much work in the doing of which these Sabbath violators will would work on the Sabbath, even if they did not have work given them by a jewel.

As far as law is concerned, the outcome of all this is that it is it is forbidden to handover forbidden work to one who cannot get it himself. This is forbidden by the law of the Torah because of the verse: “put not a stumbling block before the blind.” But where he can get the work himself, even though it is possible that because of the Jewish customer he will increase his forbidden acts, that is permitted even by rabbinic law. Of course, actually to assist them at the very time of the same or where he demands the work specifically for a forbidden purpose is forbidden even by rabbinical prohibition, even though he could get the forbidden work himself. In all this there is no difference between a Jew and an apostate.

According to this, on the matter of our specific question, whether to print books at the establishment of a Gentile printer who implies Jewish workmen who work on the Sabbath, clearly there is no ground for concern; for they can do the work without your giving it to them. Besides, they did do not ask for it specifically to do on the Sabbath, for if there were such a specific demand even work by a Christian would be prohibited for a Jew to order. Therefore there is no ground for prohibition since the Jewish workman does not specific specifically ask it for Sabbath work.

Moreover, there seems to be yet one more reason why the law against putting “a stumbling block before the blind” does not apply here, namely that the customer does not give the work to a Jew at all, but to the Gentile master. If so, this is only considered “a stumbling block” in the second degree. Although the Talmud says that with regard to each was suspected of violations, we must guard against the sin of stumbling block even in the second degree; yet where he gives the work directly to the Gentile, this sin of the second degree does not apply.

But at all events for the reason which we have written, there is no ground for concern. There is neither the sin of stumbling block before the blind, nor the sin of helping at the time of iniquity.

That’s thus it seems to my humble opinion, the young one,

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