Are Some Seminary Interviews Lifnei Iver? | Rabbi Yair Hoffman

QUESTION

I am a high school senior and am interviewing for seminary next year in Israel. During these interviews, some of the questions that the seminaries have asked are of a nature that if I respond truthfully, they may not accept me. For example, “Do I like my high school?” In honesty, I can’t really say that I do, but how will that make me look in the eyes of the seminary? Therefore, I am tempted to lie. By asking such questions, is the seminary transgressing Lifnei Iver (the prohibition of causing another to sin) if I give in to my temptation to lie?

ANSWER: It seems that there are many authorities that clearly rule that there is a prohibition of Lifnei Iver regarding causing another to lie [the Turei Even on Megilah 28a, ‘Umah”, the Tumim in C.M. Siman 32, Rav Meir Auerbach in his Imrei Binah (C.M. Siman 34).]

In this particular case, the issue may be dependent upon how a contradiction in the Gemorah is resolved.

The Gemorah in Nedarim 62b tells us that Rav Ashi owned a forest (Avah) that he sold to a fire temple (where they burn wood for idol worship purposes). When asked about the prohibition of Lifnei Iver, he responded that in the majority of cases, the wood that the fire temple buys is used for ordinary heating and not for idol worship and that he had the right to rely on the majority of cases.

However, there are other passages in the Gemorah that seem to contradict the above and indicate that there is a prohibition of Lifnei Iver whene a strong likelihood of a violation exists even if in the majority of cases a violation would not occur. In Bava Metzia 75b, we see that it is a violation of Lifnei Iver to loan money when there are no witnesses because of the concern that the money will not be paid back. There is also an indication of the same reasoning from Bava Metzia 5b.

Three Approaches to Resolution

  • One approach to resolving the contradiction is that whenever there is a greater probability of a violation than a non-violation, then we assume that a violation will occur, and there is Lifnei Iver. This is the approach of the HaGaos Tosfos Anshei Shem in Mishnayos Shivi’is 5:7 and the TaZ in Y.D. 151. The Gemorah in Bava Metzia 75b and 5b above, indicates that in these cases there is a greater probability of a violation than non-violation and that is why they say there is a prohibition of Lifnei Iver (in accordance with the reasoning in Nedarim 62b). The seminary that asks the types of questions that you are referring to may be relying on the fact that although a girl may be tempted to lie by the question asked, in their estimation, most girls would tell the truth.
  • Another approach is that the cases in the Gemorah in Bava Metzia 75b and 5b above that say there is a prohibition of Lifnei Iver when there is a strong likelihood of a violation (even if there isn’t a greater probability than not of a violation) is a prohibition of a Rabbinic Lifnei Iver (see Tzitz Eliezer Vol. IV 5:3). The seminary that asks the types of questions that you are referring to may be relying on the fact that although a girl may be tempted to lie by the question asked, in their estimation, there would not be a strong likelihood that the girl would lie.
  • Rav Dovid Feinstein ZT”L in a conversation with me, explained that if the action being performed will directly lead to a violation on the part of the recipient, and without it, the recipient would not have had the desire to violate Halachah, then it is a violation of Lifnei Iver. According to Rav Dovid’s approach, the seminary should not be asking these types of questions. Regarding how to answer the question, perhaps you can respond with something like, “That is an excellent question, and I try to like wherever I am.  Sometimes, however, we can get frustrated with almost anything.  I do very much want to grow in my year in seminary and seek to get along with everyone.”

Be Matzliach!

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1 COMMENT

  1. There are many ways to answer this question truthfully and for that matter any question without coming across in the way you don’t want to. Be creative! It will serve you well in life.

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