Thursday, December 5, 2013

Serving Ice Cream to the Morbidly Obese by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

5 Towns Jewish Times    Q. My husband and I have an ice-cream store. We heard you wrote a sefer on lifnei iver, and we have a lifnei iver question: If someone is morbidly obese and comes in and orders an ice cream such as “cookies and cream,” is it forbidden for us to serve him? Are we obligated to suggest that he try a fat-free, sugar-free type instead?

A. This is a good question. According to the American Obesity Association, 127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight, 60 million are clinically obese, and 9 million are severely obese. Your question probably deals with the last 9 million. It is a growing issue.

You are in luck, because we were able to pose your question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, and we have his answer on video and in writing. Our editor, Larry Gordon, presented your question, along with seven other halachic queries, to Rav Kanievsky this past Tuesday. But let’s first discuss some pertinent issues. [...]

So what is our conclusion, since you asked? The Mishnah Berurah would forbid it and Rav Feinstein would permit it if there were another factor that one could add to the leniency. What might that be? The Shach (YD 151:6) seems to rule that the prohibition of mesaya only applies to observant Jews. If it is questionable whether the person is observant or not, then this is a factor that would make it permitted according to Rav Feinstein’s view. Thus our conclusion is that if it is a morbidly obese religious Jewish man, you must suggest the dietetic alternative—even according to the more lenient view of Rav Feinstein. [...]


  1. This article is a demonstration of why not everything should be subject to halachic inquiry.

  2. "A. This is a good question."

    I would disagree here. The answer is obvious. If the person is morbidly obese, that means the person is going to die from obesity (morbid means death). So it's not going to help him if he eats diet ice-cream.

    So stop being a yenta and let the man enjoy his last days on this earth.

    1. Actually, I got it wrong about the definition of morbid. However, it's quite obvious that the lady should mind her own business.

  3. I know a very religious person that went into a store and ordered a muffin. The server behind the counter rudely told him he shouldn't have the muffin. The man was offended, but took the comment seriously. He left the store and went on a diet and lost a lot of weight. Since then, he passed away from something UN-related to any overweight issues. In hindsight, maybe he should have had the muffin.

  4. So let's take it a step further. We're going to make it obligatory to suggest a low fat alternative to morbidly obese people but no one else. What about the issue of public insulting a person because, let's face it, when the 400 lb guy gets the frozen sorbet suggested to him and then the 300 lb guy next to him in line doesn't he's going to feel picked on. What, the other guy isn't fat enough for the unwanted advice?
    Now let's consider the injunction of "And thou shalt diligently guard thine souls" or something like that. Do we say that given the choice of an ice cream store that provided unsolicited advice based on body weight and one that doesn't, that we should chose the former since it helps one fulfill that commandment? And do we say that people who are mehadrin about that commandment are forbidden to go to ice cream parlours at all?
    I think someone needs to put out a kol koreh or ban something over all this!

  5. The hazard of obesity is cumulative - You can't say the one ice scream you are serving is dangerous on its own. Same thing with giving someone a single cigarette.

  6. side point- who is Rabbi Yair Hoffman? does he hold a position anywhere. There is a load of articles from him on the web, but not really a bio or anything.

  7. Well said Chaim Z, what an offensive Am Haaretz (meaning a boor, not meaning someone who doesn't know how to learn, although his learning is wrong here also) for writing this. I wrote him a rebuttal and told him he should have the courage to retract his article for writing such offensive comments. We'll see if he responds.

  8. torah without an iota of common senseDecember 6, 2013 at 5:47 AM

    This is an absurd question lacking in ANY sachel. You embaraass somebody because you think you know whats good for them? What an unbeleivably obnoxious query.

  9. According to the Biography written about Rebitzen Kanyefsky A'H(Reb Chaim's Rebitzen), R' Chaim was(and most probably still is) completely unfamiliar with ice cream. So as far as he understood, this is the Shaaloh that was presentd to him.

    "There is a certain MAACHEL that is detrimental to the health of anyone who is very obese, It's called GLIDAH and the victim might be unaware as he consumes it, since the ingredients aren't evident from seeing the MAACHEL and there is a version which is specifically made for them to save their lives lest they unwittingly consume the deadly MAACHEL, must the seller disclose the potention danger of loss of life?"

    Presented so, it is a very important Shaaloh.

    When I was a child, a Goy approached me and said, "You are Torah Observent so tell me is it permitted by The Torah to give children candy, since candies contain so many artificial ingredients etc and are very unhealthy?"

    I answered that although it is true that candies aren't the best in health food, the feeling of depravation isn't healthy for a child either, and on the other hand, the good feeling of having a good thing every once in a while(in those days children only had candies every once in a while) can put a person in a good mood and make him function better and in the long run, if we weigh both options, it is likely that allowing it is no lss healthy that forcing abstanence.

    This is a psak of a child about candy.

    Reb Chaim didn't in his wildest dreams think he was being asked such a silly question.


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