Hebrew | Francais


> > Archive

Shabbat Parashat Korach 5781

Ask the Rabbi: The Logic Behind Marit Ayin

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I don’t see consistency in how marit ayin is applied. There are cases that are forbidden where the likelihood of mistake seems remote, while cases I view as more problematic are permitted. Can you explain why that is?


Answer: We will attempt a partial overview of the concept marit ayin, focusing on elements that help understand the phenomenon that troubles you.

 The laws of marit [ha]ayin forbid “Reuven” from doing otherwise permitted action A when people may think he did the similar B, when B is forbidden. Marit ayin is based on two concerns: 1. People who know B is forbidden may suspect that Reuven sinned. One must avoid chashad (people believing he sinned), as the Torah says: “You shall be “clean” [in the eyes] of Hashem and Israel” (Bamidbar 32:22, as understood by mishna, Shekalim 3:2). 2. People will think that if Reuven did B, it must be permitted. Rashi in some places (including Keritut 21b) cites #1 as the reason and in others (including Avoda Zara 12a) cites #2.

Rashi’s dichotomy is among the indications that the two reasons complement each other. In some cases, Chazal may have felt that one of the reasons did not apply but the other did. For example, people do not often suspect a large group of people of openly sinning (see Rosh Hashana 24b). Regarding a marit ayin prohibition on something that looks like bowing down to an idol (Avoda Zara 12a), it is unlikely someone would think it is permitted to do so.

So when should we say marit ayin? If one thinks it is very likely his actions will be misunderstood, creating violations or chashad, he should refrain from the action. However, what if there is only a modest chance? For such cases, we look to Chazal and poskim for guidance. Chazal forbade a few dozen cases due to marit ayin. Subsequently, it remains forbidden even when in a particular case the chance of mistake and/or chashad is small (e.g., one lives in a very religious, knowledgeable, and trusting community). If the whole basis for the prohibition disappears, we generally suspend the prohibition. For example, the gemara (Avoda Zara 20b) says that one must not rent out his bathhouse to a non-Jew to operate on Shabbat because usually a bathhouse’s workers were wage-earning employees (forbidden on Shabbat). However, in a society in which they are commonly profit-sharers, it is permitted (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 243:2). A minority of poskim equate marit ayin more closely to other Rabbinic prohibitions in regard to the prohibition continuing after the reason no longer applies (Pleiti 12:2).

There is a fundamental machloket, crucial to your question, as to whether post-Talmudic poskim can create a marit ayin prohibition in the type of case in which Chazal likely would have. The Kneset Hagedola forbids using matza meal to coat food because it looks like it is made with flour (he knew of a case of incorrect “copying”). The Pri Chadash (OC 461:2) argues that we cannot make our own Rabbinical prohibitions (and that isolated mistakes cannot be avoided).

We do find some post-Talmudic marit ayin prohibitions, but many of them follow a common construct. The gemara (Kritut 21b) forbids eating collected fish “blood” because it resembles forbidden (animal) blood. The Rashba (III:257) extends this concept (as opposed to creating a new marit ayin prohibition) to not combining mother’s milk with meat. Poskim extend the idea of confusing types of food to not putting “almond milk” into meat (see Rama YD 87:3 and Shach ad loc. 6 about whether it applies to poultry, which is only “Rabbinic meat”). Regarding these extensions of a Talmudic marit ayin prohibition, we care about what is and is not confusing in our times/places. Therefore, Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer VI, YD 8) says that synthetic milk is common enough for it not to be suspicious to serve it with coffee after a meat meal; we do the same with pareve ice cream.

In summary, the main reason marit ayin is not always applied according to our logic is because we usually do so by comparison to Talmudic precedents and not just contemporary society.

Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend


We daven for a complete and speedy refuah for:

Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
Yisrael ben Rivka

Rivka Reena bat Gruna Natna

Arye Yitzchak ben Geula Miriam

Neta bat Malka

Meira bat Esther

Together with all cholei Yisrael

Hemdat Yamim is dedicated

to the memory of:

Those who fell in wars

for our homeland


Eretz Hemdah's beloved friends

and Members of

Eretz Hemdah's Amutah


Rav Shlomo Merzel z”l
Iyar 10, 5771


Rav Reuven Aberman z"l

Tishrei 9 ,5776


Mr. Shmuel & Esther Shemesh z"l

Sivan 17 / Av 20


Mr. Moshe Wasserzug z"l

Tishrei 20 ,5781


R' Eliyahu Carmel z"l

Rav Carmel's father

Iyar 8 ,5776


Mrs. Sara Wengrowsky

bat RMoshe Zev a”h.

Tamuz 10 ,5774


Rav Asher & Susan Wasserteil z"l
Kislev 9 / Elul 5780

RMeir ben

Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld z"l


Mrs. Sara Brachfeld z"l

Tevet 16 ,5780


RYaakov ben Abraham & Aisha


Chana bat Yaish & Simcha

Sebbag, z"l


Rav Yisrael Rozen z"l
Cheshvan 13, 5778


Rav Benzion Grossman z"l
Tamuz 23, 5777


Rav Moshe Zvi (Milton)

Polin z"l

Tamuz 19,  5778


R' Abraham Klein z"l

Iyar 18 ,5779


Mrs. Gita Klein z"l

Av 4


R' Yitzchak Zev Tarshansky z"l

Adar 28, 5781


Hemdat Yamim
is endowed by Les z"l  & Ethel Sutker
of Chicago, Illinois
in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
& Louis and Lillian Klein z”l

site by entry.
Eretz Hemdah - Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies, Jerusalem All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy. | Terms of Use.