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There is a principle called shomer petayim (Meaning "G-d protects the simple". Based on Psalms 116:6.) which rabbis occasionally use to allow people to do something that would probably be considered dangerous. The rabbis make the activity permissible if it becomes evident that a significant populace is willing to take the risks.

For example, Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz"l used this principle to allow smoking despite the large evidence available explaining the dangers. See this article for details.

What criteria allows rabbis to use this principle to permit something? Can they freely use this for anything whatsoever that shows "societal normalcy" (i.e. society accepting the dangers?) For example, numerous people speed or weave on the highway. It's become the "norm" for people to exceed the speed limit by 10 - 20 MPH. There's sufficient evidence that increased speed causes increased as well as more severe crashes. But, since it has become societal norm, can rabbanim use this principle to allow people to do this? (I'm asking only about the halachic aspect of using this principle, here; not about prohibiting it b/c of Dina Demalchuta - i.e. one violates the law by exceeding the speed limit.)

The above is an example. I'm sure there are numerous others where this rule is applied.

  • I don’t understand that Teshuvah to be a blanket permission so much as a tefillah that Hashem protect those stupid enough to violate it anyway. – DonielF Mar 1 at 20:20
  • @DonielF That's a very valid angle. I have to ponder your comment a bit, and re-read the article before I offer any rebuttal or agreement. Shabbat Shalom and count your sheqalim! – DanF Mar 1 at 20:23
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    See Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 15:39 second column.. – Alex Mar 1 at 22:11
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Thanks to @Alex's source (Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 15:39), this is what I also got from R' Schlesinger (an opponent of R' Moshe):

The שומר פתאים principle can only be applied when the danger is not known but speculated and to one that is not aware of it. So the advice to stay פתי implies that neither the Rabbi nor the questioner is aware of the danger.

Once the person IS aware of the danger he can not continue to pretend to be פתי and the principle would not apply. For instance, your example with speeding - no driver is unaware of the dangers of speeding - therefore this principle cannot apply.

But if a person tries a new drug which might be dangerous, but the statistics are yet to be known, or regarding smoking in the 60s-70s, when a person might doubt, he can be considered פתי and the principle applied.

You forgot to mention, that R"M's Psak was issued in the early 70s and that fits my answer perfectly!

If however only the Rabbi is aware of the real danger but hides it from the questioner, it seems to be לפני עוור and לא תעמוד על דם רעך.

  • Interesting answer. It does raise the question that in view of strong factual evidence of the dangers of smoking that we have now, it seems that no leading rav has proclaimed a ban - based on this reasoning. Also, in general, regarding medical questions such as drug use, I would think that a smart rav would ask a field expert (doctor, etc.) for factual info to make a more educated decision. – DanF Mar 4 at 14:51
  • @DanF You nailed it! That was one of my first questions in my Teshuva - why Rabbis don't protest on many known transgressions and misdeeds. I suspect the reason is that they don't want to disgrace one another or "אַל־תּ֣וֹכַח לֵ֭ץ פֶּן־יִשְׂנָאֶ֑ךָּ" or "גזירה שאין ציבור יכולים לעמוד בה". – Al Berko Mar 4 at 15:38
  • @DanF your last paragraph - , we only talk of dangers here, not about life saving. שומר פתאים is not about healing oneself or saving otherwise, it is about the permition to endanger. Once either of them tries to learn on the subject, פתאים fades away. It appears that the Targum of פתאים hints on שגגה, and you can only be Shogeg if not known. – Al Berko Mar 4 at 15:46
  • You might want to move / trim that last comment into the answer. It seems relevant and useful. – DanF Mar 4 at 20:08

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