Halacha Date: 16 Shevat 5780 February 11 2020
Question: I was offered a position as a librarian in a public library. May I accept this offer as my livelihood depends on it?
Answer: This is very serious question, for public libraries contain many non-religious/non-Jewish books which the librarian will have to give to anyone searching for them. Furthermore, the librarian will have to purchase more such books in the future in order to keep the library’s inventory full and up-to-date. Our Sages teach us that one type of person who does not receive Heavenly assistance to repent is one who causes the public to sin. Indeed, as a result of reading such books, the readers will certainly transgress grave sins and thus, it seems that one may not accept such a position.
This is especially true since our Sages taught (Sanhedrin 90b) that who reads external literature has no share in the World to Come. This is certainly the case regarding non-religious/non-Jewish books available today where almost every author spews out heretical and depraved ideas that are completely antithetical to Hashem and His holy Torah. Our Sages taught (Chagigah 14a) that the closer we come to the arrival of Mashiach, the more brazen and audacious the world becomes. If so, how can any G-d-fearing individual pass such books to others who are not necessarily to the gravity of the matter. Sometimes, people do not even know that it may be forbidden to read a specific book. One who passes such a book to someone else transgresses the prohibition of not placing a stumbling block before a blind man.
Even if the reader knows that reading such a book is prohibited and this does not bother him and he still requests the book, the above prohibition nevertheless applies since desire causes one’s eyes not to pay attention to the seriousness of one’s actions, as the Rambam writes (in his commentary on the Mishnah, Shevi’it, Chapter 5, Mishnah 6). The prohibition of aiding and abetting sinners applies here as well.
Based on the above, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l in an identical situation that the individual may not accept this librarian position. Rather, he should pray that Hashem provide him with a good and sustainable livelihood, permissibly and not through sins.
If so, we can infer how terrible a sin reading such books, non-Jewish/non-religious newspapers, or internet websites filled with all manners of immorality and apostasy really is, for even when one’s livelihood depended on this, Maran zt”l ruled stringently on the matter and did not allow the individual to take the job. This would certainly apply to regular people in that one must realize the gravity of this matter and abstain from reading such material and only read permissible books. This is especially true since our holy Torah is so deep and as much as one delves in it, one can never finish even a tiny portion of what one should. Even when one needs down time or an outlet, there are so many kosher resources available, such as biographies of righteous luminaries or Jewish history books, and one can satisfy one’s intellectual curiosity with such literature.