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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Providing Non-Kosher Food for Non-Jewish Workers

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Where I come from, it is very common for employers to provide non-kosher food for their live-in household help. Is that permitted?

 

Answer: The gemara derives from Vayikra 11:11 that one may sell non-kosher species that come into his possession but may not actively acquire and then sell them. This applies to most foods that are forbidden by Torah law (mainly meat and fish – not wine, …) (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 117:1).

According to most Rishonim, the prohibition of commerce in forbidden foods is from the Torah (see Shut Chatam Sofer, YD 104-106, 108; Yabia Omer VIII, YD 13). The Rashba (Shut III, 223) says that the reason is to minimize the chance one will eat forbidden foods; others say it is a gezeirat hakatuv (Heavenly decree without a known reason). In any case, it applies only to things that are usually acquired for eating purposes (Shulchan Aruch, YD 117:1). The consensus of poskim is that this prohibition applies as long as a Jew owns the food in the framework of a commercial process, even if he is not expected to come in direct contact with the food (Chatam Sofer, ibid.108).

The Rama (YD 117:1) rules that it is forbidden to buy non-kosher food in order to feed it to non-Jewish workers. The Taz (ad loc. 2) explains that for one who is required to feed his workers, buying them the cheaper non-kosher food is a commercial act like buying it to pay a debt. The Shach (ad loc. 3) argues with the Rama, apparently because he considers it using the food for his own non-eating purposes, not using it commercially. He asks on the Rama from a Yerushalmi that says that how one who bought pig to give his workers can sell it. (The Taz counters that the Yerushalmi was discussing getting rid of what was bought improperly.)

All agree that one can give money to his non-Jewish worker so that he can buy food for himself, even if he knows the non-Jew will buy non-kosher (Knesset Hagedola, YD 117, Beit Yosef 20). Based on this, the Pri Chadash (YD 117:3) argues that since the Jew does not benefit by acquiring the food and then giving it to the worker (as opposed to giving the money to the worker), the prohibition of commerce does not apply. Those who are stringent can argue that the fact that there another way of getting to the same point does not mean that the acquisition is not beneficial.

There is logic to distinguish between where the food is delivered to or by the Jew, who then gives it to the non-Jew, and where he arranges someone to deliver it to the non-Jew. First, when the food enters the Jew’s domain, the concern he might come to eat it, which some say helps define the prohibition’s parameters, pertains. Additionally, it is more difficult to arrange or claim that the Jew does not acquire ownership, which might be at the heart of the problem (see Chatam Sofer ibid.) when it is brought into his home (the details are complex). On the other hand, consider the Aruch Hashulchan’s logic for agreeing with the Shach that there is no prohibition to buy food to give to workers. The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 117:19) argues that if one has workers in his home whom he needs to feed, since the natural thing is that they should eat (the cheaper) non-kosher food, fulfilling that need in the natural way is not considered initiating commerce. If the worker lives and functions independently, but they have included food into his “compensation package,” it is more likely to be considered initiating commerce. Paradoxically, giving non-kosher food as a present is forbidden (see Shach ibid.) because the investment in good relations is considered equivalent to selling to the non-Jew.

 In the final analysis, there are respected opinions on this matter in either direction, and it is legitimate to acquire non-kosher food for a non-Jewish worker in cases of significant need. One should try, if feasible, to arrange that the Jew does not acquire the food but arranges its transfer from supplier to worker and thereby also avoid marit ayin (see Teshuvot V’hanhangot II:394). 
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