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Shabbat Parashat B'haalotcha| 5771

Ask the Rabbi: Buying Food Without a Hechsher for Others

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: A friend asked me to buy her a food product without a hechsher. May I do so?


Answer: The answer depends on the nature of both the friend and the food.

If your friend keeps kosher, try to determine whether she is making a mistake (and tell her nicely) or whether some legitimately believe the food does not need a hechsher.

If she is a Jew who does not keep kosher, the situation is as follows. There is a Torah prohibition of lifnei iver lo titen michshol against providing someone the opportunity to sin (e.g., buying them non-kosher food). However, when the sinner has the opportunity to do the forbidden act himself or by asking another (non-Jewish, according to some) person, most agree that the one assisting does not violate lifnei iver (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 151:1 with commentaries). Even so authorities say there is a rabbinic prohibition to aid in the violation. This issue may be overcome by some combination of mitigating factors, but we will focus on only one.

What type of food is involved? Let us assume the food’s actual kashrut is questionable. Regarding lifnei iver, if it is unclear whether the recipient will use the object improperly, one may give it to him based on the optimistic possibility (Avoda Zara 15b). It is disputed if this is true when he will certainty do something that might be forbidden (see Shut Pnei Yehoshua, YD 3 and Beit Shmuel 5:18). Even if this special leniency of lifnei iver does not apply, it is reasonable to be lenient because of a regular doubt when there is no Torah-level prohibition (as above). If the food is clearly forbidden, you should, under normal circumstances, refuse to buy it.

Even if the friend is not Jewish, the question is, if it is a Torah-forbidden food, whether the prohibition of commerce applies (see Shulchan Aruch, YD 117). There is significant discussion whether commerce is prohibited as a limited issur hana’ah (prohibition to benefit) or it is to avoid a situation where one is liable to eat what he is dealing with. Most of the discussion deals with cases where it is a Jew’s business (thus, he benefits) but the food is handled only by non-Jews (thus, the Jew is unlikely to eat it). Most poskim disallow this without other grounds for leniency (see Shut Chatam Sofer, YD 108; Pitchei Teshuva, YD 117:6).

The Chatam Sofer does say that the concern he may eat is enough to forbid one to be employed to work with a non-Jew’s “treif food. We could then argue that it is forbidden for you to handle the food you are buying on behalf of a non-Jew. However, this is incorrect. First and foremost, contact was not forbidden but commerce, and commerce must include elements of financial benefit. Although some forbid buying non-kosher food as a present to a non-Jew, this is only based on an assumption that he is doing so due to a financial interest (see Shach 117:3). However, in a case like this, where you are but a simple agent, handling without intention to gain is permitted (see Taz, YD 117:2).

One can also argue for leniency based on the halacha that one may sell non-kosher food normally if he did not obtain it purposely (the classic example (Shvi’it 7:4) is of a fisherman of kosher fish into whose net some non-kosher fish entered). We might look at you as one whose friend’s request placed her in a one-time basis situation where the natural thing is to obtain and transfer the food and call that chancing upon the food.

Because of complicated issues of agency for a non-Jew and the impact of ownership on this question, it is proper to have in mind not to take ownership or responsibility for the non-kosher food that he buys for a non-Jew.

Regarding the problem of marit ayin (it looks bad to buy non-kosher food), the case does not fall into an across-the board prohibition. However, in all of the permutations we have discussed, you should avoid a situation in which your purchase will be noticeable and suspicious to fellow Jews. The details are hard to dictate from a distance.

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