Question: May you eat meat that was shipped from a kosher store but without an identifying seal?
Short Answer: Yes, the meat is permitted, as long the akum would derive no benefit from exchanging the meat with a non-kosher alternative. Nevertheless, ideally, one should only send the meat if it is sealed.
I. No Benefit
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 118:10) rules that if you leave an akum alone in your house, and you make clear to the akum that you will not be back home for a long time, any food that can be switched for a similar food that is asur d’Oraisa is forbidden. However, if the akum derives no benefit from a switch, then the food is permitted, as we are not concerned that the akum will switch anything that does not give him benefit.
Based on this ruling, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 2:372) suggests that if a package containing “three kilos” of meat is sent by an akum “railroad” (i.e., an akum delivery person), the meat is permitted, as the delivery person would not derive any benefit by switching the kosher meat with non-kosher meat.
II. Limitation of Rav Shlomo Eiger
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 12a) states that we are not concerned that an akum will put non-kosher meat in a nearby kosher pot on a stove. Tosafos (ibid) clarifies that we are not concerned that an akum will exchange kosher meat with non-kosher meat in a pot unless the akum stands to benefit from the switch. Tosafos proves his point from a later Gemara in Avodah Zarah (34b), which discusses a boat filled with kosher fish oil (“muryas”) that docked in Akko. R’ Abba required a Jew to watch the fish oil after the boat docked to ensure that nothing non-kosher was mixed into the fish oil. He explained that up until the boat docked, we were not concerned, as it is illogical for an akum on the boat to mix non-kosher wine into the fish oil, because non-kosher wine was more expensive than the fish oil in the place that the boat came from.
Rav Shlomo Eiger, in Gilyon Maharsha (Yoreh Dei’ah ibid), suggests that the above Tosafos is the source for the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch mentioned earlier. However, Rav Eiger asks how the Shulchan Aruch (and Tosafos) can deduce the halachah from that story in Akko. By the boat, there would have been a loss for the akum to mix in the non-kosher wine, and thus, it would be illogical for him to do so. The Shulchan Aruch, on the other hand, even permits the food in a house with an akum as long as there is no benefit to the akum to exchange the food with non-kosher food. Perhaps Tosafos would hold that the food is forbidden unless there is a loss for the akum if he exchanges the food with non-kosher food?
Because of this question, Rav Eiger cites the Maharit, who limits the leniency of the Shulchan Aruch to a case where the akum would have to work hard to fool the Jew if he would exchange the food with non-kosher food. In other words, he would have to find a similar looking package and tie it in a manner that would trick the Jew. We are not concerned that the akum would go to such lengths in order to do something that does not benefit him.
Rav Sternbuch notes that, based on this Maharit and Gilyon Maharsha, the three-kilo package of meat would be forbidden if sent unaccompanied and without a seal with an akum. Since the akum would not have to work hard to exchange the meat and package, we are concerned that he possibly did so, even if the akum derives no benefit from the exchange. This is likely the opinion of the Darchei T’shuvah (on Yoreh Dei’ah ibid).
III. Final Word
Rav Sternbuch, however, introduces a key leniency. We have a rule that a paid worker won’t do anything that risks his livelihood. Accordingly, we do not need to be concerned here that the akum will exchange the kosher meat with non-kosher meat, as he would be fired if anyone ever found out. He certainly would not risk his livelihood to make an exchange that does not even benefit him.
Rav Sternbuch also adds another reason to be lenient. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 118:7) rules that, b’dieved, if meat was sent with an akum through public streets, the meat is permitted. The akum is afraid to exchange the meat for non-kosher meat, because there are many onlookers who would potentially report him to the sender. Moreover, the fact that the package is so small and cheap cuts in favor of being lenient, as the akum would not risk his livelihood for such a small and inconsequential exchange.
Rav Sternbuch concludes that, even though many people rely on the leniency of the Shulchan Aruch and l’chatchilah send unsealed meat with an akum as long as the akum derives no benefit from an exchange, it is best not to do this. However, b’dieved, if the meat was sent, it is permitted.
Next Week’s Topic: Should a scrupulous person be stringent and refrain from eating a kosher food which was mixed with a halachically-nullified non-kosher substance?