Question: May an employer purchase non-kosher food for his non-Jewish employees?
Short Answer: While the Rama forbids such a purchase, the Shach and the Chochmas Adam permit it. Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita rules leniently but suggests that one may avoid the issue altogether by giving money to a non-Jewish manager to purchase the food under his own name and with his own check.
I. Selling Non-Kosher Food
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 117:1), based on a mishnah and the Yerushalmi in Sh’vi’is (7:3), rules that any forbidden food, even if one is permitted to benefit from the food, may not be sold. The Beis Yosef (ibid) cites the Rashba who explains that this stringency is only d’Rabbanan, lest the person selling the forbidden food come to eat it.
The Rama (ibid) adds that it is likewise forbidden to acquire non-kosher food in order to give it to your non-Jewish workers.
II. Lenient Opinions
The Shach (ibid, 3) challenges the strict ruling of the Rama. First, he notes that the clear custom of many individuals is to purchase non-kosher food for their non-Jewish workers, against the ruling of the Rama. Second, the very source of the Rama, the Hagahos Maimoniyos, appears to rule leniently. The Hagahos Maimoniyos (cited in the Beis Yosef) only forbids gifting non-kosher food to non-Jews, as there is presumably some financial benefit to the Jew because, otherwise, why would he give the food as a present? Accordingly, purchasing non-kosher food simply to feed a non-Jewish employee is permitted, because it is not akin to a sale and you receive no financial benefit by providing the food to the non-Jew.
III. Practically Speaking
Rav Moshe Sternbuch (T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 2:393) writes that the Chochmas Adam (69:1) agrees with the Shach that the minhag is to be lenient. On the other hand, Rav Sternbuch adds that the Maharam Schick (136) concludes that a “y’rei Shamayim” (a G-d-fearing person) should be strict about this issue, although one should not criticize those who rule leniently.
Rav Sternbuch then suggests a method whereby the employer may avoid the entire problem. The employer should provide funds to a non-Jewish manager who in turn will purchase food for the other non-Jewish employees. The manager should pay for the non-kosher food with his own check, thereby removing any concern that the Jew is purchasing the food with his “own” funds or check. Indeed, this is considered as if the non-Jew is purchasing the food “adaata d’nafshei” – on his own volition.
Rav Sternbuch concludes that if the purchase is made through this method, it is completely permitted, and there is no need even for a y’rei Shamayim to refrain from such a method.
IV. Other Applications
In a later t’shuvah, Rav Sternbuch (2:394) adds another reason to be lenient. Since kosher meat is very expensive, the purchase of the non-kosher meat simply prevents a monetary loss for the employer. It is not viewed as a financial benefit or forbidden business deal concerning non-kosher, but it is simply a way to avoid financial loss. Rav Sternbuch again rules that one may rely upon the lenient ruling of the Shach and the Chochmas Adam.
Nevertheless, Rav Sternbuch warns against the Jew himself walking into a non-kosher store to purchase the non-kosher food. This presents an issue of mar’is ayin, as an onlooker may think the Jew is purchasing the non-kosher food for himself.
Next Week’s Topic: May you eat a kosher meal in the house of non-observant relatives?