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The Jewish Legal System

Business Law

Selling Non-Kosher Food

Question: Can a religious Jew sell non kosher meat to other businesses if this is his means of income?

Answer: This is a very complex issue, and one that cannot be dealt with effectively divorced from specific details of situation and circumstance. Should this question have practical ramifications for you, I would strongly suggest that you consult with a competent local authority in Jewish law before deciding upon a course of action. With that in mind, what follows is a general summary of the issue of doing business with forbidden foods.

Unlike cooked mixtures of meat and dairy products, from which a Jew is forbidden to derive benefit, the Torah places no such restriction upon non-kosher foodstuffs, including meats. No distinction is made in this matter between the meats of non-kosher species and meats from kosher species which were improperly slaughtered. In fact, the Torah explicitly permits the sale of this second type of non-kosher meat to Gentiles (Deuteronomy 14:21).

However, the Shulchan Aruch, section Yoreh De’ah 117:1 records a specific prohibition against trading in non-kosher foodstuffs. While there are those amongst the early authorities who consider this prohibition to be of Biblical origin, most agree that it is an enactment of the Sages, either due to the issue of “mar’is ayin” (i.e. the appearance of impropriety which may lead others to transgress or to cast aspersion upon the actor), or as a safeguard lest one become inured to having non-kosher foodstuffs in his possession to the extent that he inadvertently partake of them.

While one is permitted to trade in non-kosher foodstuffs on an incidental basis (e.g. a kosher slaughterhouse may sell carcasses that are found to be unfit to a Gentile meat processing operation, since this is merely incidental to its main business – the production of kosher meat), this injunction would prohibit trading in non-kosher foodstuffs as the focus of one’s business, be it to other businesses or to consumers.

This injunction does distinguish between those foodstuffs which are non-kosher on a Biblical level and those which are non-kosher on a Rabbinic level (though Biblically kosher), permitting trade of the latter. In the case of meat, however, unless the business in question traffics in the byproduct of a kosher slaughterhouse or similar, it is unlikely that this distinction is of much utility, since both meat from non-kosher species and meat from kosher species which did not undergo ritual slaughter are Biblically prohibited.

The prohibition against trading in non-kosher foodstuffs is incumbent upon the business owner, a partner to such a business with a Gentile, and even upon a stockholder (should he or she have a role in the day-to-day decision making of the business). One may, however, hold stock in such a business provided that one has no active role in its operation.

In conclusion, being an owner, partner, or participant shareholder of a business that sells non-kosher meats as its primary objective would be, in all but very narrow and specific circumstances, prohibited for a Jew.

Again, if this question has practical application for you, I would stress the need for consulting with a competent, local authority on Jewish law prior to adopting a course of action.

I hope you found this information helpful.

Warmest regards,

Yitzchok Willroth

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