Out of Season Holiday Gifts and Greetings In the winter of 1996, the company I worked for completed a deal involving hundreds of millions of dollars. The delighted client was very generous in expressing his thanks: at the end of December, he sent each member of the team – myself included – a case of expensive wine. He meant well, of course, but what on earth was I going to do with twelve bottles of fancy non-kosher wine? My wife eventually found a liquor store that was willing to take the wine and give us credit in return. Neither of us drink, but we walked away with three hundred and sixty dollars’ worth of kosher liquor, which we served to Shabbos guests for many years to come. Halachically, the wine I received was “stam yaynam.”1 I obviously could not drink it, but once I had it, what could I do with it? Kashrus questions aside, was accepting what was essentially a gift in honor of a non-Jewish holiday permitted at all? Exchanging gifts during the non-Jewish holiday season is common practice in the secular workplace. Clients and consultants will often send gifts to show their appreciation; the more business we give them, the more costly the gift is likely to be. We may also be expected to reciprocate, as well as give gifts to service providers, from our barber and mailman to our attorney and physician. Gift giving can be a good way to generate new business or maintain cordial relationships with clients and others. Gifts can range from candy to very costly hi-tech gadgets. In one company where I was employed, the executives received a stream of packages every December, including Godiva chocolates, wines, cases of high-end steaks and frozen cheesecakes, vouchers for elegant steak restaurants, and iPods. Can we accept and give gifts for the non-Jewish holidays? If we receive non-kosher wine, a very common gift item, or other non-kosher foods, can we re-gift them to nonJews? With or without gifts, are we permitted to wish non-Jewish co-workers or clients a “happy holiday”?
Doing Business on Non-Jewish Religious Holidays Chazal provide basic guidelines about doing business with non-Jews during their holiday season, and by extension, exchanging gifts with them. Doing business with non-Jews on their religious holidays (yemei eideihen) is a rabbinic prohibition explicit in the Mishnah: “Three days before the holidays of the idolaters, it is forbidden to do business with them; to lend and borrow [objects] from them; to lend and borrow [money] from them; [and] to pay back and receive loans from them” (Avodah Zarah 2a). This is also the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 148:1). The Mishnah lists a number of non-Jewish festivals which are included in this prohibition (Avodah Zarah 1:3). These festivals are no longer observed in our times. The Rishonim write that while the Mishnah only mentioned holidays celebrated in that era, the prohibition is not limited to those holidays; it applies equally to all non1
See below, “Giving and Receiving Non-Jewish Wine.”
2 Jewish holidays, even those which did not yet exist in the time of the Mishnah (Chiddushei HaRitva, Avodah Zarah 8a). The Rambam writes that it extends to any “[idolatrous] holiday [celebrated] by any of the nations in all corners of the world” (Perush HaMishnayos, Avodah Zarah 1:3).
Reasons for the Prohibition The Gemara suggests two reasons for this prohibition (Avodah Zarah 6a). One is based on the passuk, “The name of other gods do not mention, they should not be heard through your mouth” (Shmos 23:13). If a non-Jew is happy to have made money during his holiday season, he will thank his deity on the holiday. When this happens, the Jew becomes the cause of the non-Jew’s praise of his deity. Another possible reason suggested by Chazal is the prohibition of “Do not place a stumbling block before one who is blind” (Vayikra 19:14). Idolatry is forbidden by the Seven Noahide Laws obligatory for non-Jews, and we cannot be a party to his transgression. For example, if a non-Jew purchases an animal during his holiday season, it is likely that he plans to use it as a sacrifice. If we are the one who sold it to him, we provided him with the means to engage in idolatrous worship. However, if he already owns an animal which he could sacrifice, we are not causing him to transgress by selling him an additional animal. The same principle would apply to other articles used in present day non-Jewish religious services.2
Three Days The mishnah in Avodah Zarah (1:1) specifies that we should not do business with non-Jews for “three days before their religious holidays.” What does the time period of “three days” include? The Gemara discusses this question at length, concluding that it means three days in addition to the holiday itself. The Ran3 provides a practical explanation for this added prohibition: three days prior to the holiday the non-Jews are very much involved in the upcoming festivities, and are caught up in the preparations. When the holiday arrives, they will attribute any benefits received during the entire period to their deity 2 Another issue relating specifically to giving gifts is the Torah-ordained prohibition, “Do not give them favor” (Devarim 7:2, Avodah Zarah 20a), which includes the prohibition of giving free gifts to non-Jews. Giving a gift is an indication of affection – or at least of more than merely casual acquaintance – which can lead to forbidden relationships and ultimately, intermarriage. For this reason, it is forbidden to give a gift to a non-Jew for the sole purpose of establishing a friendship or relationship. However, it is no longer considered a “free gift” if the Jew will in some way derive benefit by giving. Based on this, a gift that is an incentive for the future or a payback for the past is permitted: we can tip non-Jewish waiters, barbers, taxi drivers or other service providers, and give a gift to the mailman or a year-end bonus to a valuable employee. These gratuities to non-Jews are permitted even if we do not anticipate benefitting from them in the future, and the gift is only in appreciation of a job well done in the past (Yoreh Deah 151:11 and Taz 8; Ashrei HaIsh, Yoreh Deah 10:33). In fact, where standard tips and gratuities are accepted practice, it would be a chillul Hashem not to give them, because it would cast Orthodox Jews in a negative light as ill-mannered and unappreciative (Rabbi Doniel Neustadt, Weekly Halacha, Parshas Noach, “Do Not Show Them Favor”). 3 Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven of Girona (1320-1380), a Spanish Rishon, was born in Barcelona. He was considered the greatest halachic authority of his generation, and responded to questions from all over the Jewish world. He wrote responsa, derashos, and commentaries on the Talmud, the Rif and Tanach.
3 Rav Shlomo Kluger4 offers a different reason for the three-day period. He writes that spiritual forces, both pure and impure, are widespread three days in advance.5 For example, before the giving of the Torah the Jews were commanded, “Be prepared for the third day” (Shmos 13:11). So too, the impurity associated with non-Jewish religious holidays is already a dominant force three days before the actual holiday. We are commanded to distance ourselves entirely from idolatry (Devarim 13:18), this aura of impurity included; this is another explanation for the prohibition against having business dealings with non-Jews three days before their holidays (Introduction to Avodas Avodah). According to Rabbi Yishmael, the prohibition applies not only to the three days leading up to the holiday, but also to the three days after, a total of seven days (mishnah in Avodah Zarah 1:2). During this entire week, Rabbi Yishmael says, the non-Jews will thank their deities for any benefits which come their way (see the Meiri6 on Avodah Zarah 2a, “u’me’ata,” for two explanations of Rabbi Yishmael’s additional prohibition of three days after the holiday).
Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora The Gemara mentions an important distinction in relation to this particular prohibition: “Shmuel said, in the Diaspora, only the day of the holiday is forbidden [and not the three days preceding it]” (Avodah Zarah 7b). In keeping with this opinion, the Shulchan Aruch rules that the three-day prohibition applies to Eretz Yisrael; elsewhere, only the day of the non-Jewish holiday itself is forbidden (Yoreh Deah 148:4). The poskim bring a number of reasons to explain why we are lenient outside of Eretz Yisrael on the three days before the holiday. 1. In the Diaspora, where the business we conduct with non-Jews is our main source of livelihood, the additional three-day prohibition would be too great a hardship (Bartenura, Avodah Zarah 1:2). 2. In non-Jewish countries, we fear for repercussions, whether physical or financial, from the non-Jews (ibid.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 11b; Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 148:4). 3. Outside of Eretz Yisrael the idolaters are not as devout, and less likely to respond by thanking their deity (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 7b, “bagolah,” citing Chullin 13b).
Sundays Some non-Jewish faiths observe every Sunday as a religious holiday, which would forbid it as a business day. An obvious question is, does this include the three days prior to Sunday, eliminating four out of seven business days every week?
Rav Shlomo Kluger (1783-1869), the rav of Brody, Poland and other communities, was one of the great halachic authorities of his time, and the author of one hundred and sixty sefarim in different fields of Torah, many still in manuscript. 5 Based on a similar concept, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the fourth, fifth and sixth days of the week, all lead up to the sanctity of Shabbos, the seventh day. 6 Rav Menachem HaMeiri (1249-1315), a Rishon, was one of the “Torah Sages of Provence.” He wrote a number of works on Torah topics, including Beis HaBechirah, a commentary on the Talmud.
4 The Gemara cites a strict ruling from Rabbi Yishmael, which in effect prohibits doing business with non-Jews at any time: Sunday itself is forbidden as the day observed by non-Jews, plus the three days before, and the three days after – or in other words, the entire week (Avodah Zarah 6a, Rashi). Practically speaking, we do not rule in accordance with Rabbi Yishmael’s opinion; the prohibition extends only to the three days before, and even that, only in Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam writes that the Christians are idolaters and Sunday is their holiday. It is clearly forbidden to do business with them on Sunday itself, and in Eretz Yisrael, Thursday, Friday, and of course, Shabbos, are also forbidden (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 9:4). Nonetheless, as we will see, the Rishonim discuss a number of heterim which allow for some leniency in this area.
Grounds for Leniency If doing business with non-Jews during their holiday season is forbidden, exchanging gifts with them is certainly forbidden as well, as we see from a number of incidents related in the Gemara. Tosfos raises an obvious question: if this is so clearly forbidden, why are people lenient about these prohibitions? The Rishonim suggest four possible reasons to allow for leniency in doing business and exchanging gifts with non-Jews during their holidays, based in part on cases discussed in the Gemara. No. 1: Mishum Eivah In some cases, Chazal are lenient concerning rabbinic decrees “mishum eivah,” in order to prevent animosity in our dealings with non-Jews. The issue of non-Jewish holiday gifts is a rabbinic prohibition, where leniency may be permitted in order to avoid ill feelings from the surrounding non-Jewish society. The Gemara records that Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah7 received a newly minted coin as a gift from a non-Jew on the non-Jew’s holiday. Reish Lakish was with him at the time. Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah was faced with a dilemma. Accepting the coin would cause the non-Jew to pay homage to his deity, but refusing to accept it would cause eivah (animosity). Reish Lakish advised him to take the coin, and then throw it in a pit in front of the giver. Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah countered that doing so – accepting the gift and then discarding it in the giver’s presence – would be a sure cause of eivah. The Gemara explains that Reish Lakish was suggesting that he stage an accident; Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah should accept the coin in order to keep the peace, and then make it look as if it had somehow slipped out of his hands and fallen into a pit. This would solve both problems: the giver would not be offended by what appeared to be an unfortunate accident, but he would also have no reason to happily thank his deity, because the valuable coin had been lost (Avodah Zarah 6b). The Ritva8 writes that this incident, an important source for the prohibition against exchanging holiday gifts, shows that Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah viewed avoiding friction 7
A grandson of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, redactor of the Mishnah. Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah also held the position of Nasi (Prince) in his generation. 8 Rav Yom Tov ben Avraham of Seville (1250-1330), a prominent Rishon and author of a major commentary on the Talmud.
5 with non-Jews as a serious consideration. He writes that when there is a risk of eivah, the Mishnah did not forbid doing business with non-Jews, even on the actual holiday. It is a rabbinic prohibition, instituted because of the concern for violating either the commandment “The name of other gods do not mention, they should not be heard through your mouth,” or that of “Do not place a stumbling block before one who is blind.” However, the prohibition itself allows some room for flexibility, depending on the circumstances of the case. Based on this, writes the Ritva, in our times the poskim do permit doing business with non-Jews on their holidays, mishum eivah (Chidushei HaRitva, Avodah Zarah 6b; see also Chidushei HaRashba, ibid. 2a and many other Rishonim). The Terumas HaDeshen9 lived in fifteenth century Western Europe. He discusses an interesting question which provides insight into the realities of relations with nonJewish society in his times (vol. I, 195). In a number of cities it was customary for the Jews to send gifts to the local rulers and clergy on New Year’s Day. Was this practice permitted? The Terumas HaDeshen writes that the gifts should be sent either a day before the holiday or a day after, but not on the day itself. However, he notes, this was not an ideal solution. The non-Jewish recipients preferred that the gifts arrive on time, because they viewed gifts received specifically on the holiday as an auspicious omen for the coming year. Once the holiday was over this element would be lost, so they did not want the gifts to arrive at a later date. He suggests sending the gift in the early evening on the day preceding the holiday. This was acceptable from the non-Jews’ standpoint, and a permissible option for the Jews too. He writes that if the day before the holiday falls on Shabbos, eliminating this option, it would be permitted to send the gift on the holiday itself to avoid eivah. As proof, he cites the case of Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah, who was concerned about eivah, even on the day of the holiday itself. No. 2: Non-Jews are no longer as devout The Terumas HaDeshen discusses another reason to be lenient, which is mentioned by other Rishonim as well. He writes that in our times, the non-Jews are no longer as devout as in the past, and are unlikely to rush off to thank their gods as soon as they conclude a business deal during their holiday season. The Rashba10 brings a question from the Baal HaTerumos11 (citing Rashi, Avodah Zarah 2a). There is a halachic principle that if Chazal instituted a decree in response to a certain circumstance, the decree still remains in place even when that circumstance does not apply. In this instance, why should it matter that the non-Jews are no longer deeply devout? The Baal HaTerumos answers that it is because leniency based on varying circumstances had originally been built into the decree: as we see, Shmuel ruled that outside of Eretz Yisrael, the decree only applies on the non-Jewish holiday itself. Obviously, Chazal intended application of the decree to be dependent on 9
Responsa of Rav Yisrael Isserlin (1390-1460), one of the great Chachmei Ashkenaz, a rav, posek, and rosh yeshivah whose halachic rulings are frequently cited by later poskim. 10 Rav Shlomo ben Avraham Aderet (1235-1310), a great Spanish Rishon, renowned posek and rosh yeshivah, the author of numerous halachic works, including thousands of responsa. The Rashba was a student of the Ramban and Rabbeinu Yonah, and the teacher of many of the Torah authorities of the next generation, among them the Ritva and Rabbeinu Bechayye ben Asher. 11 Rav Baruch MiGermieza (ca.1140-early 1200’s) was one of the French Baalei Tosfos, known as a great posek. His Sefer HaTerumah is a major halachic work.
6 circumstances. In situations where the decree applies, sending gifts to non-Jews on their holidays is forbidden. Where the decree does not apply, sending the gifts would be permitted. We find the problem of sending gifts to non-Jews on their festivals in general, and the recipient’s low level of religious devotion as a mitigating factor, in two incidents related in the Gemara. The Amora Rav Yehudah sent a gift to a non-Jew named Avidrana on his holiday, which would certainly seem to be forbidden. He justified his actions by pointing out that he knew for a fact that although he was not a Jew, Avidrana did not worship idols (Avodah Zarah 64b). When Rava sent a gift to a non-Jew named Bar Sheshach on a non-Jewish holiday, his explanation was the same: Bar Sheshach was not an idol worshipper (ibid. 65a). These Amoraim maintained that since the recipients were not idolaters, there was no problem in giving them the gift on that day – they would not be moved to give thanks to their god (Tosfos, Avodah Zarah 2a). The Meiri takes this heter even further. He writes that in our times no one is careful about these prohibitions – not even the most scholarly and pious people, even on the actual day of the holiday itself. He makes a very sweeping statement: in his opinion, “All these things were said only about idol worshippers and their images and statues, but in these times, it is entirely permitted” (Meiri, Avodah Zarah 2a). No. 3: Fostering good relationships with non-Jews whom we know personally Tosfos (ibid.) mentions another heter. If we are personally acquainted with a non-Jew, we are permitted to do business with him during his holiday season and send him holiday gifts, in order to maintain cordial relations. Based on the continuation of the Tosfos, it appears that this heter would include even casual acquaintances, for example people we know only by telephone or email. No. 4: The prohibition applies only to religious articles According to Rabbeinu Tam, cited in Tosfos (ibid.), the prohibition applies only to articles used by the non-Jews for their religious worship. Obvious examples in ancient times would be a knife for slaughtering a sacrifice, or wood for an altar. Today, examples would be wine, candles or other objects which are part of non-Jewish religious services. The Shulchan Aruch cites a number of heterim, primarily avoiding eivah, the fact that non-Jews today are less devout than in the past, and that the prohibition applies only to actual idol worshippers (Yoreh Deah 148:5,8,12, Rema). Apparently, the prohibition would not apply to those who celebrate the day only as a national or cultural holiday. More recently, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled leniently on this question. He writes that in the European towns, the bulk of the Jews’ livelihood came from the markets and fairs frequented by non-Jews when they came in to go to church. It was clearly permitted to do business with them on these days, because the early poskim had allowed it due to eivah, and for other reasons mentioned by Tosfos and the Rosh. This is the pesak of the Shulchan Aruch (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, vol. III, 34). Stricter Opinions
7 Despite the various heterim, the Ohr Zarua writes, that “one who conducts himself strictly [concerning this prohibition] and is careful even with what is permitted, will be blessed” (Ohr Zarua, vol. IV, Piskei Avodah Zarah 99). Rav Gershon Bess12 told me that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky13 said that if possible, we should be strict concerning the actual day of the holiday, even outside Eretz Yisrael, especially on days like the twenty-fifth of December.
Giving Non-Kosher Foods to Non-Jews We need to give a gift to a non-Jewish business associate. Are we permitted to give him non-kosher wine or other non-kosher items? If we have received non-kosher items from others, can we re-gift them to non-Jews? Certain foods are forbidden for consumption by Torah-ordained commandment (d’Oriesa), for example, shellfish and non-kosher meat. Others are forbidden by rabbinic decree (d’rabbanan), such as foods cooked by a non-Jew (bishul akum). This is an important distinction as far as doing business or giving gifts to non-Jews. We are not permitted to do business with foods which are forbidden d’Oriesa, even if we are permitted to derive other forms of financial benefit from them. We are, however, permitted to do business with foods forbidden only by rabbinic decree (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 117:1). The Shach (2) writes that there are two reasons for this prohibition. One is the concern that if we are dealing in non-kosher food, we may end up tasting or eating it. We are permitted to sell non-food items made of non-kosher ingredients, such as cosmetics, because we are unlikely to consume them. The second reason is not because we might eat the non-kosher food – after all, writes the Shach, we are not talking about willful sinners. The problem is instead similar to that of maris ayin.14 The fact of doing business with non-kosher foods can arouse suspicion: others who see that a Jew is dealing with these items might assume that he is eating them as well. If the non-kosher items are edible, but they are not being sold as food – for example, non-kosher animals in a pet shop – or have not been processed into an edible state, it is permitted to buy and sell them, because no one will imagine that the owner might be eating them. Buying non-kosher food for non-Jewish workers The Rema adds that the prohibition against doing business with non-kosher foods also includes purchasing it to feed it to non-Jewish employees, even though the workers themselves are obviously not obligated to keep kosher. The Shach (3) cites the Rema’s ruling, and writes that he does not know why so many Jewish people assume that it is permitted to intentionally buy non-kosher meat for their non-Jewish workers. However, he questions the source of the Rema’s pesak; on
Rav Gershon Bess, a prominent posek in the United States, is the rav of Congregation Kehilas Yaakov in Los Angeles and an officer of the Rabbinical Council of California. 13 Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891–1986) was one of the great roshei yeshivah and poskim in the postWorld War II American Jewish community. From 1948 to 1968 he headed Mesivta Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, New York. Along with Rav Moshe Feinstein, he led American Jewry in issues of halachic and spiritual guidance until 1986, when both passed away. 14
See Chapter 4, “How Will It Look? Business Meetings in Non-kosher Restaurants.”
8 the contrary, from the Hagahos Maimonios,15 cited by the Beis Yosef, it appears that it is permitted to buy non-kosher meat for non-Jewish workers. The Beis Yosef, explaining the Hagahos Maimonios, writes that it is only forbidden to buy the non-kosher meat to give as a gift to a non-Jew, because that is akin to doing business with it, which is forbidden. Buying the meat to feed non-Jewish workers in one’s own employ is not like doing business with it. Practically speaking, we cannot do business with foods which are forbidden d’Oriesa. This includes buying these items to give as gifts to non-Jews (Beis Yosef, citing Hagahos Maimonios, cited in the Shach). We are permitted to buy or gift foods which are forbidden only by rabbinic decree. The Rema rules strictly about buying nonkosher food to feed non-Jewish workers, while the Shach rules leniently (Bein Yisrael L’Nochri, Yoreh Deah 15:8). Gift certificates to non-kosher restaurants I asked Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz16 if it would also be forbidden to give a non-Jew a gift certificate to a non-kosher restaurant. He responded as follows: The Beis Yosef rules that we cannot give foods which are forbidden d’Oriesa as a gift to a non-Jew, because it is effectively doing business with non-kosher food. Giving him a gift card that can only be used in a non-kosher restaurant is tantamount to giving him non-kosher meat. By supplying him with the gift card, we have essentially instructed the proprietor to honor the non-Jew’s request for non-kosher food. However, if the establishment sells kosher as well as non-kosher items, there would be grounds for leniency. An example would be a gift certificate for a supermarket where the non-Jew could also purchase fruit, sodas, or other foods which are kosher, or are at least not forbidden d’Oriesa. A gift certificate for a restaurant might also be permitted if it could be cashed in for a refund, and not only used solely for the purchase of non-kosher food, although this option is probably uncommon. In both cases – the supermarket certificate, and the cash refundable certificate – even if the recipient chooses to use the voucher to buy non-kosher meat, the decision to do so was his; it was not dictated by the Jewish giver. As such, it is equivalent to giving a non-Jew a gift of money, which he then uses to buy non-kosher meat. That clearly does not fall under the heading of doing business with non-kosher food. Even in a non-kosher restaurant there may be some items that happen to be kosher – for example, the recipient may choose to order salmon or fancy tuna. Even so, the likelihood of that food being permissible is remote. Based on this, there may be a heter to give even a non-refundable gift certificate to a non-kosher restaurant, but it is better to be strict and stick to a voucher for a supermarket or equivalent establishment which also carries kosher foods. Re-gifting non-kosher items What if we did not purchase the non-kosher item, but we happen to have it, or have received it as a gift? Can we sell it or re-gift it?
Commentary on the Rambam by Rav Meir HaKohen of Rothenburg (1260-1298), a prominent thirteenth century Rishon who was killed with his family in the Rindfleisch massacres in Germany.
9 The Shulchan Aruch rules that if we were hunting or fishing and happened to trap a non-kosher animal, bird or fish, we are permitted to sell it, as long as it was not our intention to specifically catch those animals for sale. The Rema adds that we should sell it immediately, rather than holding onto it until it gets bigger and will bring a better price. The Rema writes in addition that the same is true if we own a kosher animal and it is rendered non-kosher, whether because it dies or is killed without proper kosher slaughter (treifah), or if upon examination after slaughter, it is found to be non-kosher (neveilah). We are not obligated to discard the animal – we are permitted to sell it to a non-Jew (Yoreh Deah 117:1).
Rabbi Akiva Eiger17 is lenient about re-gifting gifts received from non-Jews, equating them with a hunting or fishing catch that happened to come our way. We can accept the non-kosher item and sell it (Chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Yoreh Deah 117:1, citing Shai LaMora 17). This is an important consideration in disposing of non-kosher gifts. If the item is not kosher and we personally cannot consume it, but are permitted to derive financial benefit from it, we can sell or re-gift it. However, some Achronim write that a baal nefesh should be stringent, and not accept these gifts (Kaf HaChaim, Yoreh Deah 117:47, citing Knesses HaGedolah).
Giving and Receiving Non-Jewish Wine Wine, a common gift item, is highly problematic, because we are forbidden to derive benefit from non-Jewish wine. Stam yaynam,18 literally “their ordinary wine,” is wine which was made by or purchased from a non-Jew. Kosher wine that is not mevushal takes on the status of stam yaynam if it is handled by a non-Jew. The Shulchan Aruch rules that we are forbidden to derive any benefit from stam yaynam of idolaters even if we are not actually consuming it. The Rema explains that this is a decree enacted because the non-Jew may have used the wine for idolatrous services (Yoreh Deah 123:1, Rema). The Shach explains the Rema: the rabbinic prohibition against stam yaynam was instituted as a safeguard against the Torah-ordained prohibition of yayin nesech. An additional reason for the prohibition is the concern that drinking non-Jewish wine will lead to intermarriage. The Taz writes that it is forbidden to drink the wine because of the concern for intermarriage, and that it is also forbidden to derive benefit from it because of the concern for idolatrous services (yayin nesech). We see that the Shach and the Taz mention two problems: intermarriage, and the possibility that the wine was used for idolatrous services. We are forbidden to derive any benefit from stam yaynam (even if we are not drinking it) because of the aspect of idolatry. What of a situation where the concern for use in idolatrous services is not applicable? Are we permitted in that case to derive benefit from the wine, for example, by giving it as a gift to a non-Jew? The Rema (ibid.) cites an opinion that in our times, when the non-Jews are not generally doing wine libations for idolatrous sacrifices, it is permitted to derive benefit from stam yaynam, although it is still forbidden to drink it. This includes accepting non-Jewish wine in payment for a debt in order to avoid financial loss. The same would be true of other types of financial loss, for example if one transgressed by buying the wine, and after the fact, stands to lose money if he does not sell it.
10 However, this is only after the fact – one should not engage up front in buying and selling non-Jewish wine for profit. The Rema writes that some halachic opinions are lenient and permit even this, but he concludes that it is proper to be strict (see Taz ibid., 1,2). The Chochmas Adam19 cites the lenient ruling brought by the Rema, but points out that most poskim do forbid deriving benefit from stam yaynam. He writes that “it is appropriate for a baal nefesh to be strict, and he will be successful (Chochmas Adam, Shaar Issur V’Heter, Klal 75,14). Benny, an attorney in Los Angeles, encounters this problem every year. He writes, “I have received very expensive wine. I once received a $300-$400 bottle. I asked Rabbi Bess what to do, and he said I shouldn’t have any hanaah [benefit] from it. He suggested that I leave it at the curbside, and not give it to my secretary or anyone else. I listened and do not know what happened, but at least for a year my newspaper was at my front door instead of in the driveway. “My policy for now is that my secretary has instructions to go through all boxes/gifts. If there is wine or liquor, she is to look for the OU or other hechsherim, and if there is none on the bottle, she is not to bring it into my office, not even tell me about it, and keep it herself. She records a list of gifts and that is where I see the gift. If she has a question, for example, a bottle of Israeli wine, she is to summon me out of the office to look at it while in her hands.20 If I take it, fine, or else she keeps it.” “Reuven,” an investment banker in New York, relates that he “gets non-kosher wine every year. I just leave it on my desk until the giver asks if I don’t like it, and then I say – well, I’m not really allowed to give it to anyone. They get the idea and take it back. The response is always very respectful…..and they usually love it, because next year I’m one less present to give.”
Rav Doniel Neustadt writes that in sum, we should not purchase a bottle of nonkosher wine to give as a gift to a non-Jew, or even re-gift it if we received it from someone else; both would be considered deriving benefit from stam yaynam. He concludes that “if a substantial financial loss is at stake, one should consult a rav” (Rabbi Doniel Neustadt, Weekly Halacha, Parshas Noach, “Do Not Show Them Favor”).
Holiday Greetings at Work We work with non-Jewish coworkers, associates, clients and colleagues. It is late December, and the non-Jewish holiday spirit is very much in the air, including appropriate greetings. Are we allowed to wish non-Jews a happy holiday? Can we even mention the name of their holiday at all? Mentioning the names of idols The first question to consider is the name of the holiday, in particular “Christmas.” This name is based on the name of the founder of Christianity, and as such, appears to be problematic. The Torah commands us, “And the name of other gods, do not mention” (Shmos 23:13). And yet, we see that Chazal mention the names of idols in their list of idolatrous festivals (Mishnah Avodah Zarah 1:3), apparently a serious contradiction to an explicit Torah-ordained commandment.
11 Hagahos Maimonios cites the Re’em,21 who explains that it is only forbidden to mention the name given to an idol which specifically connotes that it is a deity. We are permitted to mention an “ordinary” name used for an idol which is commonly used in other contexts as well, and does not imply that it is a deity (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 5:3). In other words, the Torah’s prohibition refers to names specifically associated with an idol’s status as a “god.” The names mentioned by Chazal (Kalanda, Saturnia) had no particular connotations of deity. In his commentary on Shulchan Aruch, the Gra cites the Hagahos Maimonios and Re’em, and points out that the names of Yeshu and his students are mentioned several times in the Talmud (Yoreh Deah 147:3). On a practical level, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to mention an idolatrous deity by name (Yoreh Deah 147:1). It is, however, permitted to mention names of holidays which are people’s names, as long as we do not refer to them in the same reverential terms used by the non-Jews (ibid. 147:2). In 1886, Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer22 was asked an interesting question by Rav Shimon Tzvi Deutsch, rav of Burgpreppach, Bavaria. It came to Rav Deutsch’s attention that a new teacher in the Jewish school in his community was explicitly mentioning the name of “Oso HaIsh”23 in class. Rav Deutsch asked him why he was doing this, especially since he could so easily have avoided it. The teacher said that ordinarily, he really did not mention the name. In this case it had come up in a textbook, and he did not want to risk offending two non-Jewish students present in the class. Rav Deutsch had approved. In his opinion refraining from mentioning Oso HaIsh by name was only a pious practice (minhag chassidus), so that it was preferable to mention the name rather than risk a chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Name). He had advised the teacher to follow the same policy in the future if necessary, adding that he should make a point of reviewing the study material in advance, in order to keep it to a minimum. Another rav had disagreed with Rav Deutsch, saying that this was not a matter of pious practice, but of actual halachah. Rav Deutsch, citing the Hagahos Maimonios and a number of additional sources which appear to permit it, asked Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer’s opinion on the issue. In his response, Rav Hildesheimer cites the mishnah in Avodah Zarah which lists pagan festivals named for various deities. He writes that although Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi himself certainly had not articulated these names – he only wrote them – they are obviously articulated when the mishnah is studied. This is permitted, Rav Hildesheimer writes, in order to learn what can or cannot be said. Practically speaking, it is permitted to write or pronounce an idol’s name for study purposes, but this does not mean that it can be pronounced in other contexts. In addition, we see that while “Yeshu,” the first name, is mentioned in the Gemara, the second half of the name, which means “Messiah,” is not. It is forbidden to pronounce the second half of the name, because it implies that Yeshu is the messiah. He writes that it is possible that in Moslem countries, the Jews also avoided mentioning the name of the non-Jews’ prophets. He points out, though, that in the Christian faith, Oso HaIsh is viewed as a deity, while the Moslem faith considers
12 Mohammed a prophet, but not a deity, a critical difference. Rav Hildesheimer concludes that while it is not actually forbidden to mention the first name (Jesus), G-d-fearing Jews everywhere have always avoided it, and he advises Rav Deutsch not to introduce innovations, even if only concerning a minhag chassidus (She’eilos U’Teshuvos Rabbi Ezriel, vol. I, Yoreh Deah 180). Holiday greetings to non-Jews I received the following question from a student who was back in the United States studying for his degree: “Over the last few years, I have built up a pretty nice professional contact list, including fellow engineers, doctors, professors, and other people who have given me insight into the career, and even requested my resume. I want to stay on these people’s radars in the best way possible, since having a network of people that like you is important in the business/professional world. One thing I would like to do is send them Season’s Greetings in December. However, I understand that there are issues of avodah zarah surrounding this. As a wellconnected frum professional, can you please recommend a course of action that will help me maintain excellent relations with my many non-Jewish contacts?” I responded, “An option is to send greeting cards at the end of November so that they are unrelated to X-max. They should be generic cards – e.g., they could also include Chanukah. The cards need not actually mention Chanukah, but they should be general holiday cards which do not mention X-max. I think that should do the trick, and your card will not get lost with all of the others that come at the end of December.” I presented some of my student’s questions and more to Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz, who provided important practical responses. Regarding the use of different terms associated with non-Jewish religions and religious holidays, he wrote: 1. The name “Jesus”: “There is no problem saying ‘Jesus’; it is a name, and is Greek for Yehoshua…. It should also be noted… that even ‘Christ’ is not a term of divinity per se, but connotes rulership and could theoretically be applied even to a temporal king. Perhaps then I could describe Jesus as the King of the Christians, just as Nevuchadnezzar was King of the Babylonians. But the association of ‘Christ’ with divinity is so strong that I would be very reluctant to allow any leniency in the use of ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ.’” 2. The term “Christian”: A Christian is “‘one who believes that Jesus is messiah.’ A statement that someone is an idol worshipper is not a statement of belief in the idol... I see no problem with describing someone else’s belief system.” 3. The holiday name “Christmas”: “This is a bit more difficult. The term ‘Christian’ is describing what another person is. ‘Christmas’ is my describing what a certain day is, and could arguably be taken as a statement by me. Nevertheless, since it is understood that when anyone uses the term ‘Christmas,’ they mean ‘the day that is celebrated by Christians as the birth of the person they regard as messiah,’ you are not giving praise to foreign gods. Chazal refer to Roman pagan festivals by their name, for example, Saturnalia, although the name of the idol is thereby incorporated. On the other hand, we
13 would distinguish that Saturn is just a name, not a praise or glorification. Christ is a praise, if not of Divinity then at least of rulership and kingdom. I can see a basis to be strict and prohibit using the term ‘Christmas’ (although not ‘Christian’). Nevertheless, I believe that since it is simply the name of their festival, you are not praising by mentioning it.” 4. Extending holiday greetings to non-Jews: “If you cannot say ‘Christmas,’ you can obviously not wish them ‘Merry Christmas.’ But even if it were permitted to say the name of the holiday, “it would be wrong to use it as a holiday greeting. That makes you a participant in the joyous spirit of the day and the heterim of eivah do not have to go so far as to entail an explicit recognition of Jesus as messiah.” 5. “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”: “These may fall within the parameters of eivah, darchei shalom and kiddush Hashem, but if not required or expected, best to be avoided.” In other words, it may be permitted to greet others with these salutations in order to avoid animosity, and in order to generate positive feelings towards Jews and create a kiddush Hashem. 6. Greeting cards: Based on this, “greeting cards may be sent… but if not required or expected, best to be avoided. Many Christians might be offended if you do not verbally express good wishes, but may not expect a card.”
On the Job A number of Orthodox professionals have developed strategies which help them get through the non-Jewish holiday season in keeping with halachic requirements, without offending non-Jewish clients or business associates. Harry: “I have received a custom shirt, a video recorder, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, a bottle of Macallan 18, bottles of kosher wine, bottles of treif wine, etc., and countless gift baskets of fruit, chocolate, candy and nosh. I keep or share the kosher stuff with my brothers and Jewish employees in my office, and I give away the treif stuff to my non-Jewish employees (other than non-kosher wine, which is discarded).” Ari: “I am uncomfortable every December for this very reason! My business partner is also frum. We deliver trays of cookies to the nurses at all of the hospitals. We davka deliver the trays after New Years to avoid the problem altogether. [When] I get treif food, I leave it for the secretaries in my office.” Irwin: “Rabbi Bess forbade accepting wine and rotating to someone else or giving it to the maid. We throw it out. Foodstuffs go to the secretaries/administration. I give out [holiday gifts] Thanksgiving week.” Mickey: “We don’t send out anything for the holiday. When Pesach comes we send boxes of hand shmurah matzos from Israel to our clients. They love it and look forward to it annually. In a tough world you have to stand out. That’s our ‘shtick,’ and it solves the holiday problem too.” Unfortunately, even the best of strategies can backfire, as a friend learned very early in his legal career.
14 In my first year of practice at a big corporate firm, I used to give treif gifts to my nonJewish (Greek Orthodox) office mate. One day she overheard me saying the brachah over bread and she said, “I know that blessing: hamotzi.” Astonished, I asked her how she knew it. She told me that when she was a little girl she went to a Jewish camp one summer. I started asking follow-up questions, and it turns out that her mother’s mother’s mother was Jewish. I explained to her that that meant that she was Jewish, and she laughed out loud. Of course that also meant that I had been giving treif food to a Jewish person!