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Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc
It is forbidden to eat non-kosher food, but as a rule, it is permitted to have benefit from it. [There is a separate Rabbinic prohibition against doing business involving non-kosher food, but that topic is beyond the scope of this article]. However, the Mishnayos at the end of Temurah list quite a number of items which are also assur b’hana’ah (forbidden to have benefit/pleasure from them). Many of the items listed there aren’t relevant to the average consumers,1 but the following are ones that any of us may encounter:
Wine (or grape juice) which was poured in an idolatrous service is known as yayin nesesch and is assur b’hana’ah. In addition, there is a Rabbinic prohibition against drinking any wine which a non-Jew touched; this wine is known as stam yayin and there is a difference of opinion as to whether it is or isn’t assur b’hana’ah. Rema (YD 123:1) rules that l’chatchilah one should adopt the stricter opinion but in a case of great loss one may be lenient.
Accordingly, not only may one not drink non-kosher wine, brandy, cognac, or a beverage sweetened with non-kosher white grape juice concentrate, but one may not purchase a bottle to give to a non-Jewish business associate as a present. The reason is that when one gives a present it generates good will, and in that context the giver of the present is (also) considered to be benefiting from the gift. Therefore one may not give issurei hana’ah as a gift to someone else.
If meat was cooked with milk, the resulting food is referred to as basar b’chalav and is assur b’hana’ah. [The issur hana’ah doesn’t apply to mixtures which are only forbidden mid’rabannan such as poultry cooked with milk, or meat and milk mixed together without cooking].
This is why Jews have to be careful about the food they feed their pets. Of course, the pet is allowed to eat non-kosher food, but it is reasonably common for dog or cat food to contain whey or casein, both of which are milk derivatives,2 and if the pet food also contains beef, the owner may not feed them to his animal unless he can somehow ascertain that they aren’t cooked at the factory (and they aren’t warmed up at home).
The Torah forbids us from having benefit from chametz on Pesach, and Chazal declared that if a Jew owned chametz on Pesach that food remains assur b’hana’ah forever, even after Pesach ends. [These prohibitions are limited to chametz, but don’t apply to kitnios].
As a result of this halacha, for example, during the 8 days of Pesach a Jew may not relieve itching by soaking in an oatmeal bath, and (in many cases) he cannot be paid to work as a baker of chametz goods – even if the chametz belongs to a non-Jew. Similarly, if the Jewish owner of a liquor store forgot to sell his chametz before Pesach, he would likely be forbidden to sell the chametz liquors to non-Jews after Pesach. [One who is faced with such a situation should consult with a Rabbi].
For the first three years that a tree grows, one may not eat or benefit from any fruit that the tree produces. Although this prohibition, known as arlah, applies both in and out of Eretz Yisroel, there is a significant leniency regarding arlah in chutz la’aretz. If one is unsure whether a fruit that grew in chutz la’aretz is arlah, they may assume that it isn’t arlah and eat the fruit.3 On the other hand, if that same doubt was raised about a fruit from Israel, the fruit would be assur b’hana’ah.4
Due to the aforementioned leniency, most Americans assume that arlah only applies if they plant or replant a tree in their backyard (as the 3 years often have to be recounted after replanting) or travel to Israel, but is irrelevant when they shop in their local supermarket. This is basically true, but if one accidentally purchased an Israeli fruit, and then, after checking with an Israeli Rabbi, found that the fruit has arlah concerns,5 the fruit is assur b’hana’ah and can’t even be given as a present to a non-Jewish acquaintance or employee (as explained above).
1 Among the other issurim which are assur b’hana’ah are some which relate to the Beis HaMikdash (חולין בעזרה, פסולי המוקדשים, צפורי מצורה, קדשים, שער נזיר ), require a specific form of Beis Din (שור הנסקל, עגלה ערופה, עיר הנדחת, רובע ונרבע ), or are relatively uncommon (כלאי הכרם, פטר חמור, קונמות ). Yayin nesech noted in the text is one form of the larger issur hana’ah which relates to all Avodah Zara. This halacha received unexpected prominence in a broader context a few years ago when shaitels were suspected of originating from Indian Avodah Zara service.
2 Lactose is another common milk derivative, but it is only considered dairy mid’rabannan (for reasons which are beyond the scope of this document) and therefore cannot create basar b’chalav which is assur b’hana’ah.
3 Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 294:9.
4 Ibid. See Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 331:116-119 regarding having benefit from fruit (which isn’t arlah) from which terumos and ma’asros wasn’t separated.
5 There are a number of opinions as to how common arlah has to be regarding a specific type of fruit tree for it to be considered a “safek arlah”, and that issue, along with the practical information as to which fruits reach this threshold, are best answered by Israeli Rabbis who deal with this question day to day.