Americans love beer. Beer is the third most popular drink in the world, after tea and coffee. On average, each American consumes 2 and 1/3 gallons of it every month. Religious Jewish men like beer as well, and it seems to be a staple item at Shalom Zachars – the traditional meal where appreciation is expressed to the Creator for having allowed the baby to be born. Beer is also subject to the prohibitions of Chometz sh’avar alav haPesach – Chometz that was owned by a Jew over Pesach (henceforth – Chometz S.A.H.P) if it was not properly sold.
Most observant Jews know to avoid Chometz S.A.H.P.
How do they do this? They find out which stores are considered to be Jewish-owned and determine whether or not the owner sold the Chometz that belonged to them. The issue is not just about the store owner, however. If the store purchased its Chometz from a Jewish wholesaler, then that too can present a problem.
A brilliant Jewish businessman had managed to create one of the largest beer distributorships in the nation. A significant amount of the beer sold in New York City and the greater metropolitan area is distributed by this Jewish-owned company. Alas, the beer was not scheduled to be sold prior to Pesach.
A certain Reb Kalman Weinfeld had heard a Shabbos HaGadol drasha from Reb Don Yoel Levy and decided to take it upon himself to see if he could speak to the owner. The owner took a liking to Reb Kalman and managed to make a tikkun. The owner of company took the matter quite seriously and calculated the value of the sale of the company for that period of time.
For their own reasons, some of the other Kashrus agencies were not fully satisfied with the nature of the sale for this year.
Indeed, this year, the CRC (Satmar Hechsher) and the Star-K both issued alerts about the fact that it was not to be used by their respective supervisions as either it was not sold or they felt that the sale failed to address certain issues. The Star K issued its alert prior to the sale. The CRC issued its alert after the sale. Some 114 different brands of New York beer were affected. The Star K site recommends, for now, that these beers not be consumed until late May or June when the stocks of beer in any particular store will be depleted.
It should be noted that both the CRC and the Star K agreed that what the OK did was certainly a worthwhile and meritorious thing. It is just that they feel that the sale was not up to their standards.
WHAT HALACHA IS BEHIND THESE DIFFERENT POSITIONS?
What are the halachic issues at play here? The OK sale was certainly done under instruction of a Talmid Chochom. Indeed, an inquiry to OK laboratories revealed that the well-regarded Belzer Dayan was instrumental in advising as to how the sale should be done. So, what was it that may have been questionable?
WHEN THERE IS A DOUBT
If we are not sure whether or not something truly is Chometz S.A.H.P. – this is termed “Safaik Chometz S.A.H.P.” The Mishna Brura (449:5) cites a view that when there is a doubt one may eat Safaik Chometz SAHP. It is, however, a debate among the Poskim. Poskim have ruled that when there is a need one can rely on the lenient view.
DOING BUSINESS OVER PESACH
But there is yet another question: Many of these companies unquestionably still does business over Pesach with Chometz. Is there any inyan to be stringent based on the idea that selling an on-going business on Pesach with Chometz may invalidate the selling of the Chometz that the Rabbi performed prior to Pesach?
Most Poskim hold that it does not invalidate the sale and that which the company is buying and selling over Chometz is product that actually belongs to a goy. The issue, however, is a debate among the Poskim.
The Maharam Shick (OC #205) rules that the fact that the irreligious store owner is still conducting business demonstrates that the sale is, in fact, a sham sale. This is also the view of the Minchas Shai, the Divrei Malkiel (4:24) and the Sdei Chemed (Chometz 9:35).
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe OC I #149) and the Divrei Chaim (II #46) both permit it, however. Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that there is no concern whatsoever and no need to be stringent since the essence is that the Rabbi had sold it. The Chelkas Yaakov (III #31) seems to be lenient as well.
THE ISSUE OF “ONLY A HALACHIC SALE”
There also may be another issue. What happens of the owner insists that the sale only be a halachic sale and not a legal sale? This issue was debated back in Europe – where the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos Orech Chaim #113) permitted it, while others, such as Rav Boruch Frankel the Av Beis Din of Lipnik, forbade it. The Chasam Sofer’s rationalization is that even if it is an invalid sale in the eyes of secular law, the purchaser could go to the Beis Din and they will enforce it.
Some people question the Chasam Sofer’s explanation in contemporary society. Here, the Bais Din has absolutely no authority over a non-religious Jew, while in Europe they did. Does the Chasam Sofer’s rationale still apply? Many Poskim hold that it does. Others have said that the Chasam Sofer’s position does not apply when the Bais Din has absolutely no control or influence.
One of the issues in this particular sale is that it was done for a specific limited period of time – a Mechira L’Zman. There is a great controversy in halacha about a temporary sale in terms of Chometz. The Shach and other Poskim (see Chazon Ish EH 74:15 regarding the opinion of the Rambam) holds that a Mechira L’zman does not work because there is still responsibility on the Chometz. The Kinyan is only one of Peiros and not for the substance of the item. This is also the opinion of Rav Shlomo Kluger (HLS 33) and the Maharsham (VI:27). Other Poskim, such as the Rosh (Responsa Klal 35) and the Ktzos HaChoshain 241:5 and 257:3 disagree and permit it. It is also unclear as to whether Chazal created a prohibition for Chametz when the issue is only one of Achrayus – responsibility.
Regardless, even though there may be three halachic doubts working against the consumption of this beer, the aforementioned ruling of the Mishna Brurah regarding a Safaik might still apply. It is this author’s opinion that the sale is, in all probability still valid, at least bdieved. Of course, each person should ask his own Rav. If any Shul Rav or Poseik would like to discuss the particulars of this particular sale – they can contact the author. Regardless, we should all be thankful that the owner of the company did make the effort to accommodate the observant Jewish community.
Below is the list of the beers in question.
- BLUE MOON
- BROOKLYN BREWERY
- CAPTAIN LAWRENCE
- CARTA BLANCA
- COLT 45
- CONEY ISLAND
- DOS XX
- ESTRELLA DAMM
- FIRE ISLAND
- GULDEN DRAAK
- HARLEM BREWING COMPANY
- HONEY BROWN
- INNIS & GUNN
- KEEGAN ALES
- LABATT BLUE
- LAKE PLACID
- MAGIC HAT
- MILWAUKEES BEST
- MONK’S CAFÉ
- NEW BELGIUM BREWING
- NEW CASTLE
- NOT YOUR FATHER’S
- OLDE ENGLISH
- OYSTER BAY BREWING
- PABST BLUE RIBBON
- PEAK ORGANIC
- PILSNER URQUELL
- RED STRIPE
- REVOLUTION BREWING
- SAMUEL ADAMS
- SEA DOG
- SLY FOX
- SWEET WATER BREWING
- THIRD SHIFT
- TRAVELER BEER CO.
- TWO ROADS
- WATERFRONT BREWING CO.
The author can be reached at [email protected]