Buying Share in Non Kosher Wine Store
Buying Share in Non Kosher Wine Store
May an observant Jewish person invest in a partnership (which includes non-Jews) that will operate a liquor store (store that sells fine wine, spirits and beer)? It will be an entirely non-kosher store full of tons of ‘yayin stam’.
As in virtually all small businesses in the U.S. the investment manifests itself as interests in a company (a limited liability company), and the company owns the store. The Jewish partner will have minority interest in the company (likely 10% or less). The Jewish partner will not be involved in operations, and in fact the business will be in a different city than the Jewish investor’s residence.
My understanding is that the poskim have expressed allowance for leniency with respect to receiving benefit from yayin stam; however, virtually always emphasize that it is best to be stringent in the manner. And in certain cases of hefsed where more leniency is available, nevertheless, blessings follow abstaining from any yayim stam transaction. Particularly because some of our teachers, the rishonim, equate yayim stam to yayim nesech on the ‘benefit’ decree as opposed to the fear of intermarriage decree.
Despite the above, my understanding is that running an “inn” that served non-kosher wine and beer to non-Jews was a very common Jewish business in Eastern Europe among the observant Jews. Perhaps in this sense does the Tur mention about this law ‘better to be inadvertent than intentional’. But I believe there are those who source legitimate allowance on basis of similar prevalent practices throughout history, and it seems that perhaps the stringency, though often applied as the ‘clear’ answer of prohibition, is just that.
It is permissible to purchase a minority share in such a store.
There are a number of issues with such a partnership. One is as you mention, benefitting from wine of a non Jew. Aside from that there is a general prohibition of doing business with forbidden foods. Such a store will often also carry small amounts of snack food which may often be non kosher, basar b’chalav etc..
With regards to wine of a non Jew in our times the Rama, [Yoreh Deah 123:1] quotes the lenient opinion that it is permissible to benefit from, and one opinion that one may even ideally do so, although he encourages stringency in this regard. The Pischei Tshuva ibid. 2, quotes the custom you mention of Jews working in the non kosher wine business.
With regards to doing business with non kosher foods in general [Yoreh Deah 117], this would be an issue only with foods that are Biblically prohibited, which is commonly the case in such stores. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh De’ah 117:27) rules leniently [albeit as a “limud zechus”] for storekeepers who sell non-Kosher foods, because their main intention is to sell the Kosher products, and the non-Kosher products are only sold “by the way” because of the need to keep the store open. The store we are discussing mainly sells drinks which are Biblically permissible. Although the Darchei Teshuvah notes that other Poskim do not concur, the leniency is cited by the Shu”t Melamed Leho’il (Yoreh De’ah 39) and others.
While with regards to both of the above issues there would seem to be room for stringency, there is an additional factor on which we may rely in this case. That is as you mention the Jew is only buying a minority share of an LLC, where the actual ownership is by the entity of the company itself.
Rav Yitzchak Ha-Levi Ittinger (Shut Maharia Vol. 2, sec. 54, 124), ruled that shareholding does not constitute halachic ownership at all. Shu”t Cheishev Haefod (Vol. 1, siman 62) writes that the Dovev Meisharim also cited the above ruling.
Igros Moshe [CM 2:15; OC 1:19, 4:54] rules that a corporation is an actual partnership of sorts. However he rules that one may own shares of stock in a non-kosher food chain, provided that he does not have any decision-making control in the company (Igros Moshe E”H Vol. 1, siman 7).
See Shu”t Minchas Asher Vol. 1 Siman 105 who rules that the shareholders are not halachic owners of the company. In your case the investor will hold a minority share which will not give him practical authority or say in the running of the company.