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Is it permissible to give a gift of a ham to a gentile? This could be purchased online and sent directly to them.

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Most likely inadvisable; may actually depend on the terms and conditions of the company from which you're ordering. Thanks to NJM for pointing to an essay from Rabbi Moshe Dovid Lebovits of Kof-K kosher; in turn citing Rabbi George Lintz, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society volume 24.

Rambam, end of Chapter 8 of Laws of Prohibited Foods:

ח,טז לפיכך אין עושין סחורה לא בנבילות, ולא בטריפות, ולא בשקצים, ולא ברמשים. [יז] הצייד שנזדמנו לו חיה או עוף ודג טמאין וצדן, או שניצודו לו טמאין וטהורין--מותר למוכרן; אבל לא יכוון מלאכתו לטמאין.

Therefore we do not do business with animals that were not kosher slaughtered, with animals that had serious injuries, or with non-kosher species of animals. A trapper who happened to trap a non-kosher type of animal, fish, or bird, or trapped a mix of kosher and non-kosher species -- he is allowed to sell off the non-kosher ones; but he should not set out to make his living from the non-kosher ones.

A ham fits very clearly in this last category: a.) it is prohibited to eat, b.) you may occasionally gift or sell one if it somehow wound up in your possession unintentionally; c.) but you should not decide to go into the ham business.

So is it b.) or c.)? Shach YD 117:3 writes that for me to go buy a ham (or the like) and take it home with intention of gifting it to a non-Jew is like taking it home with intention of selling it to non-Jews; that would therefore be considered "doing business with it" and therefore prohibited.

So what about ordering one for delivery? Chasam Sofer YD104 was asked about a Jew in Trieste going to a seafood market, choosing some barrels of preserved non-kosher seafood, and having them sent on a boat down to Egypt to some non-Jewish partners, billing it to the company. After much deliberation, it ultimately comes down to whether at any moment the Jew was responsible for the wares. Was there a point in time when, if lightning struck the barrels and they went up in smoke, it would have been the Jew's loss? If so, he was trading in non-kosher seafood.

Thus the question becomes: if that ham were to disappear during shipping from the store to its recipient, would I have to pay to have a new one sent? If so, that proves I bought the ham, which would be prohibited. If instead the ham company would pay for another one, it would be allowable as that shows I never really owned this ham.

  • Thanks for an informative answer. I'm having trouble seeing the logic in your last paragraph, though -- if I order something from an online vendor and the package doesn't arrive, it's generally their loss, not mine. Wouldn't that suggest that they're replacing my property (or due), for which they've already collected payment? – Monica Cellio Apr 2 '17 at 2:52
  • @MonicaCellio as halacha speaks in terms of responsibilities not rights, responsibility for loss is used as a barometer for "who really owns it?" Chasam Sofer's reading (IIUC) is that if the vendor sends a new ham for free, that proves the first ham was never truly "mine" -- effectively, I am paying them for the complete package of "get a ham delivered into the hands of Mr. Smith", which they didn't yet do. (Now if one of their employees took my ham and damaged it, they'd be responsible as a tort, but let's assume lighting struck the ham during shipping.) – Shalom Apr 2 '17 at 11:42
  • @MonicaCellio Conversely, if they tell me "your ham was hit by lightning, sorry mister", that proves it was my ham. (The same goes for selling chametz -- if I sold my liquor warehouse to a non-Jew and then it burns down on Pesach, that's his loss, not mine!) – Shalom Apr 2 '17 at 11:43
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Rabbi Lebovitz explains,

Food items which are forbidden to do business with on a d’oraisa level (like ham is forbidden in the torah) may not be given to a non-Jew as a present. The reason is because giving a present is like doing business. If one sent the gift directly to the goy (without actually acquiring the gift) some say that this may not be considered buying non-kosher. (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 24:page 96)

  • Who is rabbi Lebovitz, and from where is this cited, please? – Shalom Apr 2 '17 at 1:20
  • Sorry Shalom, for some reason the paragraph didn't include the hyperlink...Rabbi Lebovitz is the writer for Halachically Speaking and Rabbinic Coordinator at the Kof-K. – NJM Apr 2 '17 at 1:27
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    I have a hard time understanding how giving a gift is the same as doing business. Also in the article it says one may give their works non kosher food but in the section about giving gifts it contradicts that. – Laser123 Apr 2 '17 at 1:48
  • If it is simply a gift, not for business purposes? For example ones parents are not jewish but the jewish child wants to send a present? – Alice Apr 2 '17 at 7:11
  • @Alice the thinking when it comes to gifts is that what goes around, comes around; you will eventually gain something from the improved relationship. (If I give my non-Jewish neighbors a ham, they may loan me a ladder or help me shovel out my car ...) – Shalom Apr 2 '17 at 11:37

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