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Selling Non-Jewish Wine or Giving it as a Gift; The Status of Wine Which a Non-Jew Touched But Did Not Move

The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in Parashat Balak (4), discusses the parameters of the prohibition of Setam Yenam – non-Jewish wine and wine that was touched by a gentile (listen to audio recording for precise citation). He writes that according to the practice of Sepharadim, who follow the rulings of the Shulhan Aruch, any wine that is owned or that was touched by a non-Jewish idolater is forbidden both for drinking and for any other kind of Hana’a (benefit). One may not sell this wine or give it as a gift. It goes without saying that it is forbidden to have a store that sells this kind of wine. If a person happens to have wine that was touched or owned by a non-Jew, he must pour it down a drain. The Ben Ish Hai emphasizes that this applies even nowadays, and one should not be lenient with regard to this prohibition.

This Halacha is very relevant to people who receive gifts from their non-Jewish employers or associates around the time of the gentile holidays, and these gifts occasionally include a bottle of wine. It is forbidden to pass the bottle on as a gift to a non-Jewish employee, partner or client. One must pour the wine out and not derive any benefit from it whatsoever.

The Ben Ish Hai addresses the question of whether there is room to be lenient in a case where a gentile owes money to a Jew, and the only way the Jew can receive the owed money is through a bottle of wine. The Shulhan Aruch forbids receiving wine from a non-Jew as payment for a debt, and this is also the position of the Keneset Ha’gedola (Rav Haim Banbenishti of Izmir, Turkey, 1603-1673). However, the Ben Ish Hai notes that the Rashba (Rabbi Shelomo Ben Aderet of Barcelona, 1235-1310) ruled leniently on this issue. He therefore concludes that one may accept a bottle of wine from a gentile in lieu of payment for a loan, if he will otherwise be unable to retrieve the owed funds.

Later (in Halacha 10), the Ben Ish Hai writes that a gentile’s contact with wine renders it forbidden regardless of whether he moved it with his hand or with his foot. The wine also becomes forbidden if the gentile intentionally moved the bottle indirectly, with an object he was holding in his hand, or if he drank from the bottle or simply lifted the bottle, such that he caused the wine to move, even slightly. However, if the non-Jew only touched the bottle, without moving it at all, then although one may not drink the wine, other forms of benefit are allowed.

Summary: One may not derive any form of benefit from wine owned by a non-Jewish idolater, or that was touched by a non-Jewish idolater. One may not sell this wine or give it as a gift to a non-Jewish associate; it must be poured down the drain. Wine becomes forbidden if a gentile moves it – even indirectly – in a manner that the wine is jostled, even slightly. If the gentile touches a bottle of wine but does not move it, then the wine is still forbidden for drinking, but other forms of benefit are permissible.


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