Written by: Rabbi Ari Marburger

Reviewed by: Rabbi Dov Kahan

The issue of Mi Hu Yehudy, who is a Jew, is an emotionally charged one. Assertions that a particular person or group is or is not considered Jewish are met with passionate debate. There is however another question regarding Mi Hu Yehudy which may not engender the same degree of controversy, but still has wide ranging implications. What makes a company Jewish?

What does it mean that a company is Jewish?

Corporations do not eat, put on teffilin or get married. So what difference does it make if we consider a company Jewish? There are a surprising number of halachos that depend on a company’s status. One example is chometz. Only chometz owned by a Jew becomes chometz she’avar alav hapesach. If a company with Jewish shareholders is considered Jewish, then any chometz that it owns over Pesach is forbidden to eat. Ribbis is another common example. If a bank is considered Jewish, then every deposit or mortgage with the bank would have[A1] Issurey Ribbis.

Another aspect of this issue is how shareholders are affected. May one purchase shares in a food chain store knowing that it will own chometz on Pesach? For that matter, many companies run cafeterias that serve chometz. Is it permitted to own their shares? May one be a shareholder of a corporation that operates on shabbos or yomtov?

Logically, a company that has Jewish partners should be considered at least partially Jewish. Virtually every public bank has some Jewish shareholders, and yet it is customary to use credit cards, take out mortgages and make deposits with these banks. How can we justify this practice?

Historical background

This is not a new issue. There are responsa dating back to the mid 1800’s in which the Poskim discuss whether banks may be used. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (65:28) forbids Jews from either investing with or borrowing money from ‘Shpar Kessa’, a primitive form of banks. Given that there may be Jewish investors, a portion of the money that one borrows from such an institution is considered a loan between two Jews. Investing money in these ‘banks’ is also prohibited since a Jewish client may borrow that money.

The Sho’el Umaishiv (I 3:31) argued that these ‘banks’ may be used. He wrote to Rav Gantzfried requesting that he change his ruling in future printings of his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Apparently, Rav Gantzfried declined to do so.

It is beyond the scope of this article to present a detailed analysis of all the responsa that discuss this issue.

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