Flying Home: Believing the Airline Steward


plane-el-alBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Each day before Pesach, airline flights are bringing students back from Israel to the United States. One of the repercussions of the economic downturn, however, is that parents are flying their children home through some “exotic” airlines, so to speak. According to Destiny Travel in Boro Park, AeroSvit Airlines through Kiev happens to be one of the cheaper tickets.

All airlines, of course, are not the same. While one can order kosher food from Lod Airport to Kiev – kosher meals with a recognizable hechsher are not available, however, from Kiev to JFK. On a flight to New York this past Sunday, the seminary girls and Yeshiva boys inquired of the AeroSvit staff where the fruit was from. The Steward responded, “The fruit is from Israel.” The consequence is that if the fruit is indeed from Israel, it cannot be eaten unless it is properly maasered.

The question arose: Does the steward or stewardess halachically have neemanus that the fruit is in fact a product of Israel?


The short answer is “no.” The Rashba (Vol. I #243), who represents the mainstream view writes in a response that, with the exception of testimony regarding a woman whose husband’s whereabouts are not known, we do not find that the Torah granted admissibility to such testimony regarding halachic matters, even to prohibit that which was initially considered permitted. Therefore, our Yeshiva boys and Seminary girls would be allowed to eat the fruit, especially since most fruits in the world do not come from Israel.

There does seem to be a dissenting view, however. Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Yam Shel Shlomo, Chulin 8:65) writes that a gentile is believed to say that a vessel being sold to a Jew was still in use that day (and therefore has more stringent laws associated with it). This seems to indicate that, to a certain degree, even on a biblical matter, a gentile is believed to forbid something with a previously accepted status. Should our returning children then be stringent and not eat the fruit?

Both the Shach and Taz, however (YD Chapter 122 subparagraph 4), take issue with this Yam Shel Shlomo. Notwithstanding the opinion of the Yam Shel Shlomo, it seems that most authorities reject or severely restrict his position. One can therefore assume that the normative view is the one espoused by the Rashba mentioned earlier.


There is another case, however, which sheds further light on our case. There is a Torah prohibition in slaughtering two animals on the same day where one is the offspring of the other. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 16:11) discusses a case where a gentile informed a Jewish purchaser that the two animals that were just sold were actually related. Generally speaking, the statement would not have halachic significance, unless one has a special relationship with the seller and believes him. If he does believe him, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is, in fact, forbidden. The term used by the author of the Shulchan Aruch is “Ee mehemin lei-if he believes him.”

The operative factor here is the special relationship. Otherwise, they would not be believed. Here, however, we are not dealing with American Airline personnel. Indeed, when one of the Yeshiva students requested assistance with his carry-on luggage he received a deep Russian, “No.” So the “Ee mehemin lei” is not existent.


Another issue that plays a central role in the believability of gentiles in Jewish law is the idea of masiach lefi tumo-where information comes out in incidental conversation. While, generally speaking, a gentile is not believed even if the information came out in incidental conversation (see Shach, YD 98:2), the Vilna Gaon (EH 17:125) explains that according to some authorities, when the information comes out incidentally, a gentile is believed to forbid something, but not to permit it. Here, in our case, the information from the accusers did not come out incidentally; it was purposefully presented in a lawsuit.

What if the gentile is incurring a loss through his statement? Is his statement more admissible? The Taz (YD 316:4) writes that it is. The Taz cites a long case where a gentile entered into negotiations concerning the sale of a cow and would have certainly gained more money had his statement not been believed. The Taz explains that the reason he is believed is not because of his statement, but rather the additional indication to the veracity of his words that is entailed in the fact that he is losing money. Normally, this would indicate a believability, but let us recall that the Taz only stated his words regarding incidental conversation, and this case is not incidental but purposeful.


There is also something in halachah known as raglayim le’davar -legs, or further indication to the matter. The Maharam Lubin, in a response (#66), writes that when there is raglayim le’davar, or further evidence or indication to the matter, the gentile is believed. For example, if a gentile has just examined the stomach of a cow and finds a nail, when he approaches the Jew with the bloody nail in hand, he is certainly believed that he found it there. In our case if the circumstantial evidence is there, then there is certainly room to consider the accusations. One must, of course, be very careful to ensure that the circumstantial evidence was not merely placed there to throw suspicion upon the owner because of some side feud or motivation. On the other hand, care must be taken not to quickly believe an explanation that may not be true.


In previous times (see Chullin 97a), we relied upon the testimony of an expert chef to tell us whether a non-kosher or a dairy item was inserted into a mixture. Nowadays, however, this has fallen into disuse, perhaps because there is a debate as to whether the expert is only believed in incidental conversation or in general.


All this up until now discusses the admissibility of a gentile’s word regarding a Biblically forbidden matter. When we are discussing rabbinic matters, there is a debate as to whether a gentile is believed in incidental conversation. The Trumas HaDeshen and the Shach rule that he is believed, while the Pri Chadash rules that he is not.

The conclusion? If there is no indication that the fruit did come from Israel, there would be no need or fear that the steward or stewardess is telling the truth. Ess gezunt!

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  1. Since when are you a posek? There are many instances where you need to assume that the fruit are from Israel! For example a northern airline serving a southern fruit, probably bought it in Israel, or an airline that is from a very distant country, etc. I think it’s wonderful to write articles of halachah, but you have no business misleading the olam!

  2. Wouldn’t this be a s’fek s’faika bc even if the fruit in question came from Israel the possiblity exists that it was properly massered?

  3. Obviously, Reb Yair’s case is talking about where there is no such assumption. It deals with whether a goy is relied upon when the tacit assumption is muttar.