Buying A Non-Kosher Gift Card for a Non-Religious Parent

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QUESTION

Detroit, Michigan

A ba’al teshuva’s father has asked for a gift card to a non-kosher restaurant for a Father’s Day present so that he can enjoy a nice meal out. The father is not interested in a kosher restaurant (and would likely be somewhat disappointed to receive one).

Is it permissible to buy a gift card for a non-kosher restaurant if the restaurant also has drinks and possibly less problematic food such as green salads? Can the son or daughter rely on a false assumption that the father might just get drinks or a salad, even though that is highly unlikely? How do we factor kibud av (honor for parents) into this? What about marit ayin in terms of going into the restaurant to get the card?

ANSWER

I don’t think it is lifnei iver, technically speaking. The father certainly has money and can go there himself, and he can spend the money on permissible items as you mention, etc. I think you are probably expressing an intuition that using this gift card somehow implicates the son in the very act of buying the non-kosher food when it happens.

It is true that there is a category of מסייע לידי עוברי עבירה mesayehah lidei ovrei aveirah– that is, being somewhat involved in the act even if it isn’t lifnei iver and you are not, per se, enabling it. However, that is only when you are involved b’shaat maaseh (at the time of the non-permissible action – see for example, Shu”t Binyan Tzion 15), which is not the case here.

As to the son’s feeling that his card will be being used, etc. – I would make the following points:

  1. Once the father has the card, it is his. The son’s name isn’t on it, etc., so there is no direct connection. It would be like the son gave his father a $100 bill, and the father then used it to pay for the meal (although I do acknowledge that this feels different).
  2. The father first eats the meal and then pays for it. The using of the card comes afterwards, once the eating of non-kosher is over, and it is used to pay a debt owed to the restaurant, not to procure the non-kosher food;
  3. As stated, it could be used for heter (something permissible), so it is really the father deciding how he wants to use it, the son is not part of that decision at all.

As to marit ayin – again, I acknowledge it can feel weird/wrong because he is going to purchase the card. Going into a non-kosher restaurant is not itself a problem of marit ayin – for a number of poskim marit ayin is only relevant when people think you are doing an aveira, not going to do an aveira (he’s entering in so he can buy non-kosher). More to the point – people assume you’re meeting someone, buying a soda, using the bathroom, etc. Even buying a gift card – if I saw a frum Jew doing that, I would assume it was to give to a non-Jewish friend/employee, etc.

So, in the end, this is an issue of religious sensibilities, which has to be balanced with kibbud av v’em and shalom bayit. I trust you can help him think through those competing issues.

Certainly, if you imagine that it would be well received to give the cash value in place of a gift card, that would certainly be better.

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