We've learned before that there is a prohibition against doing business with non-kosher food items. Conversely, there is no prohibition against doing business with non-food items. One can buy and sell animals such as donkeys, horses or camels because these are not typically used as food.
But what if you wanted to use something that is typically used as food, but you want to use it for a non-food purpose? Examples brought in the commentaries are using animal fat for smoothing hides and making candles. Modern examples would be to manufacture a dye using shrimp, or opening a zoo showcasing animals such as the octopus. This type of case falls in between the two cases above. What can one do?
It turns out that this very question is a point of contention between the Rashba and Tosfos. In an earlier lesson we learned that there is a disagreement as to if the prohibition of doing business with non-kosher food items is from the Torah, but Chazal were given the authority to decide the details (such as Chol HaMoed), or if the prohibition is merely d'rabbanan and the pasuk that was used as a basis for it was only an asmachta (a "hint" from the Torah). The Rashba holds like the former, that it is d'oraisa, while Tosfos holds that it is d'rabbanan. According to the Rashba, once Chazal decided that the Torah prohibition applied to food, it then applies to all food, regardless of the intention. Tosfos, however, understand that the underlying reason that Chazal prohibited the buying and selling of food was because of the concern that if a person deals with non-kosher food on a regular basis, he may come to eat it. But if he is using it for a non-food purpose, that concern goes away and there is no need to restrict him, so the gezeirah doesn't apply.
So according to the Rashba, one would not be allowed to use shrimp to make dye, while according to Tosfos, it would be permissible.
How does the Shulchan Aruch pasken (rule)? His language in 117:1 is "davar ham'yuchad l'maachal" ("something that is dedicated/meant/set aside for food)". His choice of words imply that he is ruling like the Rashba, that we only care about how the item is regularly used and not what the particular use is right now. However, the Shach paskens like Tosfos.
So we have a disagreement as to how we pasken. This creates room to be lenient under certain conditions.
The Shevet HaLevi (Rav Shmuel Wosner, zt"l) was once asked by a businessman who was raising rabbits for their fur (for use in hats and other clothing). They would slaughter the rabbits, take their fur and then throw out the carcasses, not using the meat for anything. The Shevet HaLevi ruled leniently, based on a combination of (1) the Shach's opinion and (2) the fact that the meat was being disposed of.
There is one exception where commerce is prohibited according to everyone, no matter what your intention is. There is an account in the Gemara (Bava Kama 82b) that there was a siege of Yerushalayim during the time of Bayis Sheni, due to a dispute between the Chashmonaim. The besiegers, in exchange for money, would send up a lamb everyday over the walls for the korban tamid, the twice-daily sacrificial offering. One day, as the situation deteriorated, they sent up a pig. It dug its claws into the walls of Yerushalayim and the land shook. Chazal subsequently made a gezeirah that no Jew should be involved in rearing pigs for any purpose whatsoever.
May HaKodosh Baruch Hu help us keep our commerce clean and may we be zocheh to once more offer up the lambs of the twice-daily tamid offerings.