Delivery and Ride Apps – Halachically App-roved?

With the advent of the latest apps, a whole new world of halachic scenarios has arisen.[1] These include shailos about using food delivery services, working for a food delivery or ride app, and even calling and using a ride service. These various situations will be addressed here.[2]

Ordering from Meal Delivery Apps

Meal delivery apps like Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates have seen tremendous growth over the last few years. For our discussion, we will use Uber Eats as our example, but the concerns raised apply to the comparable apps.

A customer orders from a restaurant that has contracted with Uber Eats. When it is ready, an Uber Eats driver picks it up from the restaurant and delivers it to the customer. Here are some points to consider when ordering from a kosher restaurant:

  • Is the food properly sealed?

Delivered food must be properly sealed.[3]  Many restaurants do not seal take-out food, unless the restaurant itself arranges the delivery or sealing is requested by the customer. To seal every item would be very time consuming.

Meat, chicken, and fish require a double seal, while other foods suffice with a single seal. It is advisable to call ahead, or leave a note in the order, to ensure that the restaurant will properly seal the food.

Kosher restaurants should be sealing all third-party delivery orders as it can be assumed that the order will be delivered by an aino-yehudi. (STAR-K restaurants are instructed to seal every Uber Eats order that comes in via their app.) However, please be aware that:

  1. Sometimes the restaurant does not know the order came in from an app, as some apps require the driver to come into the restaurant and place the order as any customer would. Restaurants might not seal the food in this instance if they are not alerted, as it can appear the delivery person is buying for himself.[4]
  2. Even if the restaurant knows the order came via an app, in a pressured environment they might not seal every order.

In the same vein, if a kosher consumer sends in someone who is either not Torah-observant or is an aino-yehudi (e.g., an office messenger or secretary) to a restaurant or deli to buy food from a counter, they should be instructed to ask that the food be sealed.

  • What if the food arrives unsealed?

If the food arrives unsealed, a rabbi should be consulted.[5]

  • What else should I be concerned about if ordering from a kosher restaurant?

Uber Eats assigns categories like Kosher, Asian, Chinese to the restaurants it serves. The categories are chosen by the restaurant and there are no guarantees that what the app categorizes as ‘kosher’ is actually kosher certified. Be careful especially when you are not in your hometown and are not familiar with the local kosher restaurants.

Some Uber Eats drivers put the pizza or food boxes in insulated containers to keep them warm for the customer. The containers may have residue of previous treif deliveries, and that residue can transfer to the kosher packaging. It will generally not be absorbed into the kosher food, but one should be aware and check the delivered box for residue.

Driving for a Meal Delivery App Service

Is delivering for apps like Uber Eats an appropriate job for a Torah-observant person? Let’s discuss some of the issues surrounding this question.

  • Mar’as ayin. Consider that the delivery person often must walk into a non-kosher restaurant to pick up an order. Even if the food is brought to the car, it will be obvious that he is taking food from a non-kosher establishment. Is there a problem of mar’as ayin because people who see this may think he is buying it for himself? This issue could be remedied by the use of clear identifying markers that he is just the delivery service  – for example, by wearing an Uber Eats jacket and/or by placing a sign on his car that says Uber Eats. [6]
  • . What if the person placing the order is Jewish and they order non-kosher food? Are you allowed to deliver it to them and thereby be responsible for their transgression?  According to Halacha, one is permitted to assume that the customer is not Jewish since the majority of the population of the U.S. is not Jewish, and one is not obligated to investigate.[7] Even if one were to surmise by the name or location that the customer is probably Jewish, there is a halachic basis to deliver the food. [8]
  • Schora/Business. According to Halacha, one is not permitted to “do business” with non-kosher food.[9] One can argue that making money from non-kosher deliveries is like a business. Again, there is room to be lenient:   
  1. The delivery person never actually ‘owns’ the food and thus, according to the Igros Moshe, his service is not truly considered ‘doing business’ with non-kosher food. [10]
  2. If he is delivering something that is forbidden rabbinically, like a cheese pizza, the prohibition of schora does not apply. [11]
  • Delivering Basar B’cholov. Besides the prohibition of doing business with any non-kosher food mentioned above, if the food is basar b’cholov (a cooked mixture of meat and milk), there is an additional halachic consideration: one is not permitted to have any hana’a (benefit) from basar b’cholov. Therefore, if the driver is delivering basar b’cholov and being paid for it, he is seemingly having a benefit from basar b’cholov, and this would be forbidden.[12]

However, there are a few mitigating factors: [13]

  • The Rambam[14] holds that the prohibition of benefiting from basar b’cholov is only applicable if the meat is from a properly slaughtered animal. The meat used in a non-kosher restaurant is a neveila, an animal that was not slaughtered properly. Although it is certainly forbidden to eat it, according to the Rambam one can benefit from basar b’cholov made with it. While this lenient opinion of the Rambam is not generally relied on in practice by authorities,[15] it can be considered in addition to other lenient factors.
  • If the meat and milk mixture being delivered is roasted or fried together, as opposed to cooked together, it is subject to a dispute in Halacha whether it is considered basar b’cholov, and it may be permissible to derive benefit from it. [16]
  • Any non-kosher species (such as pork) that is cooked with milk is not considered basar b’cholov.[17]
  • Typically, basar b’cholov foods would be ordered along with other foods that are not basar b’cholov (e.g., sodas, French fries, onion rings, salads). The driver is not paid according to the order total; his compensation is the same whether or not there is basar b’cholov in the order. [18] On the other hand, Uber Eats encourages tips, and since tips are generally a percentage of the total price, the driver could very well be benefitting from the basar b’cholov that is part of the order.

After weighing these and other halachic concerns, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann shlit”a concluded that a Jewish person should not deliver for Uber Eats. If a person needs to take this type of employment for his livelihood, he should discuss it with his own rabbi.

Yichud Issues of Ride Apps – for both Driver and Passenger

If a Torah-observant person drives passengers for Uber or Lyft,[19] he should be aware of the following:

  • Sometimes a male driver will pick up a female passenger,[20]  and this can lead to a situation of yichud, seclusion. During the daytime, in any major city, there are enough people around that it would not be yichud. However, if traveling late at night on a dark, deserted street, questions of yichud could arise. Similarly, poorly lit dead-end streets or country roads would present a problem at night. [21]
  • A driver should take this into account when choosing his hours and areas of driving.[22] (The driver may not know where the ride is going until he accepts the ride or picks up the passenger. At that point, if the ride may cause a yichud concern, the driver can turn down the ride.[23]
  • A  driver might not realize that there is a yichud question until the ride has begun. A potential solution could be to have a ‘shomer’ at the ready who would be available to oversee his ride through a video call. The driver could call his wife or a friend who would be available to view the driver in real time while he finishes the ride.
  • Of course, a passenger in an Uber or any taxi should likewise be mindful of yichud (and safety) issues when planning a ride. [24] A large majority of Uber drivers are male,[25] and a female rider should be extra cautious when the ride is late at night and her destination is a dark, deserted street.

Ordering an Uber or a Taxi on Shabbos

Not too long ago, if one needed a ride on Shabbos (e.g., to get to the hospital for an urgent need, such as a woman going into labor), he would call a taxi. With the advent of Uber, taxis are not as common but are still available. Is it halachically better to order an Uber or call a taxi service?

  • Either is acceptable, but it might be preferable to use Uber than to call a taxi. This is because thanks to the app, no money or credit card needs to be handled, and with a few clicks the ordering is done.[26] An Uber may also arrive faster which is an important factor during a medical emergency.  Assuming that before Shabbos it is known that a trip may be needed, your address and the hospital’s address should be entered into the app ahead of time. On Shabbos, simply click through the choices on the phone (using a knuckle to create a shinui) to place the order.
  • When ordering an Uber on Shabbos, one would prefer a non-Jewish driver. Although one cannot choose the driver, one can assume the driver is from the general population, which is predominantly non-Jewish. [27]
  • With either Uber or a taxi, one should ask the non-Jewish driver to open and close the car door to avoid turning on or off the dome light.

Ordering from Grocery Shopping Apps and Websites

Grocery delivery apps like Instacart have become increasingly popular, with a huge surge during the shutdowns necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. While they have been helpful for many people, these too raise kashrus concerns.

  • When using a grocery shopping app like Instacart, the customer orders groceries from a local store, and Instacart sends a personal shopper to shop and deliver the order. Since shoppers may substitute the brand that was ordered with another brand, all items should be checked before consuming to ensure that they have proper kosher certification. (It is recommended that consumers opt out of allowing the shopper to make substitutions without approval.)
  • When purchasing grocery items online, exercise caution when basing your purchase on a photograph displaying a kashrus symbol. The product might not actually be certified as the photo might be outdated or incorrect. Kashrus agencies do their best to rectify these situations when notified, but ­– due to the sheer volume of products available online – it is impossible to ensure full accuracy. When the product arrives, carefully check the label to make sure it has a valid kashrus symbol before you use it.
  • Remember to cancel any automatic deliveries (e.g., Amazon Subscribe & Save) of chometz products well before Pesach. If chometz does arrive during Pesach, do not bring it into your house. Check with your rabbi how to proceed.

Conclusion

As we have seen, using certain apps requires one to learn the halachos involved. STAR-K will continue to monitor changes in these and other technologies to keep the kosher consumer up to date. [28]


[1] This article should not be construed as STAR-K’s encouragement or endorsement of the use of smartphones. The information being provided here is for those who do use these apps and seek halachic guidance. Note that kosher filtered smartphones also provide access to these apps.

[2] The technology is quickly changing, and the changes may affect the halachos mentioned here. Services in other countries may operate differently.

[3] The seal must indicate that it comes from the kosher restaurant. For details, see Rabbi Nisson Dov Miller’s Kashrus Kurrents article, “Signed Sealed and Delivered,” and Rabbi Dovid Heber’s article “Kashrus in the Workplace,” at www.star-k.org.

[4] This can happen with the Postmates app which does not necessarily contract with restaurants. Even on Uber Eats, there are situations in which Uber lists a non-contracted restaurant, and the driver is instructed by Uber Eats to go to the restaurant, order as a customer would, and pay with the Uber Plus Card.

[5] The rabbi will take into account that the route of the driver is well monitored and doesn’t leave time to go into another restaurant, buy similar food and switch it. Also, the consumer may have a tevi’as ayin, an ability to recognize the food from the restaurant. The rabbi may also suggest calling the restaurant to confirm the precise items sent.

[6] See Rabbi Mordechai Frankel’s Kashrus Kurrents article, “Insights from the Institute,” Summer 2009, at www.star-k.org, discussing mar’as ayin regarding a non-kosher restaurant.  

[7] Even if the number of Jews and non-Jews in the population was 50/50 (“kavuah”), one could still be lenient, as the question involved is rabbinic in nature.

[8] Dagul Mervava Y.D. 151:Shach 6. See also MG”A 347:4 and Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:72.

[9] Y.D. 117:1

[10] Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:51. However, one reason for the prohibition to do business is to prevent one from eating non-kosher. There are reports that some 30% of Uber Eats drivers admitted they have tasted the food they are delivering, which would be cause for some concern regarding this Halacha. https://tinyurl.com/3tv65ypj

[11] Y.D. 117:1

[12] Delivery of non-kosher wine raises a similar issue as basar b’cholov since in general one may not benefit from non-kosher wine.

[13] See Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 17:33 in a response to Rabbi Dovid Cohen of Cong. Gvul Yaavetz, where he permits a nurse to serve basar b’cholov to her patients to avoid losing her job. However, the situation is not entirely comparable to an Uber Eats driver.

[14] Quoted in Dagul Mervava Y.D. 87:3.

[15] See Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 87:6.

[16] Y.D. 87:1 and poskim there.

[17] Y.D. 87:3

[18] In addition, it is possible that if the restaurant would not be able to supply basar b’cholov, the customer would be satisfied with other foods. Therefore, it could be argued that the driver is not benefitting from basar b’cholov.

[19] Or any rideshare app.

[20] Or vice versa.

[21] For a review of these halachos, see The Halachos of Yichud by Rabbi Dovid Ribiat.   

[22] In addition, tinted windows, which make it difficult to see inside the vehicle, should be avoided.

[23] An Uber driver told us that he could turn down a customer upon hearing the destination, although he might suffer a bad rating by that customer.

[24] For an interesting discussion of laws regarding yichud on a date, see Friedman V. State of NY 54 Misc. 2d 448 (N.Y. Misc. 1967), https://casetext.com/case/friedman-v-state-of-ny.

[25] https://tinyurl.com/5rw9psn4

[26] If payment will be via a cash transaction, there a couple of ways to avoid directly handing money to a taxi driver: either placing cash in a hat and bringing it to the driver, or stashing it in a safe spot near the house and instructing the driver to take it and to keep any change.

[27] In some cities, arrangements are made with taxi dispatchers by Jewish organizations to send a non-Jewish driver upon request and defer payment until after Shabbos. In the author’s experience in years past, requesting a non-Jewish driver from such a taxi dispatcher was not always successful. The dispatchers did not always understand the request, which led to further delay. 

[28] Additional questions that will be addressed in future articles: (1) Uber runs a program called Uber Health to arrange rides to medical appointments. Is a male driver permitted to assist a female patient into and out of the car? (2) Is one permitted to complain to Uber Eats about a kosher restaurant? (3) If a Jewish car service is available, should one call them before choosing to hire an Uber?