1 – If I buy any whiskey (hametz gamur), do I need to check if the company owner is jewish, to know if its hametz she-avar alav ha pesach?
2 – I’m sepharadic. Do I need to check the products from chodosh (shulchan aruch, yoreh deah 293), or can I rely on what the RAMA rules?
1. It is more important to check if the owner of a store, who had whiskey in his possession over Pesach, is Jewish. Concerning the manufacturer, one can usually assume that the owners are not Jewish, and because manufacturers are generally corporations, it follows that the question of halachic ownership is in doubt even if the owners (shareholders) are Jewish.
2. The ruling of Rema, which is based on the doubt over whether the produce is actually chadash, is hard to rely on today, because we generally know when the produce was sown. Yet, over the generations the general custom in Ashkenaz was to be lenient, as many poskim point out. Bach (293) explained the reason for this leniency, yet other authorities (prominently, the Vilna Gaon) disagreed with him.
Many acharonim (see Pischei Teshuvah 293:1) thus defend the lenient practice, but this was based on the great difficulty of adhering to the strict approach (see Aruch Hashulchan 293:18, who describes how it was nearly impossible to follow the strict approach in his area (nineteenth century Russia), and notes that very few people follow the strict approach. He strives to defend the lenient approach and concludes: “All the Jewish people are free from sin.”)
The Mishna Berura (489:45) notes that most observant Jews adopt the lenient approach to the Chadash issue. He writes that although one should not criticize one who follows the lenient approach, a Halachically scrupulous individual should adhere to the Chadash restrictions as best as he can. In the Biur Halacha (489:10 s.v. Af), the Chafetz Chaim laments the fact that some people adopt an “all or nothing” attitude towards Chadash. He writes that just because one cannot observe the strict approach to Chadash at all times at the highest level of observance, it does not mean that one should not observe it at all. He writes that one should do his best to observe the strict approach to chadash as often as possible.
Today, it is easier to observe the stringencies of chadash even outside Israel (concerning Israeli crop there is little concern for chadash, but this is not true of American crop), and therefore it is proper to be stringent, though those who are lenient should not be criticized.
Concerning Sephardim, Yalkut Yosef rules that because the Shulchan Aruch is stringent with regard to produce of a non-Jew, a Sephardi Jew should not be lenient, unless there is a safek concerning the produce (Sha’atnez 293:11). However, those who act leniently should not be criticized, because they have authorities on whom to rely.