Question: Based on the Halacha we have published recently about drinking coffee in a non-Jewish coffee shop or restaurant, many readers have asked: Is it permissible to drink alcoholic beverages in a non-Jewish coffee shop? Similarly, may one attend a business meeting with non-Jews when alcoholic beverages are being served?
Answer: There is indeed a great distinction between drinking coffee in a non-Jewish establishment and drinking alcoholic beverages in such establishments. Let us now discuss this matter further.
The Kashrut of the Beverages
Firstly, we are not discussing the Kashrut of the actual food and beverage. Nowadays, there are alcoholic beverages known not to contain any forbidden ingredients. For this reason, many fine and upstanding Jews customarily drink several kinds of whiskey, brandy, and beer even when there is no Kashrut certification on them. On the other hand, there are several alcoholic beverages which pose some very grave Kashrut concerns. Thus, one must consult with a Kashrut expert before consuming any kind of alcoholic beverage. (The prohibition of foods cooked by a non-Jew does not apply to beer and other alcoholic beverages for several reasons.)
Our Sages have forbidden drinking anything at a non-Jewish gathering, such as their weddings and the like. It is even prohibited to drink water or eat fruit there. There are certain instances where our Sages permitted this so that non-Jews do not come to hate us; thus, one must consult a competent halachic authority in any event.
Drinking Alcoholic Beverages in a Non-Jewish Establishment
Besides for the prohibition of eating or drinking at a non-Jewish gathering or party, our Sages forbade drinking alcoholic beverages (such as whiskey and beer) in a place where they are sold. For instance, a Jew would not be permitted to sit and drink alcohol in a non-Jewish store or coffee shop where alcoholic beverages are sold. The reason for this enactment was in order for Jews not to be drawn to non-Jews and sit, eat, and drink with them, which could eventually lead to intermarriage. Our Sages therefore absolutely forbade sitting in a non-Jewish home or establishment and drinking alcoholic beverages there.
Jews who customarily sit and drink beer among non-Jews are doing so against the wishes of our Sages and they have no source to rely upon which permits doing so.
Drinking Coffee in a Non-Jewish Establishment
There is even room to prohibit drinking coffee in a non-Jewish coffee shop, for sitting in a non-Jewish coffee shop can be compared to a “non-Jewish gathering” where several groups sit together. The Rambam (Chapter 17 of Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot) states explicitly that even if the Jew sits alone and has no connection to the other members of the gathering, it is still forbidden to eat or drink anything.
Nevertheless, Hagaon Harav Abdullah Somech zt”l writes in his Sefer Zivchei Tzedek (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 114) that there is room for leniency because of “non-Jewish hatred,” for they would customarily honor one another by drinking coffee in non-Jewish banquet halls. However, there is no room for leniency at all with regards to drinking alcoholic beverages and one must warn the public about this prohibition lest one be led astray to go and sit in non-Jewish establishments and drink the alcoholic beverages one is served.
Summary: One may not drink (kosher) alcoholic beverages in a non-Jewish establishment (such as a store or coffee shop) or home. Similarly, one may not drink alcoholic beverages at a non-Jewish business meeting.