Millennium launches 'kosher' mutual fund

A new mutual fund has been launched that may appeal to those concerned about the ethics of companies in which they invest. The Millennium Good Eye Fund will only make investments in companies that abide by Jewish law, or the Halacha, in accordance with principles laid down by Rabbi Yehuda Silman, a member of the Badatz religious authority in Bnei Barak and an expert on the halachot of business practices, fund creator Shalom Eshel said on Sunday. Eshel is the manager of Reshit Tzmiha, which will manage the fund in cooperation with Millennium Investment House. Millennium chief executive Yigal Brosh said one of the aims of the new financial instrument is to alert the religious community to the halachot of investing. "From the checks we have carried out, the religious public is not aware of the prohibitions and problems bound up with investing in the capital markets. People generally aren't informed of the fact that investment in different mutual funds helps companies that desecrate Shabbat, and the investor makes a profit from these companies," said Brosh. Eshel, who has worked in the capital markets for nineand-a-half years, said "It's like the difference between eating in a kosher restaurant and a non-kosher restaurant." He explained there are three main halachic principles to consider when investing. "You can't invest in or make a profit from companies that are open on Shabbat. With fuel companies, for example, Shabbat is like a normal day, whereas you can't say this about banks, as Shabbat for them is not a normal day," Eshel said. The fund also will not make investments in interest-bearing instruments that don't have a "heter iska," or "transaction permission." This turns the relationship between a lender and a borrower from one based on interest (which it is forbidden to charge under the Halacha) to one based on a partnership. Finally, the fund won't invest in companies that don't observe the "negative commandments," such as the prohibition to sell Hametz on Pessah, Eshel said. He was reluctant to label companies as being kosher or non-kosher for investment, claiming he wasn't a "posek," or a halachic authority. Brosh and Eshel expect the fund to attract "hundreds of millions of shekels," with at least 75% to be placed in government bonds and the rest in shares of Tel Aviv-25 companies that fit the fund's criteria. The weighting was chosen following instructions from Rabbi Silman, who wants the fund to have a solid foundation. "He said it is important that you safeguard people's money," Eshel said. The Millennium fund isn't the first financial service aimed at the religious sector. Ramat Gan-based Hilat Shoam, a unit of Menorah Gaon Group, operates a halachic fund set up threeand-a-half years ago, while Visa Cal and Leumicard issue "kosher" credit cards.