The Milky Way

The custom of eating dairy on Shavuos has a long history; certainly, we should review the topic of…

Does Chalav Yisrael Apply Today?

Question #1:

Shirley mentions to her friend: “I do not understand why some people keep chalav Yisrael today. Do they really think that someone is adding pig’s milk?”

Question #2:

Muttie inquires: “My friend quoted his rav that it is more important to keep chalav Yisrael today than it ever was before. How could this be?”

Chazal (Bechoros 6b) derive from this week’s parsha a rule that whatever comes from a non-kosher species, such as eggs or milk, is also non-kosher. Thus, milk of mares, camels, llamas, donkeys or sows are all non-kosher. Still, people find chalav Yisrael a perplexing subject matter. We have all heard various authorities quoted that today use of chalav Yisrael is only a chumrah, whereas others rule that consuming non-chalav Yisrael foods is a serious infraction of halacha. The mission of this article is to provide appreciation of the issues involved. So, let us start from the beginning of the topic by understanding the origins of this proscription and then explaining the different approaches why it does or does not apply today.

Before we even begin our halachic discussion, we need some biological and food production information. The definition of a mammal is an animal that nurses its young with mother’s milk. (The Modern Hebrew word for mammal is yoneik, literally, that which nurses, meaning that the young suckles mother’s milk.) Hashem, who provides for all His creatures, custom-developed a formula that provides the ideal nourishment for the young of each mammalian species. This supplies the perfect “food pyramid” balanced diet with all the proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that a young growing foal, cub, kitten, puppy, kid, lamb, infant or calf need to thrive and mature until they are ready for an adult diet, which in many species is when they are ready to earn their own living.

There are thousands of species of mammals, yet each species’ milk is somewhat unique. The young of kosher animals require a certain protein, called casein, in higher proportions than do the young of non-kosher animals, and therefore Hashem made kosher milk with a higher proportion of casein. Non-kosher milk, of course, also contains significant amount of protein necessary for a young growing mammal, but most of this protein is categorized as “whey protein.” (When I use the term “non-kosher milk” in this article, I will be referring to milk from non-kosher species.) Kosher milk also contains whey protein, but in much smaller proportion to the casein.

The Origins of Chalav Yisrael

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35b, 39b) proscribes consuming milk that a gentile milked, unless a Jew supervised the milking, a prohibition called chalav akum. The Gemara notes that we are not concerned that the gentile is misrepresenting non-kosher milk as kosher — milk from non-kosher species looks different from kosher milk, and this would be easily identified. Rather, the prohibition is because the milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. The Gemara subsequently discusses how closely must the Jew supervise the milking; it concludes that, when the gentile has both kosher and non-kosher animals that could be milked, the Jew may be sitting in a place where he cannot observe the milking, provided that, should he stand up, he could. Since the Jew can stand up at any moment, we may assume that the gentile would not risk milking his non-kosher animal and losing the Jew’s business. Therefore, this milk still qualifies as kosher chalav Yisrael, milk supervised by a Jew.

On the other hand, should the gentile have only kosher species in his herd, the Gemara implies that less supervision is necessary, but it does not define exactly how much. The milking still requires the attendance of a Jew, but halachic authorities dispute the reason and purpose of the Jew’s presence. This dispute is what underlies the controversy alluded to above.

The most lenient approach

The most lenient approach is that of the Pri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who contends that there are concerns about chalav akum only when non-kosher milk is less expensive than kosher, or when non-kosher milk is obtainable but difficult to sell. However, when kosher milk is less expensive than non-kosher, halacha has no concern that non-kosher product may contaminate kosher milk. The Pri Chadash reports that, at the time that he wrote his commentary, he was living in Amsterdam, and the vast majority of the Torah community there accepted this interpretation and drank milk sold by gentiles. He adds that he himself relied on this approach and drank the milk. The Pri Chadash explains that halacha does not require that a Jew observe the milking, nor is there any requirement to verify that non-kosher milk was not added. The Mishnah and Gemara require a Jew to supervise the milking only when it is financially advantageous for the non-Jew to adulterate milk.

Chasam Sofer’s approach

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #107) opposed any lenience to use milk from gentiles. He maintained that Chazal required that a Jew actually supervise the milking, and that this sanction remains binding, even should its rationale no longer apply, until a more authoritative body retracts it (see Beitzah 5a). Since this has never happened, consuming unsupervised gentile milk remains prohibited. The Chasam Sofer requires that a Jew observe (or be able to observe) the milking, even when no incentive exists to adulterate the product.

Risk of snake bite

Chazal (Bava Basra 110a; Avodah Zarah 27b) invoke the verse uporeitz geder yishachenu nachash (Koheles 10:8) to mean thatsomeone violating a rabbinic injunction deserves to be bitten by a snake, indicating the importance of observing rabbinic prohibitions. The Chasam Sofer writes that someone who ignores the rabbinic prohibition of chalav akum and drinks milk, relying that the gentile would not add non-kosher milk, should be categorized as a poreitz geder deservant of the punishment of yishachenu nachash.

Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer contends that even should kosher milk be cheaper than non-kosher, since the Jewish people rejected the ruling of the Pri Chadash, unsupervised dairy products are prohibited because of the laws of nedarim, vows. Since Jews do not consume chalav akum even in places where non-kosher species are not milked, it is considered that they accepted a vow to prohibit unsupervised milk. As a result, the Chasam Sofer rules that it is prohibited min HaTorah, with the full stringency of a vow, to consume unsupervised milk.

A middle road

An approach between these two positions, that of Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 41:4), who contend that in a place where non-kosher milk commands a higher price than kosher milk, it is still prohibited to use non-supervised milk. However, Rav Moshe understands that the takanah did not require specifically that a Jew attend the milking, but that one must be completely certain that the milk has no admixture of non-kosher. When it is certain that the kosher milk is unadulterated, halacha considers the milk to be “supervised” (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47).

How can one be certain? The Mishnah recommended the most obvious way: have a Jew nearby who may enter at any moment. Of course, we realize that even this method is not foolproof, but it is as thorough as halacha requires.

Is there another way that one can be certain? Someone runs laboratory tests on some unsupervised milk and concludes, with absolute certainty, that it is 100% sheep’s milk. Yet, no Jew supervised the milking. Is the milk kosher?

According to Rav Moshe’s analysis, this milk is certainly kosher since we can ascertain its source.

In his earliest published teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe explained that, when the government fines those caught adulterating cow’s milk, the fear of this consequence is sufficient proof that the milk is kosher. In later teshuvos, he is very clear that other reasons why we can assume that the milk is kosher are sufficient proof, including that normal commercial practice is that standard milk is bovine milk (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:48, 49). One should note that the Chazon Ish agrees with Rav Moshe’s approach. We should also note that this heter applies only where the absolute assumption is that the milk is from kosher species, but not anywhere where camel’s milk, mare’s milk or milk from other non-kosher species is commonly sold or available.

Being Stringent

Rav Moshe concludes that, even where one can rely that the standardly available milk is kosher, and there is therefore no prohibition of chalav akum, a chinuch institution should use only chalav Yisrael products, even when all the children come from homes that do not use chalav Yisrael exclusively. He notes that this is an aspect of chinuch – to teach the importance of following a stricter standard than halacha necessarily requires.

Contemporary Problem

There is another reason why some poskim require use of chalav Yisrael today. This is because of the common occurrence in the contemporary world of a veterinary problem affecting dairy cows called displaced abomasums, which is often treated in a way that may render this cow’s milk non-kosher. I will discuss this topic a different time.

At this point, we can answer Shirley’s question: “I do not understand why some people keep chalav Yisrael today. Do they really think that someone is adding pig’s milk?”

Indeed, even in the time of the Gemara, it was probably unheard of for anyone to add pig’s milk or, for that matter, for anyone to use pig’s milk, since sows are almost impossible to milk. Although most non-kosher species do not allow themselves to be milked (have you ever tried to milk a cat?), camels, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, and mares can all be milked and produce a palatable product. Contemporarily, there is extensive research at Ben Gurion University about use of antibodies found in camel’s milk for treatment of autoimmune diseases. I have been asked about using this milk, which is clearly non-kosher, but is permitted in case of a life-threatening ailment.

To answer Shirley’s question succinctly: Although we can assume that the milk on your supermarket shelf is unadulterated cow’s milk, the Chasam Sofer still rules that Chazal prohibited consuming this milk. In his opinion, this prohibition is in full effect today, even when the reason for the takanah no longer applies. Furthermore, he suggests that the prohibition to use this milk might even be min haTorah . Other rabbonim have voiced other concerns about the kashrus of unsupervised dairy cows.

Stricter than Ever?

At this point, let us examine Muttie’s question: “My friend quoted his rav that it is more important to keep chalav Yisrael today than it ever was before. How could this be?”

One obvious reason for this rav’s position is that he holds like the Chasam Sofer that using non-chalav Yisrael incurs a Torah prohibition of violating vows. Furthermore, he may feel that since being lenient on this issue is so rampant, one must demonstrate the importance of this mitzvah. He also may be concerned about the displaced abomasums problem, and holds that this prohibits the milk min haTorah.

In Conclusion

Notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish writes several reasons why unsupervised milk is permitted, he never allowed its use. Rav Moshe similarly advocates being strict, and himself did not rely on the heter. It is also well known that Rav Eliezer Silver traveled across North America by train and took his own chalav Yisrael milk with him as he went. (I have no idea why it did not spoil en route.) In conclusion, I suggest clarifying with your rav whether you should rely on using non-chalav Yisrael milk.

Prepared to DeLIVER

In many places, the Torah forbids the consumption of blood. In chutz la’aretz, this week’s parsha is Acharei, which is one of the places where this prohibition of blood is mentioned. In Eretz Yisrael, the reading is Kedoshim, in which there are nine references to blood, in the context of different prohibitions. This makes it an appropriate week to discuss the laws of preparing livers according to halacha.

Question #1: Just a sLIVER

May a liver be broiled whole?

Question #2: DeLIVERed Electronically

May I kasher livers on an electric grill?

Question #3: Special DeLIVERy

I was told that if I plan to fry the livers I receive from the butcher, I must tell this to him when I order them. Why?

Question #4: Not Chopped LIVER

How broiled does liver need to be before I cook it?

Introduction:

In ancient times, it was noted that liver could be used to treat night blindness. With time, it was discovered that liver contains an organic chemical called retinol, C20H30O, which was called a vitamin, because it helped life (vita-), and it was thought to be an amine (-amin). However, all amines contain nitrogen (think of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins), and retinol does not. Consequently, the term “vitamin” was redefined to mean complex, organic substances, naturally occurring in plant or animal tissue, that are essential for metabolism.

Missing letters

Since retinol was the first vitamin to be identified, it was given the name vitamin A. (Today, retinol is called vitamin A1, and is usually extracted from fish liver oils.) As other vitamins were discovered, they were identified by subsequent letters of the alphabet. Eventually, some, such as vitamins G and H, were recategorized as part of the “vitamin B” group, whereas others, such as vitamins F and I, were dropped from the vitamin list and categorized differently, which is why the vitamin list is missing letters. Vitamin F contains nitrogen and is now categorized as an amino acid, and vitamin I is now categorized as an anti-inflammatory.

Our own liver has many important functions, including the manufacture of cholesterol and bile and also removal of cholesterol from the blood. However, our article will discuss neither human nor fish liver, but the kashrus of beef and poultry liver. As we all know, the meat of these animals can be consumed when they have had a proper kosher slaughter, shechitah, and, in the case of beef, after certain fats, nerves (the gid hana’sheh, the sciatic nerve) and blood      vessels are removed via a procedure called nikur (in Hebrew), or traberen (in Yiddish, from the Aramaic word tarba, which means cheilev, non-kosher fat).

Poultry must also have its blood extracted, but the gid hana’sheh does not need to be removed from fowl, nor does any fat need to be removed.

Removing blood

In many places, the Torah forbids the consumption of blood. But all meat contains blood! After all, it is the hemoglobin in the blood that provides meat with its red color. And even poultry and other meats that are not red contain blood. So, how can we eat meat?

Chazal explain that the forbidden blood is extracted from the meat either by soaking and salting the meat, or by broiling. The salt or the fire extracts the forbidden blood from the meat, and whatever remains is not considered blood, according to halacha.

The blood of liver is usually removed by broiling. This article will examine when broiling works for kashering both meat and liver, and we will discover that there are early opinions that permitted preparing liver for the Jewish table without broiling it.

For most of mankind’s history, kashering meat and liver was always performed at home. However, in the last two generations, it became commonplace that the butcher takes care of it, and, within the past decade, meat is often kashered at the abattoir. Still, there are individuals who kasher their own meat, which allows them to follow certain practices that usually qualify as chumros, and which are impractical to follow on a commercial basis. (Our readership should be aware that, due to government regulations in certain countries, kashering meat on a commercial basis involves serious halachic compromises. In these countries, none of them in North America, arrangements should be made to kasher meat at home.) In addition, I have personally witnessed both meat and liver kashered inadequately or inappropriately in commercial facilities. However, a responsible hechsher will make certain that this does not happen.

Broiling meat

Halachically, it is perfectly acceptable to broil meat to remove its blood, rather than salt it. However, usually, it is soaked and salted. We should be aware that someone whose health requires them to be concerned about the elevated sodium content that results from kashering should explore with their rav or posek the possibility of purchasing unkashered meat and broiling it, without salt. (Although we salt meat slightly when kashering it by broiling, this salt may be omitted for someone who must be concerned about sodium consumption.)

Liver

The Gemara (Chullin 110b-111a) provides a lengthy and fascinating discussion whether liver, which is the bloodiest organ in the body, can be kashered by soaking and salting. To quote the Gemara: Abayei said to Rav Safra, “When you go to Eretz Yisrael, ask them what they do with liver.” When Rav Safra reached Eretz Yisrael, he asked Rav Zereika, who answered him, “I boiled liver to serve Rav Asi, and he ate it.” (We would find this strange, but this will be explained shortly.) Many months, or perhaps years, later, when Rav Safra returned to Bavel, he reported his findings to Abayei, who answered him: “I know that preparing liver this way is not a problem. The question I wanted you to find out was whether the blood of liver can be removed while you are kashering other meat.” Abayei then quoted a Mishnah (Terumos 10:11) that preparing liver in certain ways prohibits food upon which the blood splatters, but the liver itself is permitted. This is because, while extracting blood from the liver, it does not absorb blood (provided that the blood can drain; removing blood from meat or liver always requires that the extracted blood drains as it is salted or broiled). However, extracting blood from the liver might prohibit other meat that is kashered with it.

The story that Rav Zereika tells us is unclear. Was the liver that Rav Zereika cooked to serve Rav Asi already broiled? If it was, what new halachic idea was he teaching Rav Safra? Both of them were major Torah scholars, and Rav Safra presumably asked Rav Zereika a question that was now answered, even if this was not the issue bothering Abayei.

To resolve this question, Rabbeinu Tam explains that liver does not require salting or broiling, unless you want to cook it together with other meat (Tosafos, Chullin 110b s.v. Kavda). This appears to also have been Rashi’s approach. The reason is because the liver is basically blood, yet the Torah permitted its consumption. The assumption of Rabbeinu Tam is that the blood in the liver is permitted. This would explain the conversation of Abayei and Rav Safra.

The Tur (Yoreh Deah 73) cites this opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, but does not accept it.

Most authorities disagree with Rabbeinu Tam and understand that Rav Zereika soaked and salted the liver first, the same way we kasher meat, and then cooked it. Abayei’s question was whether it is permitted to cook liver that has been salted this way with other meat, or whether this will prohibit the meat with which it is cooked. According to the latter alternative, liver may be soaked and salted to serve as chopped liver, or may be broiled and eaten without any other ingredients. The reason we do not soak and salt liver is because, usually, we want to cook or fry it subsequently with other ingredients, and that is prohibited (unless you hold like Rabbeinu Tam).

Later, the Gemara (Chullin 111a) cites different authorities who would not eat liver prepared by soaking and salting, but only by broiling.

It is unclear what the Gemara concludes, as evidenced by the dispute among rishonim what to do. Practical halacha accepts that, whereas meat is usually kashered by soaking and salting, liver may kashered only by broiling (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5, Shach and Taz). The Rema does not rule like Rabbeinu Tam, and, furthermore, prohibits salting liver to remove its blood, out of concern that someone will forget that he kashered the liver this way, and will mistakenly cook it with other ingredients.

How long?

For how long a period of time must you broil liver until it is kosher?

The halacha is that, once most people consider the liver minimally edible, all the blood has been removed (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 76:5). “Minimally edible” is defined as half the time it usually takes to grill this piece of liver until it is fully cooked (Rema ad locum).

Not chopped liver!

If you do not intend to cook the liver after broiling, most authorities permit broiling an entire beef liver without cutting or slicing it, provided the prohibited cheilev is fully removed (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:3). This is not relevant to kashering of liver at home, since a beef liver is much larger than most households want to broil as one piece, and, particularly, since broiling the whole liver will probably burn the thinner parts of the liver before its thicker parts are sufficiently broiled.

However, should you intend to cook the liver after broiling, most authorities rule that, before broiling, one must make incisions into the liver and place the sliced side down while broiling so that the blood drains properly (Taz, Yoreh Deah 73:5; Pri Megadim; Gra; Be’er Heiteiv; Darchei Teshuvah). An alternative, easier option is to cut the liver into slices and broil them until edible.

According to many authorities, broiling an entire unsliced beef liver and then cooking or frying the liver makes the food and the pot or pan non-kosher (Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #115, quoted in Darchei Teshuvah 73:23. Note that the Darchei Teshuvah there quotes Shu’t Ateres Zekeinim, Yoreh Deah #6, who allows the individual posek to decide whether everything is non-kosher. Darchei Teshuvah also quotes Yad Yehudah, Peirush Ha’aruch 73:9, as ruling stringently in this matter, but I have not found where Yad Yehudah says this.)

Rule of 72

The Geonim enacted that meat must be salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah. They contended that, after three days, blood inside the meat hardens and is no longer extractable through soaking and salting. Should meat not be soaked and salted within 72 hours, they ruled that the only way to successfully remove the blood is by broiling (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:12). It is also prohibited to keep meat for 72 hours without salting it, figuring that you will broil it to extract its blood. This is prohibited, because of concern that someone will forget that the meat is past its “good by” 72-hour timetable and wrongly attempt to kasher it by salting (Rema, Yoreh Deah 69:12 and Shach). Furthermore, it is prohibited to cook the meat if it passed 72 hours, even after the meat was broiled. (If, be’di’eved, it was cooked after broiling, the meat may be eaten [Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:12]. Although the Maharshal prohibits the meat, the Bach, Taz, Gra and many others agree with the Shulchan Aruch that the meat is permitted.)

72 and liver

Since we rule that liver can be kashered only by broiling, there is no halachic concern that someone will mistakenly attempt to kasher it via salting. Therefore, it is permitted to leave liver for 72 hours without broiling it.

Assuming that someone waited more than 72 hours after slaughter before broiling liver, may he cook the liver after broiling it? We mentioned above that, concerning other meat, you are not permitted to cook the meat if 72 hours have passed since shechitah, even if you broiled the meat first. (We noted above that if the meat was cooked, it is permitted to eat it.)

What is the halacha if you broiled liver more than 72 hours after shechitah? May you now cook it after broiling? This issue is disputed. The Kereisi Upeleisi, Chachmas Odom, Aruch Hashulchan all permit cooking the liver after it was broiled, whereas the Shach seems to prohibit it (see Mateh Yehonasan to Yoreh Deah 69:12), as do the Shu’t Tzemach Tzedek (#121, quoted by Minchas Yaakov 4:3), Pri Megadim and Darchei Teshuvah (Yoreh Deah 69:224).

Special DeLIVERy

At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “I was told that if I plan to fry the livers I receive from the butcher, I must tell this to the butcher when I order them. Why should this be true?”

This question is based on the fact that kashering liver in certain ways makes it prohibited to cook or fry afterwards, at least according to some authorities. The person who told you that you need to tell this to the butcher is under the impression either that the butcher may kasher livers more than 72 hours after shechitah, or that he does not need to slice the beef livers when he broils them whole. As I mentioned above, since both of these matters are dependent on a dispute among halachic authorities, the local hechsher may be more lenient than your friend feels that you should be.  However, the butcher can provide you with the more mehudar broiled liver, in which case everyone permits you to cook it afterward.

Livery procedure

To kasher liver, we follow these steps.

1. Slice off any fat of the animal that is attached to the liver. This fat may be cheilev that, at times, is attached to the liver.

2. Slice the liver so that its blood drains properly. At home, it is usually easiest to cut the liver into slices, although, halachically, it is adequate to slice deeply into the liver both horizontally and vertically, and broil it with the sliced side downward so the blood drains.

Livers of chickens and other fowl do not require slicing. Since they are small, broiling extracts the blood properly even without slicing the livers. Just check that the gallbladder, which attaches to the liver, has been removed.

3. Rinse blood off the surface of the liver.

4. Place the liver onto racks or coals to broil.

5. Salt the liver somewhat as you place it to broil.

6. Broil the liver until it is minimally edible, which is about half the amount of time you would broil it to eat it without further cooking.

7. After the liver has broiled sufficiently, you may remove it from the fire or heat and rinse off the blood that is now on its surface.

8. Liver is now kosher. Should you desire to cook it, you may do so immediately; there is no requirement to wait until the liver cools off from the broiling.

DeLIVERed Electronically

At this point, we are prepared to consider a different one of our opening questions: May I kasher liver on an electric grill?

Let me explain the question. Since we rule that you may kasher liver only by broiling, this means that its blood can be extracted only via direct heat. Does this require the drawing abilities of an open fire, or is heat sufficient to extract the blood?

Proof of the halachic ruling in this case may be brought from a passage of the Noda Bi’yehuda in his commentary Tzelach (to Pesachim 74a). The Tzelach mentionsthat he was asked frequently whether liver may be kashered on the bottom of a hot oven after the coals have been swept out. The Tzelach rules that this is problematic because the blood cannot drain when it is extracted from the liver. Thus, the liver lies broiling in the blood, which prohibits it. (Shu’t Har Hacarmel, Yoreh Deah #14, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 73:1 permits this, but the Pischei Teshuvah himself is uncomfortable with this.)

However, the Tzelach rules that if the liver was placed inside an oven in a way that blood extracted by the residual heat in the oven has a place to drain, the liver is perfectly kosher. Thus, we see that it is acceptable to kasher liver on an electric grill, as long as the blood can drain off while the heat extracts it. In other words, no flame is required to extract the blood.

Conclusion

There is a very interesting comparison between two halachos that involve salt; one, the extraction of blood via salt, and the other, salting korbanos that are burned on the mizbei’ach. Although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. Whereas the salting of our meat is to remove the blood, and this blood and salt are then washed away, the salted offerings are burned completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which never change.

Sabra in Halacha

Question #1: Colonche and cladodes

I admit not knowing a colonche from a cladode, but is either of them kosher?

Question #2: Is it a pear or a fig?

What is the difference between cactus pears, Indian figs, and sabras?

Question #3: Bal tashchis

Someone has an Opuntia ficus-indica growing in his yard, which constantly sheds leaves. Whenever a leaf lands, it begins to grow roots and a new shrub begins growing. Is it bal tashchis for him to destroy the new plant, since it is a fruit-producing tree?

Introduction

This article is about the sabra, the most commonly cultivated cactus, and a fascinating and highly beneficial pear-shaped fruit, with some very interesting halachic ramifications. Its scientific name, Opuntia ficus-indica, includes the genus Opuntia, andis based on the ancient Greek city of Opus, where an edible plant created new shrubs by growing roots, even from a fallen leaf, one of the many interesting features of the sabra that has halachic ramifications. The name of the species, ficus-indica,means “Indian fig.” We will find out why the sabra, which we identify with Israel and Israelis, is called an “Indian” fig.

The origin of the word “sabra” is Arabic, where the word simply means a “cactus,” although it also translates as “patience.” Since Arabic originated from Hebrew, the origin of this word indeed has a Hebrew shoresh, סבל, which means “being patient.” Indeed, notwithstanding the many uses and health benefits that the sabra provides, it requires a good deal of patience to consume it, since the fruit, the flat, paddle-looking “branch” called a cladode, and the “trunk,” are all covered with small thorns and prickles (ouch!). The entire plant demonstrates incredible nifla’os haBorei; Hashem gave this shrub incredible tools for surviving in the unforgiving, dry desert.

Sabras are cultivated as a healthy food and fodder crop that needs little water and grows well in harsh conditions, particularly in places where other crops do not grow. As we will soon see, it is a plant that has a wide variety of commercial uses.

Native American

Most people do not realize that the sabra has American origins. Along with the bell pepper, cocoa, tomato, potato, corn (maize), soybean and innumerable other American goodies, this Mexican and Central American native was brought by the Spaniards to the Old World. Indeed, both the flag and the coat of arms of Mexico portray the sabra cactus.

The sabra’s western hemisphere origins explain why it is called an “Indian fig.” Remember, Columbus was looking for a route to India. This error is reflected in several misnomers, including one way of referring to Native Americans, the island group called “the West Indies,” and scientifically naming this fruit ficus-indica, which is what the sabra fruit is called in many languages.

Dessert in the Desert

The sabra is a very useful fruit and plant. Both the sabra fruit and its cladodes (branches) are edible, providing welcome nutrients in the desert. In Mexico, the cladodes are eaten as a salad green. In arid parts of Brazil, Opuntia ficus-indica is grown predominantly as forage for the country’s huge cattle herds. In Peru, it is grown predominantly as feed for the carmine beetle – a topic I will discuss shortly. In Morocco, sabras are processed extensively to create very expensive cosmetic oil. And in pre-1948 Eretz Yisrael, sabras were grown primarily to be a border between properties or to keep livestock from wandering.

Since the fruit does not ripen after it is harvested and spoils fairly quickly after picking, the Aztecs, the Mayas and many later producers used it in innumerable food products that are less perishable, such as sauces, juices, jams, candies, vinegar, flour, starches, pickled products, various healthy additives, and even a variety of pareve “cheese.” In addition, since there are several different colors of edible cactus fruit, they can be used as a very healthy food colorant for products like yogurts.

Colonche

In Mexico, sabras are fermented into colonche, a mildly alcoholic, red beverage, whereas in Italy they are processed somewhat differently into a liqueur called ficodi. (Please note that the liqueur called “Sabra” is made of citrus fruit and derives its name from Israelis, not the fruit.)

Colonche and cladodes

At this point, we have enough background to address our opening question: “I admit not knowing a colonche from a cladode, but is either of them kosher?” Who or what are colonche and cladode? Are they kosher?

By now, we know that colonche is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting sabra fruit, whereas cladode is the name for the “branch” of the tree, which looks more like a paddle than a branch. We also know that there are two alcoholic beverages fermented from the sabra, and we can ask whether they are kosher. For that matter, we can ask about all the various other processed foods that are made from sabras: sauces, juices, jams, candies, vinegar, flour, starches, pickled products, food colorants and pareve “cheese.”

The answer is that all these products might present kashrus issues and would require a hechsher, although they all can be produced with a proper hechsher, should a manufacturer be interested. So, for someone interested in setting up his son-in-law in a new business with an original market, an idea would be to manufacture genuine Mexican cuisine, using the sabra plant as its base. I even have a few suggestions for brand names and products: Prickly’s Fig Liqueur, Maya Mia, and Aztec Araque.

Medicinal, therapeutic and cosmetic uses

The sabra’s medicinal properties were discovered in antiquity, including its value as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic and antispasmodic agent. It is rich in vitamins, amino acids, fiber, pectin, flavonoids and antioxidants. The vitamin E content of prickly pear oil is the highest among all cosmetic oils. The sabra fruit is also high in vitamin C and was often packed onto ships to prevent scurvy. Medical research continues to this day, including, for example, recent clinical evidence that the sabra reduces human cholesterol levels.

The tiny seeds of the sabra have superb cosmetic value. Indeed, one of the countries that thrive on the growth of the sabra is Morocco, where the cactus arrived south of the Strait of Gibraltar as early as the sixteenth century, shortly after arriving in Spain. The Moroccans, who are almost exclusively Muslim and therefore officially do not consume alcohol, could not market the liquor produced from Opuntia ficus-indica, but developed a vast international market of natural cosmetics based on the seeds of this fruit. So, your son-in-law’s business can now expand its original offerings of authentic Mexican cuisine washed down with Maya Mia to include Israeli-grown natural vitamin C, natural medical remedies and expensive cosmetics.

Good fences make good neighbors

In some countries, Opuntia ficus-indica was used as a border-marker between neighbors. As mentioned above, left unhindered, its dropped leaves form new plants, each with thorns and spikes, thus becoming quite a nuisance to cross – far more efficient than the famous stone walls of rural New England.

Carmine red

In its natural habitat, the cactus provides a home to scale insects called Dactylopius coccus and Dactylopius opuntiae, which feed on the cladodes. These small creatures have proved invaluable as the source of a bright red dye called cochineal. A cousin of this beetle, native to Egypt, has been known since the time of Tanach for its use as a crimson dye. Indeed, the word carmil appears in Divrei Hayamim as the source of the tola’as shani red dye used in the Mishkan and for the garments of the kohanim. According to Radak, this insect is the source of the dye. This engendered much controversy in the era of the rishonim, when many held that the source of a dye in the Mishkan cannot be non-kosher (Ra’avad, Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 8:13; Rabbeinu Bachyei, Shemos 25:3).

As mentioned above, sabra is grown in Preu primarily as feed for the carmine beetle. The western cochineal provides a dye eight times stronger than its old-world version, and this pigment was worth more than its weight in gold, until the advent of artificial dyes. The use of carmine red preceded the European invasions of America by centuries, as both the Aztecs and Mayas farmed the insect and its dye. When the Spanish imported the dye to Europe, they kept its source hidden for many years, thereby assuring themselves of great profits. In 1620, King Philip III of Spain stated, “One of the most valuable fruits grown in our Western Indies is the cactus pear; it produces value equal to gold and silver.” Certainly so, since it is difficult to grow either gold or silver, minimizing their profits to a single use.

The redcoats are coming!

There is a fascinating historic twist to the cochineal saga. The British, whose uniforms were bright red (presumably to make them highly recognizable on the battlefield), felt that they were overpaying Spain for the gorgeous new-world crimson dye. But, even after their spies discovered the source for the carmine red that they were purchasing, they could not develop an industry, since cacti will not grow in wet, chilly England, and British colonies in the eastern and northeastern parts of North America were also too cold for Opuntia ficus-indica. Even Georgia, named for the British monarchs, was too cold for this undertaking. So, the British looked at the vast holdings of their empire and decided that the huge deserts in Australia would service the British armed forces by providing a ready supply of red dye, once Opuntia ficus-indica was planted and Dactylopius opuntiae imported.

Invasion!

Shortly after planting Opuntia ficus-indica all over Australia, they discovered that not every invasion is advantageous, even for the conquering party. Much of Australia’s climate is perfect for the cactus, and there are no natural enemies to hinder its advance. Opuntia formed dense infestations that hindered livestock’s access to feed. Opuntia thorns injured animals, damaged fleece and hides, and interfered with the transportation of sheep to the shearing. The cactus was also wiping out native flora, causing a mammoth economic and environmental catastrophe. The redcoats were not so concerned about the environmental impact of their actions, but the potential destruction of a different invasive species, sheep, was a major concern that required immediate addressing, since this was the main product that the colony was intended to bring to the royal crown.

The solution is interesting. They discovered that one desert environment which had been detrimental to Opuntia ficus-indica and its red-coated inhabitants was in southern Argentina. They worked to discover what made the arid parts of Argentina so uninhabitable to sabras, eventually discovering a moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, (note the cognates to the word “cactus”) that loves cactus and destroys it. Thus, they were able to save the Australian continent from their own invasion by introducing another foreign species. Fortunately for the Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, Moroccans and dwellers of Eretz Yisrael, no one attempted to introduce Cactoblastis cactorum to their deserts, which could have ruined their liquor, salad greens, dye, forage, cosmetics, boundaries, and your son-in-law’s potential business, before it even got off the ground.

Scaling down

It is curious to note that in Morocco, the cochineal scale is an unwanted pest that destroys the cosmetic value of the sabra, whereas in Peru the cactus fruit is cultivated exclusively for the dye created by this scale. Cochineal use is expanding, today, as a food and lipstick colorant, with Peru its biggest exporter, as people are increasingly concerned about the safety of artificial food additives.

A pear or a fig?

At this point, we can discuss our next introductory question:

What is the difference between cactus pears, Indian figs and sabras?

Sabra fruit is called by several other names, including “prickly pear,” “cactus pear,” “Indian fig,” “Barbary fig” and “Adam’s fig.” It is called “Barbary fig” because, after the Spaniards planted it in Spain, it began spontaneously growing in arid climates of Italy and North Africa, presumably as a result of bird droppings after they ate the sabra fruit. Thus, in many places, it became associated with the coastal areas of northwestern Africa, called the Barbary Coast.

In other words, the answer to the question, “What is the difference between cactus pears, Indian figs, Barbary figs and sabras?” is how you spell it.

At this point, let us address some halachic curiosities germane to the sabra:

Orlah

“If Opuntia ficus-indica is planted as a boundary marker, may one benefit from the fruit that grows during the first three years of the cactus’s growth?”

The Mishnah (Orlah 1:1) rules that fruits growing on a tree planted as a barrier or hedge, or for lumber or firewood, are not orlah. The reason is that the Torah states that the mitzvah of orlah applies only “when you plant a tree for food”(Vayikra 19:23), and these trees are not meant for food. The Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:1) contends that this rule applies only when it is obvious that they are not planted for their fruit; for example, they are planted closer together than what is beneficial for fruit growth, or the trees are pruned in a way that their lumber will develop at the expense of the fruit. Most poskim rule like this Yerushalmi (Rosh, Hilchos Orlah 1:2; Tur Yoreh Deah 294; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 294:23).

Thus, whether sabra fruit is governed by the laws of orlah may depend on where the fruit is grown, but for an unusual reason. Those planted by the native population in Eretz Yisrael, where they were planted as boundary markers and natural fencing to keep the sheep and goats from wandering, are exempt from orlah. Those grown in Mexico for their fruit or for liquor produced from the fruit would be prohibited as orlah. And I’ll let you ask your rav whether those grown in Brazil or Peru are exempt from orlah.

Bal tashchis

At this point, let us address the last of our opening questions. As I was writing this article, a neighbor actually asked me this shaylah: He has an Opuntia ficus-indica growing in his yard, which constantly sheds leaves. Whenever a leaf lands, it begins to grow roots and a new shrub begins growing. Is it bal tashchis for him to destroy the new plant, since it is a fruit-producing tree?

It appears that there is no halachic concern to do so, since the new plant is not yet a tree, and all he is doing is preventing the tree from growing. Should the tree have begun to grow, the question becomes more serious. As I wrote in a different article, the rules governing when it is permitted to destroy a fruit-producing tree, such as a sabra, when there is benefit in doing so are complicated and controversial (Bava Kama 91b-92a; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 6:8-9).

Tuna fish or fig?

We are all familiar with the word “tuna” as the name of a fish whose flesh is used for brown-bag lunches. The word “tuna” also carries another meaning; in Mexico, it is the name for the fruit that the Arabs call “sabra.”

Strange Coincidence

We know that there are no coincidences and that everything is part of Hashem’s plan. With that introduction, I will share with you what can be described as, perhaps, just a curiosity, or… perhaps, much more. The pasuk in Divrei Hayamim (II 3:14) describes the peroches as woven from techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen. This is the same peroches that the Torah describes in parshas Vayakheil (Shemos 36:35) and in parshas Terumah (Shemos 26:31) as made of techeiles, argaman, tola’as shani, and linen (Shemos 26:31). Similarly, when describing the artisans sent by King Chiram of Tzur to help Shelomoh Hamelech build the Beis Hamikdash, Divrei Hayamim (II 2:13) mentions karmil as one of the materials used in construction of the Mishkan, and omits tola’as shani. Obviously, karmil, cognate to the English words crimson and carmine, is another way of describing tola’as shani (see Radak and Ralbag ad loc.). The Radak (Divrei Hayamim II 2:6) and the Rambam explain tola’as shani to mean “wool dyed with an insect” (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 8:13; although Rabbeinu Bachyei, Shemos 25:3, disagrees with them). Now, bear in mind that the cochineal scale insect, which is similar to the insect described by the Radak, was originally New World, but feeds, primarily, on a shrub that is now widely associated with Eretz Yisrael. How intriguing that the people of Israel are associated with a term that just “coincidentally” alludes to a dye used in the Beis Hamikdash.

Hunting for Meat

Parshas Re’eih includes the commandment that instructs us how to prepare our meat for our table (Devorim 12:15).

Question #1:

Sheis, the son of Adom Harishon, was traveling one day and realized that he had not packed enough peanut butter sandwiches for the trip. Now hungry, he witnessed a travel accident, which resulted in an animal being killed. Was he permitted to cook the carcass for lunch?

Question #2:

Sheis’s descendant, Linda, lives in the modern era and is Jewish. While traveling in an unfamiliar area, she hunts for kosher meat, discovering some with an unfamiliar supervision, and calls her rabbi to ask whether he recommends it. What factors does he consider in advising her whether to use this product?

Question #3:

In a previous position, I was responsible for researching sources of meat that our local Vaad HaKashrus would accept. I traveled to many cities and visited many meat packing facilities. People have often asked why, sometimes, my hunt resulted in a new acceptable source, and why sometimes it did not. What was I looking for?

Before answering these questions, we need to understand what are the Torah’s requirements for allowable meat.

Upon Noach’s emerging from the teivah (the ark), Hashem speaks to Noach, notifying him that he and his descendants may now eat meat for the very first time. Prior to this time, no one had ever been permitted to sink his teeth into a steak or even a schnitzel (Sanhedrin 59b, based on Bereishis 1:29-30, 9:3; as interpreted by Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1). In actuality, not all authorities agree that Adam and his pre-mabul descendants were required to be vegetarian – some maintain that they were permitted to eat the meat of animals that had already died, and were forbidden only to kill animals for meat (Rashi, Bereishis 1:29and Sanhedrin 57a s.v. limishri basar; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. achal). According to this last opinion, pre-Noach mankind may have eaten sushi, steak or schnitzel, provided that they did not take the animal’s life.

Thus, whether Sheis could barbecue the discovered road kill (Question #1 above) depends upon whether he held like Rashi, in which case he could, or like the Rambam, in which case he could not. According to the Rambam, he was restricted to a vegetarian diet, which included the responsibility to check that his veggies were insect-free. Presumably, he called the local Vaad HaKashrus to determine how to check each type of vegetable. I wonder what he did when he wanted to eat Brussels sprouts!

However, when Noach emerged from the teivah, he and his descendents were permitted to give up their vegetarian lifestyle, provided that they ate no meat that had been removed from an animal while it was still alive (eiver min hachai). Just think —  had Sheis lived after the time of Noach, he could have included some tuna sandwiches in his lunchbox or picked up a salami at the local grocery, instead of going hungry!

When the Torah was given, it both limited the species that a Jew may eat and created many other regulations, including that kosher meat and poultry must be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way (shechitah), and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. Even after ascertaining that the animal, itself, may be eaten, one must still remove the blood, certain fats called cheilev, and the sciatic nerve (the gid hanasheh). These last two prohibitions do not apply to fowl.

In the contemporary world, guaranteeing that one’s meat is appropriate for the Jewish table involves several trained and G-d-fearing people, including shochatim, bod’kim, menakerim, mashgichim, and knowledgeable rabbonim to oversee the entire process.

THE SHOCHEIT’S JOB

Aside from the shocheit’s obvious responsibility to slaughter the animal the way Hashem commanded, he must also fulfill another very important task: following the slaughtering, he must verify that he performed the shechitah correctly. This is a vitally important step; without this inspection, the animal or bird must be considered non-kosher – it will be acceptable for the table of Bnei Noach, but not for Klal Yisroel.

Next, the animal or bird is examined to ensure that it is not tereifah. Although common use of the word “treif” means something that is non-kosher, for any reason whatsoever, the technical meaning of the word refers to an animal with a physical defect that renders it non-kosher, even if it was the beneficiary of a proper shechitah.

THE BODEIK

In a meat packing plant (beef, veal or lamb), the individual accountable to check for these defects is called a bodeik (pl. bod’kim). Most bod’kim are trained shochatim, and, indeed, in most plants, the bod’kim and shochatim rotate their tasks, thus making it easier for them to be as attentive as the post requires. As a result, a person licensed both as a shocheit and as a bodeik is usually called a shocheit, although, technically, he should be called a shocheit ubodeik, to truly reflect the extent of his training.

THE SECOND BODEIK

The responsibility to check for tereifos is divided between two bod’kim. The first, the bodeik penim, checks the lungs in situ, which is the only way one can properly check that the lungs do not adhere to the ribs, to the membrane surrounding the heart (the pericardium), or to themselves in an improper way, all of which render the animal non-kosher. This checking is performed completely based on feel. The bodeik gently inserts his hand, and runs his fingers carefully over all eight sections of the lung, to see if he feels any adhesion between the lung and one of the other areas.

The second bodeik, the bodeik chutz, rechecks the lungs and makes a cursory check of other organs, upon their removal from the carcass, particularly the stomachs and intestines, for swallowed nails and for various imperfections that render the animal non-kosher.

After the two bod’kim are satisfied that the animal is kosher, the second bodeik or a mashgiach tags the different parts of the animal as kosher with lead or plastic seals. Longstanding practice is that, in addition, the bodeik or a mashgiach makes small slits between the ribs that identify the day and parsha of the week, to mark the piece as kosher. A mark made when the meat is this fresh appears completely different from one made even a few hours later, making it difficult to counterfeit. Of course, this mark is not, alone, used to verify that the meat is kosher, but it is an essential crosscheck, since the old-styled tags can be tampered with.

The modern kosher poultry plant is organized slightly differently: The shochatim perform shechitah only, whereas the bedikah inspection is performed by mashgichim trained to notice abnormalities. If they notice any, they remove the bird from the production line; a rav or bodeik then rules whether these birds are kosher.

For both animals and birds, one needs to check only for commonly occurring tereifos, but not for uncommon problems. For example, the established halachic practice of over a thousand years is to check an animal’s lungs, because of their high rate of tereifos, and today it is common practice in Israel to check legs. Animal lungs frequently have adhesions called sirchos, which render them non-kosher (Chullin 46b), although Ashkenazic custom is that easily removed adhesions on mature cattle do not render them treif (Rosh, Chullin 3:14; Rema, Yoreh Deah 39:13). An animal without any sircha adhesions is called glatt kosher, meaning that its lung is completely smooth – that is, without any adhesions, even of the easily removable variety.

The rav hamachishir’s responsibilities include deciding which problems are prevalent enough to require scrutiny and what is considered an adequate method of inspection.

Depending on the factory, the next steps in the preparation of beef, veal or lamb are occasionally performed in the same facility where the shechitah was performed, or alternatively, they are performed at the butcher shop.

TRABERING

Prior to soaking and salting meat to remove the blood, certain non-kosher parts of the animal, including the gid hanasheh (the sciatic nerve), non-kosher fats called “cheilev,” and certain large blood vessels, must be removed (Yoreh Deah 65:1). The Hebrew word for this process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly perform it is called a menakeir (pl. menak’rim). The Yiddish word for this process is traberen,which derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev, the non-kosher fat. This step is omitted in the production of poultry, since it is exempt from the prohibitions of gid hanasheh and cheilev, and its blood vessels are small enough that it is sufficient to puncture them prior to the soaking and salting procedures.

Early in its butchering, a side of beef (which is half its carcass) is divided into its forequarter and hindquarter. Since the gid hanasheh and most of the cheilev are located in the hindquarter, trabering it is a tedious process that requires a highly skilled menakeir. (On RabbiKaganoff.com, there is an article on the history and halachic issues germane to this practice.) The forequarters must still be trabered prior to soaking and salting, to remove blood vessels and some fat (Rema, Yoreh Deah 64:1; Pischei Teshuvah 64:3). Although trabering is a relatively easy skill to learn, Linda’s rabbi might need to check whether the hechsher can be trusted that this was done properly, as the following story indicates.

I once investigated the kashrus of a certain well-known resort hotel, one not usually frequented by frum clientele. I called the hotel and asked who provided their hechsher, and was soon on the telephone with both the resident mashgiach and the rav hamachshir.

I began by introducing myself and the reason for my phone call, and then asked about the sources of the meat used in the hotel. In the course of the conversation, it became evident that neither the rabbi nor the mashgiach knew the slightest thing about traberen, although they were officially overseeing a staff of in-house butchers, none of whom was an observant Jew. I realized that the rather poor kashrus reputation of this establishment was, indeed, well deserved. The rabbi overseeing the hechsher, himself, did not know trabering, nor did he have any halachically reliable supervisor. What was he overseeing?

SOAKING AND SALTING

Returning to our brief overview of the proper preparations for kosher meat:  After the meat has been properly trabered, it is ready to be soaked and salted to remove its blood. In earlier generations, this process, usually called kashering meat, was performed exclusively at home, but today, common practice is that this is performed either by the butcher or at the meat packer. Almost all kosher poultry operations today soak and salt the meat immediately after shechitah, and it is becoming increasingly more common in beef operations.

To kasher meat, it should be rinsed well, soaked in water for half an hour, drained, salted for an hour, and then rinsed three times (Rema, Yoreh Deah 69:1, 5, 7). The halacha requires that the meat be covered with salt on all exposed surfaces (Yoreh Deah 69:4). Most packing plants do this job appropriately, although I have seen places where the salting was inadequate; entire areas of the meat were not salted. This is, probably, simple negligence; although when I called this problem to the attention of the mashgiach, he insisted that it was performed adequately, notwithstanding my observing the contrary. Needless to say, I did not approve this source.

WASHED MEAT

The Geonim instituted a requirement that meat be soaked and salted within 72 hours of its slaughter (Yoreh Deah 69:12). This is because of concern that once 72 hours have passed, the blood becomes hardened inside the meat, and salting no longer removes it. If more than 72 hours passed without the meat being salted, the Geonim ruled that if the meat is broiled, it may be eaten, since this process will still remove the blood, even though salting will not (Yoreh Deah 69:12).

A question that developed with time was whether wetting the meat prevents the blood from hardening inside. Some early authorities permitted soaking meat to extend the 72-hour period (Shach 69:53). However, this leniency often led to highly liberal interpretations. I have seen butchers take a damp rag and wipe the outside of the meat and considered it washed. Thus, there are two different reasons why most reliable kashrus operations do not allow the use of “washed meat,” either because they do not accept this lenience, altogether, or because of concern that once one accepts hosed meat, it becomes difficult to control what type of washing is acceptable.

THE RAV HAMACHSHIR

Thus far, I have described the tremendous responsibilities of most of the staff necessary to guarantee that the meat is of the highest kashrus standards. One person that I have not adequately discussed is the rav hamachshir, the supervising rabbi, who has the final say on the kashrus standards that the meat packer and butcher follow. Although a rav overseeing meat kashrus does not necessarily have to be a shocheit or trained menakeir himself, he certainly must be proficient in all of these areas, both in terms of thorough knowledge of halacha and in terms of practical experience. For most of Jewish history, the most basic requirement of every rav demanded that he be proficient in all the halachos of kosher meat production. As the local rav, his responsibility included all shechitah and bedikah in his town.

However, in the contemporary world of mass production and shipping, the local shul rav is rarely involved in the details of shechitah, and often has limited experience and training in these areas. Depending on the semicha program he attended, he may not have been required to study the laws of shechitah and tereifos. Thus, what was once the province of every rav has now become a specialty area, and, sometimes, rabbonim involved in the giving of meat hechsherim lack the proper training.

I was once given a tour of a meat packing plant by the supervising rabbi of the plant. During the course of the tour, I became painfully aware of the rabbi’s incompetence in this area of kashrus. For example, he was clearly unaware of how to check shechitah knives properly, certainly a basic skill necessary to oversee this type of hechsher. Would you approve this meat supplier for your local Vaad HaKashrus?

At this point, I want to address the third question I raised above: Sometimes, my visit to a meat packer resulted in a new, acceptable source, and sometimes it did not. What was I looking for, and why would I disapprove a source that a different rav was approving?

The answers to these questions are sometimes subjective, but I will provide you with some observations of mine.

IS THE SYSTEM WORKABLE?

There are many subtle and not-so-subtle observations that a rav makes when examining a meat packer. I could not possibly list in one article all the types of problems I have seen, but I will mention certain specific concerns to which I would always be attentive.

Is the production line too quick for the shocheit or mashgiach to do his job properly? Are the shochatim or mashgichim expected to perform their job in an unrealistic manner, either because of a shortage of trained manpower or because of the speed or organization of the production line?

QUALITY OF PERSONNEL

Are the shochatim knowledgeable? Do they appear to be G-d fearing individuals? Although it is impossible to know whether someone is, indeed, a yarei shamayim, it is unfortunately often very obvious that he is not. It can happen that one rav has questions about the staff, and for this reason, he does not approve a source of supply.

I will give you an example of this. While visiting a plant to determine whether we should allow this shechitah, we heard a conversation in which one of the shochatim showed a shortcoming in tzeniyus within his family. Although one could point to a specific law that disqualifies him as a shocheit, I, personally, was uncomfortable with entrusting him with decisions that would affect what I eat. After discussion with the other rabbonim in our community, we decided not to accept meat from this shechitah.

Does this mean that we considered this meat non-kosher? G-d forbid. It simply means that we were uncomfortable allowing it, and decided that we have that responsibility as rabbonim of our community.

Thus, it could indeed happen that what one rav considers acceptable, another rav feels is not. The differences may be based on the interpretation of halacha, or they may result from a rav’s inclination as to how a plant should be run.

CONCLUSION

Based on the above information, we can better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher meat and why it is important to use only meat that has a proper hechsher. We can also gain a greater appreciation of how hard rabbonim and shochatim work to maintain a high kashrus standard. Now that we recognize the complexity involved in maintaining kosher meat standards, we should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

Waiting for Twelve Months

The end of parshas Balak includes a reference to the laws of kashrus:

Question #1: Sentimental China

“A family is in the process of kashering their home for the first time, and they own an expensive and sentimental, but treif, set of china. Is there any way that they can avoid throwing it away?”

Question #2: No Bologna

“I own an expensive set of fleishig china that I do not use, and, frankly, I desperately need money for other things now. Someone is interested in paying top price for this set because it matches their milchig china. Is there any way I can kasher it and sell it to them, and they may use it for milchig?”

Question #3: Hungary on Pesach

“Help! I just completed cooking the seudos for the first days of Pesach, and I realize now that I used a pot that was used once, more than two years ago, for chometz. Do I have to throw out all the food I made? I have no idea when I am going to have time to make the seudos again!”

Introduction:

Every one of the she’eilos mentioned above shows up in one of the classic works of responsa that I will be quoting in the course of this article. They all touch on the status of food equipment that has not been used for twelve months. In order to have more information with which to understand this topic, I must first introduce some halachic background.

When food is cooked in a pot or other equipment, halacha assumes that some “taste,” of the food remains in the walls of the pot, even after the pot has been scrubbed completely clean. We are concerned that this will add flavor to the food cooked subsequently in that pot. This is the basis for requiring that we kasher treif pots, because the kashering process removes the residual taste.

Until the pot is kashered

Once twenty-four hours have passed since the food was cooked, the residual taste in the vessel spoils and is now categorized as nosein taam lifgam, a halachic term meaning thatthe taste that remains is unpleasant. Something is considered nosein taam lifgam even if it is only mildly distasteful.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 67b) cites a dispute between tana’im whether nosein taam lifgam is permitted or prohibited. The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 65b) rules that nosein taam lifgam is permitted. This is the conclusion of the Gemara in several places (Avodah Zarah 36a, 38b, 39b, 65b, 67b) and also the conclusion of the halachic authorities (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 17:2; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 103:5; 122:6). This means that, although it is prohibited to eat a food that includes a pleasant taste or residue of non-kosher, when the non-kosher food provides a less than appetizing flavor, the food is permitted.

Here is an example that bears out this rule. Glycerin (sometimes called glycerol), which is frequently manufactured from non-kosher animal fat, is often used as an ingredient in foods because, in addition to its other properties, it also adds a sweet flavor to the product. Therefore, when non-kosher glycerin is used in an otherwise kosher product, as I once found in a donut glaze, the product — in this case the donuts — are non-kosher.

On the other hand, if the ingredient adds an unpleasant taste, the finished product remains kosher.

Treif pots

Because of the halachic conclusion that nosein taam lifgam is permitted, min haTorah one would be allowed to use a treif pot once twenty-four hours have passed since it was last used. As mentioned above, at this point the absorbed flavor is considered spoiled, nosein taam lifgam. The reason that we are required to kasher equipment that contains nosein taam lifgam is because of a rabbinic injunction. This is because of concern that someone might forget and cook with a pot that was used the same day for treif, which might result in the consumption of prohibited food (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Chometz is exceptional

The above discussion regarding the rules of nosein taam lifgam is true regarding use of a pot in which non-kosher food was cooked. However, regarding chometz, the prohibition is stricter. Ashkenazim rule that nosein taam lifgam is prohibited in regard to Pesach products. Why is the halacha stricter regarding Pesach? Nosein taam lifgam still qualifies as a remnant of non-kosher food; it is permitted because it does not render a positive taste. However, regarding Pesach, we rule that even a minuscule percentage of chometz is prohibited. Thus, if a chometzdik pot was used to cook on Pesach, even in error, the food is prohibited.

Fleishig to milchig

The rules governing the use of fleishig equipment that was used for milchig and vice versa are similar to the rules that apply to treif equipment, and not the stricter rules that apply to chometzdik equipment used on Pesach. Someone who cooks or heats meat and dairy in the same vessel, on the same day, creates a prohibited mix of meat and milk. If the fleishig equipment had not been used the same day for meat, the meat flavor imparted to the dairy product is nosein taam lifgam. Although the pot must be kashered, since it now contains both milk and meat residue, the dairy food cooked in it remains kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 93:1). The same is true regarding dairy equipment used to prepare fleishig.

Kashering from fleishig to milchig

Although non-kosher equipment can usually be kashered to make it kosher, and chometzdik equipment can usually be kashered to make it kosher for Passover, there is a longstanding custom not to kasher fleishig equipment to use as milchig, and vice versa (Magen Avraham 509:11). The reason for this custom is because if a person regularly koshers his pots or other equipment from milchig to fleishig and back again, he will eventually make a mistake and use them for the wrong type of food without kashering them first (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:43). By the way, it is accepted that someone who kashered their fleishig pot for Pesach may now decide to use it for milchig and vice versa.

Earthenware

We need one more piece of information before we begin to discuss the laws of equipment that has not been used for twelve months. That is to note that there is equipment that cannot usually be kashered. The Gemara teaches that we cannot kasher earthenware equipment, since once the non-kosher residue is absorbed into its walls, it will never come out. (Some authorities permit kashering earthenware or china, which is halachically similar, three times, although this heter is not usually relied upon. A discussion on this point will need to be left for a different time.)

Twelve months

Now that we have had an introduction, we can discuss whether anything changes twelve months after food was cooked. Chazal created a prohibition, called stam yeinam, which prohibits consumption, and, at times, even use, of wine and grape juice produced by a non-Jew. Halachically, there is no difference between wine and grape juice. Notwithstanding the prohibition against using equipment that was once used for non-kosher, we find a leniency that equipment used to produce non-kosher wine may be used after twelve months have transpired. The equipment used by a gentile to crush the juice out of the grapes, or to store the wine or grape juice is also prohibited. This means that we must assume that this equipment still contains taste of the prohibited grape juice.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 34a) rules that the grape skins, seeds and sediment left over after a gentile crushed out the juice are prohibited both for consumption and for benefit. This is because non-kosher grape juice is absorbed into the skins, seeds and sediment. However, after they have been allowed to dry for twelve months, whatever non-kosher taste was left in the skins, seeds and sediment are gone, and it is permitted to use and even eat them. Similarly, once twelve months have transpired since last use, the equipment used to process or store the non-kosher juice also becomes permitted. Thus, the Gemara rules that the jugs, flasks and earthenware vessels used to store non-kosher wine are prohibited for twelve months, but may be used once twelve months have elapsed since their last use. The conclusions of this Gemara are codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 135:16). The process of allowing twelve months to transpire and then permit the leftovers is called yishun.

Several common products are permitted because of this halacha. One example is a wine derivative called tartaric acid, an organic compound with many practical usages. Among its food uses is in beverages, as a flavor enhancer and as baking powder. It is commonly considered kosher, notwithstanding that it is a by-product of non-kosher wine. (It should have a hechsher since it can be produced in ways that are non-kosher.)

It is important to note that this method of kashering, i.e., of waiting twelve months, is mentioned in the Gemara only with reference to kashering after the use of non-kosher wine. The halachic authorities debate whether this method of kashering may be used regarding other prohibitions, and this is the starting point for us to address our opening questions.

Hungry on Pesach

“Help! I just completed cooking the seudos for the first days of Pesach, and I realize now that I used a pot that was used once, more than two years ago, for chometz. Do I have to throw out all the food I made? I have no idea when I am going to have time to make the seudos again!” It would seem that there is no hope for this hardworking housewife, and indeed all her efforts are for naught. However, let us examine an actual case and discover that not everyone agrees.

A very prominent eighteenth-century halachic authority, the Chacham Tzvi, was asked this question: On Pesach, someone mistakenly cooked food in a pot that had been used once, two years before, for chometz. Since Ashkenazim rule that even nosein taam lifgam is prohibited on Pesach, it would seem that the food cooked on Pesach in this pot is prohibited, and this was indeed what some of those involved assumed. However, the Chacham Tzvi contended that the food cooked in this pot is permitted, because he drew a distinction between nosein taam lifgam after 24 hours, and yishun after 12 months. He notes that grape juice absorbed into the vessels or the remaining seeds and skins is prohibited, even for benefit, for up to 12 months, yet after 12 months it becomes permitted. Thus, we see that even the actual wine becomes permitted, because after twelve months it dries out completely and there is no residual taste. It must certainly be true, reasons the Chacham Tzvi, that chometz flavor absorbed into a pot or other vessel must completely dissipate by twelve months after use and that no residual taste is left (Shu’t Chacham Tzvi #75, 80; cited by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 122:3).

Notwithstanding this reasoning, the Chacham Tzvi did not permit using treif equipment without kashering it, even when twelve months transpired since its last use. He explains that since Chazal prohibited use of treif equipment even when the product now being manufactured will be kosher, no distinction was made whether more than a year transpired since its last use — in all instances, one must kasher the vessel before use and not rely on the yishun that transpires after twelve months. However, after the fact, the Chacham Tzvi permitted the food prepared by Mrs. Hardworking in a pot that had been used for chometz more than twelve months before.

Aged vessels

About a century after the Chacham Tzvi penned his responsum, we find a debate among halachic authorities that will be germane to a different one of our opening questions.

Someone purchased non-kosher earthenware vessels that had not been used for twelve months. He would suffer major financial loss if he could not use them or sell them to someone Jewish. Rav Michel, the rav of Lifna, felt that the Jewish purchaser could follow a lenient approach and use the vessels on the basis of the fact that, after twelve months, no prohibited residue remains in the dishes. However, Rav Michel did not want to assume responsibility for the ruling without discussing it with the renowned sage, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shu’t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:43).

Rabbi Akiva Eiger rejected this approach. First of all, he noted that the Chacham Tzvi, himself, did not permit cooking in vessels aged twelve months since last use, only permitting the product that was cooked in those pots.

Secondly, Rabbi Akiva Eiger disputed the Chacham Tzvi’s approach that the concept of yishun applies to anything other than wine. Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes that, among the rishonim, he found the following explanation of yishun: The Rashba writes that the concept of yishun applies only to wine vessels, and the reason is because no remnant of the wine is left since it has dried out (Shu’t Harashba 1:575). Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes that the only other rishon he found who explained how yishun works also held the same as the Rashba. This means that the kashering method known as yishun applies only for non-kosher wine, but to no other prohibitions. Since Rabbi Akiva Eiger found no rishon who agreed with the Chacham Tzvi, he was unwilling to accept this heter. In his opinion, the food cooked on Pesach by Mrs. Hardworking is chometzdik and must be discarded.

Sentimental china

At this point, let us examine a different one of our opening questions:

“A family is in the process of kashering their home for the first time, and they own an expensive, but treif, set of china. Is there anyway that they can avoid throwing it away?”

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked this exact question (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:46). Rabbi Shmuel Weller, a rav in Fort Wayne, Indiana, asked Rav Moshe about a family that, under his influence, had recently decided to keep kosher. The question is that they have an expensive set of porcelain dishes that they have not used for over a year and they do not want to throw it away. Is there any method whereby they may still use it? Rav Moshe writes that, because of the principle of takanas hashavim — which means that to encourage people who want to do teshuvah we are lenient in halachic rules — one could be lenient. The idea is that although Chazal prohibited use of an eino ben yomo, they prohibited it only because there is still residual flavor in the vessel, although the flavor is permitted. Once twelve months have passed, the Chacham Tzvi held that there is no residual flavor left at all. Although the Chacham Tzvi, himself, prohibited the vessels for a different reason, Rav Moshe contends that there is a basis for a heter. (See also Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:51.)

Rav Moshe notes that there are other reasons that one could apply to permit kashering this china, and he therefore rules that one may permit the use of the china by kashering it three times. Because of space considerations, the other reasons, as well as the explanation why kashering three times helps, will have to be left for a different time.

No bologna

At this point, let us refer again to a different one of our opening questions: “I own an expensive set of fleishig china that I do not use, and, frankly, I desperately need money for other things now. Someone is interested in paying top price for this set because it matches their milchig china. Is there anyway I can kasher it and sell it to them, and they may use it for milchig?”

This question presents two problems:

(1) Is there any way to remove the residual fleishig flavor and kasher the china?

(2) Is it permitted to kasher anything from fleishig to milchig?

In a responsum to Rav Zelig Portman, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:43) discusses this question.

We will take these two questions in reverse order. As I mentioned earlier, the Magen Avraham (509:11) reports that there is an accepted minhag not to kasher fleishig equipment in order to use it for milchig, and vice versa. Wouldn’t changing the use of this china violate the minhag?

Rav Moshe explains that the reason for this minhag is to avoid someone using the same pot, or other equipment, all the time by simply kashering it every time he needs to switch from milchig to fleishig. The obvious problem is that, eventually, he will make a mistake and forget to kasher the piece of equipment before using it.

Rav Moshe therefore suggests that the custom of the Magen Avraham applies only to a person who actually used the equipment for fleishig; this person may not kasher it to use for milchig. However, someone who never used it for fleishig would not be included in the minhag.

Regarding the first question, Rav Moshe concludes that, since twelve months have passed since the china was last used for fleishig, one may kasher it.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than are the laws of the Written Torah. In this context, we understand that Chazal established many rules to protect the Jewish people from violating the Torah’s laws of kashrus. This article has served as an introduction to one aspect of the laws of kashrus that relates to utensils. Not only is the food that a Jew eats required to be given special care, but also the equipment with which he prepares that food. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

Can There Be Smoke without a Fire?

In parshas Korach, 250 men burnt ketores and paid with their lives.

Question #1: Frankfurters on the Blech

May I place cold frankfurters on top of a hot pot to warm them on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Cheese Dogs

“May one derive benefit from a cheese dog, which is a grilled hot dog with added cheese and chili sauce?”

Question #3: Lox for Eruv Tavshillin?

“I will be traveling overseas for Yom Tov and Shabbos, and it will be difficult for me to have cooked food ready for an eruv tavshillin. May I use lox as my eruv tavshillin?”

Foreword

Our  opening questions are germane to whether “smoking” qualifies as “cooking,” for halachic purposes. As we will see shortly, the Gemara and halachic authorities discuss several situations affected by this question, with ramifications for the laws of Shabbos, kashrus and eruv tavshillin. Let us begin by understanding some background information.

In general, we are familiar with two very common methods of preparing food using heat. In one instance, the food is cooked directly by the heat, without any medium. This is what we do when we barbecue, broil, or bake. The food is cooked or baked directly by the heat. On the other hand, when we boil or fry food, we cook it in a hot liquid — when boiling, usually in water, and when frying, in oil.

There are also many methods of making raw food edible without heat, such as salting, pickling or marinating. Preparing food this way causes the flavors of the different ingredients to blend together, which halacha calls beli’ah. Therefore, should one ingredient be non-kosher, the entire food will become non-kosher. However, there are halachic ramifications to the fact that these methods of food preparation are not considered “cooking.” Even though salting and pickling food make it edible, the food is not considered cooked.Therefore, germane to the laws of Shabbos, one will not be able to heat up smoked food, using methods permitted to warm food on Shabbos. For example, although it is permitted to heat food that is already cooked by placing it atop a pot which is, itself, on top of a fire or blech, one may not heat up deli this way on Shabbos, when it has been pickled, but not cooked, which is usually the case.

Several types of smoking

In contemporary use, the term “smoked” may refer to several different ways of preparing food, with variant halachic ramifications. Here are three methods:

Hot smoke

Frankfurters and many other sausages are “cooked” in hot smoke, in an appliance sometimes called a smoker. Rather than being cooked directly by the fire, or by water that is heated by a fire, these foods are cooked by hot smoke. This is also the usual way in which raw salmon is made into lox. The question we will be discussing in our article is whether this is halachically equivalent to cooking in water, oil or other liquid. There are many halachic ramifications to the question. Unless specified otherwise, our article is discussing this type of smoking, in which smoke is doing the actual cooking (see Perisha, Yoreh Deah 87:9).

Cured food

In this type of “smoking,” wood is burned inside a sealed room, usually called a “smokehouse.” The food to be preserved and processed is placed inside the smokehouse for several days, or perhaps even weeks, while the smoke, now cool, cures and provides the food with a smoky flavor. Since the food production in this instance takes place in room temperature smoke, this process should not be considered either “cooking” or beli’ah. However, there is one late authority who considers this method of producing food to be similar to cooking (Chadrei Deah, quoted by Badei Hashulchan, Biurim 87:6 s.v. Ha’me’ushan). For the rest of this article, I will not take this opinion under consideration, since it is not within mainstream accepted halacha.

Regarding the laws of Shabbos, food smoked this way is certainly considered to be uncooked.

Smoke flavored

A third method of smoking is when food is prepared by steaming, cooking or broiling, and a natural or artificial ingredient called smoke flavor is added to provide smoke taste. If the food was prepared by being cooked or broiled, it is considered cooked for halachic purposes. If the food was prepared by being “steamed,” a process similar to the first method of smoking mentioned above, the halachic issue is more complicated. The halachic question is whether cooking in steam and cooking in smoke are identical, or, perhaps, cooking in steam is like cooking in water. I will leave that aspect of this topic for a future article.

Smoking on Shabbos!

At this point, I will explain some of the halachic issues affected by the question as to whether smoking food is the same as cooking. One of the 39 melachos prohibited on Shabbos is mevasheil, cooking, or, in the words of the Mishnah (Shabbos 73a), ofeh, baking. This melacha involves preparing food with heat (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:1-5). One of the questions that the Gemara discusses is whether smoking food on Shabbos is considered a violation of the melacha of cooking on Shabbos min haTorah, and another issue is whether smoked food is considered cooked.

Here is one application of this issue: Once dry food has been completely cooked, such as baked or barbecued chicken or a kugel, there is no Torah violation in heating it on Shabbos. (There often may be rabbinic violations involved, but there are ways of warming cooked food on Shabbos that are permitted. We have discussed that topic in the past.) However, heating uncooked food on Shabbos usually involves a melacha min haTorah. The question we are raising is whether food that has been smoked, such as lox or hot dogs, is considered as cooked regarding the laws of warming food on Shabbos. If it is, then there are more options available to warm them on Shabbos.

Smoking meat and milk

A second area of halacha where this question – whether smoking constitutes cooking – is germane, is the prohibition of eating dairy and meat foods cooked together, basar becholov. Although we are prohibited from eating meat and milk together even when both are cold, or even from eating dairy after consuming meat, these prohibitions are only miderabbanan. The prohibition is violated min haTorah by cooking meat and dairy together or by eating meat and dairy that were previously cooked together. The question that we will tackle is whether smoking meat and dairy together is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan.

There is a halachic difference that depends on whether preparing a meat and dairy mixture is prohibited miderabbanan or min haTorah. The prohibition against benefitting from meat and milk applies only when one violated the law min haTorah, but not when one violated it miderabbanan (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 87:3 and commentaries). Therefore, if meat and dairy were mixed together when cold, there is no prohibition in getting benefit from the resultant product, even though it may not be eaten. For this reason, selling pet food does not violate the law of benefiting from basar becholov, even when it contains both meat and dairy products, since the two are not cooked together, but blended together at room temperature.

The question germane to our discussion is whether a Jew may benefit from a meat and dairy product that was smoked together. For example, if someone smoked a raw frankfurter together with cheese, is it prohibited min haTorah, and for this reason one may not have benefit from it min haTorah, or not?

Bishul akum

Here is another kashrus application in which it will make a difference whether smoking is considered cooking or not. Chazal prohibited eating food cooked by a non-Jew, even when all the ingredients are kosher, unless the food is edible raw or would not be served on a royal table. Is smoking considered “cooking” germane to this prohibition, or not? This means that, if a non-Jew smoked food that is inedible raw, is it prohibited because of bishul akum? A practical difference is whether a hechsher on hot dogs must make sure that a Jew smoked the frankfurters; another is whether the smoking of lox must be done by a Jew.  In both of these situations, the question is whether this food is considered cooked by a non-Jew, which might prohibit it as bishul akum, or whether it was prepared in a way that does not qualify as “cooking,” and therefore bishul akum is not a concern.

Eruv tavshillin

Here is yet another halachic application in which it will make a difference whether smoked food is considered “cooked” or not. Chazal prohibited cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos, unless one prepares an eruv tavshillin, a cooked item designated before Yom Tov that will remain until the Shabbos preparations are completed, and that thereby permits cooking for Shabbos on Yom Tov that falls on Friday. If smoked food is considered cooked, then it is acceptable to use a food that was prepared by smoking, such as a frankfurter or lox, as an eruv tavshillin. If smoked food is not considered cooked, then it is not.

The Yerushalmi

Now that we understand the background, we can examine the Talmudic discussion that concerns smoked food. We will begin by quoting a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedorim 6:1): “The rabbis of Kisrin asked: What is the law of smoked food in regard to the prohibition of bishul akum? In regard to cooking on Shabbos? What is its law regarding mixing meat and milk together?” The passage of Yerushalmi then changes the subject, without ruling on the three questions raised.

The issue the Yerushalmi seems to be asking is whether cooking food in smoke is halachically equivalent to cooking in liquid. In each of these instances, a hot medium is used to prepare the food. The first question of the Yerushalmi is whether food smoked by a non-Jew is prohibited, or whether the proscription of bishul akum is limited to food cooked via fire or liquid. If cooking in smoke is halachically considered the same as cooking in water or oil, then lox or frankfurters that were smoked by a non-Jew are prohibited because of bishul akum. On the other hand, if smoking is not treated as cooking, then there is no halachic problem with eating lox or hot dogs in which the actual smoking was performed by a non-Jew, provided that the ingredients are all kosher.

The second question of the Yerushalmi can be explained as follows: If a Jewish person placed raw frankfurters or salmon into a smoker on Shabbos, and the frankfurters or lox thereby became edible on Shabbos, did the person desecrate a melacha on Shabbos? If he did, then there are halachic ramifications germane to a product that was smoked on Shabbos in violation of the law.

The third question of the Yerushalmi concerns the laws of cooking meat and milk together. If smoking is considered cooking, min haTorah, then smoking a cheese dog violates basar becholov min haTorah, and it is prohibited to have any benefit from it.

As I noted above, the Yerushalmi that we quoted does not mention a conclusion regarding these three questions. Based on these unresolved questions, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 9:6) appears to conclude the following: when our issue is a halacha that is min haTorah, we rule stringently. However, when the issue is a rabbinic question, we will rule leniently and not consider this to be cooking.

As a result, it is certainly prohibited as a safek de’oraysa to smoke a cheese dog or to smoke food on Shabbos. It would be prohibited to have any benefit from a smoked cheese dog. However, someone who violated these prohibitions would not be punishable for his offense, even when such punishment was practiced and even had he fulfilled all the requirements to receive this punishment, because the Yerushalmi did not conclude definitively that it constitutes a violation. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 87:6) follows the same approach as the Rambam.

We will continue this topic at some point in the future.

Conclusion

In non-observant circles, a well-known non-Jewish criticism of Judaism is frequently leveled: “Does G-d care more about what goes into our mouths than he does about what comes out?” The criticism is, of course, in error, and its answer is that Hashem cares both about what goes in and what comes out, and it is the height of conceit for us to decide which is “more” important in His eyes. Being careful about what we eat and about what we say are both important steps in growing in our development as human beings.

The Cheese Factory

Driving on a secondary route after visiting an ice cream plant, I noticed a small cheese factory. At the time, I had no experience in the practical kashrus arrangements regarding the manufacture of cheese and whey in modern factories, but I was familiar with the topics as they are discussed in the Gemara, rishonim and poskim.

Being by nature a curious person, and also, perhaps more significantly, having a few hours to spare, I decided to drop in on the factory, hoping that perhaps I would be offered a tour of the production. I figured that if I didn’t ask, I would certainly not get a tour, and if I did get a tour, perhaps I would learn how cheese and whey are manufactured, and what needs to be done to make the products properly kosher.

Hashem made cow’s milk contain all the nutrients necessary for a newborn calf to grow big and strong until it is ready to be self-supporting by eating grass for its nutrition. The major components of milk are lactose, or milk sugar, which provides the carbohydrates a young calf needs; casein and other proteins; cream (the fat component); vitamins and minerals, including calcium for healthy bones; and about 90% water, which keeps the other ingredients in suspension. Manufacturing cheese requires precipitating (separating) the casein out of the milk and then coagulating it. These processes may involve use of a “starter” and “rennet.” The coagulated part of the milk, called the curd, separates from the rest, which is the whey. The curd is pressed into a solid block – the shape of the cheese.

The Gemara records many reasons why Chazal prohibited using cheese when a Jew did not participate in its manufacture or did not own its raw materials. In practice, having a Jew participate in the manufacture of cheese is usually accomplished by having a mashgiach add the starter and the rennet into the milk batch. Such cheese is called gevinas Yisroel (literally, cheese of a Jew), whereas gevinas akum (literally, cheese of a non-Jew) is the name for the type of cheese that Chazal prohibited. (Whether we resolve the prohibition of gevinas akum by having a Jew participate in the production, or by having him own the product, is a lengthy topic discussed in a different article available on this website.)

I pulled into the driveway of the cheese factory and saw a billboard attached to the sidewall of the factory, advertising the retail products that the company manufactured – cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, mozzarella cheese and a few similar varieties. As I would soon find out, the company also did some private-label selling, which they did not advertise on a billboard, and also sold some industrial products, specifically, various forms of whey.

I no longer remember whether I had noticed that the labels of the products on the billboard had a large letter K on the package. Of course, we all know that this is not a registered kashrus symbol. However, there is a segment of the population, rapidly disappearing, of traditionally observant Jews who assume that a large K on a product means that it is kosher.

I was pleasantly surprised when the receptionist quickly ushered me into the office of the plant manager, who was also the company owner. I told him that I was interested in knowing the details of cheese production and happened to drive past his factory this day. I expected him to brush me off, telling me that he did not want to reveal any of his trade secrets. I was quite surprised that he was willing to walk me through the plant. Perhaps I looked very honest; perhaps he had no trade secrets to hide; perhaps small-town people are less suspicious; perhaps his pride in his business got the best of him. I just know that he was very willing to spend a considerable amount of time showing me around his facility, explaining all the details of production and answering all my questions, eagerly and fully.

I actually did get a very good education that day on how “hard cheese” is made. Subsequently, I also learned some side curiosities: for example, that true Italian mozzarella cheese is not made from cow’s milk, but from the milk of a water buffalo. (For the kosher consumer, it is good that you can make mozzarella from cow’s milk, because I have never seen anyone in the United States milk a water buffalo, although it is a kosher animal. It is commonly milked today in Italy, and I know that this could be arranged in Israel. Nevertheless, I am unaware of anyone who sells cholov Yisroel buffalo milk.)

My visit over, I thanked the plant manager for his wonderful tour, still curious why he had received me so nicely, and attributing it to my charisma. But then, I found out that he had an ulterior motive.

“You must be a rabbi,” he said. I guess my beard didn’t look too Amish. “I am in need of a new certifying rabbi. Could you help me?”

He then produced a letter from a nursing home in Brooklyn. The letter verified that the cheese produced by his factory was kosher. I assumed that the nursing home had a certifying rabbi, who also certified cheese factories and other facilities, although I saw no indication that any of the rules necessary to avoid the prohibition of gevinas akum were observed. This would usually require the presence of an on-site frum individual who added the ingredients that make the cheese form. Another option, rarely used, also existed: That the rabbi had arranged that he was a partial owner of the products being manufactured.

Could you be our new rabbi?

The owner/plant manager explained. “Rabbi Levine* certified our plant for many years. His fee was much lower than any other quoted to us. He used to visit the factory once a year, ask a few questions and collect his check. A few years ago, his wife died and, shortly thereafter, he moved into an assisted living facility. He still used to visit once a year, although it was quite obvious that he was getting on in years. The last two years, he contacted us, and we mailed him his annual fee. But our certification is now running out, and we have been trying to reach him, unsuccessfully. We do not even know if he is still alive! Could you be our new rabbi?”

Much as I would have liked to be makir tov to the factory owner for educating me about the production of kosher cheese, he was not interested in making the changes necessary for his cheese to be kosher according to any standard. I never met Rabbi Levine, but he was clearly out of his league in issuing a hechsher. I am unaware of any accepted heter that would allow this cheese to be considered kosher on the basis of its ingredients with no Jewish involvement in the production.

Permitted non-Jewish cheese?

In the times of the rishonim, there were areas of Europe, particularly in Italy and parts of France, with a long-established practice to be lenient regarding the consumption of the local cheese of non-Jews. Several rishonim quote this lenient position in the name of the Ge’onei Narvona. The lenience was based on the fact that the Jews knew the ingredients used by the gentile cheesemakers, and knew that none of the concerns mentioned by the Gemara was germane. The cheese was set with “flowers,” some variety of plant-based enzymes. I am told that, to this day, there are cheeses in some parts of Europe that use an enzyme found naturally in a variety of thistle. Perhaps this was the type of cheese that these communities used.

However, most rishonim rejected this reasoning, contending that the prohibition against non-Jewish cheese exists even when none of the original reasons applies. They contend that the prohibition has a halachic status of davar she’be’minyon, a rabbinic injunction that remains binding even when the reason the takanah was introduced no longer applies, until and unless a larger and more authoritative body declares the original injunction invalid. Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on non-Jewish cheese, it remains – even when none of the reasons apply (Rambam, Ma’achalos Asuros 3:4; Rashba, Toras Habayis page 90b; Semag, Mitzvah 223; Tur, Yoreh Deah 115).

The Shulchan Aruch rules according to the majority opinion that there is no halachic basis for those communities that permitted use of the local non-Jewish cheese. The Rema follows a more lenient view, permitting use of non-Jewish cheese in a place where one can ascertain that there was a long-established custom to permit it. Therefore, no one in today’s world would be permitted to use non-Jewish cheese, with the possible exception of an Italian community that can prove a tradition dating back at least eight hundred years.

Gevinas Yisroel by observation

The Rema contends that a Jew observing the production of cheese makes the cheese gevinas Yisroel, which is, by definition, not subject to the prohibition of gevinas akum. In his opinion, this is true even when the milk and curdling agents are all owned by a non-Jew, and even when non-Jews performed all the steps in the cheese production.

The Shach, however, takes tremendous issue with this approach of the Rema, contending that if a non-Jew owns the milk, the acid, and the enzyme, and he places the acid or enzyme into the milk, the resultant cheese is prohibited as gevinas akum, even if an observant Jew supervised the entire production.

Gevinas Yisroel by ownership

According to some contemporary poskim, there are ways to make cheese kosher by making a Jew the owner of the product. If one follows this opinion, you could create some complicated kinyanim and, thereby, make the cheese gevinas Yisroel, fully kosher.

The Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah II Orach Chayim #37) discusses a case where a Jew is “renting the schvag” of a non-Jew for the purpose of producing cheese. I do not know the meaning of the word schvag, and the many people I have asked do not know either (although some of them insisted otherwise). From the context in which the Noda Biyehudah uses the term, it seems that this was a Slavic word for a cheese factory. The case is that the Jew is contracting with the non-Jew to make cheese for the Jew in the gentile’s facility.

The Noda Biyehudah contends that when the Jew intends to purchase the cheese and also supplies the rennet, the Jew is already considered the owner of the cheese. Under these circumstances, there is no problem of gevinas akum, even according to the Shach. The Noda Biyehudah concludes that, under these circumstances, a non-Jew may produce the cheese without it becoming prohibited.

Another possibility, suggested by my good friend Rav Sander Goldberg, is that the word schvag was misspelled in the printed editions of the Noda Biyehudah, but refers to Schwab or Swabia, the hilly southwestern region of Germany that borders Switzerland, which was well known for its production of dairy products. Several early authorities, including Sha’arei Dura (#78) and the Maharil (#35), make reference to the heter of the שוואבין to allow non-Jewish butter. When the Noda Biyehudah refers to the שוכרים ,השוואגין he may be referring to Jews from the region of Swabia who would peddle cheeses; they would bring their own rennet, made from the stomach of a kosher slaughtered calf (keivah), to make the cheese. The Noda Biyehudah’s point is that even though the transaction between the non-Jews (who owned the cows) and the Jews (who brought the keivah) wasn’t finalized until after the cheese was made, and therefore technically the cheese still was owned by a non-Jew, nevertheless this is considered enough of a partnership to avoid the problem of gevinas akum.

Based on the Noda Biyehudah, the Orthodox Union (OU) once entertained the possibility of considering cheese as gevinas Yisroel on the basis that the mashgiach would own the rennet. However, they reached the following conclusion: “Not everyone agrees to the idea of the Jew owning the rennet. Rav Belsky feels that the type of scenario in which this is or would be done [having the mashgiach do a kinyan on the rennet] is not proper, as, in order for this to work, the cheese must be made for the Jew, rather than him technically having a kinyan in the rennet, with sale of the cheese to others. He [Rav Belsky] says that this is what the Noda Biyehudah meant: The Noda Biyehudah is discussing a case where the Jews rented the cheese plant, (which is how he understood the word schvag) and plan on buying the finished cheeses. In that case, the Noda Biyehudah says that the cheese is permitted. So he’s only saying that owning the rennet suffices where that gives the Jew a partial ownership in the cheese, as a first step towards taking full possession. As such, the Noda Biyehudah’s approach applies only in cases where the Jew now has a partial ownership and will later have full ownership, and there’s no basis for extending it to cases where the Jew really has no ownership and will eventually have even less.

“Both Rav Belsky and Rav Schachter accepted this argument that the Noda Biyehudah’s approach doesn’t apply in this case.”

In conclusion, we have suggested four possible ways to avoid the prohibition of gevinas akum, although some of these approaches are disputed:

1. A Jew (mashgiach)supervises the entire production of the cheese.

2. A Jew adds the rennet and starter, which causes the manufacture of the cheese.

3. A Jew is a proper partial owner of the milk from which the cheese is made.

4. A Jew supplies the rennet for the manufacture of the cheese and maintains partial ownership over the product.

I understand that, years later, this company did decide to produce properly kosher cheeses. I am glad.

* Name is changed.

The Pesach Sleuth

Photo by Matus Laco from FreeImages

Imagine walking into a factory, noticing the ceiling, 25 feet overhead, lined with rows upon rows of similar-looking pipes. “How am I possibly supposed to know what goes through these pipes? How can I possibly check if they have been cleaned properly, and how can I possibly kasher them?”

When we purchase products for Pesach, we look for a hechsher that we respect, and we rely on that hechsher to make sure everything is done properly. Fortunately, an experienced mashgiach will know how to trace all those pipes and figure out what each one contains, although it will take him time to do so. Yet, most of us do not know what it is like to be in a factory that is supervising a Pesach-dik production run, nor do we know what it is like to be checking a factory to see if it is maintaining its kashrus program. We also don’t really know why one hechsher is acceptable and another is not. Most people apply the “What do the neighbors use?” system, or, more accurately, “What does the chevrah use?” or “Do bnei Torah eat from that hechsher?” approach. Although one article cannot answer most of these questions, it can provide some direction and background.

Pesach-dik ketchup

Let me begin with a typical kosher-for-Pesach story. Ketchup, a common North American household product that, in some households, is an irreplaceable staple, is a relatively simple product containing tomato paste, water, corn sweetener, vinegar, salt, spices and flavoring. Several of these ingredients require replacement for a Pesach-dik product. Corn sweetener is kitniyos, and would require replacing, probably with a kosher-lePesach sugar made from either cane or beets. Pure spices ground for industrial use should be fine, but spice extracts or oleoresins will require more research. The water should not present any problem, and the tomato paste and salt used for commercial production should also be fine, but it always pays for the hechsher to double check the manufacturer.

Both the vinegar and the flavoring could contain chometz, and almost certainly contain kitniyos if they did not come from a specially-made Pesach run. Let us see how these sensitive ingredients will be handled:

Vinegar

Regular vinegar, usually called white vinegar, is manufactured from alcohol processed with yeast, vinegar food, and perhaps other raw materials, until the alcohol turns to vinegar. Every one of these ingredients can involve a potential chometz issue: Alcohol is commonly produced from grain. Vinegar food may alsoinclude chometz ingredients. Kosher lePesach vinegar would require that the alcohol, the yeast and the vinegar food all be specially made from a non-chometz, non-kitniyos source. Assuming that the hechsher certifying the production of the ketchup is not the one that certified the vinegar, the rabbonim or poskim of the hechsher on the ketchup will decide which hechsher for Pesach-dik vinegar they will accept.

In theory, kosher lePesach vinegar could be  produced in a much easier way with virtually no halachic complications. Chemically, white vinegar is a solution of acetic acid and water. Pure acetic acid can be produced synthetically, and, therefore, a product identical to vinegar can be produced by simply mixing glacial acetic acid and water, which would be a very easy item to produce, simple to supervise ,and less expensive than kosher-lePesach vinegar.

So why not?

If it is much easier to produce kosher-lePesach vinegar this way, why is it not done? The answer is that it is illegal in the United States to call this product “vinegar,” notwithstanding that it is perfectly safe to use and will accomplish whatever the “vinegar” in your product will. In the United States, this ingredient must be labeled as “diluted glacial acetic acid” or something similar, and companies are concerned that customers will not purchase a product with this ingredient listed on the label.

Vinegar in the United States must be produced by the fermentation of alcohol, and the alcohol used for this production must also be fermented and distilled from sugars or starches. Nevertheless, there are many countries of the world where it is perfectly legal to use synthetically produced vinegar in food production and to label it as “vinegar.”

Flavoring

Ketchup requires the addition of herbs, spices or flavoring. The size of flavor-producing companies varies in as great a range as you can imagine. I have seen flavor companies that are quite literally mom-and-pop shops, and I have also been inside flavor factories the size of a small city. Some flavor companies manage without any major sophisticated equipment, whereas others own hundreds of production machines that each cost in the millions of dollars.

Spray towers

Here is a very practical example: Many products are dried today in a massive piece of equipment called a spray dryer or spray tower. The purpose of this piece of equipment, usually about the height of a three-story building, is to convert a liquid product into a powder. It does so by pumping the liquid until it is dropped through the top of the spray tower. In the tower, which is usually gas-fired, very hot air, usually about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, is forced along the inside walls of the tower, and the liquid product is dropped through the middle. The temperature is hot enough so that all the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a powder that drops to the bottom of the spray tower, where it is boxed or bagged.

Many thousands of spray towers are used in the United States alone. Possibly the most frequent use is to powder skim milk, which is highly perishable, into nonfat dry milk, which occupies a fraction of the space of the liquid product, and, if kept dry, has an indefinite shelf life without any refrigeration, thus making it very easy to store and ship.

Assuming that this spray tower is used only for milk, the major question that will occur is how to kasher it for a cholov Yisroel production. There are many halachic issues here, including that a spray tower physically cannot be filled with water and brought to a boil, which constitutes hag’alah, the most common way of kashering. Furthermore, it is unlikely that this method suffices to kasher the tower, since the absorption into the walls of the spray tower is without liquid.

Another option is to kasher the tower by use of a flame thrower, basically a larger form of a blow torch.

On the other hand, there are halachic authorities who contend that the spray dryer does not even require kashering, since the product is not supposed to touch its walls. Because of the tremendous heat that absorbs into the stainless steel walls of the dryer, product that touches them burns, and will probably pass distaste, nosein taam lifgam, into the final product. Some of these last-quoted authorities contend that a spray tower does not require kashering.

There are also companies that have contract spray-dry equipment. This means that the spray tower is not constantly in use for their product,and, not wanting to leave a very expensive piece of equipment idle,  they will spray dry other products during the “down” time, when they are not producing their own products. For example, I have seen wine powder, powdered meat extract, medicinal items, and even blood, spray dried on equipment that was also at times used for kosher supervised products.

At this point, let us return to our special kosher-for-Pesach ketchup production. A flavor whose components were spray dried, which is a fairly common procedure, would require researching what else was produced on this spray dryer, or attempting to kasher the spray dryer. All of these complicate the research involved in producing our kosher-lePesach ketchup.

To resolve all these potential complications, the flavors used for the production of this kosher-lePesach ketchup were ordered from a small manufacturer. The order was to use only pure essential oils that would be extracted by pressure — in other words, oil that is squeezed out of the spice source in what is called a “cold press” operation and without any extracting aids. Many essential oils are extracted using alcohols such as ethanol or glycerin, which could compromise the kashrus of the product.

Of course, a knowledgeable field representative was dispatched to oversee that the flavor company indeed followed the instructions and used only cold press essential oils.  The flavor company blended together these liquid oils and then added a significant amount of salt to the product. The reason for the addition of the salt was to dry out the finished spice so that it could be easily shipped and stored. From a kashrus perspective, this was certainly a far better alternative to using a spray-dried product and kashering the spray dryer.

Now our hechsher has successfully located all the ingredients and overseen the production of all the raw materials for the kosher-lePesach ketchup. The next step is to send a knowledgeable mashgiach to the production facility where the ketchup is to be manufactured, to ascertain how that equipment will be kashered prior to the Pesach run, and to clarify with the company its production schedule prior to the dates when the equipment will be kashered and the Pesach product manufactured. He also needs to check whether other products are being made in the facility, or a nearby facility, that uses the same heating system to produce chometz products.

And this is for a relatively simple product.

Having shown how a relatively simple Pesach-dik product is made, I will shift from the simple to what is possibly the most complicated: the kashering of hotels for Pesach, which has become a colossal international business. A glance at any frum newspaper includes advertisements marketing opportunities to spend Pesach on any continent, always only with non-gebrochtz, shemurah matzos, cholov Yisroel, and glatt kosher, under a rav’s strict supervision, with several prominent English speakers as scholars-in-residence, babysitting provided during the lectures, and many sightseeing activities available for Chol Hamo’eid. Yet, individuals interested in experiencing Yom Tov this way should be aware that kashering a hotel for Pesach is a mammoth and difficult process. It is even more difficult to do when the entire hotel is not being kashered for Pesach, when the hotel’s regular kitchen staff are used, or when the chef and sous-chefs are not halachically observant themselves.

By the way, travel tours create the most difficult issues regarding kashrus supervision. Many hechsherim will simply not supervise them because of the complications involved with traveling to different places and using products that are available locally. These issues become even more complicated when it comes to Pesach supervision.

Aside from the many nightmares I have heard regarding Pesach hotel hechsherim, I will share with you just one nightmare story of which I have firsthand knowledge. At one point in my career, I was in charge of the hechsherim in an area that encompassed a well-known tourist area. Simply put, if anything was supervised kosher in our area, I knew about it. There indeed were several reliably kosher tours, some of whom used our kashrus organization to supervise their activities and some who did not, but, it seemed to me, still maintained a fairly respectable kashrus standard.

Once, I saw an advertisement in the Anglo-Jewish press for a “glatt kosher tour” through our area. Since none of the tour companies with which I was familiar was involved, I called the number listed for reservations and inquired who was overseeing their kashrus in the area. The woman who answered the phone dutifully notified me that “Jim Klein oversees all food production and kashrus arrangements in that area.” I knew Jim well. Not only was he completely non-observant – he was married to a non-Jewish woman! Yet, the tour was advertized as glatt kosher, chassidisha shechitah. I have no idea if it was chassidisha shechitah, but it was certainly not glatt kosher, and halachically was not kosher at all!

For sure, we know not to use anything “supervised” by Jim. Can we eat something supervised by Yossel? The answer is that we rely on a hechsher that uses yir’ei shamayim personnel who are knowledgeable both in halacha and in the technical aspects of modern kashrus. Particularly, when we decide which Pesach products we allow into our home to enhance our simchas Yom Tov, we use only hechsherim that impress us with their expertise and their concern about the important role they play in our lives.

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

Question #1: Home, home

“Are there any ‘take-home lessons’ I can learn from split hooves?”

Question #2: On the range

“Is there a variety of wild pig that chews its cud and is kosher?”

Question #3: Where the deer

“May I eat the fat of a reindeer? What about the impala, the dik-dik and the kudu?”

Question #4: And the antelope play

“Is the American pronghorn a kosher species?”

Foreword

In two places, first in parshas Shemini, and then again in parshas Re’eih, the Torah explains which species of animals, fish and birds are kosher. Since all of our opening questions are about the status of various kosher mammals, this article will limit itself to defining which of them is kosher and various other halachos that result.

Presumably, you noted that I used the word “mammal” rather than “animal” or “beast.” To the best of my knowledge, there is no word in Tanach or Mishnaic Hebrew for “mammal.” The Modern Hebrew word used is yoneik, which simply means “that which nurses,” certainly an accurate definition of what separates mammals from other members of the animal kingdom. I am using the word “mammal” as an easy and accurate way to distinguish what the Torah calls “animalsthat are upon the ground” from the birds, fish, sea animals, creeping creatures, locusts, insects, invertebrates and reptiles whose halachic status is discussed in the Torah.

Introduction

The Torah writes, “Hashemspoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, saying, these are the beasts from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: Whatever has a split hoof that is separated completely and is ma’aleh geirah [usually translated as “ruminating” or “chewing its cud”] among the animals: Those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). The Torah then lists three animals, the camel, the shafan and the arneves [intentionally not yet translated] as being non-kosher because they do not have fully split hooves, although they are ma’aleh geirah. Finally, the Torah mentions that a pig is not kosher, even though its hooves are completely split, because it is not ma’aleh geirah.

Thus, the Torah defines any land animal with a totally split hoof that chews its cud as kosher. These two signs are possessed by sheep, goats, giraffe, deer, antelope, cattle, buffalo, bison, yak and okapi. The okapi lives in deep forests in the Congo, has a skull almost identical to that of a small giraffe, and, indeed, possesses split hooves and is a ruminant.

Does it ruminate too much?

“Ruminating” means that an animal has many stomachs (sometimes described as a stomach with several chambers) and chews its food in two stages. First, it harvests grass, leaves and/or other vegetation which it deposits into the first chamber of its stomach, the rumen, where it is fermented and begins to decompose. The partially digested food, now called “cud,” is regurgitated back to the mouth, where it is chewed again to further break down its cellulose content, which is difficult to digest. The chewed cud then goes directly to the second chamber of the stomach, the reticulum and, eventually, to the last two chambers, the omasum and abomasum, where further digestion is assisted by various microorganisms that reside in the ruminant’s stomach. This is Hashem’s way of having grass, leaves, bark and tree roots (which the human stomach cannot digest), converted into products that can now benefit mankind in the forms of milk, cheese, meat, wool and leather.

The term ma’aleh geirah might include other processes that are not the same as chewing cud. Ultimately, the question is how we translate the non-kosher species that the Torah teaches are ma’aleh geirah but do not have fully split hooves. The Torah mentions three: the camel, the shafan and the arneves.

The camel chews its cud. Although its stomach has only three chambers, it still digests its food in a way similar to the four-chambered ruminants.

Hyrax?

The other two animals that the Torah describes as ma’aleh geirah are shafan and arneves. We are uncertain as to the identification of these two animals. In Modern Hebrew, the word shafan sela is used to mean hyrax, sometimes called the rock hyrax, a rodent-like mammal commonly found in wooded areas in Eretz Yisroel. I often see them in the wild, a ten-minute walk from my house. It is called the rock hyrax because they often stand on rocky areas in forests, and hide in holes between the rocks. The posuk in Tehillim (104:18), sela’im machseh la’shefanim, rocks are a refuge for the shefanim, indeed implies that shafan is indeed a rock hyrax. However, the difficulty with defining the shafan as a hyrax is because the hyrax is not a ruminant.

Hare or rabbit

Arneves is usually identified as a rabbit, a hare, or both. Hares and rabbits are similar to, but are not, rodents, and in modern science are categorized as lagomorphs. The main difference between hares and rabbits is the stage of development at which their young are born. Newborn hares are able to function on their own within hours, whereas newborn rabbits are blind and completely helpless. In any case, neither the rabbit nor the hare are considered ruminants.

Will the real shafan please stand up?

In a teshuvah on the subject, the Seridei Eish (Shu’t Seridei Eish 2:64) mentions several attempts to identify shafan and arneves. One approach insists that shafan and arneves cannot be hyraxes and hares, since neither of these species ruminates, but that shafan and arneves must be species that indeed ruminate and yet are not kosher. These would be species that, like camels, have partially, but not fully split hooves and are therefore called cameloids. However, the only species currently known to man, other than the camel, that fit this description are native South Americans of the llama family: the domesticated llama and alpaca, the vicuna, and the guanaco, which are collectively called lamoids. Since shafan is mentioned in Tanach several times as a commonly known animal, it is highly unlikely that it refers to a South American native that was unknown in the Fertile Crescent until well after the Europeans invaded South America in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

There are also descriptions of arneves in the Gemara (Megillah 9b) that indicate that, in that era, they were very certain how to identify an arneves, again making lamoids a very unlikely choice.

Another option is that shafan and arneves refer to Bactrian (two-humped) camels, native to China and other parts of Asia. However, this is also a difficult approach to accept, since the differences between the one-humped dromedary (also called Arabian camel) and the two-humped Bactrian are not distinctive enough to imagine that they would not both be called gamal by the Torah. I would like to note that the Gemara was well aware of the existence of dromedary and Bactrian camels, calling them Arabian camels and Persian camels, and insisting that they qualify as one species for halachic purposes (Bava Kama 55a). (Scientifically, they are treated as two separate species, Camelus dromedarius and Camelus bactrianus. By the way, Bactria was a country in today’s Afghanistan, bordering on Persia, so both the contemporary conversational term and the scientific terms for the two varieties of camel are identical to the way Chazal referred to them.)

Are you sure that you don’t ruminate?

The Seridei Eish also mentions a completely different approach, suggested by Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, that although shafan and arneves are not cud chewers, they appear to do something similar to ruminating. A hyrax has a three-chambered stomach containing special bacteria allowing it to digest leaves and grasses, similar to ruminants that can digest leaves and grass. It is also interesting to note that hyrax babies are born without the bacteria they need for digestion. For nutrition, they consume the waste matter of adult hyraxes until they are able to eat. Apparently, the adult’s waste contains enough live bacteria such that the baby hyrax stomach is eventually able to digest the cellulose itself, without relying on reprocessed food. Mah rabu ma’asecha, Hashem!

It is possible that either the digestive system of the hyrax or its method of feeding its offspring may be what the Torah means, when it calls them maalei geirah.

Arneves

Rabbits and hares are not classic ruminants and do not possess the proper physiology for rumination, but instead digest through a process called hindgut fermentation. These animals and some rodents digest in a unique way, by the formation of cecotropes. Their first swallowing does not complete the digestion process, and they produce two different kinds of droppings: little black round ones and softer black ones known as cecotropes, or night feces, which they then eat and re-digest. The cecotropes contain lots of essential vitamins and protein. It is very possible that this process is what the Torah refers to as ma’aleh geirah, although it is not what is usually referred to as “chewing the cud.”

On the range

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “Is there a variety of wild pig that chews its cud and is kosher?”

To the best of my knowledge, all members of the pig/hog family, including the boar, the South American peccary, the Indonesian babirusa, and various wild species that include the name “hog” or “pig” in their common name, such as the warthog, the bushpig, and the almost extinct pygmy hog, have split hooves, and are, to some extent, omnivorous. (Please note that hedgehogs and porcupines, despite the references to “hog” and “pork” in their names, are called this because they have long snouts reminiscent of pigs, not because they have split hooves.) Although South African rangers have told me that warthogs are exclusively herbivorous, research shows that they do scavenge dead animals and also consume worms and insects while foraging.

Several varieties of wild hog, among them the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog, native to Africa, have more complicated stomach structures than does the common domesticated pig. Over the years, I have seen various news articles claiming that some of these animals are kosher, based on the assumption that they have both split hooves and ruminate. However, none of these species does, indeed, chew its cud; so, although they all have split hooves, as do all hogs, they are not kosher.

Although the posuk mentions only chewing the cud and split hooves as criteria for kosher animals, there may be additional reasons why wild hog species are not kosher. Based on a passage of Gemara, some authorities contend that any species of animal without any type of horn is not kosher (Shu’t Beis Yaakov #41, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 80:1), and the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog have no horns. Although both the warthog and the peccary have tusks that look like horns, these are really oversized teeth and grow out of the mouth, not on the top of the head. By the way, many authorities disagree with the Beis Yaakov, contending that absence of horns does not define an animal as non-kosher (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

Where the deer

The third of our opening questions began “Is the fat of a reindeer permitted?” Let me explain what is presumably being asked.

The Torah divides mammals into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Beheimah is usually translated as animal or domesticated animal, whereas chayah is often rendered as beast or wild animal. However, these translations of the terms beheimah and chayah are not entirely accurate. Although most domesticated species, such as cattle, sheep and goats, qualify as beheimos, there are species of beheimah, such as the African or cape buffalo, the Philipine tamarau and the anoa, a native of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, that cannot be domesticated. (See the dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema, Yoreh Deah 28:4, which relates to the Asian water buffalo, domesticated already in antiquity.) On the other hand, some species of chayah, such as reindeer, are domesticated and raised as livestock in the northern regions of Europe, particularly by the Lapps (the Sami), as are other varieties of deer in central Asia.

So, what is the difference between a beheimah and a chayah? The Gemara (Chullin 59b) explains that it depends on the type of horn it has. If it is branched, as are all deer antlers, it is a chayah. The major noticeable difference between antlers and horns is that antlers shed annually (are deciduous) and are extensively branched, whereas horns are permanent and unbranched. Moose and elk have massive, branched, deciduous antlers, and are varieties of deer. All antelope (a general category that includes dozens of species) have unbranched horns, and therefore one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah, as I will explain shortly. Kudu, eland, gnu, impala and dik-dik all have unbranched horns and are varieties of antelope. The same is true of the dorcas gazelle which is a common species in Eretz Yisrael, and the largest permanent resident of the wooded area near my house where I often go for relaxing walks.

There are some other differences between antelope and deer; for example, antelope have gall bladders and deer do not. So, you can rest assured that your pet moose cannot develop gallstones.

What type of horn?

But what type of horn am I looking for?

If an animal possesses an unbranched horn, the answer as to whether it is a beheimah or a chayah becomes more complicated: If the horn has all three features that the Gemara calls keruchos, haduros and charukos, it is a chayah; if not, it is a beheimah. There are different opinions among rishonim how to explain and define these three words, which is why I have not translated them, and depending on this answer is whether different varieties of antelope may qualify as beheimah or as chayah.

What difference does it make?

There are a few mitzvos of the Torah that apply to a beheimah and not a chayah, and vice versa. Among these mitzvos is the prohibition against eating cheilev, the forbidden fat that protects the posterior-lying organs such as the stomachs and the kidneys, which applies only to a beheimah, but this fat is permitted on a chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Another mitzvah is that of giving the zero’a, lechaya’im and keivah to a kohein, whichapplies only to a beheimah but not to a chayah (Yoreh Deah 61:17). A third mitzvah is kisuy hadam,requiring covering the blood of shechitah, which applies to a chayah (and to poultry) but not to a beheimah (Mishnah Chullin 83b).

Whether the fat is permitted depends on whether a reindeer is a beheimah or a chayah. If it is a chayah, the cheilev is permitted. All deer are known to be chayah because of their antlers, and therefore “reindeer fat” is kosher, if the reindeer is properly shechted.

On the other hand, when we have no mesorah whether a species of animal is a chayah or a beheimah, we treat it stringently both ways (Shach and Pri Megadim, Yoreh Deah 80:1). Therefore, unless we have a mesorah as to whether a specific species of antelope is a chayah or a beheimah, we would prohibit its cheilev and perform kisuy hadam, without a brocha.

And the antelope play

At this point, we can discuss the fourth of our opening questions: “Is the American pronghorn a kosher species?” I suspect that most of our readers have no idea what a pronghorn is, let alone whether it is a kosher species.

Most species of antelope in the world are in Africa. There are some in Eurasia; none are native to Australia or the Americas. However, the various fauna native to North America include a species called a pronghorn, which possesses characteristics similar to that of a deer or antelope but also is different from both deer and antelope. It is a ruminant that has split hooves. Thus, it meets the Torah’s definition of a kosher species, although I admit that I have never tasted pronghorn chops.

The horn of a pronghorn is unusual in that it branches into sharp front and rear sections that are reminiscent of prongs, hence its name. As I mentioned above, deer have multi-branched antlers, which are deciduous. Antelopes have unbranched horns that are permanent. The horn of a pronghorn falls off annually, which is like a deer and unlike any antelope species. On the other hand, the pronghorn has a gallbladder, which antelope have, but not deer. For these and other reasons, the scientific community considers a pronghorn to be neither a deer nor an antelope. Nevertheless, the Europeans who came to America called it an antelope, and Brewster M. Higley, who, in 1872, wrote thelyrics to the poem now called and sung as “Home on the Range,” certainly meant the pronghorn when he referred to the playing of the “antelope.”

Home, home

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “Are there any ‘take-home lessons’ I can learn from split hooves?”

Although we can never explain why Hashem commanded us His mitzvos, we are permitted to explore what lessons we can derive from them, provided we realize that these are merely lessons and not a reason allowing us to decide when and whether we observe the mitzvah. It appears clear that the birds that the Torah ruled to be non-kosher are, for the most part, predators, whereas the kosher birds tend to be the pursued.

Can we possibly present a logical reason why the Torah restricted our mammal consumption to ruminants with split hooves?

The following lesson might be why the Torah permitted only ruminants with split hooves. In general, animals that have split hooves flee from opposition. For example, Africa has dozens of species of antelope; when confronted by a lion, they run. On the other hand, a zebra attacked by a lion will fight, as will a honey badger. Perhaps this is a lesson to learn from a ruminant, to run as far and as fast as we can from any machlokes.

Ma’aleh geirah animals spend a lot of time consuming their food. It takes a long time for their food to complete being digested. They learn patience. Thus, perhaps the lesson here is to be patient when we fulfill our basic needs (Shu’t Beis Yitzchak, Even Ha’ezer, Tzela’os Habayis 5:8).

Heter Shopping

Reuven, who studies assiduously in a kollel, asked me the following shaylah:

“I recently inherited some money with which I repaid a private loan used to buy our home. Although I always give maaser (ten percent) of my earnings to tzedakah, I forgot this time, and subsequently asked Rav A what I should do, since I no longer have money for the maaser. He told me that I am obligated to pay this money to maaser and should consider it a debt that I must pay back gradually, even though this will take years. I then asked him whether I need to perform hataras nedarim (the procedure whereby one renounces vows) for my practice of giving maaser money, since in the interim I will be significantly behind on my usual maaser giving. He told me that he was uncertain about this latter question and that I should ask someone else.

“Subsequently, I approached the son of a prominent posek requesting that he ask his father whether I should perform hataras nedarim, telling him the whole story. He returned with the reply, ‘My father said that, in your circumstances, you are not obligated to give maaser kesafim from the inherited money.’

“Now, I am a bit confused and I have a new shaylah. I know that one may not ask the same shaylah from a second rav after receiving a ruling. However, I did not ask the prominent posek to rule on whether I must give maaser. May I rely on the answer I received from the second posek absolving me from paying maaser, since the second rav is a greater authority than the first? Does it matter that I was not asking the second rav the same shaylah I asked the first?”

REQUESTING A SECOND OPINION

Before proceeding with surgery or some other major medical procedure, people usually seek additional information and opinions. Similarly, why not ask a different rav his opinion? Possibly, the second rav may even influence the first rav to change his opinion!

In order to explain this matter, we must first examine why one may not re-ask a shaylah. This topic is often simply referred to as chacham she’horah, lit.,a wise man (or Torah scholar) who ruled.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 7a) states, “One who asked a shaylah from a Torah scholar and he prohibited, the questioner may not ask a different scholar hoping that he will permit.” This ban forbids not only asking the shaylah a second time, but also prohibits a different scholar from answering the shaylah, as the Gemara states elsewhere (Niddah 20b): “If a Torah scholar forbade something, a different one may not permit it.” Thus, we see that not only is it forbidden to go “heter shopping” after receiving a psak, but also that a rav may not assist someone to “heter shop.”

The Rishonim deliberate why, indeed, one may not re-ask a shaylah. Here are three approaches:

Approach #1: RESPECT FOR A TALMID CHACHAM

Some explain that seeking a second opinion implies that the first rav is incompetent; re-asking the shaylah is an affront to his honor (cited by Ran to Avodah Zarah).

Approach #2: THE RAV DETERMINES

The Rosh (ad loc.) explains that when a rav is asked a shaylah, his ruling makes the item either permitted or forbidden. According to this approach, the rav’s ruling determines the halachic status of the item in question, and there is no purpose in asking the shaylah again.

Approach #3: ACCEPTING THE PROHIBITION

A third approach explains that, when submitting a question to a rav, the questioner accepts the rav’s decision and considers the item either permitted or prohibited, according to the ruling. Therefore, if the rav rules the item forbidden, the questioner has accepted this decision as binding. Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 7a s.v. hanishal) views this as an example of “shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura – considering something as prohibited,”even when everyone else knows that it is not. I will clarify this principle with a different case.

A man believes that he is a kohen, although there is insufficient evidence for his assumption. Since most Jews are yisroelim and not kohanim, his basic status is a yisroel, and he has none of the rights of a kohen. Therefore, he may not duchen, redeem a bechor or receive the first aliyah to the Torah. However, since he considers himself a kohen, he must assume the stringencies of a kohen, such as not attending funerals or becoming tamei to a corpse in any other way, or marrying a woman prohibited to a kohen. Since he himself believes that he is a kohen, he is shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura – he must consider himself prohibited as if he is a kohen.

According to this approach, when I ask a shaylah, I am accepting the rav’s opinion as binding halacha. I cannot change this psak by asking a different rav, even if the second rav is more competent.

HOW DO THESE APPROACHES DIFFER?

According to the first approach quoted, one may not seek a second opinion, because attempting to circumvent the rav’s decision slights his honor. However, if one happens to become aware of a differing opinion without attempting to go “over the first rav’s head,” one might be permitted to follow the second opinion. This is because, even though asking a shaylah a second time shows lack of respect to the first rav,once one becomes aware that the matter is disputed, the status of the case changes to the general shaylah of what to do when there is a dispute among poskim. This general shaylah is beyond the scope of this article.

Thus, according to the first approach, Reuven might be free to ignore the halachic decision of the first rav. Unfortunately for Reuven, most Rishonim do not follow this approach.

Is there any halachic divergence, however, between the Rosh’s position that the rav’s decision determines the halacha (Approach #2), and that of Tosafos, that the questioner accepts the rav’s decision (Approach #3)? The usual way to understand their argument is that according to the Rosh, the decision creates the law, whereas according to Tosafos, it is a stringency that the questioner must observe but it does not become the law. Is there any practical difference between the two positions?

LENIENT RULING

Indeed, there is! According to Tosafos’ approach, the first rav’s ruling is binding only if he was stringent, but not if he ruled leniently. If the first rav ruled leniently, not only may one ask a second opinion, but also, if the second rav ruled stringently, one is bound to follow the strict opinion. According to the Rosh, the first rav’s ruling is binding in either case, since his decision creates the law, and one would not be obligated to follow the second rav’s opinion.

HOW DO WE RULE?

The poskim dispute whether we follow the opinion of Tosafos or that of the Rosh. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) and the Taz rule like the Rosh, whereas the Shach (ibid. 59) and the Gra rule like Tosafos.

WHAT IF THE RAV ERRED?

Although the Gemara states that someone who asked a shaylah may not ask a different scholar, hoping that he will be lenient, Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 7a) rules that if one feels that the first rav erred, he may ask a second rav. If the first rav’s ruling was clearly an error, his decision is overruled. This is because such a basic error is not considered a halachic ruling at all.

What type of error is overruled?

There are three possible reasons why two poskim might disagree:

A. Machlokes beshikul hadaas – a difference of opinion.

The most common case is where two poskim understand the subject differently, resulting in different rulings. This is not an error but a difference in outlook, and the first rav’s verdict cannot be overturned.

B. Ta’us beshikul hadaas – an error in judgment

Sometimes the original decision was because the first rav ruled like one side of an earlier dispute; however, accepted practice follows the conflicting view of that dispute. This is considered an error of judgment, ta’us beshikul hadaas, since it was based on judging which opinion to follow. The poskim dispute whether such an error can be overturned (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 242:31; Shach, ad loc., and Choshen Mishpat 25:14:17).

C. Ta’us bidvar mishna – an error in facts

There are instances where the ruling is clearly erroneous. This is when the rav was unaware of information that overturns his ruling, such as where the ruling conflicts with an undisputed statement in earlier poskim or is based on inaccurate factual information (see Mishnah, Bechoros 28b). It also includes cases where the rav subsequently discovered that contemporary halachic authorities rule differently from the way he did, and he would have accepted their position, had he known (see Sanhedrin 33a).

If, indeed, the first rav erred, his ruling is invalid. Because this is so, one may ask a second rav to investigate whether the first rav’s ruling is erroneous (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 7a).

The Rama (Shu”t #28) discusses such a case. While salting a large pile of meat on Pesach, someone discovered a wheat kernel lying on one piece of meat. The question was whether all the pieces of meat are now chometzdik and must be thrown out, or whether only the piece that actually touched the kernel is prohibited. The rav who answered the shaylah ruled leniently, but a different rav disagreed vociferously. The question was submitted to the Rama for arbitration. What is the status of the meat?

In a lengthy discussion, the Rama demonstrates that one cannot prove that the first rav erred. Therefore, the Rama rules that the meat is permitted, since he contends, like the Rosh, that once the first rav ruled leniently, that is the halacha – unless the ruling was an error. According to the opinion of the Shach, who rules like Tosafos, if the second rav’s opinion is more likely accurate, all the meat is prohibited. This is because the first rav was lenient; if he had ruled stringently, both the Rosh and Tosafos would agree that the first ruling is binding.

(By the way, the second rav who contended that all the meat was forbidden may not eat it, because of shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss whether he may eat food cooked in the pots used to cook this meat.)

Thus, we can now answer Reuven’s original shaylah. Although he would like to follow the more lenient opinion of the second posek, once he asked the first rav, he is bound by this decision and must give maaser.

MAY THE RAV CHANGE HIS MIND?

We now understand that unless the original rav erred, one cannot follow the opinion of a different rav who disagrees. However, what happens if the rav who originally prohibited the item changes his mind and now feels differently about the issues? Can the rav change his mind from what he originally ruled and change his psak halacha in that case?

Although one might think that this is certainly permitted, if one considers the reasons mentioned above, it is by no means obvious. Once the rav declared the item prohibited, who says that even he can change his ruling? Indeed, many poskim contend that he cannot, unless his first ruling was an error (Shach, Yoreh Deah 242:58), although others rule that he may change his ruling (Ran, Avodah Zarah 7a, Rama, Yoreh Deah ad loc. and Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 242:58-60). An authoritative responsum on this subject appears in Shu”t Panim Meiros (#2).

A RECURRING SHAYLAH

What happens if the shaylah recurs? If someone asked a shaylah from a rav and the rav ruled stringently, and now the questioner has the same shaylah again, is the questioner bound to follow the psak he received previously?

The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) rules that the binding decision of a rav applies only to the shaylah just asked. However, if the same shaylah recurs, one may ask the shaylah to a different rav. Also, if the first rav changed his mind and someone subsequently asks him a similar shaylah, he may and should rule differently, reflecting his current opinion.

THE SAUSAGE FACTORY

I found a very interesting halachic discussion about this very point. In the United States of the 1930s and ’40s, kashrus supervision was very chaotic. It was not uncommon for a businessman to own both kosher and non-kosher food operations, and, unfortunately, this led to many scandals when unscrupulous individuals sold non-kosher food as kosher. The Agudas Harabbanim, then the pre-eminent rabbinic organization in North America, issued a ban on the practice of providing a hechsher to a business owned by someone who also owned a non-kosher business.

A new shaylah arose when large conglomerate corporations that owned non-kosher businesses purchased kosher abattoirs or sausage companies. Was the rav who had previously provided the hechsher to the kosher business now required to remove his hechsher, simply because the parent corporation also owned non-kosher businesses, or did the prohibition to give a hechsher apply only to a business whose management or active ownership included non-kosher operations?

The Agudas Harabbanim assembled a beis din to adjudicate the matter. While this beis din was deliberating, someone questioned whether this beis din could debate the subject, contending that the Agudas Harabbanim had previously prohibited this practice in an earlier ruling. Thus, claimed the naysayer, it was a case of chacham she’horah – the issue was already a closed matter and there was no room to reopen the case!

In a teshuvah penned on Tu Bishvat 5694, Rav Yosef Konwitz, who had previously been the rav of Tzfas and at the time wasa rav in New York, argued that this is a different shaylah, and that the earlier ruling had covered only the case at hand then (Shu”t Divrei Yosef #10). Although the reasons behind the previous ruling may indeed be brought to bear on this case, the newly created beis din has every right to rule on the new cases and to rule differently from the earlier case, if the dayanim disagree with the earlier psak.

We have now established the basic rules whether the psak one receives can be overturned. The basic rules are:

I. If the original psak was an error, as defined above, then the psak is not valid.

II. If it was not an error, then, according to most poskim, the original psak is valid and the rav himself cannot change his ruling on that case. Some poskim contend that the original rav may change his opinion on the original case.

III. The original psak does not affect subsequent cases, even if they affect the same person and he asks the same rav.

Most importantly, we learn from our discussion that once one receives a psak prohibiting something, one may not shop for a heter to permit it.

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