The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

All the water in Egypt turned to blood. We also use
water as part of the process in removing blood from meat, and, therefore, this
week we will discuss:

Photo by Ove Tøpfer from FreeImages

Devorah calls me: “During our summer vacation, I
entered a butcher shop that has reliable supervision and noticed a sign on the
wall, ‘We sell washed and unwashed meat.’ This seemed very strange: Would
anyone eat unwashed meat? Besides, isn’t all meat washed as part of the
koshering process? What did the sign mean?”

Michael asked me: “Someone asked me if I have any
problem with the kashrus of frozen meat. What can possibly be wrong with
frozen meat?”

Answer: We
should be aware that, although today we usually have a steady supply of kosher
meat with all possible hiddurim, sometimes circumstances are more
difficult. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture,
both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic
dispute.

Knowing that Devorah enjoys stories, I told her an
anecdote that illustrates what can happen when kosher choices are slim.

I was once rabbi in a community that has memorable
winters. Our city was often covered with snow by Sukkos and, in some years,
it was still snowing in May. There were several times that we could not use the
sukkah without clearing snow off the schach, something my
Yerushalmi neighbors find hard to comprehend.

One short erev Shabbos, the weather was
unusually inclement, even for our region of the country; the major interstate
highway and all secondary “state routes” were closed because of a blizzard. The
locals called this weather “whiteout” — referring not to a fluid for
correcting errors, but to the zero visibility created by the combination of
wind and snow.

Fortunately, I lived around the corner from shul
and was able to navigate my way back and forth by foot. Our house, too, was – baruch
Hashem –
sufficiently stocked to get through Shabbos.

About a half-hour before Shabbos, in the midst of our
last minute preparations, the telephone rang:

“Is this Rabbi Kaganoff?” inquired an unfamiliar
female voice. I responded affirmatively, though somewhat apprehensive. People
do not call with shaylos late Friday afternoon, unless it is an
emergency. What new crisis would this call introduce? Perhaps I was lucky and
this was simply a damsel in distress inquiring about the kashrus of her cholent,
or one who had just learned that her crock pot may fail to meet proper Shabbos
standards. Hoping that the emergency was no more severe, I listened
attentively.

“Rabbi Kaganoff, I was given your phone number in case
of emergency.” I felt the first knots in my stomach. What emergency was this
when I hoped to momentarily head out to greet the Shabbos queen? Was someone,
G-d forbid, caught in the storm? I was certainly unprepared for the continuing
conversation.

“I am a dispatcher for the All-American Transport
Company,” she continued. “We have a load of kosher meat held up by the storm
that needs to be washed by 11 p.m. Saturday.” My caller, located somewhere in
the Nebraska Corn Belt, was clearly more familiar with halachos of
kosher meat than she was with the ramifications of calling a frum household
minutes before candle lighting. Although I was very curious how All-American
had located me, a potential Lone Washer in the Wilderness, the hour of the week
required expedition, not curiosity. Realizing that, under stress, one’s tone of
voice can create a kiddush Hashem or, G-d forbid, the opposite, I
politely asked if she could call me back in about 25 hours, which would still
be several hours before the meat’s deadline. I guess that she assumed that it
would take me that long to dig my car out.

Later, I determined the meat’s ultimate destination, a
place we will call Faroutof Town, information that ultimately proved
highly important.

Why was a Nebraska truck dispatcher calling to arrange
the washing of kosher meat? Before returning to our meat stalled at the side of
the highway, I need to provide some halachic background.

EXORCISING THE BLOOD

In several places, the Torah commands that we may not
eat blood, but only meat. Of course, blood is the efficient transporter of
nutrients to the muscles and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive.
If so, how do we extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

Chazal gave
us two methods of removing blood from meat. One is by soaking and salting the
meat, and the other is by broiling it. In practical terms, the first approach,
usually referred to simply as “kashering meat,” involves soaking the
meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the water, salting the meat thoroughly on
all sides, and then allowing the blood to drain freely for an hour. At the end
of this process, the meat is rinsed thoroughly to wash away all the blood and
salt. Indeed, Devorah is correct that the salting of all meat involves several
washings. She was correct in assuming that the sign she saw in the butcher’s
shop did not refer to these washings, but to a different washing that I will
soon explain.

BROILING MEAT

An alternative method of extracting blood from meat is
by broiling it. This is the only halachically accepted method of
removing blood from liver. In this approach, the liver is sliced or slit to
allow its blood to run out, the surface blood is rinsed off and the liver is
placed under or over a flame to broil in a way that allows the blood to drain
freely. Accepted practice is that we sprinkle a small amount of salt on the
liver immediately prior to broiling it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5).

Halachically,
it is perfectly acceptable to broil any meat, rather than soak and salt it.
However, on a commercial level, customers want to purchase raw meat and,
therefore, the usual method used for kosher cuisine is soaking and salting. For
most of mankind’s history, kashering meat was performed at home, but
contemporaneously, the properly supervised butcher or other commercial facility
almost universally performs it.

Although this explains why one must kasher meat
before serving it, we still do not know why Ms. Nebraska was so concerned that
her meat be washed en route.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS OR BUST

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 only broiling successfully removes the blood. Of course, if one does
not want to eat broiled meat, this last suggestion will not satisfy one’s
culinary preferences.

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

The authorities discuss this question extensively.
Most contend that one may extend the time if the meat is soaked thoroughly for
a while during the 72 hours (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:13, see Taz
ad loc.), although some permit this only under extenuating circumstances (Toras
Chatos
, quoted by Shach 69:53). On the other hand, some authorities
rule that even a minor rinsing extends the 72 hours (Shu”t Masas Binyamin #108).
It became standard to refer to meat that was washed to extend its time by the
Yiddish expression, gegosena fleisch, hence the literal English
translation, washed meat.

Also, bear in mind that this soaking helps only when
the meat was soaked within 72 hours of its slaughter. Once 72 hours have passed
without a proper soaking, only broiling will remove the blood. If the meat was
soaked thoroughly, those who accept this heter allow a delay to kasher
the meat for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by
then, one can re-soak it again to further extend its 72 hours.

WASHING OR SOAKING?

At this point in my monologue, Devorah interrupted
with a question:

“You mentioned soaking the meat and extending its time
for three more days. But the sign called it ‘washed meat,’ not soaked meat.
There is a big difference between washing something and soaking it.”

“Yes, you are raising a significant issue. Although
most early authorities only mention ‘soaking’ meat, it became common practice
to wash the meat instead, a practice that many authorities disputed (Pischei
Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah
69:28; Darkei Teshuvah 69:231- 237). There are
also many different standards of what is called ‘washing’ the meat. Some hechsherim
permit meat that was not salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah
by having the meat hosed down before this time elapsed. Some spray a light mist
over the meat and assume that the meat is ‘washed,’ or simply take a wet rag
and wipe down the outside of the meat.”

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah.

“In general, people like to save work and water, and
soaking properly a whole side of beef is difficult and uses a lot of water. In
addition, if one hoses meat while it is on a truck, the water may damage the
truck, whereas it is even more work to remove the meat from the truck. But if
one does not hose the meat properly, most authorities prohibit it.”

At this point, we can understand why Ms. Nebraska was
concerned about the washing of the meat. She knew that if the meat went 72
hours without being hosed, the rabbis would reject the delivery as non-kosher.
During my brief conversation, I asked her if she knew the last time the meat
was washed. “It was last washed 11 p.m. Wednesday and needs re-washing by 11
p.m. Saturday,” she dutifully notified me.

At this point, I noted to Devorah that we now had
enough information to address her question. “The sign in the butcher shop
stating that they sell washed meat means that they sell meat that was not kashered
within 72 hours of slaughter, but was washed sometime before the 72 hours ran
out. It does not tell us how they washed the meat, but it is safe to assume
that they did not submerge it in water. If they were following a higher
standard, they hosed the meat on all sides until it was soaking wet. If they
followed a different standard, hopefully, they still did whatever their rav
ruled. Since you told me that it was a reliable hechsher, presumably
they hosed the meat thoroughly.”

I then asked Devorah if she wanted to hear the rest of
the blizzard story. As I suspected, she did – and so I return to our snowed-in
town.

MOTZA’EI SHABBOS

By Motza’ei Shabbos the entire region was in
the grip of a record-breaking blizzard. Walking the half block home from
shul
had been highly treacherous. There was no way in the world I was going
anywhere that night, nor anyone else I could imagine.

At the very moment I had told the dispatcher I could
be reached, the telephone rang. A different, unfamiliar voice identified itself
as the driver of the stuck truck. His vehicle was exactly where it had been
Friday afternoon, stranded not far from the main highway.

The driver told me the already-familiar story about
his load of kosher meat, and his instructions to have the meat washed before 11
p.m., if his trip was delayed.

There was little I could do for either the driver or
the meat, a fact I found frustrating. Out of desperation, I called my most
trusted mashgiach, Yaakov, who lived a little closer to the scene of the
non-action. Yaakov was an excellent employee, always eager to work whenever
there was a job opportunity.  I explained the situation to him.

“Rabbi,” responded Yaakov, “I was just out in this
storm. Not this time. Sorry.”

I was disappointed. Not that I blamed Yaakov in the
slightest. It was sheer insanity to go anywhere in this storm. In fact, I was a
bit surprised at myself for taking the matter so seriously. After all, it was
only a load of meat.

With no good news to tell the trucker, I was not
exactly enthusiastic about calling him back. I hate to be the bearer of bad
tidings. So I procrastinated, rather than tell the trucker he should sit back
and wait for his kosher meat to expire.

An hour later, the phone rang again, with Mr. Trucker on
the line. “Rabbi,” he told me, with obvious excitement in his voice, “I’ve
solved the problem.” I was highly curious to find out where he located an
Orthodox Jew in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. For a
fleeting moment, I envisioned a frum Jew stranded nearby and shuddered
at the type of Shabbos he must have experienced.

The trucker’s continuing conversation brought me back
to the reality of the unwashed meat.

“Well, Rabbi,” he exclaimed with the exhilaration
Columbus’s lookout must have felt upon spotting land, “I discovered that I was
stranded a few thousand feet from a fire station. And now, all the meat has
been properly hosed. Listen to this letter.” The trucker proceeded to read me
the documentation of his successful find:

“On Saturday evening, the 22nd of January,
at exactly 9:25 pm, I personally oversaw the successful washing of a kosher
load of meat loaded on trailer 186CX and tractor 2008PR. To this declaration, I
do solemnly lend my signature and seal,

“James P. O’Donald, Fire Chief, Lincoln Fire Station
#2.”

Probably noticing my momentary hesitation, the trucker
continues, “Rabbi, do I need to have this letter notarized?”

“No, I am sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied. I
was not about to tell the driver that halachah requires that a Torah
observant Jew supervise the washing of the meat. On the contrary, I
complimented him on his diligence and his tremendous sense of responsibility.

At this point, I had a bit of halachic
responsibility on my hands. Since I knew the meat’s ultimate destination, I
needed to inform the rav in Faroutof Townof the situation.

I was able to reach the Faroutofer Rav, Rabbi
Oncelearned. “I just want to notify you that your city will shortly receive a
load of meat that was washed under the supervision of the ‘Fire Station K.’”
Rabbi Oncelearned had never heard of the “Fire Station K” supervision and asked
if I was familiar with this hechsher. I told him the whole story and we
had a good laugh. I felt good that I had supplied Rabbi Oncelearned with
accurate information and prepared him for the meat’s arrival. After all, it
would be his learned decision that would rule once the meat arrived in town.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Of course, Rabbi Oncelearned now had his own
predicament: Would he have to reject the town’s entire order of kosher meat,
incurring the wrath of hungry customers and undersupplied butchers? Or could he
figure out a legitimate way to permit the meat?

There was, indeed, a halachic basis to permit
the meat under the extenuating circumstances because of a different heter,
but not because of the Lincoln fire station hose.

FROZEN MEAT

It is common that meat is slaughtered quite a distance
from where it is consumed – such as slaughtering it in South America and
shipping it frozen to Israel. Today, all mehadrin supervisions arrange
that meat shipped this way is kosher butchered (called trabering)and
kashered before it is frozen and shipped. This is a tremendous boon to
proper kashrus, but it is a relatively recent innovation. Initially, these
meats were shipped frozen and, upon reaching their destination several weeks
later, they were thawed, trabered and kashered. Thus, the
question developed whether this meat was fit to eat, since it arrived weeks
after its slaughter.

In truth, earlier halachic authorities had
already debated whether meat frozen for 72 hours can still be kashered by
salting, some contending that this meat can only be broiled (Minchas Yaakov,
Responsum #14 at end, quoted by Be’er Heiteiv 69:8; Pri Megadim,
Sifsei Daas
69:60), whereas others ruled that deep freezing prevents the
blood from hardening (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 69:79; Yad Yehudah
69:59; Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:YD:4 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 6:46).
Some frowned on making such arrangements lechatchilah, but ruled that kashering
frozen meat is acceptable under extenuating circumstances (Shu”t Igros
Moshe, Yoreh Deah
1:27; 2:21).

Rabbi Oncelearned consulted with a posek who
reasoned that since the truck had been stuck in a major blizzard,
unquestionably the meat had been frozen solid, and that they could rely on this
to kasher the meat after it thawed out. Thus, the firemen’s hose was
used for naught, but I never told them. Please help me keep it a secret.

Someone meticulous about kashrus plans trips in
advance to know what hechsherim and kashrus situations he may
encounter. When in doubt what to do, one’s rav is available for guidance
how to handle the situation.




Beer, Oil and Honey

In honor of
Chanukah, I present an article that includes the Gemara’s questions
about the kashrus of vegetable and olive oil.

Photo by Inga Galkinaite from FreeImages

Question
#1: Beer

“Is it permitted
to drink beer in a tavern?”

Question
#2: Oil

“May I purchase
vegetable oil from a non-Jew?”

Question
#3: Honey

“Does pure honey
present any kashrus issues?”

Answer

Because of
concerns about inappropriate interaction with our surroundings, Chazal
implemented several important gezeiros, including bishul akum,
the prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew, and pas akum,which, under certain circumstances, prohibits bread baked by a non-Jew. The
Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether oil, honey and beer are
included in these gezeiros, a topic that is highly educational.

Beer

Our opening question
was: “Is it permitted to drink beer in a tavern?” The Gemara (Avodah
Zarah
31b, see also Tosafos s.v. Mipnei) states that it is
prohibited to drink the beer of non-Jews and quotes a dispute between amora’im
why this is so. Rabbi Yitzchak prohibits it because of concerns of
intermarriage, whereas Rav Nachman prohibits it because of concerns about
product contamination.

The Gemara
then mentions the opinions of several amora’im, some of whom held like
Rabbi Yitzchak, that the reason for the prohibition is because of concerns of
intermarriage, and others who held like Rav Nachman, that there are
contamination concerns. For example, Rav and his son Rav Chiya held like Rav
Nachman; however, they explained that not all individuals need to be concerned.
This is because the hops in the beer serve as a medicinal antidote that helps
many people.

On the other
hand, the Gemara reports that Rav Papa would purchase beer from a tavern
and carry it outside the door of the store and drink it there, whereas Rav
Achai would bring the beer home first and drink it there. Both of them held
that the prohibition was because of intermarriage; once the beer is removed
from the jurisdiction of the non-Jew, it is permitted. In other words, we are
no longer concerned about the social interactions that might result. If the
concern was because of product contamination, what difference would it make
where one drinks it? The Gemara explains that Rav Papa and Rav Achai
both agree that it is permitted to drink beer of a non-Jew once it is removed
it from his premises. Rav Achai added a personal chumra: not to drink
the beer until he came home.

Why is beer
different?

There is a very obvious question here: The other
prohibitions that Chazal instituted because of concerns of social
interaction, such as bishul akum and pas akum on cooked foods and
bread, are not dependent upon where you are. Why does the prohibition concerning
the beer of non-Jews apply only in the non-Jew’s home or business?

Among the rishonim, we find several
approaches to explain this question. I will present just one approach, that of
the Tosafos Rid (Avodah Zarah 65b), who explains that, in the
other instances, the main concern is that you will find the foods produced by
the non-Jew to be very tasty, and this eventually might lead to inappropriate
social interactions. However, in the instance of beer, the concern is not the
food, but the socializing itself, and prohibiting drinking the beer where the
non-Jew lives and works is a sufficient safeguard to prevent inappropriate
activity. (Those who would like to research this question more extensively are
referred to the commentaries of the Ramban and theRashba, Avodah
Zarah
31b.)

How do we
rule?

We have a
general halachic rule that, among the tanna’im and amora’im,
the halacha follows the last authority who voiced an opinion. The reason
for this rule is that, when a great Torah scholar analyzed the differing
earlier approaches to a question and decided a certain way, we may rely on his
diligence in analyzing the topic carefully, including the rulings and
considerations of those who preceded him.

Historically,
the latest amora’im to discuss this topic were Rav Pappa and Rav Achai,
both of whom ruled that the prohibition was because of concerns about social
interaction, but held that it is permitted to drink beer of  a non-Jew,
once it is removed from the gentile’s place.

Bishul akum

Why isn’t beer
prohibited because of bishul akum? After all, neither barley nor hops
are edible raw — they become consumable only after they are cooked. Thus,
shouldn’t any beer cooked by a non-Jew be prohibited as bishul akum?

This question is
raised by Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 31b s.v. Vetarveihu), who
explains that beer is permitted because it is not considered something that
would be served on a king’s table. Tosafos presents a second answer:
that the brocha on beer is shehakol. This teaches us that, from a
halachic standpoint, the most important ingredient in the beer is not
the grain, because then its brocha would be mezonos, but the
water, and water is not prohibited as bishul akum because it is
drinkable without being cooked (see also Avodah Zarah 37b; Tosafos
Brachos
38a s.v. Hai; Mishnah Berurah 204:16).

The brew
that made Bavel famous

Tosafos then rules that the prohibition applies both to beer
made from grain, like our beer, and to the beer made from dates that was common
at the time of the Gemara.

In the time of
the Mishnah and Gemara, two varieties of beer were generally
manufactured:

Babylonian beer
– which was made from dates and hops. (Yes, this beer was Kosher lePesach!)

Medean beer –
which also included a small percentage of barley malt (Mishnah Pesachim
42a; Gemara, Pesachim 42b). This latter type of beer was
prohibited as chometz, although it had the status of ta’aroves
chometz
, a product that contains chometz, rather than chometz
gamur
, unadulterated chometz. Our beer, in which the main ingredient
after water is barley malt, is considered chometz gamur (Rosh,
Pesachim
3:1).

Kashrus of beer

Does beer in
today’s world require a hechsher? According to the information available
at the time that I am writing this article, beer today usually is made from
only the following ingredients: barley malt, hops, and water. None of these
ingredients presents a problem. However, there can be halachic problems
of flavored beers and of chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Check
labels for any mention of flavors added. Many breweries are coming out with
specialty brews that have additives; even if you recognize the name of the
company, don’t assume that all its varieties are kosher. 

Therefore,
unflavored beers, domestic and imported, with no additives
listed on the ingredient label, are acceptable even without a hechsher,
as long as there is no problem of chometz she’avar alav haPesach, and
you drink them in the comfort of your own home or anywhere outside the non-Jew’s
house or business. This applies also to non-alcoholic and dark beers.

Oil

The Mishnah
(Avodah Zarah 35a) states as follows: “These items of a non-Jew are
prohibited [to eat], but benefit is permitted from them: milk, bread, and oil.
Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil.”

Tosafos notes that it is unclear whether these last words
(“Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil”) are part of the Mishnah,
or whether they were added later, and that it was not Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi and
his beis din who permitted oil of non-Jews, but his grandson, usually
called Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 36a s.v. Asher
and 33b s.v. Ba’a).

This Mishnah
leads us to many questions. Why was the oil of non-Jews prohibited and,
assuming that it was, how could Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (or his grandfather Rabbi
Yehudah Hanasi) permit its use?

The Gemara
quotes a dispute in the first generation of amora’im, between Rav and
Shmuel, in which Rav holds that the original Mishnah contended that the
oil of non-Jews was prohibited as an injunction created by the Biblical Daniel,
and Shmuel holds it was prohibited because this oil was refined in non-kosher
pots. Based on a verse in the book of Daniel (1:8), Rav understands that Daniel
had implemented a gezeirah, similar to the prohibitions against wine of
a non-Jew, that banned consuming oil processed by non-Jews. In the time of
Daniel, this prohibition applied only in the cities, but, later, the beis
din
of the students of Shammai and Hillel extended the prohibition to ban
this oil even outside cities.

Shmuel contended
that the reason why the tanna kamma of the Mishnah banned the use
of oil processed by non-Jews was due to a kashrus concern that existed
in his day. Since oils were usually prepared at home, there was concern that
even 100% pure vegetable oil might have been heated in non-kosher vessels, thus
rendering the oil treif.

Both approaches
need to be explained. If the prohibition was a takanah instituted by
Daniel and by the students of Shammai and Hillel, how could the beis din
headed by Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah permit it? There is a halachic
principle that once a takkanah has been implemented, it can be overruled
only by a beis din that is greater both in knowledge and in numbers,
which was not the case in this instance. And if the oil was prohibited because
it was refined in non-kosher pots, why did the later beis din allow it?

Releasing
the gezeirah

The Gemara
concludes that whenever Chazal make a gezeirah, it is binding
only when the Jewish people observe it. If most of the Jewish people do not
observe the gezeirah, it is not binding. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah and
his beis din researched and discovered that the gezeiros
prohibiting non-Jewish oil were never observed by the majority of people. That
being the case, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah could
rescind the gezeirah.

Regarding the
possibility that the oil was manufactured in non-kosher equipment, the Gemara
explains that this was actually a dispute between the earlier great leaders,
who prohibited the oil of non-Jews, and the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah
Hanasi/Nesiah, which permitted it.

Let me explain:

The Gemara
(Avodah Zarah 67b) quotes a dispute between tanna’im whether nosein
ta’am lifgam
(literally, something that provides a bad taste) is prohibited
or permitted. If we assume that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited, oil
that a non-Jew processed in his own equipment is prohibited because his
equipment was previously used for non-kosher. However, if nosein ta’am
lifgam
is permitted, then food cooked in a pot that was not used in the
last 24 hours is usually permitted, even when the pot was previously used for
non-kosher. (Note that it is always prohibited le’chatchilah to cook
food in such equipment.)

On this basis,
although it is prohibited to use a non-kosher pot, food that was cooked in it
using only kosher ingredients may remain kosher, since there is a possibility
that the pot had not been used for the last 24 hours, and, even if it had been,
the non-kosher cooked within the previous 24 hours may have contributed an
unpleasant taste to the kosher food (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35b
s.v. Miklal).

The earlier Mishnah
held that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited and, therefore, oil
purchased from non-Jews may not be used. But since the accepted ruling is that nosein
ta’am lifgam
is permitted, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah
Hanasi/Nesiah ruled that it is kosher.

Modern
vegetable oil

From a kashrus
perspective, in the modern world, vegetable oil is indeed a very sensitive
product. Vegetable oil is often refined on equipment that produces non-kosher
animal shortening or fish oils. This equipment is not cleaned between
productions, and there may be very high percentages, much higher than the ratio
of bitul, of residual animal shortening on the equipment when the
vegetable oil is produced. There is also the possibility that the oil is
shipped in trailer trucks that previously held a non-kosher product. For these
reasons, reliable kosher supervisory agencies are careful about which sources
of vegetable oil they allow for use, and they have developed a system to make
sure that the oil is transported in a way that does not render it non-kosher.

Deodorization

Most fats, even
after refining, have characteristic flavors and odors, and vegetable fats,
especially, have a relatively strong undesirable taste. In order to produce a tasteless fat, these oils may
undergo deodorization. Unfortunately, if the deodorizing equipment is used also
for animal shortening, this process makes the vegetable oil non-kosher.

The processing
of vegetable oil without proper oversight can also be the cause of severe
safety issues, as the following story indicates:

Toxic Oil
Syndrome was the name given to a disease outbreak in Spain in 1981. Its
first appearance was as a lung disease with unusual features: though the symptoms initially resembled a lung infection, antibiotics were ineffective. The disease appeared to
be restricted to certain localities, and several members of a family could be
affected, even while their neighbors had no symptoms. Following the acute
phase, a range of other chronic symptoms were apparent. Eventually, the cause
was traced to the consumption of rapeseed
oil
(canola is a safe and edible variety
of rapeseed) that had been intended for industrial use, not for human consumption.
It had been imported as cheap industrial oil, was subsequently refined and sold
as “olive
oil
” by street vendors, and then used on salads and for cooking by the
unsuspecting victims. The commonly accepted hypothesis states that toxic
compounds added during the refinement process, used to denature oils intended
for industrial use, were responsible for the illness.

Honey

Honey has been
used as a food for thousands of years, and, until the advent of sugar refining,
it was the most common food sweetener. To produce honey, bees suck nectar from
flowers and deposit it into a special honey sac. Inside the sacs, enzymes
contained in the bee’s saliva convert the nectar into honey, which the bees
store in a honeycomb until they need it for food, or until the hive is raided
by a two-legged forager. The nectar is never “digested” by the bee,
but rather transformed into honey.

Is honey kosher?
We know that milk and eggs of non-kosher species are non-kosher, so why is
honey considered kosher? Regarding this question, the Gemara (Bechoros
7b) records a dispute between the tanna kamma and Rabbi Yaakov. The tanna
kamma
contends that honey is not produced by bees, but is simply modified
plant nectar, unlike milk and eggs that are produced by the non-kosher species.
For this reason, he rules that honey is kosher.

Rabbi Yaakov
permits honey for a different reason: He contends that although there is indeed
a universal rule prohibiting extracts of non-kosher species, a special
Scriptural allusion excludes honey from this proscription.

The Mishnah
(Avodah Zarah 39b) rules that honey may be purchased from a non-Jew and
eaten. The Gemara (ad locum) questions why this is true,
concluding that the three possible concerns why it should be prohibited do not
apply to honey.

1. Admixture of
non-kosher ingredients.

The Gemara
concludes that we are not concerned that someone may add a non-kosher
ingredient to honey, because any non-kosher product will ruin the taste of the
honey.

2. Bishul
akum

Since honey is
edible raw, cooking honey does not create a prohibition of bishul akum.

3. Non-kosher
equipment

The Gemara
concludes that the non-kosher flavor in the equipment would create a nosein
taam lifgam
flavor in the honey, which is permitted.

Today, honey is
an expensive commodity that is easily adulterated. However, the ingredients
that are commonly used to adulterate it, such as sugar, sorghum syrup, molasses
or corn sweetener, are kosher. As a result, we are not required to be concerned
that the honey was adulterated with a non-kosher ingredient.

Every year
around Rosh Hashanah, Israeli newspapers contain reports about unscrupulous
companies selling adulterated honey. Certainly, one should be careful to
purchase honey and not an adulterated product, particularly since one has no
idea what the manufacturer may have added. However, from a strictly halachic
point of view, the various cheaper sweetening ingredients used to
adulterate honey, such as corn sweetener and molasses, are kosher; so it is
difficult to imagine serious kashrus problems resulting from this
unscrupulous practice.

We should note
that “honey flavoring” and “flavored with honey” do not mean the same thing.
“Honey flavoring” means a natural or synthetic flavoring that is meant to taste
like honey, and could indeed contain non-kosher ingredients. Any food item,
such as a sucking candy, that contains honey flavoring should have a reliable hechsher.

Conclusion

Based on the
above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how hard it is to
maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive
to become educated kosher consumers who better understand many aspects of the
preparation of kosher food, and why it is important to ascertain that products
have a proper hechsher. We should always hope and pray that the food we
eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.




Glycerin in Today’s World

Photo by Artem Zhushman from FreeImages

Question
#1:

“In
what types of food products is glycerin used?”

Question
#2:

“Is
glycerin kosher?”

Question
#3:

“What
is the difference between glycerin, glycerine, and glycerol?”

Question
#4:

“The other day, I was using some vanilla extract in a recipe and noticed that the extract itself had a sweet taste. I know that vanilla is usually extracted with alcohol, but this particular product was labeled “alcohol-free,” and apparently used glycerin instead.I am curious about the nutritional properties of glycerin. Does it affect the body like sugar? Is it calorie-free?”

Introduction:

Glycerin comes from fats
(either animal, vegetable or mineral) and originally was a by-product of soap or
candle manufacture. The process of producing soap has not changed significantly
since it was first discovered thousands of years ago. The method is very
similar to that described by the halachic authorities, who refer to a
process of cooking fat and ashes together. Today, we call these ashes lye,
and it usually consists predominantly of sodium hydroxide or potassium
hydroxide, both alkalis. Cooking these together with fat creates a chemical
reaction called saponification, from the Latin
word sapo, meaning soap. The process converts the fat and alkali
into soap and an alcohol such as glycerin. The glycerin splits off from the
fatty acids and mixes together with water, forming an odorless, sweet-tasting,
syrup-like liquid.

Glycerin is also created naturally in the process of
manufacturing some alcoholic beverages. It can also be produced chemically from
petroleum, but, in the United States, glycerin from petroleum is not
generally used in food.

Properties of glycerin

Glycerin, sometimes spelled glycerine, and sometimes
called glycerol, has a number of interesting properties. Mixing glycerin
with nitric acid creates nitroglycerine, which can be used to treat chest pain
or to blow up mountains or enemies. Glycerin attracts water like a sponge,
making it useful for skin care, since adding it to a lotion or cosmetic will
help your skin remain moist. It is also commonly added to soaps, candles,
deodorants and makeup. You might find glycerin in toothpaste, which will help
prevent drying out or hardening in the tube.

Glycerin is a common ingredient in
pharmaceuticals, including heart medication, suppositories, cough remedies and
anesthetics. For example, it allows the medicinal agent in the cough syrup to
coat the throat of the patient. Since glycerin is water based, it is very
useful for this application. In addition, glycerin’s sweetness may mask the
distaste of the anti-cough agent, thus making the syrup smoother and tastier.
Mixed into wax and used as a suppository, glycerin’s moisture-attracting
properties draws water from the body into the colon, which stimulates a bowel
movement.

Athletics and glycerin

Athletes run a constant concern about
dehydration, and drinking large quantities of water or sports drinks usually
results in quickly losing a sizable portion of the fluid through urination. One
still-being-researched suggestion is to add a tiny amount of glycerin to water
drunk before exercise. Some contend that this increases fluid retention
considerably.

Food uses of glycerin

Since glycerin absorbs moisture, it may keep a product
moist for a longer period of time. Thus, it is useful as a safe preservative,
and, has a marketing advantage that it does not to be listed as a preservative.
Used in a product like a cereal bar, glycerin helps it avoid becoming hard and
brittle. When used to coat raisins, glycerin keeps them from sticking to one
another. Since glycerin has a syrupy texture, it may be used in a glaze or as a
thickener. Since it coats the throat, it is sometimes used as an ingredient in
whiskeys.

Glycerin is often added to foods to help
oil-based and water-based ingredients mix. It can be used to prevent ice
crystals from forming in frozen foods, such as frozen yogurt,
ice cream and other desserts.

Is glycerin used as a sweetener?

Who would expect that a processed derivative of oils or
fats would be sweet? Glycerin’s sweetness is one of the great, low-key gifts
that Hashem bestows on us. Because it is sweet, baked goods, confections, and
pharmaceuticals sometimes have glycerin incorporated into their formulas.
However, glycerin, unlike sugar, is not a classic carbohydrate. For this
reason, companies eager to make low-carb claims use glycerin, sometimes as a
substitute for sugar, but it also has many other valuable properties.

Glycerin
belongs to a special category of carbohydrates called polyols. A polyol is
an organic compound containing multiple hydroxyl groups, meaning that its
chemical description includes an OH, because it contains an oxygen atom bonded
to a hydrogen atom. Polyols are low-calorie sugar replacers with a
clean, sweet taste and are approved for food. Among the polyols that we eat
are: erythritol, hydrogenated starch, hydrolysates,
isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol.
Erythritol, chemical formulaC4H10O4,
for example, is a sugar alcohol that is considered safe as a food
additive in the United States and throughout much of the world. It was
discovered in 1848 by Scottish chemist John Stenhouse, and was first isolated
in 1852. It occurs naturally in some fruits. When used to replace
sugar, polyols cause smaller increases
in blood glucose and insulin levels than do sugars and
other carbohydrates. Therefore, snacks sweetened with polyols may be useful.

Like sugar alcohols, glycerin tastes sweet, but it is not
metabolized as sugar in the body, and doesn’t cause a rise in blood sugar. For
that reason, it is sometimes used as a sweetener in foods marketed to diabetics
and low-carb dieters.

Kashrus of glycerin

Glycerin is perhaps the most kosher-sensitive ingredient
that any company can have. There is no way to test chemically whether the
glycerin is manufactured from an animal, vegetable or mineral source, and
non-kosher glycerin produced from animal fat is plentiful and often less
expensive than are the other varieties. To compound the problem, as bio-diesel
and other processes using vegetable oil have increased, less vegetable oil is
available for the production of glycerin and this is being replaced by
increasing the amount of animal fat used to manufacture glycerin.

Kosher glycerin is generally
derived from vegetable oil, although it can also be chemically synthesized from
petroleum. It is claimed that vegetable glycerin was originally discovered
accidentally more than two centuries ago, by heating a mixture of olive oil and
lead monoxide. But it became economically and industrially significant only in
the late 1800s, when it was first used to make dynamite. Until that point, all
glycerin was manufactured from animal fat.

Much of the kosher,
vegetable-based glycerin is made from
triglyceride-rich vegetable fats, such as palm, soy or coconut oil,
and usually comes from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia that have an
abundance of coconut and palm trees, although some kosher vegetable glycerin is
made in the United States. Supervisors of kosher glycerin production need to
oversee that the equipment used to produce it and the trucks and ships used to
ship it in bulk are used only for kosher product or are koshered before use.

As with almost any
substance, a small number of people have sensitivities or allergies
to glycerin, and it can be toxic, if consumed in sufficient
quantities. But, in its typical food uses, predominantly as a safe method of
keeping foods fresh or as a low-glycemic sweetener, glycerin is
generally safe. It is not, however, calorie-free.

This entire preamble was to provide background to an event
that happened when I made a random kosher inspection of a factory several years
ago. The company, which we will call Quality Bakery Products, was a
manufacturer of wholesale products for the bakery and dairy industries, such as
fruit mixes and toppings, glazes, maraschino cherries, fudges, etc. Thus, the
fruit flavors in your yogurt, the fudge on your cookies, the fruit mixes in
your fruit cakes may have originated in this factory. They did not produce
retail sizes; everything was packed only in gallons, tubs and drums.

On that particular visit, I discovered a partially used
drum of glycerin, without kosher markings. Glycerin was not a product that the
company ordinarily used in their products and was not listed as an approved raw
material by the hechsher. I was fairly certain that this glycerin was
from non-kosher animal sources, and indeed, a small amount of research proved
that I was correct. Since glycerin has a sweet taste and was certainly not bateil,
the product or products manufactured with this glycerin were unquestionably
treif
.

Why did the company order glycerin? In what was it used?
And where was it sent?

Within a short period of time, I was able to unravel what
had happened. A new customer, a donut manufacturer that we will call “Diamond
Donuts,” contacted Quality Bakery with a large order for a donut glaze. Diamond
Donuts had very specific requirements for the glaze – including glycerin as an
ingredient. Presumably, Diamond Donut wanted glycerin in its glaze because it
is sweet, syrupy and keeps the donuts fresher without any requirement to
mention the nasty word “preservatives” on the label.

The sales staff accepted the order, the manufacturing
department placed it on the schedule, sending on to the purchasing department
the ingredient requirements that were not in house. The glycerin was ordered.
No one at Quality Bakery picked up on several obvious errors they had made. For
example, they were required by contract to contact the hechsher before
purchasing new raw materials or changing suppliers, and glycerin was not an
ingredient listed on their approved list.

The distributor through whom they ordered the glycerin sent
them the least expensive product he had in stock, which happened to have been
animal-derived glycerin. The ingredient was used, an entire container of drums
of glaze was produced and was on the highway to Diamond Donuts by the time I
discovered the problem. I was able to contact the rabbis at both hechsherim,
Quality Bakery and Diamond, and the mashgiach who handled Diamond
Donuts, to alert them that the glaze marked kosher was indeed very treif.
The glaze and the leftover drum of glycerin were both destroyed, and many, many
neshamos were fortunately saved from mistakenly eating treif donuts.

What is the moral of the story? For one, that hechsherim
should have tighter controls on their companies. There should be a system
in place so that new raw materials are not used without having the mashgiach
sign off that they have been checked for kashrus concerns, just as these
materials are checked for safety and efficacy.

For another, they should make sure that all key personnel
at their companies fully understand the reasons for, and the details of, their
kosher program. Included in the granting of the hechsher should be a
periodic, scheduled meeting with all decision-making plant personnel, including
the plant manager, production managers, purchasing agents, and the quality
assurance staff, to guarantee that they all understand the responsibilities of
a kashrus program.

And that we should all daven daily that we do not
eat anything non-kosher.




How Far for Bread?

Photo by barbara bar from FreeImages

Question
#1: For a Crust of Bread

“How
far must I travel to get pas Yisroel?”

Question
#2: Camp Bread

“When
camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers
who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which
we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on
site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If
we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Question
#3: A Caring Host

“I
usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest
visiting who brought a kosher specialty bread as a gift, which I am sure is not
pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

Based
on a posuk in this week’s parsha, the Gemara suggests that
the prohibition against non-Jewish cooked food is min haTorah. Although
this is not the halachic conclusion, it is certainly an appropriate time
to discuss the laws of kosher bread.

Basic
background

In
other articles, I have discussed the laws of pas akum and pas Yisroel.
Bread baked with Jewish participation, as described in those articles,
is called pas Yisroel, and may be eaten without any reservation. Pas
akum
means bread baked by a non-Jew, without Jewish participation. Pas
akum
is subdivided into two categories, pas baalei batim, bread baked
by a gentile for personal use, which is usually prohibited, and pas paltur,
bread baked for sale. We should note that pas baalei batim is
prohibited, even when there are no other kashrus concerns either about
the ingredients or about the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah
Zarah
36a). Furthermore, one may not sell this bread to a non-Jew, out of
concern that he will in turn sell it to a Jew, who is forbidden to eat it (Toras
Chatas
75:4, quoting Shaarei Dura).

However,
there is an instance when one is permitted to consume pas baalei batim.
If one is in a place where there is no bakery, and the only bread available is
homemade bread, one may eat even pas baalei batim, provided one can
assume that all the ingredients are kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:8).
Thus, we can now answer one of our opening questions:

“When
camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers
who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which
we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on
site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If
we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Since
this bread was baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale, it has the
status of pas baalei batim, and would usually be prohibited, even if we
are absolutely certain that all the ingredients and the equipment are kosher.
However, if indeed no other bread is available, it is permitted to eat this
bread.

By
the way, if a Jew was there while they were baking the bread, he could easily
make this bread into pas Yisroel by adding a charcoal or a piece of wood
to the fire. In the case of a gas grill, a Jew could simply turn the gas flow
down and immediately up again to make it pas Yisroel.

Must
one use only pas Yisroel?

In
the previous articles on the topic of pas Yisroel, we learned that,
according to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, one may not use pas
paltur
unless comparable pas Yisroel is not available. However, the Rema
ruled that standard Ashkenazic practice is to permit use of pas
paltur
, except for Shabbos and during the aseres yemei teshuvah.
Both opinions agree that using pas Yisroel when pas paltur is
permitted qualifies as a hiddur, observing halachah in a more
exemplary fashion.

As
I noted, most supervised, kosher commercially baked bread is pas paltur
and not pas Yisroel, particularly those produced in factories. One of
those articles also noted that it is very easy to make bread and rolls produced
in factories into pas Yisroel, and that the hechsherim would make
the appropriate arrangements if consumers would demand it.

How
available?

As
we just learned, all opinions agree that one may use pas paltur when pas
Yisroel
is not available. At this point, we need to define: What do we mean
when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? If there is no
Jewish bakery in my neighborhood, but there is one relatively nearby, is this
called that pas Yisroel is “not available”? What if the nearest pas
Yisroel
is a twenty-minute walk, and the nearest pas paltur can be
purchased at the supermarket next door; does the Shulchan Aruch require
me to walk twenty minutes to acquire pas Yisroel, or may I use the more
accessible pas paltur? Is the halachah affected by whether I have
access to an automobile, and now a bakery that is a forty-five-minute walk can
be reached in ten minutes by car?

How
far?

Neither
the Gemara nor the early rishonim discuss the question: What do we
mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? However, the
Gemara (Pesachim 46a) discusses a related issue. This passage
examines three situations in which one is usually obligated to observe a halachah,
but, under extenuating circumstances, Chazal relaxed the requirement. In
the first case, a baker, who at the time of the Gemara was required to
produce bread that is tahor, ritually pure, has only tamei equipment
available. Using this equipment to produce his bread will render it tamei,
which is not ideal in a situation when people are trying to be always tahor.

The
baker knows that, in the direction in which he is traveling, a mikveh is
available for him to purify his equipment, but it is four millin away
(roughly between two and three miles, see below). Is he permitted to produce
bread in the interim, knowing that what he produces will be tamei?

The
halachah requires him to travel ahead to the mikveh and immerse
his equipment, rather than manufacture tamei bread. If, however, the
nearest mikveh is more than four millin down the road, he may
stop now and prepare his bread.

A
second case of the Gemara: Someone is traveling and would like to stop
for the night. He knows that four millin ahead of him on the road there
is a minyan. Is he required to push onward the four millin, so
that he will be able to daven with a minyan, or may he stop,
knowing that he will be forced to daven without a minyan? The Gemara
concludes that he is required to travel up to four millin in order to daven
with a minyan. If, however, the nearest minyan is more than four millin
down the road, he may stop for the night where he is, even though that means
that he will be davening without a minyan.

A
third case: Someone is traveling and has no water with which to wash netilas
yadayim
for eating bread. He knows that he will find water within four millin
of his travels. May he eat now, without washing, by wrapping his hands in cloth
or by wearing gloves, or is he required to wait until he reaches the water so
that he can wash netilas yadayim before he eats his bread (see Shulchan
Aruch, Orach Chayim
163:1)? The Gemara concludes that he is required
to travel ahead up to four millin in order to wash before eating.
However, if the nearest appropriate and available water is more than four millin
down the road, he may wrap his hands in cloth and eat his bread without first
washing netilas yadayim.

How
far is four millin?

A mil
is 2000 amos, or cubits, which means that four millin is more than
two miles, and probably less than three. This range of distance is because
there are different opinions as to the length of an amoh.

How
long does it take to walk a mil?

There
is a dispute among halachic authorities how long it takes for an
“average” individual to walk a mil. Some contend that walking a mil
takes the average person about 18 minutes, which means that it takes 72 minutes
to walk four millin. A second opinion contends that it takes 22.5
minutes to walk a mil and 90 minutes to walk four. A third opinion
maintains that it takes 24 minutes to walk a mil and 96 minutes to walk
four. The different opinions in this dispute represent three differing
approaches to explain a complicated passage of Gemara (Pesachim
95).

Many
halachos are dependent on this dispute, including such questions as:

When
does a fast begin?

How
long must meat be salted to kosher it?

When
does Shabbos end?

In
how much time does dough become chometz?

Most,
but by no means all, later authorities, conclude that the average person can
walk one mil in 18 minutes and four millin in 72 (Shulchan
Aruch, Orach Chayim
459:2 and Yoreh Deah 69:6).

Today

Of
the three cases mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim, two are still
relevant in our generation. Unfortunately, until we again have a parah
adumah
, we are all tamei, and therefore, the first of the three
cases, the baker whose equipment is tamei, is not germane to us at the
moment. But the questions about someone traveling and seeking a minyan,
or water to wash for bread, are both very relevant and, indeed, are discussed
by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:16 and163:1).

Out
of my way

Thus
far, we have quoted the part of the Gemara that discusses someone who
knows that there is a mikveh, minyan or water ahead of him
in the same direction in which he is traveling. What is the law when the
nearest mikveh, minyan or water is not located in the direction
in which I am traveling? Am I required to travel out of my way to
fulfill these mitzvos, and, if I am, how far out of my way must I go?

The
Gemara’s conclusion is that he is required to travel up to one mil
out of his way to reach a mikveh, minyan, or washing water,
whichever is relevant to the question. Thus, someone who would like to eat
bread, and who is in a place where he has no water with which to wash, is
required to travel up to one mil out of his direction to wash his hands.
However, if the nearest water is a mil or more distant and in a
direction that is out of his way, he is permitted to wrap his hands and eat
bread without washing netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1).
The same rules apply to someone needing a minyan with which to daven.

At
home

What
is the law if someone is at home, must he go to daven with a minyan.
The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 163:28) concludes that he has the
same law as someone who would have to travel out of his way to find a mikveh,
minyan or water. In other words, he is required to leave his house, if
the minyan is located within a mil of where he is.

Pas
Yisroel
at a distance

The
same question can be asked by someone at home wanting to know how far he is
required to travel to obtain pas Yisroel?

Although
the Gemara does not discuss how far one must travel to obtain pas
Yisroel
, there are rishonim who compare the halachah regarding
pas Yisroel to the other three situations mentioned in the Gemara.
They reason that this Gemara provides a framework for understanding what
is considered a distance at which one is required to inconvenience oneself to
fulfill similar mitzvos. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 112:16)follows this interpretation, ruling that if someone is traveling and
there is pas Yisroel available further down the road, he is required to
travel for as long as four millin in order to eat pas Yisroel,
rather than pas paltur. If he would need to travel out of his way, he is
required to travel up to a distance of one mil to obtain pas Yisroel,
but no farther.

As
we noted before, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is permitted to eat pas
paltur
only when pas Yisroel is not available. The Rema is
more lenient, concluding that it is permitted to eat pas paltur even
when pas Yisroel is readily available. Thus, according to common Ashkenazic
practice, there is no requirement to travel at all to obtain pas Yisroel.
However, during the aseres yemei teshuvah and for Shabbos, when
most authorities require that we eat only pas Yisroel, the rules above
are appropriate. If pas Yisroel is available only by traveling a mil
out of one’s way, one is not required to get it.

How
far or how long?

At
this point, we need to discuss a very practical issue. When Chazal
required that I go one mil out of my way to get pas Yisroel, was
this requirement based on time or distance? What if someone is traveling in a way
swifter than by foot, be it horse, automobile, or camel? Is his requirement for
these mitzvos determined by the distance he must travel to fulfill the
mitzvah in its optimal way, or is it determined by the time it will take him to
get there? In other words, did they establish that within a one mil
radius of a Jewish bakery one may not use pas paltur, or did they rule
that one is required to travel eighteen minutes to obtain pas Yisroel?
The difference in practical halachah is major.

This
question is disputed by later authorities. Some contend that if pas Yisroel
is more than one mil distant from where I am, I may use pas paltur,
even though I could get there faster by riding a horse (Pischei Teshuvah,
Yoreh Deah
112:6, quoting the Beis Yaakov). Since, in my entire
life, I have never traveled on horseback to acquire bread, this opinion would
impact on me, regarding if I am required to drive an automobile this far when pas
paltur
is more readily available.

On
the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah (Chapter 163, Biur Halachah s.v.
berichuk), writing germane to netilas yadayim, comments that it
is more likely that the concern is the amount of time the travel would take and
the physical distance should not make a difference.

Being
a good host

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

“I
usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest
visiting who brought us a gift of a kosher specialty bread, which I am sure is
not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

This
question has an early source. Several early authorities discuss the following
case: Someone who is careful to use only pas Yisroel invited a guest who
brought with him quality pas paltur that he would like to share with his
host. The question here is that the guest would prefer to eat the bread that he
brought, yet the host would not usually eat this bread, because it is not pas
Yisroel
. The halachic etiquette is for the host to be the one who
recites the brocha of hamotzi for everyone at the beginning of
the meal, and then he slices and serves the bread that will accompany the meal.
This accomplishes that, when the host distributes an ample amount of bread, the
guests feel comfortable eating their fill. Thus, to be a proper host, the host
should recite hamotzi and serve the guest the pas paltur bread
that he brought.

Now,
we add another halachah to the question: When one intends to serve two
types of bread at a meal, one should recite the hamotzi blessing over the
better quality bread and eat from it immediately after reciting hamotzi.

The
combination of all these halachos creates a conundrum for the host. If
he follows his own usual practice, he would make hamotzi on the pas
Yisroel
, which is of lesser quality than the pas paltur that his
guest provided. On the other hand, his guest is under no requirement to refrain
from eating the better-quality pas paltur. Thus, the etiquette of being
a good host should have the host reciting hamotzi over the pas paltur,
something he would not usually eat.

The
halachah is that, indeed, the host should recite the hamotzi over
the guest’s pas paltur, and he is permitted to eat the pas paltur
for that entire meal in order to properly accommodate his guest (Mordechai,
Avodah Zarah
#830; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:13). This is
notwithstanding his usual practice not to eat pas paltur. Since the halachah
rules this way, in this situation, the host does not need to perform hataras
nedarim
before he partakes of the pas paltur.

Conclusion

The
Gemara teaches that rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the
Torah laws. We see that there is a vast halachic literature devoted to
the laws of pas akum, which was created by Chazal to protect the
Jewish people.




High in the Thigh: The Mitzvah of Gid Hano’she

In the process of vanquishing his opponent wrestler, Yaakov Avinu was left with an injured thigh. To commemorate this event, the Torah teaches al kein lo yochelu benei Yisroel es gid hano’she asher al kaf hayarech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bechaf yerech Yaakov begid hano’she, “Therefore, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the ‘spoon’ of the thigh, since he struck the ‘spoon’ of Yaakov’s thigh on the displaced sinew (Bereishis 32:33 with Rashi).” As we will see shortly, this pasuk is written with precision, and we derive most of the halachos of this mitzvah from its words.

We see from the pasuk that Yaakov’s injury was that his “sinew” was “displaced.” The word “sinew” is not a scientific term, but a household or butcher’s term. Its Hebrew equivalent, gid, describes stringy body parts whose texture is too tough to chew comfortably, and may refer to nerves, tendons, ligaments, or even blood vessels (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, Zevachim 3:4).

In Yaakov’s case, the sinew involved is what is known in anatomy as the sciatic nerve, which runs through the pelvis and upper leg, from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Torah describes this as the sinew that lies across the kaf hayarech, which literally means the “spoon of the thigh.” This refers to a piece of muscle that lies atop the femur and that has a spoon-like shape. Part of the sciatic nerve lies on top of this muscle, wedged against the bone socket on the other side. The Torah prohibits the consumption of this nerve, notwithstanding that it is not tasty, nor really edible. (It is not technically accurate to translate kaf hayarech as the socket, since the socket is above or in front of the femur [depending on whether we are describing a two-legged or a four-legged animal] and above or in front of the sciatic nerve. I will note that this is not the only mistranslation of this verse I have found in works that are reputed to be authoritative.)

This mitzvah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Torah. According to the Sefer Hachinuch, which lists the mitzvos in the order of their appearance in the Torah, this is the third mitzvah and the first lo saaseh of the 613 mitzvos. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to this mitzvah. Let us understand its details.

Not for the birds

The Mishnah states that the prohibition of gid hano’she does not apply to birds, because they do not have a “kaf,” which I have translated as the “spoon” of the thigh. Although birds have both a femur and a sciatic nerve, they are excluded from the prohibition of gid hano’she because the shape of their bones and muscles is different and does not fit the Torah’s description of the mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4). The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah) explains that the reason for this law is because the structure of the bird’s leg is very different from that of a man, and therefore not reminiscent of the miracle that occurred to Yaakov. (Those who would like to see an explanation of the Talmudic passage involved should look at the encyclopedic work Sichas Chullin and other contemporary works.)

The Gemara (Chullin 92b) discusses whether the halacha exempting birds from the prohibition of gid hano’she is true if a particular individual bird has an unusually shaped leg that resembles the “socket” of an animal, or, conversely, if the prohibition of gid hano’she still applies if an animal’s leg is misshapen, such that the muscle on its upper femur is not shaped like a spoon. The Gemara does not reach a conclusion on this question. Since it is an unresolved halachic issue germane to a Torah prohibition, a safek de’oraysa, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 65:5) conclude that both of these instances are prohibited.

Non-kosher species

Is the prohibition of gid hano’she limited to kosher species, or does it apply also to non-kosher species? This is actually a dispute among tanna’im. Rabbi Shimon contends that the prohibition of gid hano’she is limited to kosher species, whereas the tanna’im who disagree with him contend that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies equally to non-kosher species. In their opinion, the sciatic nerve of a horse, camel, pig or donkey is included in the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:5) rules like Rabbi Shimon.

What difference does it make whether this sinew is prohibited as a gid hano’she, when it will be prohibited anyway as non-kosher? The answer is that since sinews have no flavor on their own, according to the opinion we will soon explain that ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews from a non-kosher species are not prohibited min haTorah. However, the gid hano’she would be prohibited min haTorah, according to the tanna’im who disagree with Rabbi Shimon.

Which thigh?

A person has two sciatic nerves, one on each leg. The verse implies that Yaakov was wounded on only one side. Which of his sciatic nerves was injured? Nothing overt in the story tells us. However, we can prove what happened from a passage of the Gemara, although we may be left to wonder how the Gemara knew this. There is a dispute among the tanna’im (Chullin 91a) whether the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to the sinews of both the right and left sides, or only to that of the right side. Both opinions understand that Yaakov was injured only in his right thigh. The question is whether Hashem prohibited the sciatic nerves of both sides so that we remember what happened, or only the one on the right thigh. We follow the opinion that it applies to both sides (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:1).

Inner and outer

On each thigh, there are actually two sinews that can be called the gid hano’she and are near one another. The inner gid, thus called because it runs alongside the bone on the interior of the animal, is the true gid hano’she, whose consumption is prohibited by the Torah. The outer gid does not lie on top of the thigh and is therefore not prohibited min haTorah. Nevertheless, Chazal prohibited eating the outer gid, also (Chullin 91a).

The tanna’im dispute how much of the inner gid is prohibited min haTorah. Rabbi Meir contends that the entire nerve is prohibited min haTorah (Chullin 92b), whereas the chachamim contend that, min haTorah, only the part of the gid lying atop the thigh bone is prohibited. In their opinion, the rest of the gid is prohibited only miderabbanan. A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah, contends that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and, therefore, he did not require its removal (Chullin 92b, 96a).

The dispute among the tanna’im appears to be how one translates the words of the Torah, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the “spoon” of the thigh. According to Rabbi Meir, the Torah is merely explaining the location of this sinew, but it is prohibited in its entirety. According to the other tanna’im, the prohibition is limited to the part of the sinew that “lies atop” the thigh, but not its continuation.

“Fat of the gid

The sciatic nerve lies protected in a layer of fat. This fat is called shumano shel gid and is permitted min haTorah. However, already in the time of the Gemara it was established practice not to eat it (Chullin 91a). It is therefore treated halachically as an issur derabbanan, a rabbinically established prohibition, and it must be removed together with both the inner and the outer giddin.

How early?

The tanna’im also dispute whether the prohibition of gid hano’she began already in the days of Yaakov Avinu, or whether it was first prohibited when the Jews received the Torah at Har Sinai (Mishnah, Chullin 100b).

Chayos

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to all kosher mammals. This includes the species of beheimah and of chayah. In other words, although there are mitzvos that apply to beheimah but not to chayah, and vice versa, the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to both.

It is difficult to define the differences between beheimah and chayah.  Although we know that beheimah includes cattle and sheep, whereas chayah includes deer and antelope, the common definition of beheimah as domesticated species, and chayah as wild or non-domesticated species, is not halachically accurate. For example, reindeer, which qualify as chayah, are domesticated, whereas wisents and Cape buffalo, which are not domesticated, are probably varieties of beheimah. A more complicated, but far more accurate, definition of beheimah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species qualify as livestock, and chayah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species are not usually livestock.

The Gemara explains that it is dependent on the type of horn that the animal displays, but the terminology the Gemara uses to explain this is unclear and subject to disputes among the rishonim. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent. This means any species of which we are uncertain is treated lechumra as both beheimah and chayah — unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1, as explained by the Pri Megadim).

Cheilev

The Torah forbade consumption of certain internal fats, called cheilev — these are attached predominantly to the stomachs and the kidneys. Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hano’she, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “traberen,” a Yiddish word that derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev. The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly remove it is called a menakeir. It is interesting to note that the Rema (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out in two different places that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship.

Cheilev versus gid hano’she

There is a major difference between gid hano’she and the prohibition of cheilev. The prohibition of cheilev applies to species of beheimah, but not to chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, we have a difference in halacha between gid hano’she and cheilev, in that gid hano’she is prohibited in a chayah, whereas its cheilev is permitted.

This is germane in practical halacha. Because of the difficulty in removing all the cheilev correctly, many communities have the halachic custom not to traber the hindquarters, but, instead, to sell them to gentiles as non-kosher. However, many contemporary authorities have ruled that even those who have accepted this practice may still traber the hindquarters of a deer, which is definitely a chayah, to remove the gid hano’she, since the cheilev of a chayah is permitted. This is because the gid hano’she that is prohibited min haTorah is relatively easy to remove and does not involve as serious halachic issues as does the cheilev. Notwithstanding this heter, there is still a requirement that one who trabers the gid hano’she of a deer may do so only if he has been trained in performing this nikur.

The Mishnah

Having established the basic rules from the pasuk itself, we can now analyze more of the halachos of this mitzvah. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to understanding it. The opening Mishnah of this chapter begins as follows: (The prohibition of) gid hano’she applies both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, both during the times of the Beis Hamikdash and when there is no Beis Hamikdash, regarding both chullin and sanctified offerings. It applies both to beheimos and to chayos, to both the right thigh and the left thigh. But it does not apply to birds, because they do not have a kaf.

The Gemara asks why the Mishnah needed to report that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to kodoshim. Since animals are born as chullin, at the time of birth the animal’s sciatic nerve becomes prohibited as gid hano’she. Why would we think that the prohibition of gid hano’she might disappear when the animal is declared to be holy?

To resolve this difficulty, the Gemara proposes the following solution: There is a dispute among tanna’im referred to as yesh begiddin benosein taam, sinews have flavor, or ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews do not have flavor. “Sinews” refer to the parts of an animal that are not tasty, but are eaten incidentally while consuming the tasty meat. The dispute is as follows: Since sinews are eaten only as part of a piece of meat, are they considered food? If they are not considered food, then other prohibitions, such as the mixing of meat and milk, or the prohibition of non-kosher species, do not apply to them min haTorah, since these prohibitions apply only to edible parts of an animal.

Thus, regarding the giddin of a kodoshim animal, if giddin are not considered food (ein begiddin benosein taam), then the prohibition of kodoshim does not apply.  However, the sciatic nerve of a kodoshim animal is prohibited because of the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that ein begiddin benosein taam (Yoreh Deah 65:9).

Jewish identification

It is very interesting to note that, at times in Jewish history, the mitzvah of gid hano’she became the identifying characteristic of the Jew. Kaifeng, China, is a city of 4.5 million people on the southern bank of the Yellow River that attracts much tourism for its rich history. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kaifeng was the capital of China, and, for this reason, the city is known as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. As history notes, when there are a lot of people, there is money to be earned, and when there is money to earn, one will usually find Jews.

At one point, over a thousand years ago, Jewish merchants from Persia and India settled in the area, created for themselves a Jewish community, and built shullen. Their shullen faced west toward Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, with the passing centuries, their descendants became completely intermarried and assimilated into the Chinese population. To this day, about 1,000 Kaifeng residents claim Jewish ancestry.

What does this have to do with the mitzvah of gid hano’she? The answer is that the Chinese identified the Jews with the practice of removing the gid hano’she, referring to Jews as the sinew-plucking people. Until recently, there was even a street in Kaifeng called “The Lane of the Sinew-Plucking Religion,” a reference to the Jews who once lived there.

Jewish American identification

Not only the Chinese identified the Jews because of the mitzvah of gid hano’she. Many years ago, when I was a rav in a small community in the United States, a non-observant Jew was interested in making a strictly kosher wedding for his daughter, because he had frum friends whom he wanted to accommodate. His daughter was willing to have a kosher wedding, as long as it did not look “too kosher.” I asked her what she meant that it should not look “too kosher,” to which she answered: “No ribs and no briskets.” I had been unaware that, to someone who did not keep kosher, forequarters meat, such as rib and brisket, is associated with “kosher-looking,” whereas hindquarters meat, not consumed in many places because of the difficulties in removing the gid hano’she and the cheilev, is viewed as “non-kosher looking.” Thus, the prohibition of gid hano’she defined a Jewish menu. (Fortunately, the executive chef of the hotel doing the kosher catering provided ideas for a perfectly kosher and very delicious meal that would, by the bride’s definition, not look too kosher.)

Conclusion

Although above I translated the word noshe as “displaced,” which is the approach of Rashi and therefore the most common rendering, Rav Hirsch understands that the root of the word noshe, similar to no’she, a creditor, means submission and powerlessness. Yaakov’s gid had been dislodged by his adversary; he was unable to control the muscle that moves the bone. The nerve, muscle and bone all existed, but their use was temporarily hampered. Thus, the gid hano’she denotes temporary relinquishment, but not permanent loss. Ya’akov is a no’she, a creditor, who has quite a large account to settle with Eisav and his angel.

To quote the Sefer Hachinuch: The underlying understanding of this mitzvah is to hint to the Jewish people that, while in the exile, although we will undergo many difficulties from the other nations, and particularly the descendants of Eisav, we should remain secure that we will not be lost as a people. At some point in the future, our offspring will rise and a redeemer will arrive to free us from our oppressor. By always remembering this concept through the observance of this mitzvah, we will remain strong in our faith and our righteousness will remain forever!

Certainly some very powerful food for thought the next time we sit down to a fleishig meal and note that we are eating only “kosher cuts!”

 




Pas Yisroel and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

Question #1: Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

“Must I use pas Yisroel during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah?”

Question #2: Friendly Baker

“A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are getting together to make a surprise birthday party for one of the non-Jewish people on the block who has been incredibly helpful to us all. Since there are some frum people on the block, the party will be strictly kosher. One of the non-Jewish neighbors is a baker by trade and will be baking everything in one of the kosher houses. Is there any problem with his doing this, when the frum people are supplying all the ingredients?”

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this topic before Rosh Hashanah?

Background

Pas Yisroel means bread baked by a Jew or with Jewish participation. The Mishnah teaches: The following items of a non-Jew are forbidden to be eaten, but are permitted for benefit: milk milked by a non-Jew without a Jew supervising; their bread and their oil, although Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil; and cooked items (Avodah Zarah 35b). Thus, we see that Chazal prohibited consumption of bread made by gentiles. This bread, commonly called pas akum, means bread made by a non-Jew, without Jewish involvement. Yet, we will soon see that there are many unusual and confusing rules governing when this bread is prohibited and when not. Aside from our need to know how to apply these laws, understanding the reasons will allow us to appreciate several other areas of both halachah and hashkafah, including how a takanas Chazal is made. Furthermore, we need to know how to apply these laws during the aseres yemei teshuvah, when they have special significance. So, let us roll up our sleeves to get deep into this doughy topic!

Takanas Chachamim

When Chazal implement a takanah prohibiting an item or activity, it is binding on all Jews and remains so, permanently. This means that, as a general rule, a takanah cannot later be annulled. However, there are some limited instances in which something prohibited because of a takanah can later be permitted.

There are two ways that a takanas chachamim may be rescinded, both of which require the decision of a major beis din of klal Yisroel with the power of the Sanhedrin. One instance is when the rescinding beis din consists of greater Torah scholars who have a larger following of disciples than did the original beis din that created the takanah. However, even this method of rescinding an earlier takanah does not apply to a list of takanos created by the disciples of Hillel and Shammai. To quote the Gemara, no later beis din could rescind these takanos, which are called The Eighteen Matters. (The details of this topic we will leave for a different time.)

The second situation in which a takanas chachamim may be rescinded is when the original takanah had not been accepted – meaning that it was not kept properly by the Jewish people. In the latter situation, since the takanah was not observed, the major beis din of klal Yisroel has the ability to withdraw the original takanah.

Basic background

With this initial background, we can now examine the history and the halachah of the takanah of pas akum. In the days of the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, when the Second Beis Hamikdash still stood, Chazal forbade eating pas akum – even when there are no kashrus concerns about the ingredients or the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). The reason for this enactment was to discourage social interaction that can lead to intermarriage.

We find a dispute among the rishonim whether the prohibition was limited to bread that gentiles baked or whether it included even dough prepared by a gentile that was then baked by a Jew. According to the Ran and the Tur, the prohibition of pas akum includes even when a non-Jew mixed or otherwise prepared dough that was then baked by a Jew. The logic is that the reason for the takanah could apply equally to bread in which the dough was prepared by a gentile, and furthermore, the Mishnah does not limit the prohibition to bread baked by a gentile, but states simply their bread.

Resolving this dispute directly impacts the second of our opening questions:

“A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are getting together to make a surprise birthday party for one of the non-Jewish people on the block who has been incredibly helpful to us all. Since there are some frum people on the block, the party will be strictly kosher. One of the non-Jewish neighbors is a baker by trade and will be baking everything in one of the kosher houses. Is there any problem with his doing this when the frum people are supplying all the ingredients?”

According to the Ran and the Tur, this bread would be prohibited, because it was prepared by a gentile, regardless of who baked it. However, notwithstanding their opinion, most authorities rule that pas akum is limited to bread baked by a gentile. Thus, as long as this bread is baked by a Jew, it will be kosher, regardless as to who mixed the dough and the ingredients. However, if the gentile neighbor baked the bread in a Jewish house without any Jewish participation, it is prohibited according to most authorities, even when all the ingredients are kosher.

Sometimes permitted?

We have seen that the Mishnah lists the prohibition of pas akum, and does not imply that this ban has any exceptions. Yet, we find passages in both the Talmud Bavli and in the Talmud Yerushalmi implying that the prohibition was not observed universally. Apparently, this was because bread is such a staple and, Jews often found themselves living in a place where there were no Jewish commercial bakeries; baking all one’s bread at home was impractical.

In the Bavli (Avodah Zarah 35b), we find the following:

Rav Kahana, quoting Rav Yochanan, said: “The prohibition of pas akum was not rescinded by beis din.” This statement implies that someone held that it was, and that Rabbi Yochanan, one of the greatest amora’im, is rejecting that approach. The Gemara then explains that, indeed, some people had, in error, understood that the prohibition of pas akum no longer applies.

To explain what happened, the Gemara shares with us some history: One time, while Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, the author of the Mishnah) was traveling, a non-Jewish person brought him a large, nice loaf of bread. Subsequently, Rebbe was heard to exclaim: “What a nice loaf of bread this is! What did Chazal see to prohibit it?”

Based on this comment, some people understood Rebbe’s comment to mean that the takanah of pas akum indeed no longer applied. Although more than a hundred years before Rebbe the disciples of Hillel and Shammai had prohibited it, they understood that Rebbe had rescinded the takanah, and, therefore, he mused why Chazal had once declared this bread to be prohibited. The Gemara concludes that the understanding of these people was erroneous. Rebbe’s comment was whimsical; he never intended to permit pas akum (Avodah Zarah 35b).

Yerushalmi versus Bavli

The just-quoted passage of Gemara Bavli implies that there is no heter to use pas akum. On the other hand, a passage in the Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 2:8) disputes this. There, it quotes an early statement to the effect that the laws concerning the prohibition of pas akum appear to be inconsistent. The Yerushalmi then suggests several possibilities to explain what inconsistency exists regarding the laws of pas akum. The Yerushalmi concludes that this is the inconsistency: In a place where pas Yisroel is available, one would assume that one is not permitted to use pas akum, yet one may.

It thus appears that we have discovered a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi, in which the Bavli ruled that pas akum is prohibited and the Yerushalmi ruled that it is permitted. If this is true, then we should rule according to the Bavli and prohibit all forms of pas akum.

Yet, the Rif, the major early halachic authority, cites both the passage of the Bavli and that of the Yerushalmi, implying that there is no disagreement between them.

Resolving the Rif

To explain how one early authority, the Rashba, resolves this difficulty, I will follow Jewish tradition by answering a question with a question. Although the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35b) ultimately rejects this conclusion, it had entertained the possibility that Rebbe rescinded the takanah of pas akum. Upon what halachic basis could Rebbe have been able been able to rescind a takanah? Since this takanah was created by the disciples of Hillel and Shamai, it cannot be abrogated by a later beis din. The only other possibility is that the takanah of pas akum had not been properly observed. Therefore, a later beis din could rescind the takanah. Thus, the conclusion of the Bavli implies that, although Rebbe didn’t rescind the takanah of pas akum, he could have, since it was not properly established.

At this point, we can explain what the Rif meant. There is no contradiction between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. The Bavli teaches two things:

  1. That the takanah of pas akum could have been rescinded.
  2. That Rebbe was not the one who did so, and that it was still valid in his time.

The Yerushalmi teaches that at some point after Rebbe, someone did, indeed, rescind the takanah to a certain degree (Rashba, quoted by Ran). The Ran himself explains that even the Bavli can be read in a way that it implies that the prohibition was rescinded.

To what extent?

Based on the Rif, we know that there was some rescinding of the takanah. Our next question is: To what extent was the prohibition rescinded?

Among the rishonim, we find various approaches defining to what extent the prohibition of pas akum was relaxed. Some contend that this depends on location – in some places the takanah was not initially accepted, and in these places Chazal relaxed the takanah to a greater extent than they did elsewhere.

However, even in places where the custom was to be lenient, not all pas akum was permitted. In all places, bread baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale is prohibited. This bread is called pas baalei batim.

The dispute whether and to what extent one may be lenient concerns only bread baked for sale. This bread is called pas paltur, literally, bread baked for a merchant, and is sometimes permitted. To what extend it is permitted is the subject of a controversy that we will discuss shortly.

Invitation to the White House

The next case might be an application of this law: Someone receives an invitation to a meal at the White House that will be supervised, so that all the ingredients are kosher and the equipment is all brand new, special for the event. If the mashgiach did not participate in the baking of the breads, they might be prohibited because of pas baalei batim. (See a dispute about this matter in Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:2, 3, 6). This is because the bread was not baked for sale, but for the “personal use” of the residents of the White House and their guests.

When is pas paltur permitted?

Returning to our discussion, what conditions need to be met for pas paltur to be permitted? There is a wide range of opinion among halachic authorities. According to the Shulchan Aruch, one may use pas paltur whenever no Jewish bakery is available, even in a city with a sizable Jewish community. If pas Yisroel becomes available, then the pas paltur should not be used until the pas Yisroel is no longer available, even if the pas paltur has already been baked (Yoreh Deah 112:4).

Less tasty

The authorities disagree whether one may eat pas paltur even when there is a Jewish bakery, but the pas Yisroel is less tasty than the bread of the gentile (Tur). The Shulchan Aruch rules leniently that if the pas paltur is of better quality or is of a variety that is not available from a Yisroel, one may use it (Yoreh Deah 112:5).

A more lenient approach

The Rema is more lenient than either the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch, concluding that, where the custom is to permit pas paltur, one may consume it, even when pas Yisroel is available (Yoreh Deah 112:2). The Bach and the Gra follow the opinion of the Rema, whereas other opinions agree with the Shulchan Aruch and permit pas paltur only when pas Yisroel is not available and in a place where the custom is to be lenient (Shach). All of the above opinions agree that it is prohibited to use pas baalei batim, bread baked by a gentile for personal use (Yoreh Deah 112:7).

The prevalent approach among most hechsherim in North America is to follow the opinion of the Rema and permit pas paltur. As a rule of thumb, most Mehadrin hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel are strict and do not permit pas paltur.

When was it baked?

What is the defining factor determining whether bread is pas paltur or pas baalei batim? Is this determined by what was intended when the bread was baked, or what ultimately happens with the bread? For example, if a gentile baked bread to sell, but found no customer for it, and therefore kept it for himself, may a Jew eat this bread? Indeed, this is the subject of an early dispute, most halachic authorities contending that the defining factor is what was intended when the bread is baked. According to this approach, bread baked by a gentile for his own use who then decided to sell it is prohibited. On the other hand, if he baked the bread intending to sell it and then brought it home for his own use, it may be consumed (Toras Habayis 3:7). However, most authorities seem to conclude that when a gentile invited someone over to eat, it is forbidden to break bread with him, regardless as to whether it was originally baked for sale or not (Shach; Pri Toar).

Friendly baker

Here is an interesting ramification of our current discussion, slightly modified from one of our opening questions: “A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are making a strictly kosher party. One of the non-Jewish neighbors owns and operates a bakery that has a hechsher, but it is not pas Yisroel. Can he bring bread that was baked at his bakery for the party?”

According to most opinions, this bread is forbidden, since it was not baked for sale.

Jewish participation

The entire issue of whether and under what circumstances a Jew can eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic only when the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew increases the heat of the oven in any way, even by merely symbolically adding a splinter to the fire, the bread baked is considered pas Yisroel. The Rema furthermore states that if a Jew increased the fire once, and the oven was not turned off for twenty-four consecutive hours, then all the bread is considered pas Yisroel.

In a large, modern, industrial bakery, it is usually very easy to arrange that everything baked there should be pas Yisroel. Since these bakeries operate seven days a week, whenever the mashgiach visits, he needs simply to adjust upward the thermostat or dial until he sees that he has added fuel to the fire, and then return the dial to its setting. This will make the bread pas Yisroel for the foreseeable future. I have done this personally numerous times and so have many others.

The reason why this is not usually done is very simple: The consumer is not clamoring for it to be done, and the hechsherim follow the approach that pas paltur is permitted. If consumers would demand that the bread under hechsher be pas Yisroel, it all would be.

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

We can now answer Questions #1 and #3 which we posed earlier. Notwithstanding the conclusion that, at least under certain circumstances, pas akum is permitted, several rishonim record that one should be stringent during the Ten Days of Repentance to use only pas Yisroel, even in a place where the custom is to be lenient and use pas paltur (for example, Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:14, at very end; Tur, Orach Chayim 603). This approach is quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 603) and all the later authorities. Those who rule leniently in allowing the use of pas paltur during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah rely on the opinions that in a large, commercial bakery, where the consumer does not know any of the workers, there is no halachic concern of pas akum. One should be aware that this heter is not mentioned by most authorities, and it is disputed by many who quote it (see Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:9). Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 3:26:6 rules that one may combine this heter with another heter that would be insufficient on its own.

In conclusion, according to predominant opinion, if a Jew participated in the heating of the oven, the bread is considered pas Yisroel. If no Jew participated in heating the oven, the pas paltur bread baked by a non-Jew may be used, according to the Shulchan Aruch, when there is no pas Yisroel of equal quality available. According to the Rema, in a place where the custom is to be lenient, one may use pas paltur, even if pas Yisroel is available, except during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding this particular prohibition, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

 

 




Is My Stove Kosher?

Question #1: Is my stove treif?

“I have always used my stove for both milchig and fleishig, which is what I saw my mother do. But why is this permitted? Food spills from both milchig and fleishig onto the stove burners and gets heated there. Doesn’t that make my stove treif?”

Question #2: Kashering their stove

“My parents do not keep kosher. I have my own pots that I use when I visit their house, but how do I kasher the stove each time I visit them?”

Question #3: Induction stoves

“How do I kasher the induction stove in the house I just moved into?”

Introduction

There are some allusions to the laws of kashrus in this week’s parshah, Devorim. This provides an opportunity to discuss one of the least understood areas germane to a frum household – the status of the stove.

Should I be discriminating?

Although our dairy and meat equipment are always kept separated, in most households, the same stovetop burners are used to cook both milchig and fleishig foods. Most people place a pot of meat on the same burner that earlier in the day may have been cooking something dairy. Why does this not pose a kashrus problem, since we know that food spills onto the stove grates and its flavor burns into the stove? Why doesn’t this make all of our pots treif?

Separate but not equal

At the same time, we will not use a chometzdik stove for Pesach without either kashering it, covering the grates carefully with aluminum foil, or both. If I may use the same stove for both milchig and fleishig, why must I kasher my chometzdik stove for Pesach? Am I being inconsistent?

The induction stove

In addition, our article will discuss a new type of stove now available on the market. The induction stove, marketed as a very energy efficient and safe model, contains its own halachic questions. I will explain shortly how this type of stove operates and then address its unique halachic issues.

In order to understand the halachic background to this issue, we need to explain the issues thoroughly. As always, the goal of our article is not to render piskei halachah, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek. The purpose of this article is to provide some understanding of the topic at hand.

Introduction #1: Vessel to vessel

When the Torah prohibited eating meat cooked in milk, it also prohibited eating food that contains the flavors of both meat and dairy. For example, if one cooked meat and then milk in the same pot on the same day, meat flavor goes into the dairy product, thus creating a prohibited mix of meat and milk (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 93:1). Similarly, the Torah prohibited meat cooked in a pot or on a grill in a way that it will absorb flavor from dairy that was previously cooked in the same pot or on the same grill. For this reason, using a grill that today barbecued meat to make a grilled-cheese sandwich is prohibited min hatorah, since this is halachically equivalent to cooking meat and dairy together.

Not only are we prohibited from eating non-kosher foods, but we are also prohibited from eating food that includes a small taste or flavor of non-kosher foods, such as, when they contain a residue of the non-kosher substance that imparts an enjoyable flavor.

The halachic issue here is whether taste passes from one vessel into another vessel when they touch one another directly, and there is no food or liquid between them. In other words, we know that flavor of food cooked in a pot will transfer into other food cooked in that pot. However, perhaps the flavor transfers only into food that comes in direct contact with the pot. Is there transfer of taste when two pots touch, but there is no food or liquid at the points of contact through which the flavor can pass? Are we concerned that flavor might transfer into the stove grate and then into the food being cooked on top of that grate?

According to some early authorities, flavor does not pass between two vessels, whereas other authorities hold that it does (Hagahos Shaarei Dura [51:3; 56:1], quoting the author of the Terumas Hadeshen). Both opinions are mentioned by the Rema in his Darchei Moshe commentary on the Tur, Yoreh Deah 92:9.

Here are two practical examples that the Rema discusses there:

  1. Someone placed a covered milchig frying pan containing dairy ingredients on top of a stove. He then placed a fleishig pot in which meat is cooking directly on the covered pan cooking dairy. According to the lenient opinion, that of the Issur Vaheter (31:17), the pots and the food all remain kosher, because although the pan is cooking real dairy and the pot is cooking meat, no absorption of flavor passes from one vessel to the other. In other words, in this case, none of the dairy flavor transfers from the milchig pan to the fleishig pot resting on top of it, and no meat flavor transfers from the fleishig pot to the milchig pan on which it is resting.

However, there is a stricter opinion, that of the Hagahos Shaarei Dura, who contends that even if the area between the pot and the pan cover is completely clean and dry, the food and the vessels are now non-kosher, because we do view that there was transfer of flavor from the milchig pan to the fleishig pot, and vice versa.

  1. Two pots are cooking on the stove, one containing meat and the other dairy, and they touch one another. According to the lenient opinion, the food and the vessels remain kosher, since no food taste will transfer between the outside of the two pots (Mordechai, Chullin #691), whereas, according to the strict opinion, everything is now non-kosher: the food must be disposed of and the pots requires kashering.

How do we rule?

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 92:8) rules that in both of these instances the food may be eaten, and both pots remain kosher. However, he rules that one should be careful not to allow this to happen. Thus, we see that the Rema follows the opinion of the Mordechai that absorption does not pass from one vessel to another, unless there is food or liquid connecting them, although he contends that this is permitted only after the fact, bedei’evid.

Another application – the stovetop

According to this ruling, placing a kosher pot on top of a treif, but clean and dry, stovetop does not render the pot or its contents non-kosher, even if the stovetop absorbed non-kosher food earlier in the same day. This is because, although the stove is non-kosher, no non-kosher absorption transfers from the stove, which is dry, into the pot, unless there is either food or liquid on top of the stove.

Why are we not concerned that there is food or liquid that spilled on the stove which could allow transfer of taste from the non-kosher stove into the food and then into the pot resting on top of the stove? Later authorities explain that, since stovetops get very hot, one can presume that any liquid that lands on them will evaporate almost immediately. In addition, the hot stovetop will burn food that splatters on them beyond edibility. Therefore, one need not be concerned about liquid or food that splatters on the stovetop (see Mishnah Berurah 451:34; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:124, Yoreh Deah 1:59). We will return to this part of the discussion shortly. But first, we will discover that the Rema, himself, in a ruling on a related topic, seems to contradict himself!

Why is this night of Pesach different?

When discussing the laws of koshering for Pesach, the Rema (Orach Chayim 451:4) rules that a chometzdik stovetop must be kashered with libun, which means that one must use direct heat to burn off the prohibited residue that has absorbed into it. The question is why this should be necessary. Assuming that the stovetop is clean and dry, no chometz that has absorbed into the stove will transfer to the Pesach pots that are placed upon it.

Among the acharonim, we find three approaches to explain why the Rema rules that one must kasher the stovetop for Pesach. The Mishnah Berurah (451:34) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:124 and Yoreh Deah 1:59) rule that this is a special ruling germane to the laws of Pesach — we act more strictly regarding the laws of Pesach than the halachah otherwise requires. According to this approach, there is no halachic requirement to kasher a treif stovetop before using it, nor is there any halachic problem with using the same stove burners for both milchig and fleishig.

Other authorities disagree, contending that although the Rema ruled that when the two pots, one containing meat and the other dairy, touch, absorption does not transfer directly from one vessel to another, this ruling is true only after the fact, but that one may not rely on this ruling lechatchilah. The result of this approach is that we are not permitted to use a non-kosher stovetop without kashering it – although if someone did use it, bedei’evid, the food and the pots are permitted. It is then very obvious why the Rema ruled that one must kasher a chometzdik stove before using it for Pesach. It is not a chumrah for Pesach; it is halachically required. Thus, we find that the Chachmas Odom (74:4) rules that someone who purchased from a gentile a tripod meant for cooking on top is required to kasher it with libun, because food spills onto it. In a similar approach, the Ksav Sofer concludes that anyone who is G-d-fearing should be careful not to use the same part of the stove for cooking both milchig and fleishig, but he should have separate designated facilities (Shu”t Ksav Sofer, Yoreh Deah #54).

According to this approach, one may not use a treif stove without kashering it, and one should preferably not use the same stove burners for both milchig and fleishig. Rather, one should designate that when cooking milchigs one uses only, say, the left burners on the stove, and when cooking fleishig, one uses the right burners.

A third approach is that a small amount of flavor does seep through from one vessel to another. This small amount is nullified and, therefore, not a kashrus concern germane to other prohibitions. However, we are strict and do not permit even a minute amount of chometz on Pesach, and for this reason the Rema is stricter regarding Pesach than he is in regard to milchig and fleishig. (See Igros Moshe who mentions this approach, but rejects it.)

Thus, we have three clearly dissenting approaches, one contending that one is required to kosher a treif stove grate or stovetop before using it, and the other two contending that one is not required to do so. This dispute will result in a major question regarding question #2: “My parents do not keep kosher. I have my own pots that I use when I visit their house, but how do I kasher the stove each time I visit them?”

According to the more lenient approach we have mentioned, the stove may be used without any kashering at all, which will make matters easier for our questioner. The other approach may not be so lenient, although it is possible that they would agree: Since it is permitted, bedei’evid, this establishes a basis to permit use of the stove under extenuating circumstances, such as the case at hand, without kashering it first. This decision I leave to the consulted rav or posek.

Induction stoves

At this point, let us examine the third question with which we opened our article:

“How do I kasher the induction stove in the house I just moved into?”

Firstly, what is an induction stove?

Considered the most energy-efficient and safest household stove, the induction stove contains no open flame. Instead, a coil of copper wire is located underneath the cooking pot, which must be made of iron or steel for the stove to work. Electric current flows through the coil, which produces a magnetic field, which in turn creates an electric current in the pot. Current flowing in the metal pot produces resistive heating in the pot, which cooks the food. Heat is created exclusively in the pot or pan; there is no flame or hot electric coil.

The surface below the cooking vessel is no hotter than the vessel; only the pot or pan generates heat. The stovetop is made of material which is a poor heat conductor, often glass, so that only a relatively small amount of heat is transferred from the pot to the cooking surface, usually not enough so that after the cooking vessel is removed it would burn someone seriously.

Because induction heats the cooking vessel itself, the possibility of burn injury is significantly less than with other methods; the surface of the cooking top is heated only from contact with the vessel. Since there are no flames or red-hot electric heating elements as found in traditional cooking equipment, an induction stove is ideal.

From a halachic perspective, there are several ways that an induction stove should be treated differently from a conventional stove. Since the cooking surface is not directly heated, spilled food does not burn on the surface. This means that food from spills will absorb into the cooking surface, rather than becoming burnt up. In addition, one cannot cover the cooktop with aluminum foil or anything else. The foil may melt and cause permanent damage or cracking of the top.

On the other hand, the induction stove does not change the concept, accepted by most authorities, that taste does not transfer from one vessel to another without food or beverage between them.

So, now we need to analyze the three halachic questions mentioned above, but specifically directed to the induction stovetop.

  1. Is one required to kasher an induction stovetop when it was previously used for non-kosher?
  2. May one use an induction stove interchangeably for meat and dairy products?
  3. How would one kasher an induction stove for Pesach use?

A treif inducer

Above we cited the dispute among halachic authorities whether one is required to kasher a stovetop that was used for non-kosher. According to some authorities, one is technically not required to kasher a stovetop, since the halachah is that taste does not transfer from one vessel to another. This line of reasoning should apply equally to an induction stove. However, the other reason to be lenient, that the food matter is constantly burning off a regular stovetop, does not apply to the induction stove. For this reason, a rav may feel that one is required to kasher an induction stove, which may be practically impossible, as I will explain in the next paragraph.

When a vessel or other item absorbs food directly over the flame, the halachah requires that kashering such an item requires libun, direct application of heat. In the case of an induction stovetop, this would be impossible. The stovetop, most often made of glass, usually cannot withstand the heat that would be necessary to kasher. The halachah is that one is not permitted to kasher an item that might crack or break while being kashered, because of concern that the process will not be performed properly.

On the other hand, someone could argue that since the induction stovetop becomes hot only because of the pot resting on it, that it does not require libun, but that it is considered equivalent halachically to something onto which hot foods are poured. These items require only iruy, pouring boiling water onto them, to kasher them, something that can certainly be done to an induction cooktop.

From milchig to fleishig:

Again, I mentioned above the dispute among authorities whether one may use a stovetop for both milchig and fleishig. Certainly, the prevalent practice is to use the same stovetop for both, and rely on the fact that since the surface is clean and dry, no absorption of residual food taste in the cooktop transfers to the pots or pans placed on it. This line of reasoning can also be applied to the induction stove. I would caution someone who has an induction stove to be careful to wipe off spills when they occur, since the spillage does not burn off, as it does with a conventional stove.

For Pesach use:

As we learned above, the Rema required kashering a stovetop for Pesach with libun. An alternative way to prepare a stovetop for Pesach is by covering it completely with aluminum foil, or the like, which now prevents chometzdik absorption in the grates from transferring to the Pesach pots.

However, neither of these kashering procedures can be done with an induction stovetop. The cooktop may crack if direct heat is applied, and it cannot be covered. Thus, the only heter that might apply would be to pour boiling water onto the surface and rely on this being a sufficient kashering procedure. Someone with this shaylah should discuss it with his posek.

Conclusion

Based on the above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how complicated even a relatively common shaylah might be. We certainly have a greater incentive to understand all the aspects of maintaining a proper kosher household. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

 




Which Utensils Must I Immerse?

Question #1: With Cookie Cutter Precision!

Rivkah Baker asks:

“Do I need to toivel the cookie cutter that I just purchased?”

Question #2: Butch’s Cleaver

Butch Katzav, the proprietor of the local glatt kosher meat market, inquires: “Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

Introduction:

In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Regarding the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become kosher, yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. In addition, that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, we derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the mitzvah to immerse metal implements in a kosher mikveh or spring prior to using them for food. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that this immersion is required, even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is unrelated to the requirement of koshering equipment that was used for non-kosher food, or to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) further states that in addition to metal items intended for food use, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, because both metal and glass share a similarity – they are repairable by melting and reconstructing, what we call today recyclable. This renders them different from vessels made of stone, bone, wood or earthenware, all of which cannot be repaired this way.

Immediately prior to immersing something that definitely requires tevilah, one recites a beracha: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. One does not recite this beracha when it is uncertain that immersion is required, such as, when the authorities dispute whether tevilah is necessary. When there is no mitzvah to immerse a utensil, reciting a beracha is prohibited, becauses it constitutes a beracha levatalah, one stated in vain. Therefore, when we are uncertain whether an item requires tevilah, we immerse it — but without reciting a beracha. A better solution is to immerse something that definitely requires a beracha at the same time that one immerses the “questionable” item, and to recite a beracha on the “definite” item/utensil. We will soon see an example.

Is this a kashrus law?

The Gemara cites a highly instructive dialogue about the mitzvah of immersing new vessels:

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘From the verse, one can derive that one must immerse even brand new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire are as kosher as those that are brand-new, and yet they require immersion.’

Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, then maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’

Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah mentions only vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)'” (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Rav Sheishes suggested that if the immersion of utensils is not a means of koshering a non-kosher vessel, then perhaps we have many more opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah, and it applies to any type of paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears!

To this, Rav Nachman retorted that the Torah includes only items used for klei seudah – as Rashi explains, household implements used with fire are normally pots, pans and other cooking implements. Thus, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to utensils used for preparing food, and not those intended for other purposes.

Klei Seudah – appliances used for meals

We should note that Rav Nachman did not say that all food preparation utensils require immersion, but he required immersion only of klei seudah, items used for meals. We will soon see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim.

What exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food implements must be immersed?

Early halachic authorities provide some direction about this issue. For example, the Mordechai (Chullin #577, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 120) rules that a shechitah knife does not require immersion. Why not? After all, it is used to prepare food.

The answer is that since meat cannot be eaten immediately after shechitah, this knife does not qualify as klei seudah. Only utensils that prepare food to the point that they can be eaten are called klei seudah. This is the approach that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 120:5).

Making a point!

According to this approach, cleavers used for raw meat, tenderizers (mallets used to pound raw meat), and reidels, the implements used to perforate matzoh dough prior to baking, would all not require tevilah, since the meat or dough is not edible when these implements complete their task (Darkei Moshe, 120:4, quoting Issur VaHeter).

However, not all authorities reach this conclusion. Indeed, the same Darkei Moshe, who ruled that reidels do not require tevilah, quoted that both the Rash and the Tashbeitz, two prominent early authorities, toiveled shechitah knives before using them. Why did these poskim toivel their shechitah knives? Did they contend that any implement used to process food at any stage requires tevilah? If so, would they also require immersing reidels, meat grinders and rolling pins?

We find a dispute among halachic authorities how to explain this opinion. According to the Taz (120:7) and the Gra (120:14), the Rash and the Tashbeitz indeed require immersing appliances whose finished product is not yet edible. In their opinion, the Rash and the Tashbeitz require the toiveling of reidels and presumably, also, meat grinders. Since the matter is disputed – the Mordechai contending that these items do not require tevilah, and the Rash and the Tashbeitz requiring tevilah — the Taz and the Gra rule that we should follow a compromise position, immersing shechitah knife and reidels before use, but without reciting a beracha, because maybe there is no requirement to immerse them, and the beracha will be in vain.

What is the difference between a reidel and a knife?

On the other hand, the Shach (120:11) disputes the way the Taz and the Gra understand the opinion of the Rash and the Tashbeitz. The Shach contends that although the Rash and the Tashbeitz rule that one must toivel a shechitah knife, they would not require the immersion of a reidel before use. A shechitah knife must be toiveled because it can potentially be used for food that is ready to be eaten. The Shach concludes that an implement that can be used only for items that are not yet edible does not require immersion, and therefore a reidel does not require tevilah.

Cookie cutting precision!

Most of our readers probably do not regularly use shechitah knives or reidels, but may have more experience with cookie cutters. If a cookie cutter is used only for dough, then according to the conclusion of the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch, it would not require tevilah. However, my wife informs me that cookie cutters are often used to form shapes in melons or jello; therefore, they must be immersed.

There are other items where this question is germane, such as items that would be used only for kneading, e.g., a metal rolling pin; or for items used for processing raw meat, e.g., a meat grinder, or a schnitzel mallet. Must one immerse these items?

The answer is that it is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between the Gra and the Shach. According to the Gra, those early authorities who require the toiveling of a shechitah knife require that all food implements be toiveled. Since we usually require toiveling shechitah knives, we must also toivel reidels, meat grinders, and rolling pins, although we would toivel all of these items without a beracha (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim 451:6).

However, according to the Shach, there is a big difference between a shechitah knife, which can be used to cut ready-to-eat foods, and a reidel, which can be used only for food that is not ready to eat. Since reidels are never used for ready-to-eat food, they do not require tevilah.

Major improvements

There is yet a third approach to this issue. Some other authorities contend that an item used for a major tikun, or change, in the food, such as shechitah, requires tevilah, even if the food is not edible when this step is complete. However, an item that performs only a minor tikun, such as the reidel, does not require immersion, if the food is not yet edible (Pri Chodosh and Aruch Hashulchan). In their opinion, the potential use of the shechitah knife is not what requires the tevilah. It is the fact that the shechitah performed with this knife is a major stage in making the finished product, the meat, edible. Those who follow this approach would rule that one need not toivel a meat grinder, whereas the Gra and the Taz would rule that one should.

The saga of Butch’s cleaver

We can now address Butch Katzav’s question:

“Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

In true Jewish style, let us answer Butch’s question with a question. Is a cleaver like a shechitah knife or like a reidel?

In certain ways, a cleaver is like a knife, in that it can be used both for raw meat and for cooked, ready-to-eat food. On the other hand, it is unlike a shechitah knife which performs a major tikun by making the meat kosher, and in this way, the cleaver is more similar to a reidel which performs a relatively minor function.

Now we can answer Butch’s question. The previous hechsher may have ruled like the Pri Chodosh and the Aruch Hashulchan that an item used for a minor change does not require tevilah, unless it is used with edible food. The current rav hamachshir may follow the opinion of the Shach that an item, such as a knife or cleaver, requires tevilah when used for food that is not yet edible, since it could be used for ready-to-eat food. It is also possible that the current rav follows the opinion of the Gra and the Taz that any food implement requires tevilah without a beracha, and would require that even a reidel be immersed.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials, whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood only involve man’s shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs. The manufacture of metal utensils demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels, then, represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created — to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that the items thereby produced be immersed in a mikveh, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food use. This demonstrates that although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, when doing so, one must first sanctify the item to focus on the spiritual.

 

 




Eat Kosher! Part 2

 Question #1: How many mitzvos?

“Is keeping kosher more than one mitzvah?”

Question #2: Food for thought

“Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

Question #3: Check your scales

“Must I check fish for scales each time I purchase one?”

Introduction:

Two weeks ago, in part I of this article, we discovered that when the Torah discusses which species are kosher, it says (in parshas Shemini), “These are the living things from which you may eat,” which the midrashei halacha and the Rambam count as mitzvos aseih. We noted that the Rambam considers these as lav haba miklal aseih, a prohibition verbalized as a mitzvas aseih, which is sometimes called an issur aseih. We also noted that the Rambam counts four different mitzvos aseih, one to eat only kosher animals, one to eat only kosher fish, one to eat only kosher fowl, and one to eat only kosher grasshoppers. We also learned that the Rambam explains that he wrote the Sefer Hamitzvos to explain the rules that govern what is included in the listing of the 613 mitzvos. We now continue with part two of our article.

What type of positive mitzvah?

The first half of Sefer Hamitzvos consists of fourteen rules, called sherashim, that the Rambam established to determine whether something is counted as one of the 613 mitzvos or not. In the sixth shoresh, the Rambam rules that if a mitzvah is commanded in the Torah both as a positive commandment and as a negative prohibition, then it is counted as two of the 613 mitzvos — both as a positive mitzvah and a negative one. The Rambam explains that there are three types of mitzvos aseih in which this occurs.

  1. In some instances, there is a positive mitzvah that is a flipside of the negative prohibition. For example, someone who observes Shabbos or Yom Tov fulfills a positive mitzvah (Pesachim 84a). There is also a negative prohibition which one violates by performing prohibited activity on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Similarly, there is a positive mitzvah to observe shemittah, and negative ones involving performing prohibited activity during shemittah. Another example is fasting on Yom Kippur, which involves both a positive mitzvah of afflicting oneself and a lo sa’aseh.

  1. A second type of positive mitzvah that accompanies a lo sa’aseh is what is called a lav shekadmo aseih — there is a mitzvah to do something, but one who violates the intent of the positive mitzvah will, at that time, also violate a lo sa’aseh. Two examples of this rule are the cases of the oneis and the motzi shem ra, both of whom are required by a mitzvas aseih to marry and remain married to the wronged woman (should she agree). Should he subsequently divorce her, he will violate a lo sa’aseh.
  2. A third type of positive mitzvah that accompanies a lo sa’aseh is called lav hanitak le’aseih, in which the mitzvas aseih is the instruction that the Torah provided if someone violates the lo sa’aseh. Here are two examples of this situation: The mitzvas lo sa’aseh of nosar is to make sure not to leave over edible parts of a korban past the time that the Torah established for that particular korban. One who does leave over and violates the lo sa’aseh now becomes commanded to observe a mitzvah aseih of burning the leftovers.

A second example is the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, in which one is prohibited from taking the mother bird while she is fulfilling her motherly duties to her eggs or young. One who violates this prohibition by seizing the mother bird is now required to observe the positive mitzvah of setting her free.

We are now faced with a question: If the word tocheilu is a positive mitzvah, what is the Torah commanding us to do? It certainly does not fit the second or third of the three categories mentioned above. The second category would mean that there is a positive mitzvah that one is required to perform whose result one now wishes to abrogate. The mitzvah of tocheilu certainly does not fit this category. Similarly, tocheilu cannot fit the third category, because this mitzvah is not correcting an error.

If tocheilu is included in the first category, it would mean that one who eats non-kosher violates an aseih, also. Whether we can look at the mitzvah this way appears to be the point of departure between the Rambam and the Ramban. The Ramban wrote the earliest commentary to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos, with a goal of explaining the Behag’s approach and answering the questions that the Rambam asks on the Behag. At times, the Ramban takes issue with some of the Rambam’s 14 rules. However, the Ramban accepts the Rambam’s sixth rule that a mitzvah, such as Shabbos or Yom Tov, when expressed by the Torah both in a positive way and a negative one, is counted twice, both as a mitzvas aseih and as a mitzvas lo sa’aseh. The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam regarding these four mitzvos of identifying kosher species.

To quote the Ramban, “I see in this matter a major dispute (between the Behag and the Rambam) and, without any question, one of the opinions is erroneous. There are instances in which there is both a lo sa’aseh and an aseih in the same topic; however, both are not counted as mitzvos. An example is the permitted and forbidden animals, fish and fowl, where the Torah includes a positive statement, ‘this is the animal that you may eat,’ and Chazal interpret this to be a mitzvas aseih. Similarly, when it says, ‘you may eat any pure bird’ and it is counted as a positive mitzvah. And again, when it says, ‘this you may eat, from whatever is in the water.’ It is obvious that the intent of the Torah is not to say that when one eats an animal or a fish with the proper kosher signs that one fulfills a mitzvah, and that someone who traps them and then does not eat them is in violation of his observance of a positive mitzvah. The intent, clearly, is that one may eat only these species and not the non-kosher ones. This is called a lo sa’aseh that is derived from a positive statement (in Hebrew, this is called a lav haba miklal aseih), whose purpose is to establish that someone who violates the lo sa’aseh also violates an aseih.”

The Ramban then notes that in all of these instances, the Rambam counts as positive mitzvos that one check whether a species of animal, bird, fish or grasshopper is kosher. However, concludes the Ramban, “The Behag did not count them, because they do not include a positive activity, whereas avoiding eating the prohibited is already included in the lo sa’aseh. Consequently, referring to the prohibition in a positive way does not add to the mitzvah count in these instances, just as repeating the lo sa’aseh several times does not add an extra lo sa’aseh to the mitzvah count.”

The last point raised by the Ramban is mentioned by the Rambam and others. The Torah often repeats a prohibition many times. When the additional pasuk does not add any new halachic information, the additional reference does not constitute an additional mitzvah.

Be positive!

Many authorities rally to address the final point of the Ramban, that the Rambam’s inclusion of these four positive mitzvos must include some additional component or ruling to the halacha. Additional support for this approach can be brought from the way the Rambam, himself, mentions these mitzvos. In all four instances, the Rambam writes that we are commanded to check for the signs that the particular species is kosher. And he writes this in two places, once in the Mishneh Torah and another time in the Sefer Hamitzvos. There is also one time in the Mishneh Torah where the Rambam writes that the mitzvah is to “know” the kosher signs. What exactly does this mitzvah of checking or knowing entail?

What does a mitzvah add?

Many approaches are suggested to explain what the positive mitzvah might be including, according to the Rambam. Some understand that the mitzvah requires that one be completely familiar with the simanim of the kosher species and have hands-on experience. Book knowledge that split hooves and chewing cud are kosher signs, without knowing what these two terms mean, does not fulfill the mitzvah (Darchei Teshuvah 79:1, quoting Korban Aharon and Yad David). It is somewhat implied by them that the mitzvah of studying Torah is fulfilled by knowing the laws, without necessarily knowing what one is to look for; but, without hands-on experience, there is no fulfillment of the mitzvas aseih.

A second approach is that someone who consumes food from a certain species, not knowing if it is kosher or not, who then discovers that he indeed ate a kosher animal, violates the mitzvas aseih for not checking the indicative factors first (Sefer Hachinuch; Pri To’ar, Yoreh Deah 79:1; Kinas Sofrim; see also Darchei Teshuvah 79:1). To quote the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #153) “One who violates this mitzvah because he checked only one siman and relied on that without checking for the other siman, even though it turns out that he ate from the kosher species, has neglected his observance of this mitzvah of checking simanim.”

What’s in a horn?

When the Sefer Hachinuch mentions this approach to explain the Rambam’s position, he adds a further comment that appears somewhat strange. He writes that there is also a requirement to know the simanim that identify whether a particular species is a beheimah or whether it is a chayah. There are several laws that are affected by this distinction, and the Gemara provides criteria, depending on the appearance of the animal’s horns, whereby one can identify whether a particular kosher species is a beheimah or a chayah.

However, this comment of the Sefer Hachinuch is very surprising. The Torah, as explained by the above-quoted comments of the Sifrei and the Sifra, includes a mitzvah that we identify whether a species is kosher or not. No matter how we understand this mitzvah of the Torah, and I will soon provide several other approaches, the mitzvah applies only to places where the Torah states that we may eat a certain variety of creature and then provides a defining characteristic or nomenclature. However, where do we see any mitzvah requiring one to identify whether a specific kosher species is a beheimah or a chayah?

The Minchas Chinuch answers that this is true, because horns function as a secondary siman to determine whether a beheimah is kosher, although they do not function as a siman to determine whether a chayah is kosher. In other words, there are no non-kosher beheimos that bear horns, although there are non-kosher chayos that do. Thus, having kosher beheimah horns can be used to determine whether a species is kosher.

This explanation of the Minchas Chinuch also includes a very novel interpretation. The Torah provides two criteria to determine whether a mammal is of a kosher species: does it ruminate, and does it have completely split hooves. Granted that horns are a secondary characteristic, where do we see that this is included in the Torah’s mitzvah?

More positive attitudes

There are also numerous technical answers why the Rambam counted these as separate mitzvos. Some authorities explain that one who checks the simanim on an unfamiliar species that he would like to eat to see if it is kosher fulfills a mitzvas aseih. This author is inclined to think that, according to this opinion, he should recite a brocha before checking, because that is what the Torah commanded one to do. We do not recite a brocha because of the machlokes haposkim as to whether this act indeed fulfills a mitzvas aseih.

We should note that the halachic authorities accept that once one recognizes a particular species as kosher, there is no further requirement to continue checking the kosher signs of this species (Minchas Chinuch 153; Darchei Teshuvah 79:1). Thus, there is no mitzvah to check for the scales of an obviously identifiable salmon.

Other positive approaches

Still others explain that the requirement of the Rambam’s mitzvas aseih is that one may not rely on the fact that a specific species is probably kosher. In general, there is a halacha that one may rely on rov. Upon this basis, someone not knowing whether a certain variety of bird or fish is kosher could rely on the fact that most fishes with a certain appearance are kosher, or that most birds are kosher. Although, in general, the halachic rule is that one may assume that what is before you is from the majority that are kosher, one may not consume an unfamiliar species, based on the information that there is a rov that this species is kosher (Shu”t HaRivosh #192).

There are other answers, which are basically technical, to explain the Rambam’s position. Some explain that one violates the mitzvas aseih by eating less than a kezayis, even though this is too small an amount to be culpable for violating the lo sa’aseh (Pri Megadim, quoted by Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah #470 and by Maharam Shik, Mitzvah #154). The Minchas Chinuch (ad loc.), himself, suggests an alternative approach. One who consumes a non-kosher specias in an unusual manner will not violate the lo sa’aseh. The Minchas Chinuch suggests that he will violate the mitzvas aseih min haTorah, if one eats something that is not edible. This would be a very novel and stringent idea in halacha, which has ramifications regarding the consumption of medicines and vitamins, a topic we have discussed in the past.

Conclusion

At this point, we see that there are halachic ramifications to the dispute between the Rambam and the Ramban as to whether there is a positive mitzvah to keep kosher, or at least, to eat only from kosher species. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.




Eat Kosher!

In chutz la’aretz, this week parshas Shemini is read, which includes much of the Torah’s discussion regarding which species are kosher. Although in Eretz Yisroel this reading was last week, none of the material in this article is outdated.

Eat Kosher!

Question #1: What’s gnu?

Zoe Oligist asked me: “If the wildebeest chews its cud and has split hooves, which of the ten kosher animals is it?”

Question #2: Food for thought

“Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

Question #3:

“Is a tzvi a deer or an antelope? For that matter, what is the difference between a deer and an antelope?”

Question #4:

“Must I check a fish for scales each time I purchase one?”

Introduction:

The Torah discusses which species are kosher and which are not in two places, in parshas Shemini and in parshas Re’eih. In parshas Shemini, the Torah introduces the topic as follows: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying, these are the living things from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: whichever has a split hoof that is separated completely and ruminates among the animals, those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). The Torah then explains that species that possess only one of the two kosher signs are not to be eaten, such as the camel, which chews its cud and has a partially split hoof, but is not kosher, since its hoof is not fully separated (Vayikra 11:4). The Torah then provides the rules governing which sea creatures may be eaten. Following this, it lists which birds we may not eat, and then provides the rules regarding which grasshoppers are kosher and which are not.

Parshas Re’eih includes a review of most of the basic laws of kashrus, including a reiteration of which species of animal, fish and bird are kosher for the Jewish palate. The instructions regarding kosher grasshoppers do not appear in parshas Re’eih, but only in parshas Shemini. In parshas Re’eih, the Torah begins its discussion by listing the ten types of beheimah that are kosher, without mention of their kosher signs until later. To quote the Chumash (Devorim 14:4-5): Zos habeheimah asher tocheilu: shor, seh kesavim, veseh izim, ayil, utzvi, veyachmur, ve’ako, vedishon, use’o, vazamer, “these are the animals that you may eat.” The ten that are listed are the only species of mammal that ruminate and have totally split hooves, indicating that they are kosher.

What are these species? We can readily identify some of them: shor is cattle, kesavim are sheep, and izim are goats. However, from that point, the going gets more confusing, since it is unclear whether ayil is an antelope and tzvi is a deer, or vice versa (see Tosafos, Chullin 59b s.v. Veharei Tzvi). (The difference between antelope and deer is that antelope have permanent horns, whereas deer have antlers, which shed and regrow every year.)

What’s gnu?

At this point, let us address one of our original questions. “Zoe Oligist asked me: ‘If the wildebeest chews its cud and has split hooves, which of the ten kosher animals is it?’”

Although I have invented the name of the questioner, this exact query is, indeed, genuine, and was asked of Rav Yehoseif  Schwartz, a unique gadol and poseik of the early nineteenth century (Responsa Rosh Hashoni #18). Most modern Torah authorities would refrain from providing positive identification of the species mentioned in the Torah, other than the five mentioned above. (See, for example, the translation of Rav Hirsch to our verse.) However, Rav Schwartz concluded that yachmur is the wildebeest, also called a gnu, a variety of large antelope native to central and southern Africa. (Whether you refer to this antelope as wildebeest or gnu depends on whether you prefer to use a name whose linguistic origin is Afrikaans, a language that began as a dialect of seventeenth-century Dutch, or Bantu, a family of languages of the native peoples of south and central Africa. From what I understand, the gnu does not mind being called a wildebeest.) Rav Schwartz based his determination on the following: He writes that he had positively identified the other nine species mentioned by the Torah, and he also knew that the wildebeest, being a ruminant with split hooves, is kosher and not one of those nine. Since he did not know what a yachmur is, and he knew that the wildebeest is kosher, simple deductive logic proved that the wildebeest and the yachmur must be the same creature. (By the way, he cites there, authoritatively, Rav Saadiyah Gaon’s identifying the zamer as the giraffe. Although I have read articles claiming otherwise, giraffes chew their cud and have fully split hooves; thus, they are kosher.)

Personally, I have difficulty with Rabbi Schwartz’s method of identifying the yachmur. According to my primitive research, there are 91 species of antelope known to man, all of which are ruminants and have split hooves. There are also many species of deer, all of which are split-hooved ruminants, and a wide variety of species of sheep and goats. In addition, the entire bovine family, including Western domesticated cattle, Indian zebu cattle, musk oxen, Asian water buffalo, African cape buffalo, European bison (also called the wisent), American bison (colloquially, but somewhat inaccurately, referred to as buffalo), and Himalayan yaks are all ruminants and have split hooves. Clearly, since we have enumerated here many, many times the ten species listed by the Torah as kosher, the Torah must be providing us with categories of kosher animals, not specific species. Or, in more accurate words, the Torah’s categorization of species probably varies considerably from that of the zoologist. Therefore, those venturing on an African safari may consider the gnu to be kosher, without necessarily knowing under which of the seven chayos it is classed.

Food for thought

Let us return to the second of our opening questions: “Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

To analyze this question, we need two introductions. The first is to try to understand how to translate the Torah’s word tocheilu. This word can be translated into English as You should eat or as You are to eat or as You may eat. If we translate it You should eat or You are to eat, does this mean that there is a requirement to eat each of the kosher species? The midrash halacha on this pasuk, the Sifra, provides one way of understanding these words. There it states, “This teaches that Moshe held each living creature and showed it to the Bnei Yisroel, instructing them: ‘This tocheilu, and this you may not eat’ (Vayikra 11:2, #62 in the Malbim’s numbering).” I deliberately did not translate the word tocheilu here, so as not to bias our understanding of a later passage of Sifra, which I will mention shortly.

The Ramban, in his commentary to the Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam, writes that it cannot mean that the Torah requires that we eat these species. And he is not alone. All halachic authorities dating back more than a thousand years assume that the Torah is not commanding that we eat kosher species. The Ramban notes that it is a machlokes between the Behag, who does not count these four mitzvos, and the Rambam, who does. The Ramban explains that the Rambam understood that one who violates the lo sa’aseh by eating a non-kosher species also violates the aseih. On the other hand, the Behag does not count them because there is no positive mitzvah. The Ramban explains that just as a repeated mitzvah does not get counted twice, repeating it as an aseih does not add to the mitzvah count.

Is it a mitzvah?

There is a dispute among the rishonim whether the mitzvah of tocheilu is counted among the 613 mitzvos. The Rambam, both in his Sefer Hamitzvos (positive mitzvos 149), his work on the listing of the 613 mitzvos, and in the Mishneh Torah, counts tocheilu as one of the mitzvos (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros, introduction and 1:1). He counts not only this mitzvah, but also three other mitzvos aseih, one to identify kosher fish, another to identify kosher grasshoppers and a third to identify kosher birds (Rambam positive mitzvos 150-152). According to the Sefer Hachinuch, three of these mitzvos are first mentioned in parshas Shemini and therefore counted there, and the last, identifying kosher birds, is mentioned only in parshas Re’eih.

Actually, the Rambam has strong sources in Chazal for his position, since both the Sifra  (Vayikra 11:4, #69 in the Malbim’s numbering) and the Sifrei (Devorim 14:4, #96 in the Malbim’s numbering) state the following: “‘Osah tocheilu, this you may eat, but you may not eat non-kosher animals.’ This teaches me that this is prohibited because of a mitzvas aseih; how do I know that there is a lo sa’aseh? The Torah teaches, ‘The camel, the rabbit, the hyrax, and the pig – from their flesh you shall not eat.’ This includes only these four species; how do I know that I may not eat other non-kosher species? I derive it logically: If there is a lo sa’aseh prohibiting the consumption of the varieties that possess one indication that they are kosher, certainly those that do not possess either indication… are definitely not kosher.” In conclusion, all non-kosher varieties are prohibited directly from the Torah with a mitzvas aseih, and a lo sa’aseh, by virtue of a kal vachomer.

Notwithstanding the above quotation from the Sifra, most other early authorities who count the 613 mitzvos, including the Baal Halachos Gedolos, Rav Saadiya Gaon, and the Ramban, omit these four mitzvos, apparently because they feel that their inclusion as a positive mitzvah does not add any halachic factors.

In order to understand this dispute better, we need to explain some background to the counting of the 613 mitzvos.

The Sefer Hamitzvos includes the Rambam’s listing and explanation of the 613 mitzvos, but also includes an extensive explanation regarding the rules that govern what is included in their listing. The Rambam explains in his introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvos, that he was planning to write a halachic work that would include all the laws of the entire Torah, but realized that before he began writing this sefer halacha, he first needed to explain extensively what is included in the 613 mitzvos and why. (Indeed, the Rambam did write this work, which is the Mishneh Torah.)

Baal Halachos Gedolos

The Rambam mentions that the accepted counting of the 613 mitzvos, prior to his own Sefer Hamitzvos, was that of the Baal Halachos Gedolos, a halachic work authored by Rav Shimon Kaira in the era of the Geonim. (Although the Behag is often cited as the work of an earlier gaon, Rav Yehudai Gaon, since the Halachos Gedolos quotes Rav Yehudai Gaon many times, he obviously cannot be the author.) Subsequent to the Behag’s list, many other authors followed this list, while others amended it in minor ways. In addition, it spawned many liturgical poems. However, it appears that until the Rambam penned his Sefer Hamitzvos, no one disputed the basic approach that the Behag used to determine what counts as a mitzvah.

Why the Sefer Hamitzvos?

The Rambam writes that he realized that if he listed the mitzvos before each section of his Mishneh Torah according to his own list, he would be disputing an accepted approach to Judaism. Thus, he was in a quandary. On the one hand, his Mishneh Torah would be incomplete without listing the mitzvos involved in each of its sections; on the other hand, people might reject his list of mitzvos, unless he explained its rules and why he disputed what had been, heretofore, accepted. For this reason, the Rambam explains, he wrote the entire Sefer Hamitzvos as an introduction to his Mishneh Torah, in order to explain the rules that determine what counts as a mitzvah and what does not.

What difference does it make whether something is a mitzvah or not?

Although many authors discuss what to include in the count of the 613 mitzvos, it is interesting to note that few of them discuss why it is important to know what are the 613 mitzvos.

On the other hand, the Rambam contends that it is essential to a proper perception of Torah to understand the relationship between the halachos of the Torah and the 613 mitzvos. As part of this understanding, the Rambam describes that he decided to structure the Mishneh Torah according to related mitzvah topics, rather than follow the order of the Mishnah. The Rambam then mentions that he decided to precede each section of the Mishneh Torah with an introduction, in which he would list the mitzvos included in that section.

But does it count?

How does this debate affect kashrus? What we have quoted, until now, appears to be a rather theoretical discussion. How does this affect what I eat? To explain this, we need to examine one of the points that the Rambam makes in his Sefer Hamitzvos.

For part II of this article, click here.