The Contemporary Kosher Bakery and Its Halachic Issues

My wife and I are thrilled to announce the engagement of our daughter, Shalva, to Itzik (Avraham Yitzchak) Scarr, son of Dr. Tzvi and Mrs. Cindy Scarr of Har Nof, Yerushalayim. The chosson studies in Yeshivas Chevron in Yerushalayim.

Frogs jumping into Egyptian kneading bowls and ovens will create kashrus problems for the local bakeries. Thus, I present a revised version of part of an article I wrote originally over thirty years ago.

The Contemporary Kosher Bakery and Its Halachic Issues

bakeryQuestion #1: Labels

“May I rely on the label of a product that it contains no non-kosher ingredients?”

Question #2: Visiting Mom, but May I Eat?

“I will be visiting my mother, who lives in a small North American community. How can I find out if I can use the bread and other products made in the local ‘kosher-supervised’ bakery?”

Question #3: How Can They?

“How can a hechsher supervise as kosher a business that is open on Shabbos?”

Answer:

Since the twenty-first-century household does not bake its daily bread at home, a kosher bakery is a necessity for any sizable Jewish community. This often becomes one of the many challenges of a local rabbi: how to have a reliably kosher bakery in a town where there are not enough Jews who keep kosher to make it worthwhile?

Often, the situation is not ideal. In general, a food establishment should seek to be kosher supervised, rather than be solicited to become kosher. However, because of the need for a local kosher bakery, the local rabbi/rabbonim may not have that luxury, and they may have to convince a proprietor that it is worth his while to be kosher supervised.

Numerous kashrus and halachic issues must be clarified to enable this supervision. The rav hamachshir, or supervising rabbi, must assume many responsibilities, including ascertaining the kashrus of all incoming ingredients, the proper koshering of equipment, the maintenance of separate production facilities for dairy and pareve, assuring that no dairy products are added to the breads, and determining the practicality of the products being pas Yisrael (bread where a Jew participated in the baking). In other articles, I discussed at length the issues germane to making dairy bread.

To begin with, let me explain why one may not use baked goods on the basis of a scanning of the label to see that no obvious animal ingredients appear. There are several reasons that this is true, even if one knows that the label is accurate, which, I can tell you from personal experience, is not always the case. Even in an instance where the label meets legal requirements, and the government concerns itself with truth in labeling, government regulation does not usually require the listing of every ingredient on the label of a product. For example, release agents, which keep food products from sticking to machinery, may be produced from animal shortening. Legally, they are considered production aids, and not ingredients, and, as such, do not need to be listed on the label. Yet, they are sprayed or smeared directly on food, or on equipment immediately before food items are placed on them. Thus, the fact that they are legally not considered ingredients does not provide any halachic leniency. Thus, bread and other products must be certified kosher by a reliable rabbi or organization.

Ingredients

Even in a bakery where the owner is attempting to keep kosher, there are commonly problematic ingredients, such as the stabilizers, emulsifiers, and dough mixes since they frequently are animal-shortening based or include animal fats. Because these products often present a kashrus problem, it is fairly common to find that the same manufacturer produces two varieties of the product – one, a less expensive animal-oil based non-kosher version, and a replacement product, manufactured from vegetable oils and produced under responsible kosher supervision.

Tolayim

Of course, the hechsher also needs to make certain that the raw materials and the production facility itself are maintained in a way to resolve all kashrus concerns about insect contamination.

Raisin juice

Specifically in the case of pastry or some varieties of sweet bread or bagels, raisins can create a halachic problem that may go unnoticed by the hechsher. In addition to the hechsher’s requirement to ascertain that there are no tolayim concerns, raisins are often mixed or cooked with water to create a raisin juice, which functions both as a sweetener and as a natural, healthy preservative. However, this raisin juice now has a halachic status of wine, and when handled by a non-Jew becomes prohibited because of stam yeinam. Thus, one can have a very unusual situation where mixing two kosher ingredients, raisins and water, creates a non-kosher product.

Equipment

When the hechsher begins, the rabbi/rabbonim need to decide how to kasher the equipment of the bakery. This can sometimes be quite challenging, since the equipment may require libun gamur, burning in fire, which is not easy to do.

A bigger problem is keeping dairy and pareve equipment separated. Many years ago, I was asked to perform a kashrus review of a local vaad hakashrus. When I checked the shomer Shabbos bakery that the whole town was using, I discovered that the baking trays for milchig and pareve were not being kept separate. Nor was there any separation of production schedule. This meant that a tray may have been used to bake cheese Danishes, and then immediately used for challos for Shabbos without even  being cleaned in between.

I drew up a program to be followed to keep the breads pareve, but, to the best of my knowledge, the plan was not followed.

Jewish owned

If the local bakery is Jewish owned, additional questions must be dealt with, including Shabbos and Pesach production, ritual immersion of the equipment in a mikveh, and hafrashas challah — proper separation of the challah portion. (It is important to clarify that the commonly used word challah, meaning Shabbos bread [as I used it in the previous paragraph], is technically a misnomer. Here, I am using the word challah to mean the special portion removed from dough as mandated by Jewish law.) I will discuss the issues germane to challah taking in a different article.

Shabbos

Frequently, a local rabbinate, particularly in a community with a small Jewish population, is unable to arrange for a Jewish-owned bakery to be closed on Shabbos. This creates a strong moral dilemma for the rabbonim involved. By providing such a bakery with kosher certification, one is providing tacit approval to public desecration of Shabbos. In addition, one must deal with the halachic issues regarding whether the products made by a Jew on Shabbos are permitted to be used by a consumer after Shabbos. In practice, many communities allow the existence of these bakeries and provide them with kosher supervision, reasoning that this way the community at least has kosher product.

It has become more common today to have a kosher supervised bakery that is closed on Shabbos inside a supermarket that is open on Shabbos. In this instance, the supervising organization is not assuming any responsibility for the supermarket, which indeed sells non-kosher. The visiting consumer may still want to verify whether the standard maintained at the bakery is of a level similar to what he is accustomed.

Chometz and Pesach

A more serious problem is the instance of a bakery that is open on Pesach. Any chometz owned by the bakery during the festival is forbidden for use, even after Pesach. The rabbinate could remove supervision after Pesach, until all chometz items that were owned during the holiday have been consumed, thus permitting only items which were acquired after Yom Tov, but of course this leaves the community without “Kosher” bread for the duration. Based on a responsum from Rav Moshe Feinstein, some rabbis arrange a sale of all chometz items with a standard mechiras chometz document, but not all authorities agree that this sale has validity. The Maharam Schick, the Tevuos Shor, and others state that the sale of chometz is effective only for someone who does not want to own chometz during Pesach. According to this opinion, the mechiras chometz of a bakery that is open on Pesach would have no halachic validity. The bakery’s products may not be used until all chometz that it owned during Pesach has been used up or discarded.

Because of the potential chillul Hashem of having a “kosher supervised bakery” that operates on Shabbos, I know of hechsherim that supervise the “ingredients” of a bakery, but not the bakery itself. They contend, therefore, that it is not their responsibility to deal with the concerns about challah, chometz, or Shabbos desecration.

Personally, I do not see this as a solution to a problem, but as the cause of the problem. Even if we assume that the product produced on Shabbos is still kosher, and that it is not our concern to warn people about chometz she’avar alav hapesach, the average consumer does not realize that he is required to take challah. As someone once humorously put it, “this is a hechsher that everything was kosher before it got into the bakery, but what left might be treif.”

Pas Yisrael

The Mishnah in Avodah Zarah states:

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; bread and oil of a non-Jew, although Rebbe and his rabbinic court permitted the oil of a non-Jew, and items cooked by a non-Jew [bishul akum, which, if certain conditions exist, would not be permitted.]

The latter items are prohibited because of the likelihood that increased social interaction would lead to intermarriage. Many of the rishonim note that there is evidence that the prohibition against pas akum, bread baked by a non-Jew, was not accepted in all places when introduced, because of the principle that a rabbinic injunction becomes universally binding only if the majority of people abides by it. Based on this approach, the Rema rules that one may use bread baked by gentiles for commercial sale, which is called pas paltar. Other opinions state that the permissibility of pas akum is dependent on whether there is comparable pas Yisrael (bread baked by a Jew) available. When pas Yisrael is available, one may not use pas akum. However, when suitable pas Yisrael is not available, one may use pas paltar. Bread baked for private use is still included under the rabbinic injunction of pas akum except for rare circumstances.

The Shulchan Aruch reaches the following conclusion: In a place where the custom is to use pas paltar, one is permitted to use bread prepared for commercial usage – provided that no comparable pas Yisrael is available. If pas Yisrael becomes available, then the pas paltar should not be used until the pas Yisrael is no longer available. The Rema disagrees and says that pas paltar can be used even when pas Yisrael is available in any place where the custom is to permit pas paltar. The Bach and the Gra follow the opinion of the Rema, whereas other opinions agree with Shulchan Aruch and permit pas paltar only when pas Yisrael is not available.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, even a place where the custom is to be lenient in the usage of pas paltar is required to be stringent. Most opinions also agree with the Magen Avraham that on Shabbos, one should use only pas Yisrael.

The entire issue of whether and under what circumstances a Jew may eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic, if the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew increases the heat of the fire being used for baking in any way, even by merely symbolically adding a splinter to the fire, the bread baked is considered pas Yisrael. 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 baked in that time is considered pas Yisrael. The Chachmas Adam concurs with the Rema, although the Aruch Hashulchan does not accept all these leniencies.

In conclusion, according to predominant opinion, if a Jew participated in heating the oven, then the bread is considered pas Yisrael. If no Jew participated in heating the oven, the bread baked by a non-Jew can be used wherever there is no suitable usage of pas paltar, except during the Ten Days of Repentance and Shabbos. According to the Rema, in a place where the custom is to be lenient, one can use pas paltar, even if pas Yisrael is available.

We have as yet not discussed the complicated topic of separating challah from a bakery that is owned and managed by a non-observant Jew. We will continue that part of this topic in a future issue. I am also planning articles that will discuss pas akum, the stam yeinam issues germane to the use of raisin juice, and the topic of dairy bread in more detail.

Conclusion

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

 

Does Olive Oil Require a Hechsher?

olive oilQuestion #1: Were we mistaken?

“Where I grew up, we routinely used olive oil in the kitchen without any hechsher. Was there any halachic basis for this practice?”

Question #2: Is it the real thing?

“I read recently that adulteration of olive oil is very common. How can I use this oil?”

Question #3: Which should I choose?

“Which is preferred? Using vegetable oil from a factory that produces only vegetable oils, or from a factory that is being koshered prior to every production of kosher oil?”

Answer:

A discussion of whether one may consume olive oil or vegetable oils without a proper hechsher allows us to touch on several different kashrus issues, both theoretical and practical. Let us begin with the mitzvah of orlah. The Torah (Vayikra 19:23) prohibits eating or benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years. Such fruit is called orlah. The Torah’s prohibition applies whether the tree was planted by a Jew or a gentile, and whether it grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. However, many leniencies apply to the fruits that grow in chutz la’aretz that do not apply to those growing in Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Orlah 3:9).

Although most agricultural mitzvos of the Torah apply only in Eretz Yisroel, a special halachah lemoshe misinai¸ a law taught to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai without any source in the written Torah, teaches that the mitzvah of orlah applies also in chutz la’aretz (Kiddushin 39a). However, this particular halachah lemoshe misinai came with an intriguing leniency. In a case of doubt whether or not something is prohibited according to Torah law, the usual rule requires that we be stringent and prohibit the item (Avodah Zarah 7a). As a result, in Eretz Yisroel, one may not purchase a fruit without first determining whether there is a significant possibility that the fruit is orlah. In the case of orlah from chutz la’aretz, the halachah lemoshe misinai teaches that the fruit is prohibited only if one knows for certain that it is orlah. Any other fruit grown in chutz la’aretz is not included in the prohibition of orlah.

Terumos, maasros and shmittah

Oil of olives grown in Eretz Yisroel involves other kashrus concerns, including the various laws germane to shevi’is (shmittah) and the requirement to separate terumos and maasros. Technically, terumos and maasros do not require kashrus supervision, since the consumer can always purchase the item un-tithed and then separate terumos and maasros himself. However, a consumer who prefers that someone else separate terumos and maasros must purchase fruit and vegetables only with a hechsher that can be assumed to have attended to this satisfactorily.

Shevi’is may also be a concern. (Please note that one does find shmittah wine in the marketplace. These products involve many halachic questions that need to be resolved. Prior to using them, and preferably before purchasing them, be careful to speak to a rav for direction as to what to do.)

Refined olive oil

When discussing olive oil, we should realize that edible olive oil can be divided into two categories: virgin, or cold-pressed oil, and refined oil. One concern about the kashrus of refined olive oil is the possibility that it was produced on equipment that had been used to refine oils made from animal fat. Edible-oil refineries often process products made from beef tallow, lard or non-kosher fish on the same equipment that they refine vegetable oil products, which could include olive oil. This creates a kashrus problem for two different reasons. First, the manufacturer has no incentive to clean the equipment between productions of animal and vegetable fat products, and therefore a run of a non-kosher product usually leaves a considerable amount of fat on the equipment that subsequently becomes mixed into whatever is run next. Second, since the refining of these products is done at high temperatures, the otherwise kosher oil absorbs non-kosher flavor.

Historical precedent

Hundreds of years ago, halachic questions fairly similar to our modern kashrus issues had already been raised. Before discussing some of these cases, we need an introduction to a different halachic issue, called nosein taam lifgam, meaning that an ingredient detracts from the taste of the finished product. There is a dispute among tanna’im (Avodah Zarah 67b) whether a non-kosher food is prohibited when it becomes dissolved into a kosher product to which it gives an unpleasant taste. The conclusion is that nosein taam lifgam is permitted, even when your taste buds sense the presence of the non-kosher food. The Mishnah’s (Avodah Zarah 65b) example is non-kosher wine that fell into dried figs, which remain kosher because the wine detracts from the taste of the figs.

Sixteenth century olive oil

With this added piece of information, we can now examine what I find to be a fascinating halachic discussion. In the sixteenth century, a talmid chacham named Aharon ben Gershom sent the Rema (Shu”t Harema #53, 54) the following inquiry:

A ger tzedek, whose father was in the business of importing olive oil to Poland from Italy, told me that shipping the oil in wooden casks (apparently the most common way of shipping oil in that era) presents a problem, because of the porous nature of wood. The ger told me that, to avoid precious oil from seeping into or through the barrels, the insides of the barrels are coated with lard, which seals the barrel so that the olive oil does not leak out.

Thus, all olive oil available in Poland, where the Rema lived, would present a kashrus problem.

The Rema responds

However, the Rema ruled that one may purchase the barreled olive oil. He contended that even if the barrels are indeed sealed with lard, the olive oil inside remains permitted. The Rema rallied several proofs to this conclusion. The first is based on the historical precedent of a similar case, in which wooden barrels used to store beer were first sealed with lard to prevent seepage. An earlier authority, the Mordechai (Avodah Zarah #819), had ruled that one may purchase beer from gentiles, even if the barrels were sealed with lard, because even if taste of the lard leaks into the beer, the taste is nosein taam lifgam, and therefore permitted.

The Rema further notes another source that indicates that seepage of this nature into oil will be considered nosein taam lifgam. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 68b) mentions a case where a rat fell into edible oil, and it rules that the product is permitted because oil must be kept pleasant smelling, and the flavor that dead rats add to oil is unpleasant. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 15:31): “If a rat fell into beer or vinegar, we measure to see if the kosher liquid is sixty times the volume of the rat because of concern that it provides a good taste to the beer or vinegar. However, if it fell into wine, oil or honey, the product is permitted, even if one can taste the rat in the product, because it provides them with a taam pagum. These three foods require that they be very tasty, and this causes them to spoil and ruin their taste.”

Another proof cited by the Rema to sustain his conclusion is the statement of the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38b) that cooked oil may be purchased from a non-Jew, without any kashrus concerns. In this passage, the Gemara concludes that though the oil was cooked in a non-kosher pot, the result is nosein taam lifgam and therefore permitted.

Furthermore, the Rema contended that the amount of olive oil in the barrel must surely be more than sixty times the volume of the lard, which would mean that the lard has become bateil, nullified, in the oil. He noted that since Jews have always consumed the barreled olive oil and never tasted any other substance in the oil, the lard is bateil.

Religious gentiles

The Rema provides an additional proof that the lard is bateil.  It is because of the fact that the gentiles used the barreled olive oil during their Lent season, when they were careful not to eat any meat or meat fat. Were they to notice any animal fat taste in the olive oil, they would certainly not use it. The Rema quotes precedent for this unusual reason from a responsum of the Rashba (1:67), in which the Rashba was asked the following:

“A Jew supervised the manufacture of cheese owned by a gentile, so that it should be kosher, and then placed his seal on it. Subsequently, the Jew left the cheese on the premises of the gentile. Do we need to be concerned that the gentile smeared lard on the cheese?”

To this inquiry, the Rashba answered: “If the cheese is owned by a Jew, there is no basis for halachic concern. …When it is sealed properly, we are concerned only that the gentile might substitute. Nowhere do we find that we are required to be concerned that a gentile would waste his own money to cause a Jew to violate a mitzvah. And even if the cheese is owned by a gentile, we do not need to be concerned that he smeared lard on the cheese, since today they consider this a prohibited food during the days that they do not eat meat, and they punish people for violating this law.”

A disputant

Rav Aharon, who posed the question to the Rema, noted that one early authority, the Issur Vaheter (32:16), expressly stated that animal oil provides a positive taste in vegetable oil. This was his case: “It once happened that someone cooked honey in a pot that had been used to cook meat and was not cleaned afterwards. The honey was then emptied, while still hot, into a dairy pot.” One would think that the both the honey and the dairy pot have now been rendered non-kosher. However, the Issur Vaheter surprises us with the following ruling: “We permitted it, because the meat is nosein taam lifgam into the honey, even though there was actual beef fat in the pot. However, if there had been oil, rather than honey, in the pot, it would have provided a good flavor, and the milchig pot would have become prohibited.” Thus, although the Issur Vaheter acknowledges that meat fat is nosein taam lifgam into honey, it adds a pleasant taste to vegetable oil.

The Rema responded by noting that since the Gemara is not concerned about animal oil mixing into olive oil, the halachah is that it is considered nosein taam lifgam, regardless of what the Issur Vaheter may have held. In order to avoid saying that the Issur Vaheter erred in his analysis, the Rema suggests that the Issur Vaheter drew a distinction between solid vegetable fat, in which case animal oil imparts a positive taste, and liquid vegetable oil, the flavor of which is not enhanced by non-kosher products, including animal fat.

The Shach disputes

Notwithstanding the Rema’s strong stance on the topic, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 103:14) disputes his conclusion, contending that animal oil always imparts a good taste to both solid vegetable fat and liquid vegetable oil. He explains that the Gemara from which the Rema proved his theory is not discussing animal oil at all, but the possibility of contamination with non-kosher wine, which certainly imparts an unpleasant taste to vegetable oil. Thus, in the Shach’s opinion, the position of the Issur Vaheter is correct. Although many authorities agree with the Rema (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 103:4 and Gra ad loc.; Peleisi), the majority of later authorities conclude as does the Shach (Chachmas Odom 54:15; Chavos Daas 103, Chiddushim #13, Biurim #7; Badei Hashulchan 103:49).

The Yad Yehudah (103:25) adds another reason for concern, even according to the Rema. The Gemara was presumably discussing beef tallow or lard that has not been refined in any major way, whereas today, when the beef tallow or lard has been refined to remove their more pronounced flavors, they may now provide a positive taste in vegetable oil, notwithstanding the fact that the original product may have been nosein taam lifgam.

The Chachmas Odom and Yad Yehudah conclude that if one knows that the olive oil was produced on equipment that processed non-kosher fat that day, the oil is not kosher. However, when one does not know that this is the situation, one may assume that the oil is kosher. Thus, the barrels of olive oil in the time of the Rema were indeed kosher, although today’s vegetable oil manufactured on non-kosher equipment might not be, depending on how often the plant produces animal oil, and whether the equipment is cleaned thoroughly in between the two productions.

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “Where I grew up, we routinely used olive oil in the kitchen without any hechsher. Was there any halachic basis for this practice?”

I have been told that the rabbonim in both Tunisia and Morocco allow consumption of any oil produced there, whether olive or vegetable oil, whether refined or not. They say that no animal or fish oil is available in these countries. Although the equipment used for olive oil can also be used for grape seed oil, which might also be halachically problematic, I believe that these two countries do not produce any grape seed oil, either.

Hot off the press

However, one should avoid relying on these heterim in a country where animal oil products are produced on the same equipment as vegetable oil. As I mentioned above, one should not assume that these companies clean the equipment between runs of animal and vegetable oil, since this equipment is usually very difficult to clean. A proper hechsher at such a factory would require either that the non-kosher equipment be segregated in a way that it cannot contaminate the kosher product, or that the equipment be cleaned and koshered thoroughly prior to making kosher products. Both of these approaches require skilled and properly trained kashrus staff to make sure that they are done properly.

If the refinery processes only vegetable oil products, then the potential kashrus risks are easier to control.

Heimishe kashrus

A talmid of mine, now a recognized and respected rav where he lives, reported to me that his community sports two kashrus agencies, one that is used by the “frummer” population, and another that is meant for the general population. Notwithstanding this sociological distinction, he has discovered that, in a few instances, the standard of the general kashrus organization is, indeed, higher. For example, the “frummerkashrus organization approves vegetable oil and products only from a privately run, frum brand. This hechsher arranges for a mashgiach to oversee the cleaning and koshering of an otherwise treif facility that produces animal and vegetable oil goods on the same equipment. On the other hand, the “regular” kashrus organization manufactures its goods in a facility that produces only kosher vegetable oils. He asked me which is better to use. Our readers understand why I advised him to use products from a factory that is all kosher, rather than one that was cleaned after non-kosher manufacture.

We now have the answer to another of our original questions: “Which is preferred? Using vegetable oil from a factory that produces only vegetable oils, or from a factory that is being koshered prior to every production of kosher oil?”

Virgin oil

When discussing olive oil, we should realize that edible olive oil can be divided into two categories, virgin or cold-pressed oil and refined oil. Refined olive oil may involve all the concerns I mentioned above. “Virgin oil” means that the oil is separated from the olives without any added heat. Although the friction of the grinding of the olives into oil does create some heat, the mashgichim to whom I have spoken, who check the temperature of production, have told me that the olives get warm but not hot. Thus, there should be no cross-contamination of any non-kosher product into the virgin olive oil.

Although enzymes are sometimes added to assist in removing more oil from the olives during the pressing, these enzymes would not present any kashrus concerns to the finished product.

That which we call an olive…

However, there is concern about adulteration, since virgin olive oil commands a high price in the marketplace, and unscrupulous manufacturers have been caught adulterating it with less expensive oils. Both in Europe and in the United States there have been many scandals and prosecutions involving those who have doctored oil and sold it as virgin or refined olive oil.

Does this mean that the kashrus of virgin olive oil must be tightly monitored? When I researched this question, I received different answers from kashrus organizations. Some contended that although adulteration of virgin olive oil is not uncommon, there are no known instances of introduction of non-kosher ingredients. Therefore, they consider it sufficient for the kashrus agency to visit the factory producing the oil on a periodic basis. Other hechsherim are more concerned, and allow the product to be made under their supervision only when a mashgiach visits the facility frequently during the production.

Remember that these conclusions are only about virgin oil produced in chutz la’aretz, but olive oil produced in Eretz Yisroel may have additional kashrus concerns, particularly about orlah, and therefore requires a good hechsher.

Conclusion:

We should note the many comparisons made between olives and grapes, and this also has halachic overtones. In both instances, they are the only liquids whose brocha is not shehakol, but is ha’eitz, in the instance of olive oil, and hagefen for wine or grape juice. Wine and olive oil are the only fruit products used in korbanos on the mizbeiach. Both vineyards and olive farms are called kerem in Tanach and Mishnaic Hebrew (see Brachos 35a). Let us appreciate the uniqueness of olive oil, while we thank Hashem for the Chanukah miracles.

 

This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

raw meatQuestion

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

Introduction to Meat Preparation

In parshas Korach, the Torah calls the covenant of the kohanim a bris melach, a covenant of salt. In parshas Tzav, the Torah presents both a positive and a negative mitzvah requiring that we salt meat and all other offerings that are placed on the fire of the mizbeiach. These must be salted on all sides (Menachos 21a). Someone who places any offering on the mizbeiach without salting it first abrogates a mitzvas aseh, and furthermore is subject to malkus for violating a lo saaseh.

As long as our Beis Hamikdash remains destroyed, we unfortunately cannot fulfill this mitzvah. Nevertheless, I will use these opportunities to discuss the basic laws of kashering meat, notwithstanding that the salting of kosher meat accomplishes a completely different purpose than does salting korbanos.

In several places, the Torah proscribes eating blood. Blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the entire body and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. Thus, blood is absorbed throughout the meat. If so, how can we possibly extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

The Gemara and the halachic authorities provide the guidelines how to properly remove the forbidden blood. The process begins during the butchering, when one is required to remove certain veins to guarantee that the blood is properly removed (Chullin 93a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65:1).

After these veins are removed, there are two methods of extracting the blood from the meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, which is what we will discuss in this article. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the excess water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then placing it for an hour in a way that the blood can drain freely. A bird should be placed with its open cavity downward so that the liquid drains off as it is kashering; similarly, a piece of meat with a cavity, such as an un-boned brisket, should be placed with its cavity draining downward. One may stack meat that is being kashered high as one wants, as long as the liquid is able to drain off the meat properly. After the salting is complete, we rinse the meat thoroughly, in order to wash away all the blood and salt. The poskim instruct that one should rinse the meat three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:7).

Until fairly recently, every Jewish daughter and housewife soaked and salted meat as part of regular meal preparation. Today, the kashering of meat is usually performed either in the factory or by the butcher. Still, every housewife should know how to kasher meat, before it becomes a forgotten skill, reserved only for the specialist!

Case in point: A talmid of mine is doing kiruv in a community without a lot of kashrus amenities, but that happens to be very near a kosher abattoir. Because of necessity, they are now proficient in the practical aspects of kashering their own meat, a skill that they were fortunate to learn. Thus, we see another example of the importance of being able to kasher meat yourself.

Another case in point:

I know a very fine Jew who, following the guidance of gedolei Yisrael, accepted a kabbalah before he married that he would only eat meat that was kashered at home. Someone wanted to invite him for a sheva berachos and wanted to be able to serve him what she prepared for all her guests, but was unable to do so because she never learned how to kasher meat. (Instead, she prepared him fish, but had to find out what brand and type of fish he would use.)

For these reasons, when I taught in Beis Yaakov, I made sure that the girls knew how to kasher meat, although frankly I was quite appalled to find out how little they knew about the process. In those days, most of their mothers still knew how to kasher meat, but today, even the mothers and teachers of Beis Yaakov students no longer know how to do so.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the time some Iranian talmidim of Ner Yisrael spent Pesach at a university in Oklahoma to be mekareiv Jewish students. Although the students, natives of Shiraz and Tehran, were no longer observing many mitzvos, they all assisted in the kashering of the chickens for the Seder. Every one of them remembered exactly how to kasher meat!

Why do we Soak our Meat?

Before addressing the question that I shared at the beginning of our article, we need to understand more thoroughly the process of kashering meat. The Gemara (Chullin 113a) teaches:

“Shmuel said: The meat does not rid itself of its blood unless it is well salted and well rinsed.” The Gemara subsequently explains that the meat must be rinsed both before the salting and afterwards. We well understand why we must rinse away the salt after kashering the meat, since it is now full of forbidden blood. But why does one need to rinse the meat before kashering the meat? And why emphasize that it must be “well rinsed”?

There are actually many different explanations for this law. Here are some approaches mentioned by the rishonim, as explained by the master of practical kashrus, the Pri Megadim (in his introduction to the laws of salting meat, Second Ikar, s.v. Va’atah):

(1) Soften the Meat

Soaking the meat softens it, so that the salt can now remove the blood, but if the meat is not saturated thoroughly with water, the salt will not successfully extract the blood from the hard meat, and the meat remains prohibited (Ran). According to this reason, the Gemara’s instruction that the meat is “well rinsed,” requires not simply rinsing the surface of the meat, but submerging the meat. The later authorities interpret that one should soak the entire piece of meat to be kashered for half an hour, to guarantee that it is soft enough for the salt to extract the blood (see Darchei Moshe 69:1; as explained by Gra, 69:4).

The authorities dispute whether one is required to submerge the entire piece of meat. Some contend that if part of the meat remained above the water, one is not required to submerge the meat that remained above the water line, since it will become softened by the water absorption of the lower part of the meat (Pischei Teshuvah 69:5). Others maintain that the upper part will not soften this way, and one must submerge it for half an hour before salting the meat (Yad Yehudah, Peirush HaAruch end of 69:10; Darkei Teshuvah 69:20).

(2) Remove the Surface Blood

A second approach to why the meat must be rinsed well contends that one must rinse blood off the surface of the meat, because, otherwise, this blood will impede the ability of the salt to remove the blood that is inside the meat (Mordechai). This approach, as well as all the others that the Pri Megadim quotes, does not require submerging the meat, but merely rinsing the surface well. However, according to this approach, if the meat was submerged for half an hour and then afterwards someone sliced into the meat, one must rerinse the area that was now cut. Failure to rerinse the newly cut area will result in making it impossible for the salt to remove the blood properly (Pri Megadim).

Case in point:

Once, when I was inspecting a butcher shop, I observed that after the meat was completely soaked, the mashgiach noticed that one piece had not been properly butchered – the butcher had failed to remove a vein that one is required to remove. The mashgiach took out his knife and sliced away the offending vein. But, is one now required to soak the meat for an additional half hour or to rinse it before kashering it?

The answer is that one must rinse the newly sliced area well to remove any blood, but one is not required to soak the meat for an additional half an hour, since the meat is now nice and soft and its blood will drain out freely.

(3) The Blood will Absorb into the Meat

A third opinion why the meat must be rinsed well before salting contends that salting meat when there is blood on its surface will cause the blood to absorb into the meat, thus prohibiting it. This approach also believes that the purpose for rinsing the meat before salting is to remove the blood on the surface. However, this opinion holds that not rinsing blood off the surface entails a more serious concern. If blood remains on the surface of the meat when it is salted, this blood will absorb into the meat and prohibit it. According to this reason, if someone salted the meat without rinsing it off, the meat is now prohibited, and resoaking it and salting it will not make it kosher. According to the other reasons we have mentioned, one who failed to soak or rinse the meat before salting it may rinse off the salt, soak (or rinse) the meat properly and then salt it.

The Shulchan Aruch (69:2) rules that if one salts meat without rinsing it first, he may rinse the salt off the meat and re-salt the meat. The Rama rules that one should not use the meat, unless it is a case of major financial loss.

(4) Moisten the Surface

Another Rishon, the Rosh, contends that the reason why one must rinse the meat before salting it is because the salt does not remove the blood properly unless the meat surface is moist. Although this approach may appear similar to the Ran’s approach that I mentioned first, the Ran contends that the entire piece of meat be soaked in order to soften it so that its blood will readily extract, whereas the Rosh requires only that the surface be moist at the time of the salting. Therefore, the Rosh does not require that the meat be soaked at all, certainly not for half an hour. On the other hand, if the meat soaked for a half-hour, and then was dried or sliced, the Rosh requires one to moisten the dry surface so that the salt will work. In this last case, the Ran does not require re-rinsing the surface, since the meat already soaked for half an hour.

In practical halacha, we, lechatchilah, prepare meat according to all opinions, and for this reason we soak all meat for half an hour before salting, but we drain off some of the water before salting it, so that the meat is moist but not dripping (Rama 69:1). If the meat is too wet, the salt will not do its job.

How thick must I salt the meat?

The Gemara quoted above states that one must salt the meat well, just as it mentions that one must wash it well. What does this mean, that I must salt it well?

Some authorities require that the meat be covered with salt, whereas others rule that it is satisfactory to salt it sufficiently that one would not be able to eat the meat without rinsing it off.

The Rishonim debate whether salting meat well means that it must be salted on all sides, or whether it is sufficient to salt the meat on one side. There are actually three different opinions on the matter:

  • The meat needs to be salted on only one side, and this satisfactorily removes the blood (Tur’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • One should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher (Beis Yosef’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • If the meat is not salted on opposite sides, one will not remove all the blood and the meat is prohibited for consumption (Rama).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that one should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher. However, the Rama rules that under normal circumstances, one should consider the meat non-kosher. Under extenuating circumstances, or in case of great loss, the meat is kosher (Taz).

Stacking the Meat

According to all opinions, if one stacks two pieces of meat, one atop another, and salts only one of the pieces, the blood was not removed from unsalted piece. Even if one contends that salting meat on one side of a piece will draw out all the blood in that piece, it does not draw out the blood from a different piece that the salted piece is lying on.

Similarly, if one is kashering two organs, such as the heart and the lung, salting one piece does not draw the blood out of the other piece. This is true, even if the two organs are still connected together (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav end of 15).

Salting a bird only on the outside is similar to salting a piece of meat on only one side, because there is an open cavity in the middle. For this reason, one is required to salt a bird on the inside of the open cavity, also, and cannot simply salt the outside of the bird.

Splitting a Bird

At this point, we have enough information to address our opening question:

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

How does one kasher a chicken or other bird? If one salts the outside of the chicken, one has salted the bird on only one side, since the inside cavity was not salted. The Shulchan Aruch answers that one places salt on the inside cavity of the chicken.

The Pri Megadim records a dispute among earlier authorities whether one is required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is not required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it, but can rely on placing salt inside the cavity. The Beis Hillel adds that cutting through the breast bone of the bird to make the cavity most accessible is not even considered a chumrah that one should try to observe. However, the Beis Lechem Yehudah rules that one is required to cut through the breast bone before kashering. His reasoning is that one who does not cut through the bone must rely on pushing salt into the cavity and that people tend not to push the salt sufficiently deep into the cavity. The Pri Megadim agrees with the Beis Lechem Yehudah, and mentions that he required his family members to cut through the breast bone to open the cavity before salting poultry, because it is impossible to salt properly all the places in the internal cavity without splitting the chicken open. (Although the Pri Megadim uses the term “split in half,” I presume that he means to open the chicken’s cavity. There seems no reason to require one to cut the entire chicken into two pieces.) Furthermore, several of the internal organs – including the lungs, kidneys, and spleen — are often not salted properly without splitting open the cavity. It is for this reason that mehadrin shechitos in Eretz Yisrael all cut through the bone before salting the chickens, although one can note from the Pri Megadim’s own comments that this was not standard practice.

Most hechsherim in the United States follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and the Beis Hillel and do not insist on splitting the chicken open before salting it. One hechsher I know requires that the kidneys be removed and discarded before sale, because of the concern raised by the Pri Megadim that they cannot be salted properly without opening the chicken. (In our large scale manufacturing today, the lungs, heart and spleen are always removed anyway, and usually not sold for food.)

By the way, we can also understand some of the reasons why someone would take on a personal chumrah to eat meat only if it was kashered at home. Among the reasons that he would be makpid is better control of the kashering, guaranteeing that the chickens are split before they are salted, and making certain that the chickens are placed with their cavities down.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to return to our opening explanation, when I mentioned the mitzvah of salting korbanos that are burnt on the mizbeiach. As I alluded to above, although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. Whereas the salting of our meat is to remove the blood, this blood and salt is washed away. The salted offerings, on the other hand, are burnt completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which are never changed. In addition, the salt used for the korbanos must be purchased from public funds, from the machatzis hashekel collection, demonstrating that this responsibility to observe the mitzvos forever is communal and collective (Rav Hirsch).

 

May an Ashkenazi Eat Sirloin?

meat“And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man realized that he was unable to defeat Yaakov, he struck the “kaf” of Yaakov’s thigh, which became dislocated as a result of the wrestling. And the sun rose as Yaakov passed Penuel, and he was limping because of his injured thigh. Therefore, the descendants of Yisroel do not eat the sciatic sinew to this very day, for the man struck Yaakov on that sinew, dislocating it” (Breishis 32:25-26, 32-33).

With these words, the Torah introduces us to the mitzvah of gid hanosheh, which forbids us from eating the sciatic nerve, a sinew that runs from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Hebrew word 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). It is noteworthy that the Chinese word for the Kai Feng Jewish community was “the people who remove the sinew,” referring to the gid hanosheh; thus the observance of this mitzvah became the identifying description of the Jews.

An entire chapter of Mishnah and Gemara (the seventh chapter of Chullin) is devoted to the halachic discussion of this mitzvah, which is the third mitzvah mentioned in the Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 91a) there teaches that there is an inner gid that lies along the bone which is prohibited min hatorah, and an outer gid that lies along the meat, which is prohibited only miderabbanan. In addition, a layer of protective fat that surrounds the gid is also prohibited miderabbanan.

The Mishnah (Chullin 96a) records a dispute regarding how much of the nerve must be removed: the Tanna Kamma rules that one must remove the entire gid, whereas Rabbi Yehudah rules that one need remove only the main part of the gid. Both opinions agree that the Torah forbade only that part of the gid that lies on the top of the hip (the “kaf” of Yaakov’s thigh). According to the Tanna Kamma, the rest of the nerve is prohibited as a rabbinic injunction. Rabbi Yehudah contended that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and therefore he did not require its removal (Chullin 96a). (The Ritva, Chullin 92b, contends that, according to some opinions, the entire main nerve and its branches are forbidden min hatorah.)

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hanosheh applies to all kosher mammals. This includes species of beheimah, i.e., domesticated kosher species such as cattle and sheep, and species of chayah, i.e., kosher species that are usually (but inaccurately) categorized as wild or non-domesticated species. (I discuss this inaccuracy more extensively in a different article.) Gid hanosheh does not apply to poultry, since the thigh of a bird is shaped differently and therefore has no “kaf.” Therefore, there is no need to remove this sinew from kosher birds.

There is a major difference between the prohibitions of gid hanosheh and cheilev. Whereas gid hanosheh applies to beheimah and chaya species, the Torah’s prohibition of consuming certain fats – predominantly those attached to the stomachs and the kidneys – applies only to species of beheimah, but not to chayah species (Mishnah Chullin 89b).

Another mitzvah that is affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah: the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, covering the blood immediately following shechitah. This mitzvah applies only to fowl and chayah species, but not to beheimah species (Mishnah Chullin 83b). We therefore have three different types of meat species that have variant halachos pertaining to three different mitzvos: Gid hanosheh applies to beheimah and chayah, but not to birds; Cheilev applies to beheimah, but not to chayah and birds. Kisuy hadam applies only to chayah and birds, but not to beheimah.

It is important to note that the halachic definitions of beheimah and chayah are unclear. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent and treat any species of which we are uncertain as both beheimah and chayah lechumrah, unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this specific species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1 as explained by Pri Megadim). Thus, we forbid the cheilev for any such species, because it might be a beheimah, yet its blood is covered after slaughter, because it might be a chayah. Since we are uncertain whether or not it is a chayah, the blood is covered without reciting the bracha one usually recites before performing this mitzvah.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 28:4) rules that one does not perform kisuy hadam for a buffalo; this determines it to be a beheimah. (He is presumably referring to the Asian water buffalo, which was domesticated in Southern Europe hundreds of years before the Shulchan Aruch.) The Rama (ad loc.) however rules that the status of the buffalo is uncertain. According to both opinions, the cheilev is forbidden — according to the Shulchan Aruch, definitely forbidden as the cheilev of a beheimah, and according to the Rama, out of doubt. There are, also, several other bovine type species such as the yak, the African Cape buffalo, and both the American and the European bison, all of which should probably be considered a safek if they are a chayah or a beheimah, and therefore their cheilev is prohibited misafek and their blood must be covered without a bracha. (See Chullin 59b and 80a; Gra and Pri Chodosh to Yoreh Deah 80; Ohr Somayach, Ma’achalos Asuros, Chapter 1).

TRABERING

Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hanosheh, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “trabering,” 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 (pl. menakerim). In truth, both the words traber and the word nikur are also used to describe the kosher butchering performed in the front part of the animal, called the forequarters, to remove blood vessels and some fat; however, I will be using the words traber and nikur to mean the more difficult task of trimming the hindquarters from the gid hanosheh and the cheilev. Although there is no absolute delineating point defining where the forequarters end and the hindquarters begin, the butcher usually counts the ribs, of which there are thirteen, and slices around the twelfth, considering the area below it to be part of the hindquarters. (The first rib is the one closest to the neck.) As we will discover shortly, not all halachic authorities accept that the meat above the twelfth rib should be treated as part of the forequarters.

Removing the gid hanosheh and forbidden fats from the hindquarters is an extremely arduous process that requires much skill and patience. It is interesting to note that the Rama (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out twice that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship. The Mishnah refers to a dispute among Tanna’im whether observant butchers can be trusted to remove the gid hanosheh and the non-kosher fats, Rabbi Meir contending that we cannot trust them, since removing them is highly tedious (Chullin 93b). In Rabbi Meir’s opinion, someone else must double check after the menakeir is finished, to see that the trabering was performed correctly. The halacha does not follow Rabbi Meir, and technically one may rely on a trained yarei shamayim menakeir to do the job properly. However, in many places the custom was more stringent.

SIXTEENTH CENTURY POLAND

The Maharshal reports that most of the menakerim in his day did not perform an adequate job — when they had a heavy workload, one would find that they failed to remove all the cheilev. The Maharshal notes that the menakeir must be not only well trained in his practice, but also a yarei shamayim who is meticulous in the work, and that one should not rely on just any typical menakeir. He also quotes an earlier authority, the Maharam Mintz, who did not eat meat after nikur until it was checked by a second menakeir. Since he had this policy all the time, he was able to avoid implying that any particular menakeir was careless or incompetent. The Maharshal praises this practice highly, noting that the original menakeir is more careful knowing that someone else will discover if he is sloppy. He reports that, after observing much inadequate nikur, he himself followed this approach of the Maharam Mintz not to eat meat unless a second menakeir had checked the first one’s work (Yam Shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:2, 7:19; Be’er Heiteiv, Yoreh Deah 65:6).

NOT USING HINDQUARTERS

Since most of the forbidden fats and the entire gid hanosheh and all its tributaries are in the hindquarters, in many places the custom developed for Jews to eat only the meat of the forequarters, thus considerably simplifying the trabering process. The earliest source I have located that mentions this practice is a responsum from the Radbaz (Shu’t #162), who was the Chief Rabbi of Egypt almost five hundred years ago – and a Sefardi. (This is itself an interesting observation, since the practice of nikur of hindquarters is far more common today among Sefardim than among Ashkenazim.) The Radbaz had been asked about a local custom to slaughter on the eastern side of a building, apparently a Moslem custom of the time: The question was whether this practice violates halacha, since it is a Moslem practice. The Radbaz rules that one may slaughter on the eastern side, since there was nothing idolatrous about this practice. The reason a Jew would slaughter on the eastern side was because the Jews used only the forequarters and left the hindquarters plus the non-kosher slaughtered animals (neveilos utreifos, those found to be halachically imperfect or where an error occurred during the shechitah). These were then sold to Moslems, who would not eat them unless they were slaughtered on the eastern side. Radbaz approved the practice not to traber the hindquarters, since expert menakerim are hard to find.

ASHKENAZIC 18TH AND 19TH CENTURY PRACTICES

In central Europe of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, we find that local need determined whether trabering was performed on the hindquarters. Someone asked the Noda BiYehudah (Yoreh Deah II #31) whether he should be concerned about the meat located on the forequarters. The Noda BiYehudah contended that some of the fat located between the 11th and the 12th rib is cheilev that requires removal by an expert menakeir. The Noda BiYehudah notes that in Prague, where he was the Rav, the area past the 11th rib was trabered by the menakerim who were expert in trabering the hindquarters. In his opinion, if there are no menakerim in town who know how to traber the hindquarters, then one should use only the meat above the eleventh rib.

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Yoreh Deah #68) disagreed with the Noda BiYehudah, contending that any fat located above the 13th rib is not cheilev and is removed only because of custom. If the place has expert menakerim available, then they should trim the area beyond the 12th rib. However, if there are no experts available, it is acceptable to have regular butchers trim the area between the 12th and the 13th ribs.

Thus, one sees from both of these responsa that in their day, whether a community used meat of the hindquarters meat depended on local custom and the expertise of the local butchers. Many communities did not use the hindquarters meat at all, but sold it as non-kosher, because they lacked skilled menakerim. However, communities that had skilled menakerim utilized their talents and enjoyed kosher hindquarters meat. Clearly, neither the Noda BiYehudah nor the Chasam Sofer was concerned about using the hindquarters, as long as expert menakerim are involved.

On the other hand, about this period of time we see that in some places it was becoming accepted practice not to traber the hindquarters. In a teshuvah dated the day after Tisha B’Av 5625 (1865), Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch wrote to Rav Yissochor Berish Bernstein, the Av Beis Din and Rosh Yeshiva of the Hague, that one should not relax the custom “already established by our fathers and grandfathers” to refrain from the practice of trabering (Shemesh Marpei #34).

Although nikur continued to be practiced in the 20th century, in Ashkenazic communities it became the exception rather than the norm. The Aruch Hashulchan notes (Yoreh Deah 64:54, 65:31) that most places did not perform nikur on the hindquarters and instead sold them to non-Jews, although there were still places where it was practiced, including his own city, where very tight controls were kept to insure that it was performed properly.

POLAND, 1936

The practice not to use the hindquarters was, apparently, universally accepted in Poland by the first third of the twentieth century. Because of a very sad turn of events, this practice created a very unfortunate shaylah. In 1936, the Polish Parliament, influenced by anti-Semitism from neighboring Nazi Germany, banned shechitah and permitted it only for Jewish consumption. The law specified that non-Jews could eat no part of the kosher slaughtered meat. Although they officially claimed that this was in order to recognize the Jews’ freedom of religion, in reality, this law implied that the Judaic practice of shechitah is inhumane.

This created a shaylah, since the custom existed not to traber and eat from the hindquarters. In essence, the accepted practice treated the entire hindquarters as non-kosher. However, being stringent under the new circumstances would make the price of meat prohibitively expensive, since the entire cost of the animal would have to be absorbed by the sale of its forequarters.

A halachic issue now came to the forefront. Once a custom has been established as accepted practice, it has the status of a vow that may not be rescinded (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:2). Did the practice of refraining from eating the meat of the hindquarters have the status of a minhag that could not be rescinded?

Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzenski, the posek of the generation, ruled that it was permitted to reintroduce the practice of trabering the hindquarters by experienced, G-d-fearing experts. In his opinion, the practice not to traber the hindquarters did not have the status of a vow that may not be rescinded, nor of a minhag that requires hataras nedarim. He ruled that it was simply more practical not to traber, since there was an ample supply of meat without resorting to trabering the hindquarters, and it was simply not worthwhile to bother. Certainly, the practice did not begin at a time when there was compelling reason to traber the hindquarters, and this would serve as adequate reason to reintroduce the practice. Rav Chayim Ozer added that the government’s intent in this evil decree was to forcibly close down shechitah by making it financially non-viable. Thus, he felt that it was a mitzvah to permit the hindquarter meat, in order to demonstrate that the decree would not prevent the Jews from having kosher meat. Furthermore, if it were officially accepted that the hindquarters were permitted, there would be proper supervision of the trabering to guarantee that it was performed properly (Shu’t Achiezer 3:84).

Initially, several Chassidic rabbayim opposed permitting the practice, concerned both about minhag and whether all the people performing nikur would be trained and work with the necessary yiras shamayim. Rav Chayim Ozer then wrote to several of the great rebbes living in Poland at the time, notably the Bobover Rebbe and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to elicit their support. Both of these rebbes eventually agreed that the needs of the generation called for permitting nikur of the hindquarters, provided it was performed by trained, yirei shamayim menakerim. Thus, all segments of Polish Jewry accepted the decision of Rav Chayim Ozer.

THREE MODERN SHAYLOS

BRUSSELS, 1964

In 1964, Rav Shmaryahu Karelitz, the Rav of Brussels, Belgium, sent Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l a shaylah whether they could reinstitute the practice of trabering the hindquarters in Belgium, since they found themselves short of kosher meat. Rav Moshe ruled that as long as a proficient menakeir, licensed by an expert Rav, performed the trabering, there was no reason to prohibit this meat. Rav Moshe writes that refraining from using the hindquarters does not have the status of a minhag; simply, it resulted from the fact that butchers did not bother, either because they were easily able to sell the hindquarters as non-kosher, or because the butchers lacked the expertise. However, should it become worthwhile to traber the hindquarters, there is no halachic problem with reintroducing the practice, provided the menakeir is a yarei shamayim and properly trained and licensed (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:42).

SOUTH AFRICA, 1990

A dissenting position is found in the responsa of Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, currently Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim, and formerly rav of a kehillah in Johannesburg, South Africa. During his tenure in South Africa, he was asked about renewing the practice of trabering there, utilizing the skills of an expert menakeir. Rav Sternbuch prohibited the practice, contending that not trabering the hindquarters has the status of a minhag that may not be altered (Teshuvos VeHanhagos 1:418, 419).

UNITED STATES, 21st CENTURY

Within the last few years, the kosher market has begun regular production of shechitah of animals such as buffalo and deer, species in which removing the gid hanosheh and the cheilev might be financially advisable. I inquired from the OU what their policy is regarding nikur of these hindquarters, and they responded that they permit removing the gid hanosheh, but do not remove the cheilev. This translates into the following: If it is questionable whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah, the hindquarters are not trabered and are sold as non-kosher. However, if the species is one concerning which we have a mesorah to treat it as a chayah, there is no halachic requirement to remove any cheilev from the hindquarters, as we learned in the beginning of this article. The only halachic requirement is to remove the gid hanosheh. Thus, on species such as deer, where there is a halachic mesorah that it is a chayah, the hindquarters are trabered and the gid hanosheh is removed. However, on species such as bison (American buffalo), where there is no mesorah whether it is a chayah or a beheimah, the hindquarters are left untrabered and are sold as non-kosher.

WHY DISTINGUISH BETWEEN CHEILEV AND GID HANOSHEH?

I asked this same question and this is the response they sent me:

“Removing cheilev is difficult and time-consuming, even for those who know how. Removing the gid hanosheh and its subordinate parts is no more difficult than removing veins: one is removing a gid that separates easily from the surrounding meat. Therefore, when we know that an animal is a chayah, we allow the removal of the gid hanosheh. Any animal for which we do not have a mesorah whether it is a beheimah or a chayah, such as buffalo, will be treated as a sofek, and kisuy hadam will be performed, and the hindquarters will not be used for kosher.”

Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch explains the mitzvah of gid hanosheh as a message that although the spirit of Eisav will never conquer Yaakov and his descendants, Eisav will be able to hamstring Yaakov and prevent him from standing firmly on two feet. Thus, Yaakov goes through history with an unfirm physical posture and gait. By having to remove the gid hanasheh, whenever Yaakov’s descendants sit down to eat meat, they realize that their continued existence is not dependent on their physical strength and stamina, but on spiritual factors which can never be weakened by Eisav’s might.

 

Making Dairy Bread

The menu of what Avraham served his guests included both dairy and meat, provided an opportunity to discuss the question concerning whether one may prepare milchig bread.bread

Question #1: The whey to celebrate Shavuos!

“May I add dairy ingredients to bread that I intend to serve with a milchig meal on Shavuos?

Question #2: No pareve bread in sight!

“Is one permitted to eat the local bread when everyone knows it is milchig?”

Answer:

Each of the above actual questions involves our understanding the prohibition created by Chazal against making bread containing either dairy or meat ingredients. In several places, the Gemara quotes a beraisa that prohibits using milk as an ingredient in dough, and states further that, if one added milk to dough, the bread produced is prohibited from being eaten at all, even as a cheese sandwich. This rabbinic injunction is because of concern that one might mistakenly eat the dairy bread together with meat. The Gemara rules the same regarding baking bread directly on an oven hearth that was greased with kosher beef fat – it is prohibited to eat this bread, even as part of a corned beef sandwich (Pesachim 30a, 36a; Bava Metzia 91a; Zevachim 95b). If one greased a hearth with beef fat, one must kasher it properly before one uses it to bake bread.

Is one ever permitted to make dairy or meaty bread?

The Gemara (Pesachim 36a) permits an exception – one may make dairy dough if it is ke’ein tora, “like a bull’s eye.”

Bull’s eye

What does the Gemara mean when it permits dairy or meaty bread made like “a bull’s eye?” Does this mean that some bakers double as excellent sharpshooters?

We find a dispute among early Rishonim as to what the Gemara means when it says that one can prepare a dough like a bull’s eye. Rashi explains it to mean that it is the size of a bull’s eye — one may bake a small amount of dairy or meaty bread that one would eat quickly. Since there will be no leftovers, we are not concerned that one may mistakenly use the dairy bread for a corned-beef sandwich or spread cream cheese on the fleishig bread.

Shapely bread

Other authorities explain that this refers to the shape of the dough. The Gemara means that if one shaped the dough like a bull’s eye or some other unusual shape, the heker (here, distinguishable appearance) accomplishes that no one will mistakenly eat it with meat or dairy (Rif, Chullin 38a in his pages; Rambam, Maachalos Asuros 9:22).

How do we rule?

Although these are clearly two different ways of explaining the Gemara, the authorities conclude that there is no dispute in halachah between these two approaches (Hagahos Shaarei Dura, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 97; Shulchan Aruch ad loc.). In other words, although in general one may not make dairy or meat bread because of the above-mentioned concerns, one may prepare a small amount of dairy or meaty bread. One is also permitted to make dairy or meaty bread with an unusual shape.

All the bread is fleishig

The Maharit, one of the great halachic authorities of sixteenth-century Israel, discussed the following situation: A specific town was located at quite a distance from any source of vegetable oil. As a result, vegetable cooking oil was expensive, and the townspeople, therefore, used beef tallow for all their baking, cooking and frying. (Apparently, the local cardiologist felt that the populace had a cholesterol deficiency – no doubt because they observed the Mediterranean Diet.) Indeed, the people in town always treated their bread as fleishig, since they assumed that it always included beef fat as an ingredient. The Maharit first discussed whether this provided sufficient reason to permit consuming local bread in this town. Does the fact that all local residents know that their bread is fleishig preempt the takkanas chachamim prohibiting production of meaty bread?

Hometown advantage

The Maharit questioned whether this is sufficient reason to be lenient, since we still need to be concerned about visitors from out of town who are unaware that the local bread is fleishig. Indeed, some visitors had eaten local bread with cheese, not realizing that it contained a meat product. The Maharit concluded that local circumstances are insufficient grounds to permit fleishig bread – and that the local bread is permitted to be eaten only if it has a heker, or only if people make small quantities of bread (Shu’t Maharit 2:18). This means that commercially-made bread in this town would be made exclusively with unusual shapes.

However, a later authority disputed this conclusion of the Maharit. Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz, in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah (Kereisi 97:2), mentions that in his town and environs all the white bread was made with milk, and the accepted custom was to bake, purchase and use even large quantities of the bread without any heker. He notes that, according to the Maharit, this bread is prohibited, yet he concludes that, notwithstanding the Maharit’s opinion to the contrary, the bread is permitted, since everyone knows that the local bread is dairy and no baker in town produces pareve bread. He closes by mentioning that someone who is G-d fearing should not use the local dairy bread, although it is technically permitted.

Thus, whether one may permit milchig bread because all local bread is always milchig, or one may permit fleishig bread because all local bread is always fleishig is a dispute among prominent authorities.

Commercial bakery

A later authority, the Kesav Sofer, permitted a commercial bakery to produce milchig or fleishig bread, provided that the bakery sold only a small amount of bread to each customer. He contended that since the consumer only owns a small quantity of bread, we are not concerned how much the bakery actually produced.

Local bakery

In this context, I would like to share an anecdote. Many years ago, I was posed a question by a rav living in a small community that had no kosher bakery. He had the opportunity to provide a hechsher to a non-Jewish-owned bakery, which in his community would be very advantageous, since he would not need to be concerned about the bakery being open on Shabbos or on Pesach, or about hafrashas challah (all issues that I have discussed in other articles). The owner of the bakery was willing to meet all the ingredient requirements of the hechsher, and, in addition, was located within walking distance of the frum community, so that random inspections could take place even on Shabbos. The question germane to our topic was that the baker baked his white bread with milk, and the rav was uncertain whether and how to proceed with providing a hechsher to this bakery. According to the above-quoted Kesav Sofer, the rav could even provide a hechsher on the entire bakery, including the bread, and instruct people that they may purchase the milchig bread only in small quantities that would be eaten within a day.

However, according to the Maharit, the dairy bread should be treated as non-kosher. The rav’s decision was that the hechsher sign in the bakery would list which pastry items in the bakery are supervised as kosher/dairy, and which pastry and bread items are certified kosher/pareve, and that the sign would imply that the bakery sells breads that are not certified kosher because they are dairy.  In this approach, he followed common custom not to rely on the Kesav Sofer’s leniency.

Are you in shape?

I mentioned above that one may make dairy or meat bread if it has an unusual shape. How unusual must the shape be?

As we can imagine, we are not the first to ask this question. In his above-mentioned responsum, the Maharit discusses what type of heker the halachah requires. He notes that there are two ways to explain what the heker accomplishes. One possibility is that the heker is so that people who know the bread is fleishig won’t forget and mistakenly eat it with cheese. The second possibility is that the heker is necessary so that people from outside the area, who are unfamiliar with the fact that the bread is fleishig, will stop and ask why is this bread different from all the other bread in the rest of the world. In other words, according to the second approach, the heker must be sufficient to draw people’s attention to it, so that they ask why this bread looks so strange.

The Maharit subsequently demonstrates that this exact point, what is the reason for the heker, is the subject of a machlokes harishonim. The Tur explains that the reason for the heker is so that the person remembers that this bread is milchig or fleishig, meaning that he already knew that he has made milchig or fleishig bread, and the heker is so that he does not make a mistake and accidentally eat the milchig bread with meat or eat the fleishig bread with dairy. This type of reminder does not require a major heker that would cause someone to ask: “Why does this bread look so strange?”

This approach of the Tur is quoted by a later authority, when the Rama (in Toras Chatas 60:2) states that the heker is so that one does not forget that he made milchig or fleishig bread.

Why is this bread so different from all other breads?

On the other hand, the second approach is mentioned in even earlier sources. When discussing the heker necessary in making milchig or fleishig bread, the Rashba explains that the heker must attract attention, so that people will notice that the bread looks different.  The heker will cause people to ask, before eating, why the bread’s appearance is so unusual (Rashba, Toras Habayis Hakatzar, 3:4, page 86b). Other later authorities, such as the Levush (Yoreh Deah, 97:1) and the Chachmas Adam (50:3) quote the Rashba’s approach. To quote the Chachmas Adam, “One may make dairy bread if one changed the shape of the bread significantly, enough that one would not eat meat with it.”

Baked for sale

The Maharit notes that a difference in halachah results from this dispute between the Tur and the Rashba concerning whether an item with a minor heker can be sold. If the reason is so that people will ask, there would need to be a major heker. Otherwise, one would not be permitted to make the bread. If the reason for a heker is to remind people that this bread was made dairy, a minor heker will suffice, as long as these breads are not sold, since visitors will eat them as guests in the houses of people who will know to serve them only with fleishig meals.

Bread for Shavuos

In a different ruling, the Rama again demonstrates that the heker is so that someone not forget that the bread he made is dairy. The Rama rules that one may make challohs for Shavuos with dairy ingredients, since the challohs for Shavuos are shaped long whereas the regular Shabbos and Yom Tov challohs are round. According to the approach of the Rashba, this difference in shape would not suffice, since someone visiting would not ask why the challohs are shaped long, and would not notice anything unusual to attract his attention. However, according to the Tur, who holds that the heker is so that one not forget, this difference in shaping is sufficient.

We have thus learned some of the laws of producing dairy and meaty breads. Stay tuned for the continuation of this article, as we continue exploring this meaty topic!!

 

The Right Type of Help

Since one of the sources for the prohibition of bishul akum is in Parshas Chukas, this presents an ideal time to review these laws.

Household Help

Shirley* asks me: “We hired a very nice Polish lady to help around the house, keep an eye on the kids and do light housekeeping. Can we have her cook a bit for the kids while I am away at work?”

Commuter Crisis

Mrs. Goldman is stuck in a typical commuter predicament. The traffic is not moving, and it is well past the time that she should be putting up supper. She calls the non-Jewish babysitter, Jenny, to apologize for the delay and asks her to find something in the freezer to warm and serve the kids. Jenny finds some blintzes and some fish sticks, places them on ceramic cookware and pops them into the toaster oven.

That evening, when Rabbi Goldman returns from kollel, Mrs. Goldman tells him about her frustrating commute home. Rabbi Goldman realizes that they may now have a kashrus concern in their house, as I will soon explain.

Surprise Sous-chef

I received a phone call from Rabbi Black: “Our seminary has girls employed in work-study programs. We just discovered that a girl who was working as our cook is not halachically Jewish. Do we need to kasher the kitchen?”

Each of these cases that actually happened  shows the prevalence of bishul akum questions.

Sichon’s Folly

It is noteworthy that the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in this week’s parsha. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history; otherwise, how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)? Chazal instituted this law to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which may lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus is not compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

Food prepared in violation of the laws that Chazal instituted becomes prohibited as bishul akum and is fully non-kosher. The early authorities dispute whether equipment used to cook bishul akum becomes non-kosher. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the equipment, indeed, becomes non-kosher and must be kashered, although the halachah for kashering from bishul akum is sometimes more lenient (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons.

Three Cardinal Rules

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, their prohibition was not all-inclusive, but covered only foods where the gentile’s cooking is significant. For example, there are three major groupings of foods cooked by a gentile that are nevertheless permitted, because the gentile’s contribution is not considered significant. One might find the following acronym useful to remember these permitted categories: YUM, Yisrael, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yisrael – A Jew Participates

If a Jew contributes to the cooking in a significant way, the food is categorized as bishul Yisrael, cooked by a Jew, and is therefore permitted, even when a gentile did most of the food preparation. For example, if Mrs. Goldman had asked Jenny to warm food that was already cooked, there would be no bishul akum problem. I will soon explain some of the extensive details about this law.

II. Uncooked – Edible Raw

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum, even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a). For example, if Mrs. Goldman had asked Jenny to bake apples or cook a fruit soup, there would be no problem of bishul akum, assuming that these fruits are all edible raw. However, baking potatoes does present a bishul akum concern, because potatoes are not eaten raw (Chachmas Odom 66:4; cf. Aruch HaShulchan 113:18).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table alongside bread. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is considered commonplace, because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and, therefore, there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15).

Bishul Yisrael

At this point, I want to explain in more detail one of the rules I mentioned above: When a Jew participates in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile performed most of the cooking. For example, if a non-Jew placed a pot of meat on the fire, and a Jew stirred the pot, this act is significant enough to permit the food, because it is considered bishul Yisrael (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:7). Similarly, if a Jew placed food in the oven and it baked until it became edible, and then the food was removed from the oven and returned later by a gentile to complete the cooking, the food is kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:10, 11).

Ashkenazim versus Sefardim

How much Jewish participation is necessary to avoid bishul akum? The answer to this question depends on whether one is Sefardi or Ashkenazi, since Ashkenazim are more lenient in these laws than are Sefardim. For example, Ashkenazim rule that if a Jew ignited the fire that is being used to cook, or even if all he did was add to a flame that the gentile is cooking with, this participation is sufficient to permit the food as bishul Yisrael. Sefardim rule that it is insufficient for a Jew to simply ignite the fire – the Jew must be involved in the actual cooking of the food. Either the Jew must place the food onto the fire or must participate in some other significant way; but if all the Jew did was ignite the fire and a gentile placed the food on the fire, the food is prohibited. Thus, an Ashkenazi household that utilizes non-Jewish help in the kitchen must have a Jew turn on or adjust the fires to avoid bishul akum. In a Sefardi household, someone Jewish must place the food on the fire to cook, or stir it once it is cooking.

Food Service Cooking

This dispute is especially germane to restaurants, caterers and other institutional cooking, where the kitchen help is often all non-Jews, thus potentially creating a bishul akum concern. According to Ashkenazim, to avoid bishul akum, it is sufficient if the Jew turns on the fire that is used to cook, or even for him to adjust the temperature setting upward. Thus, if the gentile already turned on the oven, but no food was finished cooking yet, the Jew can simply lower the setting and reset it, and all the food cooked is considered bishul Yisrael. However, according to Sefardim, a Jew must actually place the food on the stove to cook. If the food is already on the fire, but is not yet minimally edible, it suffices for a Jew to stir the food to make it into bishul Yisrael.

This shaylah often affects the kashrus arrangements germane to restaurants and caterers. Since most Jews in North America are Ashkenazim, most hechsherim simply arrange that a Jew turn on the fires so that the food is considered bishul Yisrael, an approach that does not satisfy some Sefardic authorities, although some permit the food after the fact, because of a combination of other heterim that we will discuss below (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 5:54).

On the other hand, proper Sefardic hechsherim insist that the mashgiach place all food into the oven or on the stove.

A More Lenient Approach

Some Ashkenazi authorities are even more lenient than described above; they permit food when the Jew lit a flame and the gentile used the Jew’s flame to ignite a second flame that was used for cooking. According to this approach, it is sufficient if a Jew lights the pilot light that is then used to ignite all the stove and oven lights. Although pilot lights are now uncommon in household appliances, they are more common in industrial kitchens.

Partly Cooked

Here is another case in which Sefardim and Ashkenazim differ in accepted bishul Yisrael practice. If a gentile began the cooking and it became minimally edible, Sefardim consider the food already prohibited because of bishul akum. Following this approach, if a gentile cooks the food at the beginning until it is edible, and a Jew then completes the cooking and makes it quite tasty, the food is still prohibited, unless there is an extenuating circumstance, such as a major financial loss (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:9).

However, Ashkenazim rule that if a Jew cooked it past the point where it became minimally edible, it is permitted, since the product’s delicious taste was created by a Jew.

Not Yet Edible

In the reverse case, one where a Jew cooked the food until it was barely edible and then the gentile cooked it past this point, the food is permitted according to both approaches (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:8). However, if the food was not edible when the Jew’s cooking ended, and subsequently a gentile cooked it without any Jewish participation, the food is prohibited as bishul akum according to all authorities.

Bishulei Blintz

At this point, we can explain the concerns created by Jenny’s warming the blintzes. Kashrus organizations usually make no arrangements to see that frozen blintzes or fish sticks are bishul Yisrael for a very simple halachic reason: The products are still inedible at the time the company freezes them, and therefore nothing is accomplished halachically by having a Jew cook them at this early stage. When you remove these products from your freezer and heat them, you are cooking them, whether you realize it or not. However, when Jenny warmed these foods, she not only cooked them, but she also made them into prohibited bishul akum, thus rendering the foods and the equipment non-kosher, although she meant no harm.

We will find out more about the saga of Goldman family’s kashrus situation next week…

*Although these stories are true, names have been changed to maintain privacy.

Spilling the Beans

Question #1: Is Cottonseed Oil Kitniyos?

I know that, in America, everyone uses cottonseed oil on Pesach. However, when I was in Israel for Pesach I was told that they don’t use cottonseed oil because it is kitniyos. Why is there a difference in practice?

Question #2: Lecithin in Pesach Products

When I was a child, it was common to find Pesachdik chocolates containing an ingredient called lecithin. Now I am told that lecithin is not Pesachdik. Do I need to do tshuva on all the lecithin that I consumed?

Question #3: Ascorbic Acid from Kitniyos

I have been told that there are reliable kosher-certifying agencies that allow the use of products that have a kitniyos base. I thought that all forms of kitniyos are prohibited on Pesach. Am I making a mistake?

Knows His Beans

Although the Torah’s prohibition against eating, benefiting from, and owning chometz on Pesach applies only to foods made from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye), Ashkenazic Jews and most North African and some other Sefardim have accepted the practice not to eat rice and other grain-like and leguminous foods on Pesach. This is referred to as the prohibition against eating kitniyos. Among the reason given for this custom are:

The possibility that chometz grains could easily become mixed into the kitniyos (Tur 453, see Taz 453:1 and Mishna Berura 453:6).

Kitniyos varieties could be ground into flour and baked into a type of bread, which can create confusion (Taz 453:1, quoting Smak).

There is no requirement to sell kitniyos and no prohibition in deriving benefit from them (Rama 453:1), as long as one does not eat the kitniyos. Therefore one may use soap or lotion made of kitniyos.

Spilled the Beans

Furthermore, if kitniyos became mixed into Pesachdik food, one is permitted to eat the food (Rama 453:1) provided that the kitniyos is not noticeable and it is less than half of the food item (Chayei Odom 127:1). If the kitniyos is noticeable, one should remove the kitniyos and may eat the rest (Chayei Odom 127:1). However, some authorities prohibit the product when the kitniyos was added for taste (Shu’t Avnei Nezer 373).

The prohibition against eating kitniyos is based on custom. In addition to keeping commandments of the Torah and the prohibitions instituted at the times of the Mishna and the Gemara, we are also required to observe those restrictions that were accepted by communities of the Jewish people. This is included in the concept of Al titosh toras imecha, “Do not forsake the Torah taught you by your mother” — that is, the customs accepted by the Jewish people. Thus, we find that some of the details of the rules of kitniyos vary from community to community, and what is prohibited as kitniyos in one community is permitted in another. In these situations, an item that is prohibited in one community because of kitniyos is permitted in a different community.

The Bean Counter

If someone placed kitniyos on my Pesachdik counter, may I still use it on Pesach?

Although I have read responsa from contemporary Rabbonim requiring Ashkenazim to kasher pots used to cook kitniyos, this is by no means obvious. As I mentioned above, kitniyos that fell by mistake into other Pesachdik food becomes bateil as long as the non-kitniyos food is the majority. Based on this, many authorities contend that Ashkenazim may cook in pots previously used for kitniyos since whatever kitniyos flavor transferred to food cooked in the pots will certainly be nullified (Shu’t Zera Emes 3:48). Others prohibit using pots that absorbed kitniyos, stating that the minhag is to not use either the kitniyos food or the pots (Shu’t Rav Pe’alim 3:30; Shu’t Maharam Shick, Orach Chayim #241). Still others follow a compromise position, ruling that one should not use the pots within 24 hours of cooking kitniyos, but permitting use of the pots after 24 hours without kashering (Kaf HaChayim 453:27).

By the way, many Sefardim do not eat kitniyos on Pesach, and many follow an approach that prohibits some kitniyos species. For example, most North African Sefardim (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Egyptian) do not eat any kitniyos on Pesach, following the same custom as Ashkenazim; this was also the practice of many Turkish communities (Shu’t Lev Chayim 2:33). Although Iraqi communities usually ate kitniyos on Pesach, many families in Baghdad did not eat rice and most did not eat chickpeas (Rav Pe’alim 3:30). Similarly, the Chida reports that the Sefardim in Yerushalayim in his day did not eat rice.

Full of Beans

What species are included in the prohibition of kitniyos?

Rama (Chapter 464) prohibits the use of mustard on Pesach, although he states that anise and coriander are not kitniyos varieties (453:1). Taz (453:1) asks why mustard is treated more stringently than anise and coriander, since mustard is also not very similar to a grain. Taz explains that mustard is prohibited because its seeds grow on a stalk similar to the way grain grows. Thus, the prohibition of kitniyos includes items that grow similarly to the way grain grows. For this reason, Shu’t Avnei Nezer (#373) prohibits the use of rapeseed oil (canola oil is a variety of rapeseed oil) on Pesach, even though the raw rapeseed is not edible. However, Maharsham (1:183) ruled that rapeseed oil is not necessarily included in the prohibition of kitniyos and may be used in places where the custom is to permit its use. (Today, most communities treat canola oil as kitniyos. However, the predominant custom in South Africa is to not consider canola oil kitniyos on Pesach and permit it.)

It is interesting to note that several other items that we would consider staples for Pesach, such as coffee and potatoes, were involved in kitniyos controversies.

Coffee Beans

Although coffee is the product of a roasted bean, accepted practice is that it is not considered kitniyos since it is the product of a tree, and does not grow directly from the ground. Thus, it does not grow in a way at all similar to grains. Nevertheless, there were places where the custom was to prohibit the use of coffee on Pesach since the average person is not aware of the source of the coffee bean (Shaarei Tshuvah 453:1). Incidentally, one should be aware that coffee now requires proper kosher certification for Pesach. Although in the past, there were no chometz concerns involved in the production of coffee, because of changes in the mass production of coffee one should not use coffee that is not kosher for Passover by a reliable hashgacha.)

Potatoes

Why is potato starch not included in the prohibition of kitniyos?

Indeed, many poskim felt that potatoes and potato starch should be included in the prohibition of kitniyos on Pesach, and there were places where the accepted practice was to prohibit their use (Nishmas Odom Hilchos Pesach #20; Pri Megadim 453:1). Nevertheless, the prevalent custom is to permit the use of potatoes on Pesach (Igros Moshe 3:63). Rav Moshe explains that although some of the reasons that apply to kitniyos apply to potatoes, the prohibition was never extended onto potatoes, probably because it would have created tremendous difficulty.

Popcorn

Some have advocated the production of “shmura popcorn” for Pesach. Although corn is generally assumed to be a variety of kitniyos, the rationale to permit “Pesachdik” popcorn is that one need not treat kitniyos more strictly than one would treat wheat and the other potentially-chometz grains themselves. Thus, since we all eat wheat products on Pesach in the form of shmura matzoh, why can’t one produce “Pesachdik” popcorn? One would carefully check the kernels that they are not accompanied by grain, and then pop the kernels within eighteen minutes from the time that they come in contact with water. This is very easy to do since popcorn does not usually come into contact with water.

Indeed, according to most poskim there would be no problem with making kosher for Pesach popcorn (Chayei Odom 127:1; Rav Shulchan Aruch 453:5). However, the custom is to follow the opinions that prohibit producing products for Pesach consumption out of kitniyos in this fashion. The reason we are stringent is that since people know that kitniyos is not chometz, once people begin making a kitniyos product of any type for Pesach, the standards will not be maintained. Thus, some poskim contend that the prohibition against eating kitniyos on Pesach includes producing kitniyos in any method whatsoever (Shu’t Maamar Mordechai #32).

Cottonseed Oil

Rav Pesach Frank (Sefer Mikrai Kodesh, Hilchos Pesach vol. 2 pg. 206) permits the use of cottonseed oil on Pesach, and quotes that Rav Chayim Brisker permitted its use. Cottonseed is not a food at all and also does not grow in any way similar to grains, unlike canola that grows similar to the way grains grow. However, Dayan Weiss writes that he is uncertain whether cottonseed oil may be used on Pesach. He cites sources that the prohibition against kitniyos includes any item stored the way grain is stored and forbids eating any seeds, grains, or anything derived from them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 3:138:2 and 4:114:3). As a result, many hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel, for example, the Eidah HaChareidis, treat cottonseed oil as kitniyos.

Lecithin and Vegetable Oils

There were poskim who permitted the use of oils derived from kitniyos sources (Shu’t Maharsham 1:183; Marcheshes). Upon this basis, many communities permitted the use of vegetable oils, lecithin (usually a soy-based product) and other items on Pesach. However, today the accepted practice is not to use these items on Pesach.

A contemporary shaylah is the usage of products that are grown on a medium of soybeans or other kitniyos. Some modern poskim refer to these products as “kitniyos shenishtaneh” or kitniyos that has undergone a transformation. The discussion revolves around a dispute among early poskim whether a prohibited substance that has completely transformed is still considered non-kosher (see Rosh to Berachos=). Based on the ruling of Mishna Berura (216:7), some halachic organizations permit the use of enzymes and other raw materials that are grown on products that are considered kitniyos. Other poskim contend that although these products may be considered kosher lePesach after the fact, one should not arrange a hechsher upon this basis.

Thus, we see that many of the details of the halachos of observance of kitniyos are dependent on local custom. Indeed, one will find discrepancy in practice even among communities that are following halacha fully.

How Do We Make Kosher Wine?

Kashrus is significant to this week’s parsha, and right after Purim and beginning our Pesach preparations. This seems like the perfect week to discuss how we make kosher wine.

Question: Business Lunch

“On a business visit to Israel, I needed to take out some non-Jewish business contacts to a top-quality restaurant, but I was told that I could not order wine to accompany the meal. Yet in America I do this all the time. What am I missing?”

Answer:

The importance of wine to Jewish celebration cannot be underestimated. The pasuk in Tehillim (104:15) teaches that wine gladdens a man’s heart. Chazal, also, treat wine as a special beverage, and therefore it has its very own beracha. Every special event – kiddush, havdalah, weddings, sheva berachos, brisin, pidyon haben – includes a beracha over a cup of wine. And halachah mentions the special role of wine in celebrating Yom Tov.

Grapes and the contemporary “food chain”

In addition, the importance of grapes in modern use can not be taken lightly. Grape-based products are used extensively in all types of food production, including alcohol, liquor, wine vinegar, flavors, natural extracts, colorings, sweeteners, juice drinks, jam, jelly, preserves, candies, fruit ices and various other foods. Thus, not only the wine connoisseur but also the teetotaler and everyone in between are using grape products, although they often do not realize it.

Example:

Many years ago, I was contracted to oversee a special production of kosher grape concentrate, which is another way of saying grape juice with most of the natural water removed, at a non-kosher plant. The entire four-day production was ordered specifically in order to produce a run of kosher fruit ice.

Producing kosher wine

Manufacturing kosher grape juice and wine is a complicated process that requires a very knowledgeable and yarei shamayim staff. From a kashrus perspective, grapes are unusual. They are kosher when they grow, yet kosher wine and grape juice must be manufactured without the product being touched or moved by anyone but an observant Jew. If the product was produced in any other way, it is no longer kosher.

Why is this?

What are yayin nesech and stam yeinam?

In addition to the cardinal prohibition against worshipping idols, avodah zarah, the Torah distanced us from any involvement with or benefit from avodah zarah. One of the laws relating to idol worship is the prohibition from using an item that was used to worship idols, called tikroves avodah zarah. According to the accepted halachic opinion, using tikroves avodah zarah is prohibited min hatorah (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:2; cf. Tosafos, Bava Kama 72b s.v. De’i, who rules that the prohibition against its use is only miderabanan). Included in the prohibition against using tikroves avodah zarah is that one may not derive any benefit from wine that was used to worship an idol. This prohibited beverage is called yayin nesech, literally, sacramental wine, or wine used for worship.

Chazal extended this proscription by banning use of any wine or grape juice which a gentile touched, and, in some instances, even if he just moved it or caused it to move. This prohibition is called stam yeinam.

Although one may not drink stam yeinam, the halachic authorities dispute whether one may benefit from stam yeinam. According to the lenient opinion, this means that if a gentile who does not worship idols, touched or moved wine that a Jew owned, one may derive benefit from the wine. Notwithstanding this leniency, most authorities prohibit purchasing stam yeinam, and only permit benefiting from it if one already owns it. Nevertheless, a minority opinion permits a Jew to purchase stam yeinam in order to make a profit, and, upon this basis, many Jews own and owned taverns or liquor stores, where they sold non-kosher wine to gentile customers (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 123:1).

Producing kosher wine

Unquestionably, manufacturing kosher wine and grape juice is one of the more complex areas of kosher food production. If one is making kosher wine in an otherwise non-kosher facility, one needs to laboriously kosher the entire factory. The actual manufacture of the wine also usually requires a large team of G-d-fearing individuals, who are all properly trained to fulfill their responsibilities. Furthermore, every facility producing kosher wine should have a resident supervisor who is a talmid chacham and expert in the relevant halachos. It is for this reason that people should be very careful to ask questions before drinking wines, to make sure that the people overseeing the hechsher are knowledgeable and G-d-fearing.

The basics of wine production

Wine is the fermented juice of grapes. All grapes grow with naturally occurring yeast on their skin that, left to its own devices, feeds on the natural grape sugars in the juice, thereby converting it to alcohol. The result is that sweet grape juice becomes intoxicating and delicious wine. This is the way Rashi produced wine in northern France over nine hundred years ago and the way wine was produced until the modern era. Wine produced this way is completely natural, but its taste will vary from year to year, and perhaps even from vat to vat.

Modern wineries rarely produce wine this way, preferring to pasteurize the juice, thereby killing the natural yeast, so that they can control how their wine will taste. After pasteurization, they add specific strains of yeast to produce wine to their desire. The wine is then bottled under vacuum and sealed.

Often, grape juice is concentrated by evaporating off most of its natural water. Grape concentrate lasts much longer than grape juice and has its own uses as a sweetener.

Here come the grapes!

Now let us follow the production – from grapes to bottled wine. Wine grapes are picked and dropped into closed-bottom boxes, since one wants to preserve as much of the juice as possible. The grapes are delivered by truck to the winery, where a forklift picks up the boxes and turns them upside down, dropping the contents into a piece of equipment that removes the stems from the grapes and is therefore called a “destemmer.” What is left is a mixture of grapes and juice that is pumped to a holding tank.

In a properly run hechsher, every step after the initial dumping of the boxes of grapes into the destemmer is performed by an observant Jew. That means that a frum Jew must push the production buttons of the equipment. In the special production that I oversaw, since the mashgichim hired for the special run were inexperienced in plant operations, every production point was manned by two people – a factory worker, who instructed the mashgiach how to operate the machinery, and a mashgiach who pushed the buttons and actually did what needed to be done.

At this point, we need to take a break from the juicing process and turn our attention to a discussion in halachah.

When does it become wine?

As I mentioned before, wine becomes forbidden when it is touched by a non-Jew. At what point is the product called “wine,” causing this prohibition to take effect? While the grapes are growing, or even while they are being harvested, a gentile’s contact will not affect them. So, at what point do we need to be concerned?

The halachic conclusion is that grape product is considered wine once the juice has been removed or separated from the pulp of the grapes (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 123:17). This step is called hamshachah, literally, drawing away. When this happens, both the liquid that has been removed as well as the entire remaining mixture are considered wine and become forbidden if handled by a non-Jew. Once hamshachah takes place, if a gentile touches the juice, he makes it prohibited.

Example:

I was once visiting a wine production facility with a less-than-stellar reputation for its kashrus standard. While there, I noticed gentile staff remove samples of juice from the crushed material well before the wine had been formally separated. The lab technician dipped a paper cup into the vat to draw his sample, gently separating some juice from the rest. This simple act made the entire batch into prohibited stam yeinam. (If you are curious to know what I did subsequently — I brought the fact to the attention of the mashgiach, who told me that he follows the instructions he is given by the certifying rabbi. I asked the rabbi — who denied that laboratory personnel take any samples, since he had instructed them not to do so. This is merely one example of why this particular brand is avoided by anyone seriously concerned about kashrus.)

As we noted, it is crucial to avoid any contact of non-Jews with the juice from the time any hamshachah has occurred. It is also forbidden to allow a non-Jew to pour wine or move a vessel containing wine, even though he does not touch the wine directly. If he touches a stream of wine being poured from a container, then the contents of the entire container, even that which has not yet been poured, becomes forbidden. For this reason, an observant Jew must operate every procedure during production until the wine becomes mevushal, a concept I will explain shortly. Therefore, a winery must have an adequate staff of qualified mashgichim throughout all phases of the production.

It is permitted to allow a gentile to carry or touch a sealed bottle or container of wine. Also, a non-Jew’s touching the outside of an open container or tank of wine without moving the wine inside does not prohibit the wine.

Back to our grapes

Now that we understand the serious problem that can result from inadequate control, let us return to our juice production. The first step common to all types of wine production is called the “crush” — where the grapes are literally crushed to remove all juice from the pulp. When the crushing is finished, every drop of juice has been removed, and the remaining pulp is so dry that it is almost useless. Sometimes, it can be salvaged as animal feed, other times as fertilizer, or it can be fermented into a product called marc alcohol, but these are not the primary concerns of the wine or juice producer.

The Heat Exchanger

After pressing, the juice is filtered. In most North American wine production, the juice is now pasteurized by processing it in a piece of equipment called a plate heat exchanger. This highly efficient piece of equipment consists of interlocking plates tightly screwed together, in which the product and extremely hot water pass through alternating sections, thereby pasteurizing the juice without losing any to evaporation. The juice is then cooled down and placed in huge, refrigerated storage tanks.

If the wine is to be sold as non-mevushal, the juice is not sent to the heat exchanger, but instead is pumped directly from the filter to the refrigerated storage tanks. This juice will be inoculated with yeast and aged to become the desired wine product.

Mevushal

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 30a) teaches that the prohibition of stam yeinam does not exist if the wine was mevushal before the gentile handled it. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 11:9), the reason for this heter is because no self-respecting idolater would consecrate cooked wine to his deity. Cooking wine harms it, and cooking grape juice affects its ability to ferment naturally. Indeed, some winemakers never pasteurize the juice from which they produce their wines, because heating compromises the taste. For this reason, halachah views wine that is mevushal as inferior, and this has several ramifications.

The Rosh (Avodah Zarah 2:13) does not consider this a sufficient reason to explain why cooked gentile wine is not included under the prohibition of stam yeinam. He explains that mevushal wine is permitted because it is extremely uncommon, and, therefore, Chazal did not include it within the prohibition of stam yeinam.

Is pasteurization the same is mevushal?

Most American hechsherim treat pasteurized juice and wine as mevushal, and therefore are not concerned if a gentile is in contact with grape juice or wine after it has been pasteurized.

However, many prominent Eretz Yisrael authorities feel that contemporary heat exchange pasteurization does not qualify as bishul. Among these authorities, we find two different reasons. Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach feels that mevushal wine must be a product that is clearly recognized as inferior, whereas pasteurized wine is not considered an inferior product. Even if we assume that certain varieties of wine would never be pasteurized, and we also assume that a professional winemaker can always identify that a wine is mevushal, Rav Shelomoh Zalman contends that mevushal wine must be so affected by the bishul that the typical gentile would notice its inferior quality. However, a modern heat exchanger pasteurizes the product without making a pronounced change in the product’s taste (Shu’t Minchas Shelomoh 1:25).

Those who challenge his approach feel that since pasteurization heats the wine to a sufficient temperature to be considered bishul, the wine meets the standard that Chazal established for it to be outside of their gezeirah. Furthermore, they contend that it is halachically significant that a wine connoisseur will notice whether a wine was pasteurized or not. For example, French wines, Niagara wines, many quality California wines and many quality Israeli wines are not pasteurized, because this ruins the wine’s taste.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv held a different reason why pasteurized wine does not qualify as mevushal. Since this wine is readily available today, the reason why the Rosh permitted mevushal wine – that it is uncommon — does not apply. The decision of Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is followed by many contemporary authorities.

Rav Ovadyah Yosef followed an approach in-between the position just quoted and that of the lenient American poskim mentioned above (quoted in Nishmas Avraham, end of Yoreh Deah). Although he accepted that pasteurized wine can be considered mevushal after-the-fact, he considered this psak a be’di’eved, to be relied upon only if a mistake occurred. He forbade a company selling pasteurized kosher wine from labeling the product as mevushal.

Now, we may return to question #1: Someone will have non-Jews at his table and must serve quality wine. What does he do? It is impolite to pour the wine and keep the bottle off the table. Therefore, his only viable option is to serve mevushal wine. May he use pasteurized wine? While the American hechsherim allow him to, according to Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Elyashiv he could only bring wine to the table if he first poured it into a pot and cooked it – which will undoubtedly ruin the wine.

It is interesting to note that the earliest discussion of kashrus standards for any food production is mentioned in the context of producing and storing kosher wine in a gentile’s facility. The Mishnah that discusses this topic is the source for the concept of yotzei venichnas, that a mashgiach may exit the facility, as long as the gentiles involved think that he may return at any moment. However, if they know when the Jew will be returning, one has jeopardized all kashrus arrangements. For this reason, every hechsher must be careful that their mashgichim make surprise visits to the factories under their supervision, including visits to the facility in the middle of the night and at other odd times.

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 the prohibition of stam yeinam, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins. We should always hope and pray that the foods are prepared in accordance with all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

Is Seeing Red Kosher?

Eisav is often associated with the color red, which provides an opportunity for the following halacha question: Is a red food color that is manufactured from animal material kosher? Indeed, the master artisans building the Mishkan used a dye, tola’as shani, which is often assumed to be the “blood” of an insect, in the manufacture of the Kohen Gadol’s vestments. Was this color kosher? This color was also used to dye the curtains and coverings of the Mishkan. In addition, processing the ashes of the parah adumah (Bamidbar 19:6), purifying a metzora and decontaminating a house that became tamei all use tola’as shani (Vayikra 14:4, 49). As we will discover, correctly identifying the tola’as shani not only affects these halachos and those of the Beis Hamikdash, but also concerns a wide assortment of foods and beverages that we eat and drink.

Color is an important part of any food, and, in many cases, is one of the main considerations of consumers when choosing food. Companies increase sales by tinkering with the color of foods. For this reason, food technologists consider a number of factors when deciding how to color a particular food.

SEEING RED

As is evident from the verse, if your sins will be like shanim, they will become as white as snow; though they be red as the tola, they will become white, like wool (Yeshayah 1:18), tola’as shani is a red color. Upon this basis, some authorities identify tola’as shani as kermes, a shade of scarlet derived from scale insects (see Radak to Divrei Hayamim II 2:6). The ancients derived a red dye from the dried bodies of a species called Kermes ilices, which served as one of the most important pigments for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, the English word crimson derives from this ancient dye.

Are tola’as shani and kermes indeed identical? We should note that the Hebrew word tola’as, which is usually translated worm, may include insects and other small invertebrates. Thus, it may indeed be that the tola’as of the verse is a scale insect that produces a red dye. One can rally support for this approach from the verse in Divrei Hayamim (II 3:14), which describes the paroches curtain as woven from techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz (linen), whereas the Torah describes the paroches as made of techeiles, argaman, tola’as shani, and shaish (linen) (Shemos 26:31). Obviously, karmil, which is fairly close to the word kermes, is another way of describing tola’as shani. Similarly, when describing the artisans sent by King Hiram of Tyre to help Shelomoh Hamelech build the Beis Hamikdash, Divrei Hayamim (II 2:13) mentions karmil as one of the materials used in construction of the Mishkan, and omits tola’as shani. Thus, karmil, a word cognate to kermes, is the same as tola’as shani, which the Radak assumes originates from the worm itself (Radak to Divrei Hayamim II 2:6). Similarly, the Rambam explains tola’as shani to mean “wool dyed with an insect” (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 8:13).

However, Rabbeinu Bachyei (Shemos 25:3) takes issue with this approach, insisting that only kosher species may be used for manufacturing the Mishkan and the garments of the kohanim. He bases this position on the Gemara’s statement that “only items that one is permitted to eat may be used for the work of heaven,” which teaches that one may use only kosher items in the manufacture of tefillin (Shabbos 28a). Rabbeinu Bachyei assumes that the Mishkan, itself, whose entire purpose is to serve Hashem, certainly requires all its materials to be kosher.

Which presents us with the question: How does this fit with the description of tola’as shani as a worm derivative?

Rabbeinu Bachyei, himself, explains that the dye called tola’as shani does not originate from the insect itself, but from a fruit or berry that contains an insect. Both Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 3:2) and Rashi (to Yeshayah 1:18) also seem to explain tola’as shani this way. Thus, we might be able to modify our explanation of the Rambam’s words “wool dyed with a worm” to mean “wool dyed with a fruit that contains a worm.” (However, see the contemporary work Be’ikvus Tola’as Hashani, who explains Rashi and the Rambam differently.)

Thus, Rabbeinu Bachyei, and possibly the Rambam and Rashi, identify the tola’as shani as a fruit that has a worm in it, whereas the Radak understands tola’as shani to be the derivative of the kermes insect itself. How does the Radak resolve the issue raised by Rabbeinu Bachyei that only kosher items may be used to fulfill mitzvos?

I know of several ways to resolve this concern:

(1) Some maintain that only the basic substance used to fulfill the mitzvah must be kosher, but not a dye that merely coats the surface (cf. Shu’t Noda Bi’yehudah II Orach Chayim #3). Therefore, tola’as shani may indeed be of a non-kosher source, since it is not the material used for the mitzvah, but only colors the materials used.

(2) Others contend that the prohibition to use non-kosher items for mitzvos applies only to tefillin, mezuzos and other mitzvos requiring use of Hashem’s name or of verses of Tanach, but that one may use non-kosher items for other mitzvos or for items used in the Beis Hamikdash (see Ran, Rosh Hashanah 26b s.v. umihu af al gav; Shu’t Noda Bi’yehudah II, Orach Chayim # 3). According to this analysis, tola’as shani is acceptable for the Beis Hamikdash, even if it is considered non-kosher.

(3) A third approach asserts that kermes dye is kosher, since its original source can no longer be identified. This approach is based on early poskim, who held that a prohibited food becomes kosher when it transforms completely into a new substance. The Rosh (Berachos 6:35; Shu’t 24:6) cites Rabbeinu Yonah, who permitted using musk, a fragrance derived from the gland of several different animals, many of them non-kosher, as a food flavoring, because it had already been transformed into a new substance no longer identifiable with its source. Similarly, the Rambam identifies musk as one of the ingredients in the incense burned in the Beis Hamikdash. Based on these authorities, one can theorize that although the source of the kermes is non-kosher, the dye itself is kosher. In an article I wrote once titled Some Kitniyos Curiosities, I noted that there is much dispute about this chiddush, and that virtually no late halachic authorities permit use of an originally non-kosher item that has become transformed, at least in regard to Torah prohibitions.

(4) Others contend that the kermes coloring is kosher, since the creatures are first dried — and powder derived from an insect dried for twelve months (or the equivalent) is considered to be innocuous and, therefore, kosher (see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 87:20 and Darkei Teshuvah ad loc. and 102:30 — the latter anthology contains a lengthy discussion on this topic; Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:96:2).

Thus, we have several different ways of explaining how the tola’as shani may indeed have been identical with the Egyptian kermes and yet still be an acceptable dye for mitzvah objects, such as the garments of the kohanim and the curtains and coverings of the Mishkan. Analyzing the different opinions about tola’as shani leads into a practical discussion as to whether kermes is a kosher food coloring.

THE FOOD COLORING INDUSTRY

Whether we like it or not, many of our foods are colored with a host of coloring agents. Some are derived from food items, such as beets, berries, sugar (caramel coloring), turmeric and annatto, whereas others are derived from inedible materials, such as coal, petroleum and other sources most consumers would prefer to ignore. Although the processing of colorants can involve use of non-kosher ingredients or processing methods that compromise the kashrus of the finished product, only a few food colors are themselves obtained from non-kosher materials. Among those that originate from non-kosher substances is carmine red, also called cochineal, which is often used to color canned fruits, yogurts, juice drinks, maraschino cherries, etc.

THE ORIGIN OF CARMINE

When the Spaniards colonized the New World, they discovered a scale insect, called the cochineal bug, which yields a red color eight times brighter than kermes. The Spaniards valued this insect, developing and marketing its carmine red pigment. The word carmine, used specifically for this color, is derived from the similarity of cochineal to kermes, which it eventually replaced as the most common color. One of the common uses of this dye is in bright red punch, which, for this reason, became commonly called in camps “bug juice.”

KOSHER CARMINE?

Are kermes and carmine kosher for food coloring?

Whether kermes and carmine pigments are kosher or not depends on why some contend that kermes could be used to dye the garments of the kohanim. Let us review the four answers that I quoted above and see how each one impacts our shaylah.

Approach (1) above permitted dyeing a mitzvah item using non-kosher material, since the latter is not the primary item, but only a coloring. This approach would prohibit use of color from a non-kosher source in a product that one intends to eat.

Approach (2) ruled that mitzvah items that do not contain Hashem’s name or a holy verse may be produced from non-kosher substances. This reason would also forbid use of kermes or carmine colors for food.

Nevertheless, both the third and fourth approaches mentioned would permit using cochineal coloring in a kosher product.

Approach (3) held that the color is now transformed into a completely different substance and has therefore lost its non-kosher status.

Approach (4) maintained that the kermes scales are dried out to the point where they are no longer non-kosher. Indeed, for this reason, some authorities maintain that carmine is kosher (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 87:20; see Minchas Yitzchak 3:96:2). Many years ago, I remember seeing carmine color certified kosher by responsible talmidei chachamim. However, today, every respected kashrus agency I know treats carmine color as non-kosher.

Although approach #3 held that the color is now transformed and has therefore lost its non-kosher status, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 114:2) and other authorities (see Rema, Orach Chayim 467:8 and Magen Avraham 216:3) rule as the Rishonim, who prohibited a transformed food item whose original source was prohibited min hatorah. Many authorities permit a transformed food item whose source is prohibited because of rabbinic injunction (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 216:2; Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #117; Shu’t Imrei Yosher 2:140; Mishnah Berurah 216:7).

The relationship we have with food is not limited to taste and smell. We learn this from the laws requiring lighting candles for Shabbos, which enables one to see what he eats and thus leads to greater enjoyment of the Shabbos repast. Similarly, the Gemara teaches that a blind person is never satiated by what he eats (Yoma 74b). Much of the skill involved in the food service business is unrelated to cuisine, but intimately connected to the appearance and presentation of the food, in which the choice of colors figures prominently. As we see from the above article, we should keep in mind the kashrus ramifications of the color of the food we eat.

Separating Challah When the Owner Is Not Observant

Since the contemporary household no longer bakes its daily bread, every sizable Jewish community requires the availability of a local kosher bakery. As a result, one of the innumerable responsibilities of the local rabbinate is to arrange proper supervision of such a bakery. Although in larger communities the rabbonim may insist that they provide hechsherim only to bakeries that meet the highest standards on all levels, in smaller communities there are many challenges that local rabbonim must deal with when deciding whether and how they will provide kashrus supervision. Many of these issues were discussed in an essay I published years ago, which I am in the progress of rewriting and hope to send out in the near future. The current essay will deal specifically with the problems of separating challah in such a bakery. Note that throughout this essay, challah will refer to the portion separated from dough to fulfill the mitzvah of the Torah, and does not refer to the special bread that we eat on Shabbos.

Separating Challah

The Torah describes the mitzvah of challah in the following passage:

When you enter the land to which I am bringing you, and it will be that when you eat from the bread of the land — you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it.[1]

According to Torah Law, dough kneaded from the five grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt)[2] in Israel (“the land to which I am bringing you”), in an era when most Jews reside there, must have the challah portion removed and given to the kohein, which he or his family eats when they are tehorim. Since the ashes of the parah adumah are necessary to achieve complete taharah, nowadays a kohein cannot eat the challah portion, so, instead, it is destroyed. Most authorities prefer that the challah portion be burned.

If the dough mixed has less than an omer of flour, equal to the amount of manna each Jew received as his daily portion in the desert, there is no requirement to take challah. There are many opinions as to exactly how much flour constitutes an “omer.” Accepted practice is that a dough made with over five pounds of flour is definitely obligated in challah, and that a dough of between three and five pounds is treated as a safek, an unresolved question as to its being obligated in challah.[3] As a result, when mixing a dough of five or more pounds of flour, one usually[4] separates challah with a beracha, whereas when mixing a dough of between three and five points of flour, one separates challah without reciting a beracha on the mitzvah.

Although the Torah did not establish a minimum-sized portion to be set aside as the challah portion, the Mishnah records a rabbinically-introduced minimum — 1/48 of a dough kneaded for commercial sale and 1/24 of a dough intended for private consumption.[5] Many opinions state that the Sages established a minimum portion only in an era when the challah would be eaten by the kohein and his family.[6] Since today the challah portion is not eaten, a larger challah portion does not benefit the kohein, and therefore the law reverts back to the Torah requirements and challah no longer requires a minimum-sized portion. The Rema adds that the custom is to separate at least a kezayis, the size of an olive.[7]

Halachic authorities are explicit that the mitzvah of challah is dependent on whether the dough is owned by a Jew or a non-Jew.[8] Therefore, if a Jewish-owned business has non-Jewish employees handling production, there is still a responsibility to take challah. Conversely, if a non-Jewish-owned business has Jewish employees handling production, there is no requirement to take challah.

While the mitzvah min hatorah is only on dough mixed in Eretz Yisrael, Chazal required separating challah from dough kneaded outside of Israel, when the dough is owned by a Jew.[9] Some leniencies apply when the dough is mixed in chutz la’aretz, but the details of these laws are beyond the scope of this essay.

The Jewish owners of the bakery are responsible to make sure that challah is separated from every batch. If the bakery is a large enterprise, the owner usually does not work in the baking part of the business. This does not absolve the owner from making sure that challah is taken. If he does not want to be in the bakery all day and all night while the product is being mixed, he must delegate to a shomer Shabbos employee the responsibility of taking challah. However, a bakery that has no shomer Shabbos individuals on the premises presents a difficulty. Granted that any Jew can actually separate the challah portion, the halacha stipulates that a shomer Shabbos must ascertain that challah was in fact taken.[10]

This problem is compounded when the bakery is owned by a Jew who is, himself, not shomer mitzvos. Although there is a halachic requirement to take challah, who can be made responsible to make sure that it happens?

Jewish communal leaders have sought a variety of solutions to this problem. I have found many communities in which the local hechsher assumes responsibility only that the ingredients of the local bakery are kosher, but does not assume responsibility that challah is separated. Instead, they advise the consumers to take challah themselves after purchasing baked goods under their “supervision.” Although this practice is very widespread, the stumbling block for people who do not realize that challah must be taken is a serious concern. Often, people relying on the supervision do not remember to take challah every time they make a purchase.

Another approach is for the non-shomer Shabbos staff to separate challah from every batch of dough. These challah portions are set aside and periodically checked by the mashgiach. Here, there is much room for error, as it is impossible to ascertain that challah has indeed always been taken. In addition, there is concern that the challah portion might be mixed back into the dough being processed.

Still another recommendation is to arrange a “sale” whereby a non-Jew would, in effect, own the flour, and the Jewish-owned company would act as a contractor to process the flour into bread. The method for such a contract would be similar to the selling of chametz for Pesach. However, many do not approve this. Granted that usage of such a sale has become accepted to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach and for a few other halachic issues, it is difficult to extend this leniency into an area that poskim have never recommended or advised.

Another solution that might come to mind is to take challah once, from each shipment of flour. The reason why one would be interested in this approach is because a middle-sized bakery may receive flour only a few times a week, and a small bakery even less frequently, making the taking of challah much easier to control than taking it from batches of dough that are being mixed frequently and throughout the day and night.

However, this approach does not seem to work. The Mishnah in Challah[11] states, “If one attempts to separate his challah portion while it is still flour, the challah does not take effect, and it would be considered stolen property in the hands of the kohein.” The Mishnah, written in the era when the challah portion was still given to the kohein, teaches that, since there is no requirement to separate challah before the flour is made into dough, it is meaningless to take challah at this stage. As a result, if someone separated challah from flour and gave the portion to a kohein, it is not legally the property of the kohein, and it must, therefore, be returned.

A different suggestion

For the rest of this article, I am going to explain a method whereby one can separate challah to take effect when the bakery’s flour is mixed into dough. Since this method is very complicated and can be easily misapplied, I do not recommend using this approach, unless none of the other suggestions for taking challah can be utilized; furthermore, one would need to review the specific details with a competent posek. Let me explain how this works and how this suggestion may be used to resolve the problem of taking challah at a Jewish-owned bakery.

The Tur[12] and the Smag[13] quote the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz that, although challah cannot take effect on flour, one may set in motion a procedure that takes effect automatically when the flour becomes dough.

The Gemara that serves as the basis for Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling discusses not the separating of challah, but the separating of terumah. The Torah requires that we separate terumah and maasros from grain that grows in Eretz Yisrael. The chiyuv, requirement, to separate terumah and maasros begins only when the produce is harvested, and therefore, one cannot separate terumah and maasros before this point.[14] This idea is identical to the concept that one cannot separate challah from flour, since the chiyuv has as yet not arrived.

Although one cannot separate terumah and maasros prior to harvest, the Gemara concludes that, when the grain is ripe enough for harvest, one may declare that the produce of one furrow of grain should, upon its harvest, become terumah on another furrow of grain when the latter is harvested.[15] The rationale here is that, although it is too early to actually separate the terumah, since one could harvest the grain and thereby create the chiyuv, one can already set in motion a procedure that will happen automatically when the grains are harvested and have become chayovim in terumah and maasros.

Rabbi Eliezer of Metz explains that the same principle can be applied to the mitzvah of separating challah. Although one may not separate challah from flour, once one owns the flour and can therefore mix it into dough, one may set in motion a procedure whereby challah is separated automatically from flour, as it is mixed into dough.

This concept of R Eliezer is codified in the Shulchan Aruch as follows:

If one attempts to separate his challah portion while it is still flour, the challah does not take effect… All this is true when he wants the challah to take effect immediately. However, if he separated flour and said that challah should take effect when the flour is mixed into dough, then the challah does take effect.[16]

The principle of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz can now he applied to a moderately different set of circumstances. If one were to remove a kezayis from dough that is chayov in challah and specify that this kezayis will become challah for a different, as yet unmixed, dough, when the second dough is kneaded, the challah-taking will become valid. Since one could knead the second dough immediately and create the requirement to take challah, one can set in motion a procedure that will cause the challah-separating to happen automatically.

For this to work, one additional requirement must be met. The dough from which challah is taken must still exist and still be chayov in challah when all the later batches of flour are mixed into dough. This is because challah must be taken min hachiyuv, from dough that requires challah to be taken from it. Challah cannot be taken min hapatur, from dough that does not (or no longer) require challah to be taken from it. Thus, the dough from which the challah-portion is taken must originally contain at least five pounds of flour — sufficient flour for it to be definitely chayov in challah. For the same reason, challah may not have been taken yet for the dough being used to take the challah-portion. If challah had been taken, then the dough now has the status of patur.

All dough whose challah requirements are being met by this challah-portion must be kneaded before the challah-portion is burned. Since the challah-taking takes effect when the dough is mixed, the portion must still be extent for the challah to take effect.

This challah-taking will be valid only for flour already owned by the bakery at the time that the challah-portion is separated, since the owner cannot create the chiyuv of challah on that which he does not own.

The challah-portion should preferably contain a kezayis of dough for each dough to be kneaded later. Each mixing of dough creates another automatic challah-taking, and each challah-taking requires another kezayis, according to the Rema mentioned above.

There are three other halachic issues that need to be mentioned, but whose details will be left for a different essay. One is that, if the bakery makes specialty bread or pastry that is made mostly or completely from rye, barley, spelt or oat flour, this will probably necessitate separating challah from the non-wheat dough, also. A second rule is that the person taking challah must be properly authorized to do so by the owner of the bakery. The last rule that we need to discuss is the rule of mukaf, literally, adjacency, which requires that one should not lechatchilah separate challah from dough that is not next to the dough that is now becoming exempted from the mitzvah of challah.

Conclusions for challah taking

According to what we have explained above, I can now propose a solution for the following situation. Your town has a kosher, Jewish-owned bakery, but the logistics do not allow for someone shomer Shabbos to be available to separate the challah portion as it is mixed. I have proposed a method whereby challah can be taken by having a mashgiach or shomer Shabbos employee take challah about once a day or perhaps even only a few times a week. A batch of dough containing at least five pounds of flour is mixed. This dough needs to be placed somewhere where it will not be tampered with, until it is no longer needed for challah taking. The mashgiach declares that a kezayis of this portion should become challah on every dough that becomes mixed. For this approach to work, the following conditions must exist:

1. Both the dough used for the challah portion and the flour which is having its challah requirement fulfilled must already be in the possession of the owner of the bakery. In addition, the mashgiach must be properly appointed by the owner of the bakery to separate challah.

2. The challah taken must not be burned until the last dough that it is exempting is mixed.

There is a method whereby this approach can be modified even further to allow separating challah by someone who is not even in the bakery, but I am not going to discuss that option in this essay. A study of the halachic source material indicates that methods do exist whereby challah can be taken in a practical and effective manner. Hopefully, this research will be of practical use to those faced with these circumstances.


[1] Bamidbar 15:18-20.

[2] Mishnah, Challah 1:1.

[3] Edus Leyisrael page 138; Shearim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 35:2. There are other opinions also. According to Leket Ha’omer of Rav Yaakov Bleu (5:2), the custom is to take challah even from a dough of only 1.25 kilograms, which is 2.75 pounds.

[4]  I use the word usually because if the dough is intended to be divided among different owners or purposes, then we do not recite a beracha prior to separating the challah. I discussed this topic at length in my article Making a Beracha before Separating Challah, which is available on the website RabbiKaganoff.com.

[5] Challah 2:7.

[6] Quoted by Tur, Yoreh Deah 322.

[7] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 322:5.

[8] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 330:1.

[9] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 322:5

[10] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 119:7.

[11] 2:5.

[12] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 327.

[13] Mitzvas Aseh #141.

[14] Terumos 1:5.

[15] Kiddushin 62b.

[16] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 327:1.

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