Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

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Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacturer who claimed that his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably make only the first cans bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily lowering the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it; this would accomplish that I had added fuel to the cooking process when I reset the temperature and thereby had participated in the cooking of the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which, in turn, may lead to idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants that need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without making appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

The Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah, itself. 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)?

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. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling, but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant benefit to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

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 a significant enhancement (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less important, 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). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Much halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food, even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it uncooked, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked, although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported, since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible, and consequently are a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking, so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher, since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher, even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume for the purpose of our discussion that these facts are accurate.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egypt is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain but permit those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas does not cause them to become prohibited, since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary poskim contend that shipping a cooked product to a place where it is not eaten raw makes it prohibited as bishul akum (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi consumption. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once it becomes accepted that certain varieties of fish are food even when served uncooked, those fish varieties will not be prohibited as bishul akum even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared in accordance with halachah.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum for several reasons.For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never included steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum, because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility, where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore, it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi responsible for the hechsher. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have the right connections.

Pouring While It’s Hot

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The end of the article answers the question: “Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Question #1: Warming bottles

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle containing milk or formula?”

Question #2: Sinks

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

Question #3: Iruy into liquids

“Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

Question #4:

“Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Introduction:

Although our opening questions may appear unconnected, they all relate to a halachic topic called iruy kli rishon. This term refers to the halachic status of food or vessels that were heated by having hot liquid poured on them. For example, preparing a cup of tea by pouring hot water from a kettle or urn into a cup containing a tea bag is a typical case of cooking by use of iruy. Pouring hot chicken soup directly from the pot into a milchig bowl is another situation of iruy kli rishon. The word iruy means pouring,and the term iruy kli rishon means that the liquid was poured from a pot or pan that was heated directly by the heat of a fire. This article will discuss the background and the basic rules of iruy kli rishon and some halachic ramifications. As usual, our purpose is not to paskin everyone’s halachic queries. That is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

Iruy kli rishon affects many common situations, including, for example:

The status of milchig and fleishig items in your kitchen.

How one may warm food on Shabbos.

Whether a food or utensil became non-kosher.

How to kasher utensils that became non-kosher.

Kashrus Jargon

To make this presentation clearer, let us clarify four relevant terms:

Yad soledes bo

Whenever in this article we mention something is hot, it means that it is at least yad soledes bo, meaning that it is hot enough that a person pulls his hand back, instinctively, when he touches it. There is much dispute among halachic authorities how we measure this in degrees, which is a subtopic that we will leave for a different time.

Kdei kelipah

At times, we will refer to something being cooked or absorbed kdei kelipah. For the purposes of this article, this means that, at the point of contact of the heat, some cooking or flavor absorption transpires, but does not extend further.

Kli rishon

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel that was heated directly from a source of heat, such as on a stove, inside an oven, or any other way.

Kli sheini

A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food is poured from a kli rishon.

An anecdote from the Gemara will clarify the status of a kli sheini.

Although most forms of hot bathing are prohibited on Shabbos, it is permitted to bathe in hot natural springs, such as those found in Iceland, Teverya, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gemara (Shabbos 40b) records that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, also known as Rebbe, was bathing in the hotsprings of Teverya on Shabbos and was being waited on by his disciple, Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi. Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi had a flask of oil for Rebbe to use for anointing after he finished bathing, and Rav Yitzchak wanted to warm the flask so that the oil would be more comfortable. Rav Yitzchak asked Rebbe whether he could warm the oil in the hot spring; Rebbe replied that he may not. Then Rebbe suggested a different approach: Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi could fill a container with hot spring water, then place the container of oil inside the larger container of hot water.

Tosafos (ad loc.) asks why the latter procedure is permitted, whereas placing the flask of oil directly in the hot spring is prohibited. In both instances, the oil is heated by water from a natural hot spring. Tosafos answers that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the liquid is maintained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed – what we call a kli sheini – the walls of the vessel diminish the heat. As a result, the oil will not cook from the heat of the water. In other words, cooking in a vessel requires not only sufficient heat, but that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain the heat. Therefore, cooking can occur in a kli rishon but not in a kli sheini.

The Mishnah

Here is another distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini: The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pot was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter containing food that was poured out of the original pot. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire. Again, the indication is that cooking requires the walls themselves to have been heated.

Iruy kli rishon

We see that whereas a kli rishon is capable of cooking, a kli sheini is not. What about pouring from a kli rishon, which is an in-between level? The hot stream coming from iruy kli rishon has no vessel walls to maintain its heat – but it also has no walls cooling down the heated product.  Do the heated walls of the kli rishon cause the cooking, in which case iruy kli rishon would not be considered cooking, or is it the cooling kli sheini’s walls that prevents cooking from transpiring, in which case iruy kli rishon would be considered cooking? This question is debated extensively by the rishonim and early poskim.

Sibling rivalry

Among the main players who weigh in on the discussion are two of Rashi’s illustrious grandsons, the Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafos, Zevachim 95b). The Rashbam maintained that iruy does not cook, just as a kli sheini does not. His younger brother, Rabbeinu Tam, disputed this, and contended that iruy kli rishon can cook, at least to a certain extent.

Among the Baalei Tosafos, we find a further dispute regarding whether Rabbeinu Tam held that iruy kli rishon cooks and causes absorption of flavor through the entire product or only kdei kelipah. We will be assuming the second of these approaches, which is held by the majority of authorities.

The background behind this discussion takes us to a different passage of Gemara.

Who wins?

Within the context of a hot substance falling on a cold one, or vice versa, we find a dispute in the Gemara (Pesachim 75b-76a) between the great amora’im, Rav and Shmuel, as to who “wins” – the one on top or the one on the bottom. As explained by Rashi, the Gemara teaches:

If hot food fell into hot food, such as hot meat fell into hot milk, or when one item was kosher and the other not, everyone agrees that the resultant mixture is non-kosher. The flavors of the two products became mixed because of the heat, and the result is no longer kosher.

If both food items were cold, and one can separate the two products, that which was originally permitted remains so.

The dispute between Rav and Shmuel is when one food is hot and the other cold. Rav contends that when the upper one is hot, the flavor of one food mixes into the other, rendering them both non-kosher; however, when the lower one is hot and the upper is cold, the flavors do not mix. Therefore, if the foods did not become mixed, the kosher one remains kosher. This is referred to as ila’ah gavar, literally, the upper one is stronger.

Shmuel rules that when the lower item is hot, we rule that the flavors mix, and everything becomes non-kosher. However, when only the upper one is hot, it cools off when it mixes into the lower one. This is referred to as tata’ah gavar, meaning, “the lower one is stronger.” The Gemara concludes that, according to Shmuel, when a hot substance falls into a cold substance, there is a mixing of flavors on a thin layer of the food, which is called kdei kelipah. Therefore, a thin layer is sliced off the food at the point of contact, since that layer absorbed non-kosher flavor. The rest of the food remains kosher. This ruling will be a major factor in our discussion.

Rashi notes that, although in matters of kashrus and other laws called issur veheter we usually rule according to Rav and against Shmuel, in this particular debate we rule according to Shmuel. The reason is because the Gemara notes that two different beraisos, teachings from the tanna’im, ruled like Shmuel. Thus, most of the rest of our discussions assume that tata’ah gavar.

Let us now return to the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and his older brother, the Rashbam, concerning whether iruy is considered to have cooked something. Some authorities, following the approach of Rabbeinu Tam, contend that just as Shmuel ruled that when one pours a hot food onto a cold one, we assume that kdei kelipah became absorbed, when pouring hot water onto a cold food (such as a teabag) on Shabbos; we must assume that a kdei kelipah becomes cooked. Thus, it is forbidden, according to Rabbeinu Tam, to pour hot water onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos. The consensus of halachic authority is to accept this ruling and to prohibit pouring hot water from a kli rishon onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos.

Kdei kelipah

Above, we noted that when a hot substance falls into something cold, the hot substance is absorbed into the cold one to a depth of a thin layer of food. One question to resolve is whether this ruling is min haTorah oronly miderabbanan. A prominent early acharon, the Magen Avraham (467:33), contends that this ruling (that a layer of the cold food becomes prohibited) is only a chumra be’alma, meaning that min haTorah no absorption takes place, but that Chazal prohibited kdei kelipah.

Despite the Magen Avraham’s position, it is evident from many rishonim that they understood that kdei kelipah is prohibited min haTorah.

Baby bottle

At this point, let us examine our opening question:

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle full of milk?”

We have learned that when pouring hot water from a kli rishon, the outer surface of the food may become cooked.

However, let us think for a moment about our question. Iruy potentially can cook only the outer surface, which, in this case, is the bottle itself. Observation tells us that, even assuming that vessels can become “cooked,” bottles do not become cooked by pouring boiling water on them, since they are too hard to become changed, either physically or chemically, by this amount of heat. Furthermore, the milk inside the bottle is not in the surface kdei kelipah, and, therefore, although the milk inside the bottle will become warm or even hot, it is not being cooked. Consequently, it is permitted to warm baby’s bottle on Shabbos by pouring hot water onto the outside of the bottle.

Iruy into liquids

Let us move on to the next of our opening questions: “Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

We learned that iruy kli rishon causes a small degree of absorption, and, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it also cooks. At this point, I raise a question: Perhaps this is true only when the hot water is poured onto a solid food or a vessel? Could one argue that no cooking takes place when one pours from a kli rishon into a bowl of liquid?

Why should there be a difference between a solid and a liquid? When one pours directly into a liquid, what one pours immediately disperses into the liquid into which it falls. Perhaps all the heat that would cause absorption kdei kelipah dissipates throughout the liquid and, consequently, no cooking takes place. Indeed, we find rishonim who espouse this position (Tosafos, Pesachim 40b s.v. Ha’ilpeis). Nevertheless, this is not a universally held position, and the consensus of later authorities is that we do not differentiate between liquids and solids: In all instances, we conclude that iruy kli rishon does cause some cooking (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Yoreh Deah 68:9 s.v. Hadin Hashelishi).

Hot potato

At this point, we can explain a different halachic question: A hot potato is on my plate, which is a kli sheini since it was not on the fire. May I place uncooked seasoning onto the potato on Shabbos?

We learned above that I am permitted to put uncooked spices into a kli sheini. It would appear, then, that I am permitted to add raw spices to my hot potato, which is sitting in a kli sheini. Indeed, we find major authorities who seem to agree that this is considered a case of a kli sheini (see, for example, Rema, Yoreh Deah 94:7).

Nevertheless, many authorities disagree with this conclusion (Maharshal, Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8:71). They note the following: Tosafos explained that the difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini is that the cooler walls of the kli sheini are reducing the heat; this prevents cooking from taking place.

However, a hot potato on a plate is not being cooled down by the plate. Since it touches the plate on only a minimal amount of its area, perhaps the potato itself retains the halachic status of a kli rishon. This is referred to as davar gush, a solid food not having the halachic advantages of a kli sheini. Most of the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch rule that, generally, we should be concerned about both approaches: that of the Rema,who considers this a kli sheini; and that of the Maharshal, who considers this a kli rishon. As a practical matter, this means that one usually treats a davar gush not as a kli sheini but as a kli rishon (Shach, Yoreh Deah 105:8; Taz, Yoreh Deah105:4; Magen Avrohom, Orach Chayim 318:45).

Sinks

At this point, let us examine another of our opening questions:

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

The question here is as follows: A sink does not have its own heating element. As such, it is never a kli rishon, but qualifies either as an iruy situation or as a kli sheini. We learned above that iruy can cause cooking and absorption, at least kdei kelipah. For these reasons, many authorities contend that someone who has only one sink in the kitchen should treat it as treif and use either dishpans or something similar and avoid putting dishes directly onto the sink surface (see, for example, Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 2:100). On the other hand, based on an extensive analysis of the halachic sources, one major authority concludes that using a sink for both milchig and fleishig does not meet the characteristics of iruy kli rishon and is permitted (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:42). I refer our readers to their own halachic authority for a practical ruling.

Koshering

At this point, let us examine the last of our opening questions:

Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the spoils that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). Here the Torah introduces the concept of kashering vessels that have absorbed non-kosher foods. In this instance, the vessels of Midyan had been used for non-kosher; could the Jews use them? The answer is that they could kasher each item in a way that expunges the non-kosher absorption, and the vessel would become kosher. As Rashi explains the posuk, any item that was used directly in fire needs to be placed directly in fire to become kosher. And that which was not used in fire directly, but was used to cook with hot water on top of the fire must pass through water that was heated directly by a fire, to kasher it.

Does something that absorbed non-kosher via iruy require kashering? According to the conclusion above, it does – since we assume that iruy kli rishon causes some absorption into the walls of the vessel. But it can be kashered through iruy kli rishon (Tosafos, Shabbos 42b s.v. Aval).

Conclusion

We now have some understanding of a complicated halachic issue with all sorts of ramifications. It provides an appreciation how much one’s rav or posek must keep in mind every time he answers one of our questions. Certainly, this is a time to value his scholarship and his making himself available when we need him.

The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

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

Photo by Ove Tøpfer from FreeImages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXORCISING THE BLOOD

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

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

BROILING MEAT

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

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

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

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS OR BUST

The Geonim enacted that meat must be salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah. They contended that, after three days, blood inside the meat hardens and is no longer extractable through soaking and salting. Should meat not be soaked and salted within 72 hours, they ruled that only broiling successfully removes the blood. Of course, if one does not want to eat broiled meat, this last suggestion will not satisfy one’s culinary preferences.

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

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

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

WASHING OR SOAKING?

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

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

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

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah.

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

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

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

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

MOTZA’EI SHABBOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

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

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

FROZEN MEAT

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

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

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

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

Beer, Oil and Honey

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

Question #1: Beer

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

Question #2: Oil

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

Question #3: Honey

“Does pure honey present any kashrus issues?”

Answer

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

Beer

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

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

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

Why is beer different?

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

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

How do we rule?

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

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

Bishul akum

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

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

The brew that made Bavel famous

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

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

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

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

Kashrus of beer

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

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

Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Releasing the gezeirah

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

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

Let me explain:

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

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

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

Modern vegetable oil

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

Deodorization

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

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

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

Honey

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

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

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

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

1. Admixture of non-kosher ingredients.

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

2. Bishul akum

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

3. Non-kosher equipment

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Glycerin in Today’s World

Photo by Artem Zhushman from FreeImages

Question #1:

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

Question #2:

“Is glycerin kosher?”

Question #3:

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

Question #4:

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

Introduction:

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

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

Properties of glycerin

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

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

Athletics and glycerin

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

Food uses of glycerin

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

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

Is glycerin used as a sweetener?

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

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

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

Kashrus of glycerin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Far for Bread?

Photo by barbara bar from FreeImages

Question #1: For a Crust of Bread

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

Question #2: Camp Bread

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

Question #3: A Caring Host

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

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

Basic background

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

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

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

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

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

Must one use only pas Yisroel?

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

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

How available?

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

How far?

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

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

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

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

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

How far is four millin?

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

How long does it take to walk a mil?

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

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

When does a fast begin?

How long must meat be salted to kosher it?

When does Shabbos end?

In how much time does dough become chometz?

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

Today

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

Out of my way

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

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

At home

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

Pas Yisroel at a distance

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

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

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

How far or how long?

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

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

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

Being a good host

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not for the birds

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

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

Non-kosher species

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

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

Which thigh?

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

Inner and outer

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

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

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

“Fat of the gid

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

How early?

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

Chayos

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

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

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

Cheilev

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

Cheilev versus gid hano’she

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

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

The Mishnah

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

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

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

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

Jewish identification

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

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

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

Jewish American identification

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

Pas Yisroel and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

Question #1: Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

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

Question #2: Friendly Baker

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

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this topic before Rosh Hashanah?

Background

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

Takanas Chachamim

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

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

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

Basic background

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes permitted?

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

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

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

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

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

Yerushalmi versus Bavli

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

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

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

Resolving the Rif

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

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

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

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

To what extent?

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

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

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

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

Invitation to the White House

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

When is pas paltur permitted?

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

Less tasty

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

A more lenient approach

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

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

When was it baked?

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

Friendly baker

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

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

Jewish participation

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

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

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

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

Is My Stove Kosher?

Question #1: Is my stove treif?

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

Question #2: Kashering their stove

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

Question #3: Induction stoves

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

Introduction

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

Should I be discriminating?

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

Separate but not equal

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

The induction stove

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

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

Introduction #1: Vessel to vessel

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

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

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

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

Here are two practical examples that the Rema discusses there:

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

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

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

How do we rule?

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

Another application – the stovetop

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

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

Why is this night of Pesach different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Induction stoves

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

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

Firstly, what is an induction stove?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A treif inducer

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

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

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

From milchig to fleishig:

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

For Pesach use:

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

Which Utensils Must I Immerse?

Question #1: With Cookie Cutter Precision!

Rivkah Baker asks:

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

Question #2: Butch’s Cleaver

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Is this a kashrus law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klei Seudah – appliances used for meals

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

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

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

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

Making a point!

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

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

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

What is the difference between a reidel and a knife?

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

Cookie cutting precision!

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

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

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

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

Major improvements

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

The saga of Butch’s cleaver

We can now address Butch Katzav’s question:

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

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