The Laws of Yoshon

Question #1:

“When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. Now I am constantly hearing these terms. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

Question #2:

“We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the United States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

The Basics

Before addressing the issue underlying both questions, which is whether the prohibition of chodosh applies outside Eretz Yisrael, we must first study some essential details of the mitzvah. The Torah teaches in our parsha:

“Bread, sweet flour made from toasted kernels, or the toasted kernels themselves, may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d. This is a law that you must always observe, throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places” (Vayikra 23:14). “That very day” refers to the second day of Pesach, the day that the korban omer, the “offering” mentioned in the pasuk, is brought. (This is the same day that we begin counting the omer.)

The Mishnah (Menachos 70a) explains that this mitzvah applies only to the five species that we usually categorize as grain, which Rashi (Pesachim 35a) defines as wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. The Gemara (Menachos 70b) demonstrates that the laws of chodosh apply to the same varieties of grain that can become chometz.

What permits the new grain?

We should note that the Torah mentions two different factors that permit the new grain – it “may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d.” This seems to be a bit contradictory. What permits the new grain, the day itself or the offering that is brought that day?

The New Korban

The Gemara (Menachos 68a) concludes that it depends on whether a korban omer will be offered that particular year. Until the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, a korban omer was brought annually, and offering this korban permitted the new grain, thereby fulfilling “may not be eaten… until you bring the offering to your G-d.” After the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, it is the day that permits the new grain.

There is a further question: when it is the day that permits the new grain, is it the beginning of the day or its end?

The Gemara quotes a dispute about this fact, but concludes that even those who permit the new grain at the beginning of the day do so only min hatorah; but, they agree that miderabbanan, the new grain is not permitted until the day ends (Sukkah 41b).

“New” Grain versus “Old” Grain

This new grain is called chodosh, literally, new. Once Pesach passes, the grain is called yoshon, old, even though it may have been planted only a few days before. The promotion from chodosh to yoshon transpires automatically on the second day of Pesach – all the existing chodosh becomes yoshon grain on that day, even that which is still growing. The only requirement is that, by then, the grain must have already taken root. Thus, designating the grain as “old” does not mean that it is either wizened or rancid. Grain planted in the late winter or early spring often becomes permitted well before it has even completed growing. On the other hand, grain that took root after the second day of Pesach is categorized as “new” grain that may not be eaten until the second day of Pesach the following year.

How do we know that it is newly rooted?

Since most of us spend little time subterraneanly, how are we to know when the newly planted seeds decided to take root? This question is already debated by the tanna’im. The halachic authorities dispute whether we assume that the seeds take root three days after planting or not until fourteen days after planting. If we assume that they take root in only three days, then grain planted on the thirteenth of Nisan is permitted after the sixteenth, whereas that planted on the fourteenth, Erev Pesach, is forbidden. This is because the remaining part of the thirteenth day counts as the first day, and the fifteenth day of Nisan (the first day of Pesach) is the third day, and we therefore assume that the new grain rooted early enough to become permitted (Terumas Hadeshen #151; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 293:4, 5; Aruch Hashulchan).

According to those who conclude that it takes fourteen days to take root, this grain does not become permitted until the 16th day of Nisan of the next year. In addition, any grain planted on the third of Nisan or afterwards will not be permitted until the coming year, whereas that planted on the second of Nisan becomes permitted this year. We count the second of Nisan as the first day, which makes the fifteenth of Nisan the fourteenth day, and the grain has taken root early enough so that it is permitted after the sixteenth (Nekudos Hakesef; Dagul Meirevavah; Shu’t Noda Biyehudah 2:Orach Chayim:84).

What’s New in Chutz La’aretz?

Now that we understand some basic information about chodosh, we can discuss whether this mitzvah applies to grain growing outside Eretz Yisrael. Following the general rule that agricultural mitzvahs, mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aretz, apply only in Eretz Yisrael, we should assume that this mitzvah does not apply to grain that grew in chutz la’aretz. Indeed, this is the position of the tanna Rabbi Yishmael (Kiddushin 37a). However, Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, contending that the mitzvah applies also in chutz la’aretz.

This dispute is based on differing interpretations of an unusual verse. When closing its instructions concerning the mitzvah of chodosh, the Torah concludes: This is a law that you must always observe, throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places.” Why did the Torah add the last words, “in all your dwelling places”? Would we think that a mitzvah applies only in some dwellings and not in others?

The tanna’im mentioned above dispute how we are to understand these unusual words. Rabbi Eliezer explains that “in all your dwelling places” teaches that this prohibition, chodosh, is an exception to the rule of mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aretz and applies to all your dwelling places – even those outside Eretz Yisrael. Thus, although we have a usual rule that agricultural mitzvos apply only in Eretz Yisrael, the Torah itself taught that chodosh is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz.

Rabbi Yishmael explains the words “in all your dwelling places” to mean that the mitzvah was not obligatory until the Jews had settled the Land of Israel, which was fourteen years after they crossed the Jordan River in the days of Yehoshua. As a result, he contends that chodosh indeed follows the general rule of agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz Yisrael.

The New Planting

“When” a farmer plants his crops depends on many factors, including what variety or strain he is planting, climate and weather conditions, and, perhaps, his own personal schedule. At times in history, even non-Jewish religious observances were considerations, as we see from the following incident:

The Rosh reports that, in his day, whether most of the new grain was chodosh or yoshon depended on the timing of the gentiles’ religious season. Apparently, the gentiles in his time did not plant crops during a certain month. In some years, the gentiles planted well before Pesach, and in those years there was no chodosh concern, since the new grain became permitted while it was still growing. However, there were years in which the gentiles refrained from planting until much later, and in those years, the new grain was chodosh (Shu’t Rosh 2:1). We find, therefore, the rather anomalous situation in which the Rosh needed to know exactly when the gentiles observed their religious month to determine whether the grain was chodosh or yoshon.

What is New in Agriculture?

But one minute — the Rosh lived in Europe, first in Germany and then in Spain. Why was he concerned about chodosh? Should this not be an agricultural mitzvah that does not apply to produce grown outside of Eretz Yisrael? From the case above, we see that the Rosh ruled that chodosh is prohibited even in chutz la’aretz. The Rosh is not alone. Indeed, most, but not all, of the Rishonim and poskim conclude that chodosh applies to all grain regardless where it grows, since we see from the Gemara that chodosh was practiced in Bavel, even though it is outside Eretz Yisrael (Menachos 68b). However, notwithstanding the fact that the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch all prohibit chodosh grown in chutz la’aretz, the traditional approach among Ashkenazic Jewry was to permit the use of new grain. Why were they lenient, when most authorities rule like Rabbi Eliezer that chodosh is prohibited even outside Eretz Yisrael?

Later authorities suggest several reasons to permit consuming the new grain.

Doubly Doubtful

Many authorities permitted the new grain, because the new crop may have been planted early enough to be permitted, and, in addition, the possibility exists that the available grain is from a previous crop year, which is certainly permitted. This approach accepts that chodosh applies equally in chutz la’aretz as it does in Eretz Yisrael, but contends that when one is uncertain whether the grain available is chodosh or yoshon, one can rely that it is yoshon and consume it. Because of this double doubt, called a sefek sefeika, many major authorities permitted people to consume the obtainable grain (Rama, Yoreh Deah 293). However, we should note that this heter is dependent on current information, and these authorities agree that when one knows for certain that the grain being used is chodosh, one may not consume it.

The Rosh accepted this approach, and every year monitored the planting seasons so as to ascertain each year that this “double doubt” was accurate. In years that there was a chodosh problem, he refrained from eating the new grain – however, it is interesting to note that he was extremely careful not to point out his concerns to others. He further notes that his rebbe, the Maharam, followed the same practice. Thus, we see that some early gedolim were themselves strict about observing chodosh, but refrained from making this public knowledge, not wanting to cause what could prove to be a major burden for others. This practice was followed in the contemporary world by such great luminaries as Rav Yaakov Kaminetzsky, who was personally stringent on not eating chodosh, but was careful not to tell anyone, even family members, who followed the lenient approaches that I will soon share.

Another Heter

Other authorities permitted the chutz la’aretz grain, relying on the minority of early poskim who treat chodosh as a mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael (Taz; Aruch Hashulchan). This is based on a Gemara that states that when something has not been ruled definitively, under extenuating circumstances, one may rely on a minority opinion. (Niddah 9b).

This dispute then embroils one in a different issue: When the Gemara rules that under extenuating circumstances one may rely on a minority opinion, is this true only when dealing with a rabbinic prohibition, or may one do so even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition? The Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, who permitted chodosh for this reason, conclude that one may follow a minority opinion even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Shach rejects this approach, and concludes that one must be stringent when one knows that the grain is chodosh (Nekudos Hakesef. See also his Pilpul Behanhagos Hora’ah, located after Yoreh Deah 242; cf. the Bach’s essay on the same topic, published in the back of the Tur Yoreh Deah, where he rules leniently on this issue.)

The Bach’s Heter

Another halachic basis to permit use of the new grain is that chodosh applies only to grain that grows in a field owned by a Jew, and not to grain grown in a field owned by a non-Jew. Since most fields are owned by gentiles, one can be lenient when one does not know the origin of the grain and assume that it was grown in a gentile’s field, and it is therefore exempt from chodosh laws. This last approach, often referred to simply as “the Bach’s heter,” is the basis upon which most Ashkenazic Jewry relied.

We may note that the Rosh, quoted above, did not accept the Bach’s heter, and that among the early authorities who reject this approach, we can count Tosafos (Kiddushin 37a end of s.v. kol), the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch. Similarly, the above-quoted responsum from the Rosh explicitly rejects this logic and contends that chodosh applies to grain grown in a gentile’s field.

Nevertheless, common custom accepted this as the main opinion, at least among Ashkenazim, and even many gedolei Yisrael followed this approach. The Bach notes that many of the greatest luminaries of early Ashkenazic Jewry, including Rav Shachna and the Maharshal, were lenient regarding chodosh use in their native Europe. He shares that, as a young man, he advanced his theory that chodosh does not apply in a field owned by a gentile to the greatest scholars of that generation, all of whom accepted it. The Derisha, who predated the Bach, also accepts this approach and quotes approvingly several early authorities who accept this position.

The Bach, himself, further contends that, although the Rosh in his responsum rejected this approach, the Rosh subsequently changed his mind: in his halachic code, which was written after his responsa (see Tur, Choshen Mishpat, end of Chapter (72, he omits mention that the prohibition of chodosh applies to gentile-grown grain.

There is also an original position of the Kenesses Yechezkel who concludes that, although chodosh applies both in chutz la’aretz and to grain of a gentile, it does not apply when both circumstances apply simultaneously (Shu’t Yoreh Deah #41). Thus, those residing in chutz la’aretz have a right to follow the accepted practice, as indeed many, if not most, of the gedolei Yisrael did. However, others, such as the Mishnah Berurah, ruled strictly about this issue (see also Beis Hillel, Yoreh Deah).

Until fairly recently, many rabbonim felt that those who are strict about the prohibition should observe the law discreetly. They contended that one should do so because they felt that observing chodosh has the status of chumrah, and the underlying principle when observing any chumrah is hatznei’ah leches chumros should be observed modestly. (See Michtav Mei’eliyahu Volume 3, page 294.) Others feel that the practice of being lenient was based on an extenuating circumstance that is no longer valid, since yoshon is readily available in most large Jewish communities, and that, on the contrary, we should let people be aware how easy it is to observe the mitzvah.

North American Hechsherim

The assumption of virtually all hechsherim is that, unless mentioned otherwise, they rely on the halachic opinion of the Bach. Many decades ago, Rav Aharon Soloveichek pioneered his own personal hechsher that did not follow either the heter of the Bach or that of the Taz and Aruch Hashulchan. He further insisted that the yeshivos that he served as Rosh Yeshivah serve exclusively food that did not rely on these heterim. Today, there are a few other hechsherim that are following this approach, whereas the majority of hechsherim accept the heter of the Bach.

With this background, we can now address the first question that began our article. “When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. Now, I am constantly hearing the terms. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

The answer is that the mitzvah is not new. When you were young, most halachic authorities felt either that one could rely on the opinion of the Bach, or felt that one should keep the topic quiet. Today, many feel that one may advertise the availability of a yoshon product.

In addition, there is an interesting agricultural background to this question. At one point in history, the flour commonly sold in the United States was from the previous year’s crop and always yoshon. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky used to monitor the situation, and when the United States no longer followed this practice, he began to freeze flour so that he would have a supply during the winter and spring months during which it was an issue.

At this time of the year, there is no concern about chodosh in the United States since all the grain products now available took root before Pesach. Usually, the earliest chodosh products begin coming to market midsummer, and some products do not appear until the fall.

Visitors from Abroad

Let us now begin to answer the last question: “We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the United States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in chutz la’aretz has the halachic right not to be concerned about observing chodosh on grain that grows in chutz la’aretz. The question is whether someone who has moved to Eretz Yisrael and is now visiting chutz la’aretz has the same right.

Does the Halacha change depending on where you are?

Strange as this may seem, it does, indeed.

It is interesting to note that, when I was involved in kashrus supervision in the United States, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s position was not to accept the heter of the Bach. The Chief Rabbinate felt that the accepted custom in Israel is to be strict about this matter, and to treat any grain that follows the opinion of the Bach as not yet kosher.

Most, but not all, rabbonim I have asked agree that someone who considers himself to be living permanently in Eretz Yisrael should be stringent about the observance of yoshon. Their reasoning is that, since the accepted approach in Eretz Yisrael is to not accept this heter, that in Israel one does not have the right to be lenient and rely on this approach.

In Conclusion

In explaining the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch notes that one of Man’s greatest enemies is success, for, when he achieves it, he easily forgets his Creator and views himself as master of his own destiny. For this reason, the Torah created several mitzvos whose goal is to remind and discipline us to be ever aware of Hashem’s role our lives. Among these is the mitzvah of chodosh, which forbids us to consume the new grain until the korban omer has been offered, reminding us that this year’s crop is only a result of Hashem’s blessing (Horeb, Section 2 Chapter 42). Whether one follows the Bach’s approach to the chodosh laws or not, one should make note every time he sees a reference to yoshon and chodosh to recognize that success is our enemy, and that humility is our savior.

The Fruits of the Fourth Year

The second of this week’s two parshios, Kedoshim, mentions the mitzvah of neta reva’ie. Hence…

The Fruits of the Fourth Year

Question #1:

Rabbi Lamdan, a local talmid chacham, asks his Rav: “I have carefully studied this week’s parsha, which contains the Torah’s only mention of the mitzvah of neta reva’ie (fruit that grows during the fourth year of a tree’s existence). Yet, I cannot find a single allusion in the Torah to the laws of neta reva’ie as recorded by the halachic authorities! What information am I missing?”

Question #2:

Tikvah, always known for her intellectual honesty, inquires: “I feel like a hypocrite. Every day I pray for Moshiach to come and our return to the land of our fathers, and yet, I know little about the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah. If I truly hope for his imminent appearance, should I not be familiarizing myself with the laws that will apply when he arrives?”

Question #3:

When the Levy family moved into their spacious Waterbury home, they planted several fruit trees and grapevines, which are now producing luscious looking pears, apples and grapes. May they begin enjoying the fruit? Must they perform any special procedures before eating them?

What do these three questions have in common?

Understanding the basic laws of neta reva’ie and their source will enable us to answer both Rabbi Lamdan’s and the Levys’ questions, and at the same time will assist Tikvah in her search for truth.

First, the basics:

This week’s parsha proclaims:

“When you arrive in the Land, and you plant any tree for its fruit, you shall restrict its fruit; what is produced the first three years is restricted from you and may not be eaten. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises to Hashem. Only in the fifth year may you eat its fruit – therefore, it will increase its produce for you, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikra 19:23-25).

The fruit produced in the first three years of a tree’s life is called orlah and is forbidden. The Torah refers to planting an eitz maachal, which I translated as a tree for its fruit, rather than a fruit tree. This is because Chazal understand that the prohibition of orlah applies only to a fruit tree planted for its fruit, and not to a fruit tree planted for a non-food purpose, such as for lumber or as a hedge (Orlah 1:1). This rule may affect the Levys, as I will later explain.

Although the Torah states only that orlah may not be eaten, the Torah shebe’al peh teaches that one may not benefit from it either. For this reason, one may not dye one’s skirt with orlah pomegranate peels, heat a house with orlah nutshells, or even feed orlah fruits and peels to animals. (In a different article, I discussed how one determines the end of the three prohibited crop years.) Although the mitzvah of orlah is obviously agricultural, it nevertheless applies to trees growing outside Eretz Yisrael.


Although the fourth year’s fruit is no longer orlah, it still has a special status. When the Torah discusses this produce, it states, “And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises (in Hebrew, kodesh hillulim) to Hashem.” As Rabbi Lamdan correctly noted, the Torah’s entire description of the status of these fruits is these two words. What does this obscure phrase kodesh hillulim mean? What type of sanctity does the fruit manifest, and how does this result in praise?


The Gemara explains that the sanctity of the neta reva’ie fruit prohibits one from eating it until it has been redeemed (Berachos 35a). This act of redemption is itself praise to Hashem (Rashba ad loc.).

However, Rabbi Lamdan is not entirely satisfied with this answer. He knows that one redeems neta reva’ie only if one cannot eat the fruit in Yerushalayim, an aspect that the verse does not mention. Furthermore, the verse says nothing about the method of redemption, which, in fact, has many detailed halachos, as we will see.

We must research further.


We find another reference that might shed some light on the nature of neta reva’ie. Concerning the individuals exempted from going to war, the Torah states: “Who is the man who planted a vineyard, but he did not yet redeem it? He shall return to his house” (Devarim 20:6). Here the Torah alludes to the redeeming of a vineyard, although it mentions no details about when and how this happens (see Rashba, Berachos 35a). Although this verse does not answer any of Rabbi Lamdan’s questions, it does imply a new factor, heretofore unmentioned: that the mitzvah of neta reva’ie applies only to grapes. (In reality, the Gemara [Berachos 35a] cites a dispute whether neta reva’ie indeed applies only to grapes or to all fruits, a matter that we will soon discuss.)

Thus, our search for the sources for this mitzvah is still unresolved.

In fact, much of the law concerning neta reva’ie originates elsewhere. A mesorah, an oral tradition from Sinai, compares its sanctity to that of a different mitzvah, maaser sheni (Kiddushin 54a). There the Torah states:

“And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil …before Hashem your G-d, in the place where He will choose to rest His name — so that you will thereby learn always to be in awe of Hashem. However, when you will be blessed by Hashem your G-d such that you will be unable to carry [the maaser sheni] as far as the place that Hashem chose, then you may exchange it for money that you subsequently take with you when you go to the place that Hashem chose. You may then exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, and you shall eat there before Hashem your G-d, and in this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).


The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that “the place where He will choose to rest His name” refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are to transport maaser sheni to Yerushalayim. However, if this is difficult, one may redeem the produce for coins instead, and the special sanctity of the maaser sheni transfers to the money. One adds an additional 25% to the money and brings it to Yerushalayim, where he purchases with it food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheni sanctity from the money onto the food.

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheni produce itself to Yerushalayim or exchanges it for money, the farmer remains with a large value that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheni as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!


The Torah specifies that once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange the maaser sheni money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah shebe’al peh interprets this to mean that one may not purchase just any food with maaser sheni money, but only those that grow either from the ground or on it. Therefore, one may use maaser sheni money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry, but not fish, which do not grow on the ground, not salt or water, which do not grow; and not mushrooms, which are fungi and also do not grow from or on the ground.


Both the original maaser sheni and food purchased with its redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.


By the way, the area of today’s Old City of Jerusalem is encompassed by walls constructed by the Ottoman Turks.  The Turkish walls surround areas that probably were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore those areas do not have the halachic sanctity of the Holy City; at the same time, without any question, large sections that do have the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls.


The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheni changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, when achieving this status is virtually unattainable. Since we have no ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat the produce of maaser sheni, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins, since they have the same sanctity. Because of this problem, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins, and instead, they remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one may redeem large quantities of maaser sheni onto a very small value within a coin: this is the way we redeem maaser sheni today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and pray daily for its restoration.


We now return to the laws of neta reva’ie. Although the Torah alludes only to the redemption of neta reva’ie fruits, the Torah shebe’al peh teaches us to apply the laws of maaser sheni to neta reva’ie, where the redemption services the grower unable to transport his produce to Yerushalayim. Similarly, one may eat neta reva’ie itself only in Yerushalayim when tahor. Someone who cannot transport it there may redeem it by transferring its kedusha, holiness, to coins. When doing this, he add 25% to the value, brings the money to Yerushalayim instead of the fruit, and there purchases food to eat in the Holy City. Just as redeeming maaser sheni still allows the grower to reap the spiritual benefits of his produce, so, too, redeeming reva’ie enables the grower to benefit from the Yerushalayim experience.

At this point, we can answer Rabbi Lamdan’s original inquiry. The extensive literature of the Mishnah, Gemara and halachic authorities concerning neta reva’ie assumes that the laws of neta reva’ie derive from those of maaser sheni, and that the purpose of the redemption of neta reva’ie produce is to allow someone with a bountiful reva’ie crop to benefit from the spiritual gains of his produce.

And just as we cannot make ourselves tahor today, and therefore we cannot eat the produce of maaser sheni, we can also not consume the neta reva’ie or the food purchased with its redemption coins, since they have the same sanctity. Because of this problem and to avoid the loss that would result, we may transfer the kedusha of large quantities of neta reva’ie to a coin of small value. Again, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, and for this, too, we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.


Having answered Rabbi Lamdan’s questions and also having addressed Tikvah’s concern, we will now tackle the questions raised by the Levys’ trees and vines. Does someone living outside Eretz Yisrael also merit fulfilling the mitzvah of neta reva’ie on his fruit? The Rishonim debate whether this mitzvah applies in chutz la’aretz, just as the mitzvah of orlah does, or if it is treated the same as most agricultural mitzvos that are exempt in chutz la’aretz. There are three basic approaches to this issue:

1. Some authorities contend that, since neta reva’ie is an agricultural mitzvah, it does not apply outside Eretz Yisrael, which is the usual, but not absolute, rule regarding these mitzvos (see Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 10:16).  Although orlah is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz because of a special halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral tradition that Moshe received at Mount Sinai, reva’ie applies only in Eretz Yisrael, since it was not specifically included in the halacha leMoshe miSinai. Those who rule this way conclude that the Torah did not extend the spiritual benefits of these mitzvos to include produce grown outside Hashem’s palace. Therefore, the Levys’ trees are exempt from the mitzvah of neta reva’ie and all fruit produced after the orlah years are available for consumption, without any redemption procedure.

2. On the opposite side, there are authorities who contend that the halacha leMoshe miSinai that requires that we observe orlah in chutz la’aretz also requires observing the mitzvah of reva’ie; Hashem wanted us to benefit from the mitzvah of neta reva’ie, even outside the Holy Land. Therefore, the fruit that grows on the Levys’ trees and vines in Waterbury during the fourth year have the sanctity of neta reva’ie (see Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachos, Chapter 6). This is the opinion that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 294:7). (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, reva’ie applies only when we are certain that the fruit grew in the fourth year, but not when we are uncertain whether it grew in the fourth year or the fifth.)


3. There is a third opinion that contends that reva’ie applies to grapes that grow in chutz la’aretz but not to other fruits (Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog and Berachos 35a s.v. ulemaan). This is based on a dispute as to whether the mitzvah of reva’ie in Eretz Yisrael applies to all fruit trees, or only to grapes (Berachos 35a). Many authorities conclude that we rule leniently regarding produce grown in chutz la’aretz and therefore absolve all fruits from neta reva’ie, except for grapes (Rama and Gra to Yoreh Deah 294:7).

Thus, according to Sefardic practice of following the Shulchan Aruch, the pears, apples and grapes of the fourth year growing in Waterbury, have the status of reva’ie and require redemption. According to the Ashkenazic practice, the grapes require redemption, but not the pears or apples.


Note that the Torah states: “And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises to Hashem. Only in the fifth year may you eat its fruit – therefore, it will increase its produce for you, for I am Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 19:23- 25). We see that Hashem Himself promises that He will reward those who observe the laws of the first four years with tremendous increase in the tree’s produce in future years. May we soon see the day when we can bring our reva’ie and eat it while tahor within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

Gazing Through the Glaze

Question #1:

Miriam recently sent me the following question:

“I have heard that one should not eat apple peels, because they are coated with a treif, waxy substance. Does it make a difference if the apples are organic? Can any kind of apple be eaten with the peel? This subject concerns me, because there is much nutritional value in the peel. Do other fruits or vegetables have the same problem?”

Question #2:

“My Israeli cousin is a big talmid chacham. He is also very aware of kashrus matters, and he practices his English by reading product labels. When we visited Israel, we brought some candy as a treat for his children. He was curious to know how there could be a hechsher on a product containing confectioner’s glaze. I had no idea what he meant. Could you perhaps enlighten me?”


Let us direct ourselves to Miriam’s question first:

The distributors of most fresh produce sold in North America coat the produce well before it arrives at your local supermarket. Coatings extend the shelf life of fresh fruit and vegetables and often make the produce more attractive. By the way, use of coatings is not limited to fresh produce. Chocolate candies that have a hard surface are coated. Coatings may be used on pizza beneath the cheese, or in fruit pies below the filling, to keep the crust crispy. Pecans and other nuts added to ice cream are sometimes coated to keep them from absorbing the moisture of the ice cream, and sometimes the caramel in candy bars is coated to keep it separate from the chocolate.

Much investment in industrial research is devoted to the best coating to be used in a particular product and application, and therefore, exactly which ingredients are used is a very closely guarded trade secret. This creates an obvious concern, not only for Miriam, but for every kosher consumer, and the problem is not limited to apples, but to most produce. The kashrus aspects of this topic are too vast to be covered thoroughly at one time, and therefore this article will focus on one specific halachic issue, the second question raised above: Whether a product that goes by the name confectioner’s glaze, resinous glaze, or sometimes simply shellac is kosher. Shellac is often used to provide the hard coating on certain candies. It is also sprayed onto fresh produce to increase its shelf life and make it more appealing.

What is Shellac?

Most consumers associate the word shellac with a clear varnish used to protect wood furniture. Indeed, shellac was introduced several hundred years ago as a wood polish for musical instruments and furniture. Shellac is a glandular secretion of the lac insect, Kerria lacca, a native of India and Thailand, that lives and reproduces on the branches and twigs of its host tree. Millions of tiny parasitic insects (Kerria lacca) ingest tree sap and produce from it a hard resinous secretion that they use to protect their larvae. The secretion, which is called shellac, forms hard layers on these branches, which are harvested, cut or broken into small pieces, crushed and then mechanically separated. The separated, crushed resin is subsequently ground, washed and dried and then ready to be processed into its various food and industrial applications. Often shellac is dissolved in several times its volume of alcohol, applied or mixed, and then the alcohol is evaporated and recovered. (We will soon see the significance of the evaporation of the alcohol.) The word shellac is derived from the Indian word laksha and refers to the refined or processed lac resin.

Until the mid-twentieth century, shellac was not commonly used for food products, but to protect phonograph records, or as in ingredient in paints, primers, inks, floor polishes and resins for electrical applications. More recently, shellac has found applications on the coating of fruits and vegetables, food and confectionary products, and pills and vitamins. When used for food, shellac is often called confectioner’s glaze.

Shellac resin is not a single compound, but a mixture of several polar and non-polar components in a molecule. Understanding how these molecules link together to build up a shellac complex involved extensive industrial and academic research and is still not fully understood.

Is Shellac Kosher?

On an obvious level, shellac should present a kashrus concern, since it is produced by an insect. The Gemara (Bechoros 5b, 7a) teaches a principle kol hayotzei min hatamei tamei, whatever derives from a non-kosher source is not kosher, and for this reason ostrich eggs, camel’s milk, and the eggs and milk of a tereifah chicken or cow are non-kosher. So, how can shellac be kosher, if it is secreted by an insect?

Several responsa discuss the kosher status of shellac or confectioner’s glaze. In 5725/1965, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked whether this glaze may be coated onto kosher candies (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah II:24). Rav Moshe discusses four possible reasons why shellac may be kosher. But before presenting Rav Moshe’s responsum on the subject, we must cite the section of Gemara that affects two of Rav Moshe’s answers.

We are all aware that honey is kosher, notwithstanding the fact that it is manufactured by bees. In other words, the principle of kol hayotzei min hatamei tamei does not apply to honey. The Gemara (Bechoros 7b) records a dispute between an anonymous scholar called the Tanna Kamma, and Rabbi Yaakov, dealing with the reason honey is an exception to the rule and is kosher. The Tanna Kamma contends that honey is kosher because it is not produced by bees, but is modified plant nectar, unlike milk and eggs that are created by the non-kosher species. To manufacture honey, bees suck nectar from flowers and deposit it into special honey-sacs. Inside the sacs, enzymes contained within the bee’s saliva convert the nectar into honey, which the bees store for food. The nectar is never “digested” by the bee, but rather, it is transformed into honey.

At this point, we should mention that, as noted by the Pri To’ar (81:1), there is a clear physical difference between the nectar that enters the bee and the honey that exits. The Pri To’ar points out that if one were to gather and concentrate nectar, it would not taste like honey, a fact that of course did not escape the Tanna Kamma. Yet, this scholar still contends that since nectar is the main ingredient, the contribution of the bee is not sufficiently significant to render honey non-kosher. Thus, we see that the Tanna Kamma holds a principle in the rule of kol hayotzei min hatamei tamei — that the product of a non-kosher animal is non-kosher only when the product is manufactured by the animal, but not when the animal makes only moderate modifications to a kosher product.

A Dissenting Position

Rabbi Yaakov disagrees with this rationale, apparently contending that the contribution of the bee would be significant enough to present a kashrus concern, yet he permits honey for a different reason: although the universal rule prohibits extracts of non-kosher species, a special Scriptural allusion excludes honey from this proscription. When the Torah states es zeh tochalu mikol sheretz ha’of — Only this (zeh) may you eat from among the small flying creatures (Vayikra 11:21), the emphasis of the word zeh teaches that honey is kosher, despite the fact that it is a product of the bee which is itself non-kosher.

According to Rabbi Yaakov, the method by which honey is produced does not exclude it from the prohibition; it is kosher only because the Torah created a unique status. His approach is referred to as gezeiras hakasuv, a special Biblical ruling.

What’s the Difference?

Do any practical differences arise from this dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Yaakov? The Gemara states the following: Two non-bee insects, gizin and tzirin, produce a sweet product called respectively gizin honey and tzirin honey through a process similar to what bees do. (The exact identity of these species is unclear, although there are several insects that produce varieties of honey or honeydew, all of which bear much similarity in their production to bee honey.) According to the Tanna Kamma, these honeys should be kosher just like bee honey, since they are merely processed flower nectar. Rabbi Yaakov, however, permits only bee honey, but contends that the Torah never permitted gizin honey and tzirin honey.

The Gemara explains that Rabbi Yaakov prohibits gizin honey and tzirin honey because they are never called just honey, but always by their descriptive adjective, as opposed to bee honey, which is usually called by one name: “honey.” What this answer means may directly impact on the halachic status of shellac.

(1) Sweet as Shellac!?

As I mentioned above, Rav Moshe presents four different reasons why shellac may be kosher. His first approach is that, according to the Tanna Kamma, which is the way the Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 3:3) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 81:9) rule, any substance that an insect processes that is similar to the processing of honey is kosher. Rav Moshe understands that the lac’s contribution to shellac can be compared to the bee’s contribution to honey. The lac ingests sap from its host tree and modifies this sap into shellac, just as insects modify nectar and make it into honey or honeydew. Therefore, the resultant glaze is kosher according to the Tanna Kamma, and therefore also according to the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch.

Rav Moshe notes that this reasoning will not be accepted by all authorities, since many poskim rule according to Rabbi Yaakov (Rosh; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 81:28). According to their conclusion, honey is kosher because of a gezeiras hakasuv, a special derivation of the Torah permitting it, but any other insect-based product, including gizin honey and tzirin honey and shellac, should be non-kosher.

(2) Shellac is like Honey!

However, Rav Moshe suggests that even according to Rabbi Yaakov it is possible that shellac is permitted. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Yaakov prohibits gizin honey and tzirin honey because the word “honey,” without any other description, refers only to bee honey, not that of gizin and tzirin. What does this distinction mean?

Among the early authorities, we find two different ways of explaining why Rabbi Yaakov holds that gizin honey and tzirin honey are non-kosher. The Levush explains that since these products are always called gizin honey and tzirin honey, they are still associated with their non-kosher source, and therefore they remain non-kosher. Since bee honey is usually referred to simply as “honey,” the Torah included only this product in its heter.

The Maharshal explains the Gemara differently. In his opinion, the word zeh can permit only one product, and that is bee honey. Thus, the honey produced by gizin and tzirin is prohibited, because there is no verse that permits it.

Is there any practical halachic dispute between these two approaches? According to Rav Moshe indeed there is. He contends that, according to the Maharshal, Rabbi Yaakov understands that the Torah permitted only one substance whose origin is non-kosher, honey, and none other; and that therefore, shellac (according to Rabbi Yaakov) is not kosher. However, Rav Moshe suggests that, according to the Levush, any product that is not usually referred to by an adjective identifying its source will be kosher. Therefore, although gizin honey and tzirin honey are non-kosher, since the name shellac does not mention the non-kosher source, it should be kosher. However, the Maharshal would consider shellac non-kosher (according to Rabbi Yaakov), and therefore, we would not rely on this reason alone to permit shellac. Rav Moshe advances two other approaches to permit shellac.

(3) Kosher Derivatives from Non-Kosher Sources

Another application of the rule of kol hayotzei min hatamei tamei is that an egg produced by a chicken with a physical defect (a tereifah) is not kosher. Despite this fact, the Gemara cites a dispute whether the chick that develops from this egg is kosher. The halachic conclusion is that this chick is kosher, notwithstanding the non-kosher status both of its mother hen and its own origins, because the fertilized egg deteriorates to a point of becoming inedible prior to becoming a chick (Temurah 31a). Rav Moshe explains this Gemara to mean that kol hayotzei min hatamei tamei applies only when the non-kosher animal creates food. However, when the item created is not food, the product created by a non-kosher source is considered kosher. Thus, he concludes that since shellac is tasteless, it is not considered a food, and is permitted, even though it is yotzei min hatamei.

(4) Too Small to be Significant

Rav Moshe adds another reason to permit the shellac glaze: Since shellac is not food and it is dissolved in a few times its volume of alcohol, it is therefore bateil.

Because of these reasons, Rav Moshe concluded that shellac may be used as a glaze on candies. This position has been accepted by most major hechsherim in North America.

American vs. Israeli Hechsherim

At this point, we can address the second question I raised above: My Israeli cousin, who is a big talmid chacham, asked us how there could be a hechsher on a candy containing confectioner’s glaze. The answer is that the American hechsherim follow Rav Moshe’s ruling on the kashrus status of confectioner’s glaze.

Does this mean that the Israeli cousin is grossly unaware of the halacha?

No. To the best of my knowledge, none of the mehadrin Israeli hechsherim accepts shellac as a kosher product. They are not comfortable with any of the four reasons that form the basis of Rav Moshe’s psak.

(1) Regarding the first reason, that the secretion of shellac should not be considered a product of the lac, just as honey is not considered a product of the bee:

Aside from the factor that many opinions do not rule like the Tanna Kamma, but follow Rabbi Yaakov, they feel that the comparison between honey and shellac may not be accurate. Although the Gemara states that bees do not produce honey, it is unclear what factors define why honey remains kosher. Shellac is a complex product, and the lac definitely contributes to its production in a way that is different from the way a bee makes honey. It may be that even the Tanna Kamma would consider shellac to be non-kosher. How can we be certain that the reason that honey is permitted applies to shellac?

(2) Rav Moshe’s second reason was that, just as only bee honey (and not gizin or tzirin honey) is kosher according to (the Levush’s understanding of) Rabbi Yaakov, because the common word honey makes no reference to its non-kosher source, so, too, the word shellac makes no mention of its non-kosher source. However, there are two strong reasons why shellac should be non-kosher, like the honey produced by gizin and tzirin.

(A) The word shellac means the product of the lac insect. Thus, it does refer to the non-kosher origin.

(B) A second problem, which Rav Moshe discusses, is that Rabbi Yaakov derives that honey is kosher from a drashah that permits products of flying creatures. However, the lac does not qualify as a sheretz ha’of, a flying creature, and therefore, it is not obvious that shellac could be permitted, based on the word zeh, which refers to flying creatures.

(3) Based on the halachic conclusion that a chick developing from a tereifah chicken is kosher, Rav Moshe explains kol hayotzei min hatamei tamei applies only when the non-kosher animal creates food, and that shellac is not food. However, others understand the Gemara’s point in a different way. When an item deteriorates, such as an egg that eventually becomes a chick, it is no longer considered the result of the original non-kosher source. However, when no deterioration transpires, why should the item not be considered the product of the original source? Shellac does not deteriorate during the process of being made from tree sap.

(4) Rav Moshe’s fourth reason to permit shellac is that it is dissolved in several times its volume of alcohol before being applied, and therefore, the finished shellac is bateil. However, this approach is problematic. As I mentioned above, after the shellac is applied, the alcohol is evaporated, and the finished shellac that remains on a candy is almost pure shellac; that remaining on fruit is estimated to be about 80% shellac. This should not allow for bitul.

One could still argue that one is not trying to eat the shellac, and that it does become bateil in one’s mouth while chewing the fruit. On the other hand, the Eretz Yisrael hechsherim who follow a stricter approach contend that, since the shellac is on the surface, one can peel the fruit and remove all the shellac.

As a result of Rav Moshe’s responsum, the supervisory organizations in the United States treat shellac as kosher, and devote their research on coatings to the other possible ingredients that may be a problem. However, in Eretz Yisroel Rav Moshe’s approach was less accepted and, as a result, none of the mehadrin hechsherim treat glaze as kosher. These hechsherim monitor which coatings, if any, are used on produce sold under their supervision. Indeed, there have been instances of fruit exported from the United States to Israel that the mehadrin hechsherim in Israel barred from the produce departments under their certification. (In general, fresh produce grown outside Israel has relatively few kashrus issues, other than examining them for insects. One is not required to be concerned that chutz la’aretz fruits may be orlah, a topic we will leave for a different time. Thus, produce departments in chutz la’aretz need not be supervised. The situation is very different in Israel, where one must be concerned about many agricultural mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz; because of these concerns, produce stores and departments carry kosher supervision.)

Thus, we see that, whereas American hechsherim accept shellac as kosher, Israeli mehadrin hechsherim do not. To quote the Gemara, nahara nahara upashtei¸ literally, each river follows its own course, or, there are different halachic customs each with valid halachic source (Chullin 18b; 57a). In English we say, there is more than one way to skin a vegetable.

Hunting for Kosher Meat

Question #1:

Shem, the son of Noach, was traveling one day and realized that he had not packed enough peanut butter sandwiches for the trip. Now hungry, he witnessed a travel accident, the result of which was that an animal had been killed. Was he permitted to cook the carcass for lunch?

Question #2:

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

Question #3:

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

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

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Here is the continuation of the article:

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

Thus, whether Adam could barbecue road kill depends upon whether he held like Tosafos, in which case he could, or like the Rambam, in which case he could not. Otherwise, he was restricted to a vegetarian diet, which may have included the responsibility to check that his veggies were insect-free. Presumably, he called the local Vaad HaKashrus to determine how to check each type of vegetable. I wonder what he did when he wanted to eat Brussels sprouts, particularly since he probably lived before the invention of the light box!

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

When the Torah was given, it both limited the species that a Jew may eat and created many other regulations, including the requirement that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way (shechitah) and that they may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. Even after ascertaining that the animal itself may be eaten, one must still remove from sheep, goats, cattle and other “beheimos[1] certain fats called cheilev, and one must remove the blood, and the sciatic nerve (the gid hanasheh) from all kosher animals, both beheimos and chayos. (The gid hanasheh of fowl is permitted.)

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


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

A common controversy in today’s modern packing facility is the use of a hydraulically-powered pen to restrain the animal while it is slaughtered. Although this pen usually makes the job safer and easier for the shocheit, there are concerns that the pen itself may render the animal a tereifah prior to its being slaughtered (Besheveilei Shechita). For this reason, no hechsher in Israel allows use of a pen during shechitah, but a different, equally safe and humane, system to restrain the animal is used instead.

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


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


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

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

After the two bodekim are satisfied that the animal is kosher, the second bodeik or a mashgiach tags or stamps the different parts of the animal as kosher. In many packing houses, the bodeik or a mashgiach makes small slits between the ribs that specifies the day and parsha of the week to identify that piece as kosher. A mark made when the meat is this fresh appears completely different from one made even a few hours later, making it difficult to counterfeit. Of course, this mark is not sufficient alone to verify that the meat is kosher, but it is an essential crosscheck, since tags can be tampered with.

The modern kosher poultry plant is organized slightly differently: The shochatim only perform shechitah, whereas the bedikah inspection is performed by mashgichim trained to notice abnormalities. If they notice any, they remove the bird from the production line; a rav or bodeik then rules whether these birds are kosher or not.

For both animals and birds, one needs only to check for commonly occurring tereifos and not for uncommon problems. For example, the established halachic practice is to check an animal’s lungs because of their relatively high rate of tereifos, and today it is common in Israel to check an area called the tzumas hagiddin on chicken thighs for specific kashrus problems. Animal lungs frequently have adhesions called sirchos which render them non-kosher (Chullin 46b), although Ashkenazic custom is that easily removed adhesions on mature animals do not render them treif (Rosh, Chullin 3:14; Rama, Yoreh Deah 39:13). An animal without any sircha adhesions is called glatt kosher, meaning that its lung is completely smooth – that is, without any adhesions, even of the easily removable variety. (I have written an article, What Makes Meat Kosher, which explains more about the complicated topic of glatt kosher, that is available on the website or that can be sent on request via e-mail.)

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

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


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

Early in its butchering, a side of beef (which is half its carcass) is divided into its forequarter and hindquarter. Since the gid hanasheh and most of the cheilev are located in the hindquarter, trabering it is a tedious process that requires a highly skilled menakeir. (I have written an article on the history and halachic issues germane to this practice, which is not yet posted on the website, but is available from me directly. This article will iy’H be posted in the near future.) The forequarters must still be trabered prior to soaking and salting to remove blood vessels and some fat (Rama, Yoreh Deah 64:1; Pischei Teshuvah 64:3). Although a relatively easy skill to learn, Linda’s rabbi might need to check whether one can trust this hechsher as to the proper performance of this procedure, as the following story indicates:

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

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

Indeed, I have discovered many facilities that do not traber meat properly or even places that do not bother to traber their meat at all. Thus, we have another reason why some products may not be approved for use.


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

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

Sometimes, there is also concern about the koshering of poultry. Poultry must also be salted with its meat covered with salt on all its exposed surfaces. There is a dispute among authorities whether a bird’s abdominal cavity must be opened fully to guarantee that it is salted properly (Beis Lechem Yehudah 69:20; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 69:15). Many contend that in modern facilities one should not rely that the employees, many of whom are not Jewish or are not observant of the laws of kashrus, will make sure to salt all exposed areas inside the bird’s cavity. To avoid this problem, one can either have observant staff be responsible to salt the meat, or alternatively, to have a mashgiach check that everything is done properly.


The Geonim instituted a requirement that meat be soaked and salted within 72 hours of its slaughter (Yoreh Deah 69:12). This is because of concern that once 72 hours have passed the blood becomes hardened inside the meat and salting no longer removes it. If more than 72 hours passed without the meat being salted, the Geonim ruled that the meat may be eaten only if it is broiled since this process will still remove the blood (Yoreh Deah 69:12).

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

[1] Kosher land animals are divided into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Although beheimah (pl., beheimos) is often translated as domesticated species and chayah (pl., chayos) as wild species, these definitions are halachically inaccurate since whether a species is categorized as a beheimah or as a chayah has no bearing on whether it is domesticated or not. Reindeer, although domesticated, are clearly a chayah since they have branched antlers, whereas there are non-domesticated species, such as bison, that are almost certainly beheimah according to halacha.

The Written Torah did not indicate the defining characteristics distinguishing beheimos from chayos, leaving these rules to the Torah sheba’al peh, the Oral Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 59b) mentions several characteristics, mostly dependent on the animal’s horns: A branched horn defines its species as chayah, whereas non-branched horns may indicate either a chayah or a beheimah depending on whether they grow in layers, are grooved, and whether their tips are curved or straight (Rashi ad loc.; cf. Rabbeinu Chananel). Therefore, any species possessing branched horns or antlers like those found on most deer is a chayah, whereas those with straight horns may be either chayah or beheimah depending on the other criteria. Since all antelope (a general category that includes several dozen species) have un-branched horns, one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. (Technically speaking, the difference between deer and antelope is that deer have antlers that shed and re-grow annually, whereas antelope have permanent un-branched horns.)

A Fishy Tale (and Scale)

In this week’s parsha, the Torah teaches that every fish that has fins and scales is kosher. The Mishnah (Niddah 51b) notes that all species of fish with scales also have fins. Thus, one may assume that a slice of a fish with scales is kosher even if one sees no fins.

The Gemara (Chullin 66a) states further that a fish species that has scales at any time during its life is kosher. Therefore, a fish is kosher even if “it has no scales now, but they will grow later, or it has scales and they fall off when the fish leaves the water.” Thus, sardines are kosher even though sometimes they are caught before scales develop. Similarly, certain herrings that shed their scales upon harvest are also kosher.

The early Acharonim discuss a variety of fish, or more accurately some type of legged sea creature, called the Stincus marinus that inhabited the seas near Spain and was reputed to have scales but no fins. The Tosafos Yom Tov, in his commentary to the Rosh (Chullin 3:67, Maadanei Yom Tov #5) records that when he was a rav in Vienna he was shown a specimen of this fish, which is naturally toxic, but the toxins can be removed and it can (and was) used for food and medicine. Maadanei Yom Tov presents a few possible explanations why this creature does not defy the rule established by the Gemara.

Some poskim ruled that this creature is unquestionably non-kosher, and that the Gemara means that there are very few sea creatures that have scales and no fins. One may assume that a fish or other sea creature one finds with scales is kosher; however, if one knows that it has no fins it is non-kosher (Kereisi 83:3; HaKsav ViHakabalah, Vayikra 11:9). Other poskim contend that the Gemara’s rule is inviolate and without exception (Pri Chodosh YD 83:4). In their opinion, Stincus marinus must have fins, but they fall off in the sea or when they are young; and it is indeed kosher.

What is very curious is that according to our contemporary scientific data, the creature that the Maadanei Yom Tov was referring to is probably a type of lizard and not really a sea creature at all.

To summarize, one may assume that any fish one discovers with scales is kosher, and it suffices to check an unknown fish for scales in order to verify that it is indeed kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 83:3).

The word used by the Torah for scales, kaskeses, refers to a scale that is removable from the skin (Rama, Yoreh Deah 83:1). Thus, fish like sturgeon whose scales cannot be removed from the skin are not kosher (cf. Noda BiYehudah).


I live in a town without a kosher fish market. May I purchase fish fillet from a species that I know is kosher?

Halachically, one may only use skinned fish that was supervised from the removal of its skin until it was sealed as kosher (Gemara Avodah Zarah 39b). Once the skin has been removed, one may not use it without proper seals because of concern that the fish is not the kosher species one thinks it is, but a similar looking non-kosher fish.

What if a non-Jew or a non-observant Jew guarantees that this is a kosher fish?

The halacha is that one may not rely on the non-Jew and the product must be sealed by an observant Jew (Gemara Avodah Zarah 39b). However, there is one instance where we may rely on a non-Jew’s testimony – when he knows that he will lose financially if he is caught deceiving us (Taz, Yoreh Deah 83:9). Therefore, if the non-Jew knows that we can independently verify his information, we may rely on him.

However, one is usually unable to verify the information provided by the person behind the counter in a non-kosher fish market. Therefore, since he is unafraid that we will catch him lying, one may not rely on his authority.

The poskim of a generation ago disputed whether one may purchase fish without skin from a non-Jewish company that has business reasons to produce only a certain type of fish that is kosher. May one use fish from a plant without having a mashgiach check every fish? This question affects production of canned tuna or salmon. Does it require a round-the-clock mashgiach checking that every fish is kosher, or can we rely on the fact that the company has its own reasons to pack only the type of fish stated on the label?

Some poskim hold that one may rely on the company’s business reasons because of the halachic principle, “uman lo marei umnaso,” a professional does not damage his reputation. According to this approach, we may assume that a company would not mix a different, non-kosher species into its canning operation because it is detrimental to itself (Rav Aharon Kotler; Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 3:10). Other poskim contend that Chazal did not permit this lenience in the production of kosher fish but require full-time supervision under all circumstances (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:8; Kisvei Rav Henkin, 2:53). Many of the major hechsherim in the United States follow the lenient opinion.


According to the lenient opinions cited, could one allow a company to produce whitefish salad without a mashgiach? After all, whitefish is a kosher fish.

This is disputed by contemporary poskim. Some contend that this is prohibited according to all opinions of the earlier generation, since the company can mix small amounts of less expensive non-kosher fish into the whitefish salad without it being discerned. Thus, the company’s professional reputation is not at stake. Other poskim maintain that it suffices to spot-check that no non-kosher fish is in the factory since the company’s professional reputation is at stake.


How can someone purchase fresh fish if he lives in an area that does not yet have a kosher fish market? Since he may not rely on the fishmonger’s assurances, must he forgo purchasing of fresh fish?

There is a perfectly acceptable halachic solution. Once should go to the fish store, identify a fish that still has its skin on and identify the scales. One should then provide the store with one’s own knife and supervise the fish’s filleting.


The fish store knives usually have a thin layer of grease from other, possibly non-kosher, fish (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 96:5). One cannot assume that the store cleans the knife between fish to the extent halacha requires to guarantee that it is totally clean (ibid.).

In the rare instance that the shop is reticent to allow the use of private knives, then you should supervise that the knives are scraped extremely clean. Standard cleaning does not guarantee that the grease has been removed from the knife.


Salmon is a very healthy fish, high in omega oils. It is also a kosher species.

Many years ago, I attended a conference of rabbonim where a highly respected posek stated that one may assume that salmon fillet is always kosher, even without its skin. He explained that salmon meat’s red or pink color does not exist in any non-kosher fish species. Therefore, he contended that one may safely assume that red or pink colored fish is kosher (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:8).

I did some research on this subject. There is a basis to this statement, but it is not as simple as had been presented at the time. Indeed, there are several non-kosher fish, including some varieties of shark and catfish, that have a pink pigment. However, there are distinct shades of red and reddish pink that belong only to salmon and to certain varieties of trout that are also kosher. One should not rely on determining that a certain fish is kosher based on its hue without training.

Although this halacha was presumably true at that time, I am uncertain whether one may still make this presumption because of an unusual snippet of news I discovered.

I recently read an article comparing the environmental benefits of commercially sold Pacific salmon to those of Atlantic salmon. Pacific salmon are wild fish that roam the oceans and pick up their red or pink color from their natural diet that includes red crustaceans. (The fact that a fish consumes non-kosher creatures does not affect its kashrus.) However, commercially sold Atlantic salmon, the source for fillets and steaks, are bred in fish farms that populate the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and its inlets. (Atlantic salmon is no longer harvested directly from the sea because of decreasing wild populations.) These fish eat a diet that does not make their flesh pink. To give the fish their trademark hue, the farmers add colorant to their diet.

It seems that any fish wandering into these farms and sharing the salmons’ diet would also develop pink flesh, which would destroy the theory that every pink fish must be kosher. Indeed the fish could be non-kosher but have devoured significant amounts of red color.

After further research, I discovered another reason why salmon and trout have a distinctive color not found among other deep sea fishes. When most sea creatures eat colored crustaceans, they store the excess pigment in their skin. Only salmon and trout store the color in their flesh. Thus, many respected rabbonim still maintain that fish with the distinctive salmon color must be kosher since only salmon and trout are able to convert their food coloring to their flesh.

However, a research scientist I spoke to dismissed this argument for two reasons: First, he pointed out that it is virtually impossible to prove that no other fish has this ability. To do this, one would have to conduct research on every fish variety worldwide which is an impossible task. Furthermore, he pointed out that the ability to transfer food color to flesh is an inherited characteristic that the salmon possesses in its DNA. It is feasible that someone has isolated this gene, and that some fish farmer is marketing a different species of fish as salmon fillet. Thus, our question whether one may assume that all red or pink fillet is kosher remains valid.

Nonetheless, I personally side with the lenient ruling. Since we have no evidence of a non-kosher, reddish-flesh fish, I think that we may still assume that any fish with this distinctive color is salmon until evidence appears that someone has isolated the gene that allows the color to be stored in the flesh and transferred it to a non-kosher species. Until we have such evidence, if the fish looks like salmon and smells like salmon we will assume that it is salmon (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 83:27).


Are there any other potential kashrus issues with canned fish?

Fish factories often produce non-kosher products that would render the tuna or salmon non-kosher. Additionally, even if the factory only cans kosher fish, it might use non-kosher ingredients. Most fish is processed in oil, which can be non-kosher or be produced on non-kosher equipment.

There is also a discussion among contemporary poskim whether canned tuna or salmon is prohibited because of bishul akum, food cooked by a non-Jew. Explaining this complicated subject will be left for a different article.

What other halachos pertain to fish?


Chazal advise that consuming fish and meat together is harmful to one’s health (Gemara Pesachim 76a). To avoid swallowing fish and meat together, one should eat and drink something between eating fish and meat in order to clean the mouth from residual particles (Rama to Yoreh Deah 116:3). Sefardim are more stringent and follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch who rules that one must wash one’s hands and mouth carefully between eating fish and meat (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 116:3).


I have never noticed anyone getting sick from eating fish and meat together. Furthermore, the American Medical Association does not consider this harmful. Does this affect halacha in any way?

Some prominent poskim contend that although mixing fish and meat was unhealthy in the days of Chazal, today the nature of the world has changed and it is no longer unhealthy (Magen Avraham 173:1). This concept is referred to as “nishtaneh hateva,” that nature has altered since the days of Chazal (see Tosafos, Moed Katan 11a; Gemara Niddah 3a). Others contend that Chazal were concerned only about a specific type of fish that is dangerous to mix with meat, and that their concern does not extend to other varieties (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #101).

Other poskim rule that one should still not eat fish and meat together since Chazal may have been aware of a medical issue unknown to modern medicine (see Shu”t Shvus Yaakov 3:70; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #101). The accepted practice is to be stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 116:3).


Chassidim have a minhag to drink schnapps after fish. Does this practice have a halachic source?

Indeed it does. Some poskim cite that it is dangerous to drink water immediately after fish (Tosafos, Moed Katan 11a; quoted by Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 116:10; another source one could possibly quote for this minhag is a Shla, quoted in Darkei Teshuvah 116:31, who implies that one should drink a beverage after fish, but not water). In earlier generations, there were not too many beverages available; often water, wine, and schnapps were the only choices. Thus, when wine was expensive, and one did not want to drink water after fish, schnapps was the most practical alternative. I suspect that this is the origin of washing down fish with schnapps (see Shaar HaTziyun 174:46). Today, a wine connoisseur can substitute white wine and a teetotaler, juice, for the same purpose. (Someone asked me whether one can use soda or reconstituted juice for this purpose, since both are predominantly water. To this date, I have found no halachic discussion about this shaylah.)


Question: My bubbie had a special pot that she used only to cook fish. Is there halachic significance to this fish pot?

Although most poskim contend that there is no halachic or safety problem with cooking fish in a fleishig pot, some poskim are stringent (Taz, Yoreh Deah 95:3; Shu”t Shvus Yaakov 3:70). Based on this concern, many people have a family custom to cook fish only in a pot that they never use for meat. However, the common practice is to allow the cooking of fish in meat pots.


Based on certain halachic sources, some people, most commonly Sefardim, have the practice not to mix fish and milk products together (Pischei Tshuvah, Yoreh Deah 87:9). This is important for an Ashkenazi to know when he invites Sefardi guests for a milchig meal.


People often ask the following question: Some steak sauces or Worcestershire sauces have anchovies or other fish products among their ingredients. I have noticed that some hechsherim place a notation next to their hechsher symbol identifying that these items contain fish, whereas sometimes they do not. Is this an oversight?

The answer to this question requires an introduction. Poskim dispute whether any admixture of fish and meat is dangerous or whether it is dangerous only if there is enough fish and meat to taste both (see Taz Yoreh Deah 116:2; Pischei Tshuvah 116:3; Darchei Tshuvah 116:21). Thus, many poskim permit eating a small amount of fish mixed into a meat product. For this reason, and because of the above-mentioned opinion of the Magen Avraham that mixed fish and meat is no longer dangerous since nature has changed, many poskim allow eating a small amount of fish mixed into a meat dish (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #101; Pischei Tshuvah 116:3). Upon this basis, some hechsherim do not require listing fish in the hechsher when it constitutes less than a sixtieth of the product.

The Midrash (Breishis Rabbah 97:3) points out that Klal Yisroel is compared to fish. Just like fish, who are completely surrounded by water, rise excitedly to the surface at the first drops of rain to drink fresh water, so too Jews, although surrounded by Torah, run enthusiastically to hear a new chiddush of Torah, “drinking” it thirstily as if this was their first opportunity to learn. May we indeed live up to our reputation!

Toiveling Keilim

This week’s parsha discusses the mitzvah of immersing food vessels prior to using them. Before Pesach I sent out a different article on this topic. There is a small degree of overlap between that article and this one, but there is great deal of information here that I did not discuss in that article.

Question #1:

Last time I went to immerse some utensils, a lady immersing some aluminum items asked me to include her in my beracha. When I asked her whether she wanted me to help her recite her own beracha on the mitzvah, she responded softly that she received a psak not to recite a beracha when toiveling aluminum, although she did not know the reason. Why would she not recite the beracha?

Question #2:

I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy dishes filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?


In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Only 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 [meaning “kosher”], 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). These verses serve as the basis for teaching three different sets of laws:

  1. Absorbing Concepts — Koshering vessels that were previously used for non-kosher.

An item that was used directly in fire, such as a spit or grate that broiled non-kosher, is koshered only by burning it directly in fire; an item used to cook on top of a fire, such as a pot that cooked non-kosher, may be koshered via a process similar to the way it was used, etc.

  1. Tainted Metal – “Contaminated” Implements

The Torah here teaches that implements made of metal become tamei (spiritually impure) through contact with a tamei item (such as an animal carcass), and that immersing them in a mikveh restores them to tahor status. An item is susceptible to tumah only when the Torah informs us of this fact – if the Torah never taught that an item can become tamei, it does not, and therefore most items in the world are not susceptible to tumah. (Unfortunately, these laws have somewhat limited practical application until Moshiach comes and we again have the parah adumah. At that time, we will again be able to live according to the tahor status necessary to observe the mitzvos related to the Beis Hamikdash, terumah and maaser sheini.)

  1. Immersed in Holiness – “Toiveling” implements in a mikveh or spring prior to using them for food.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that one must immerse food implements used for food prior to using them, even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is separate from the requirement of koshering equipment that was used to prepare non-kosher food and to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.

Preparing for Pesach

In earlier generations, when people owned fewer items, readying the house for Pesach included koshering household silverware, pots, and much other equipment; this koshering process, in general, follows the same basic rules that the Torah instructs for koshering utensils that were used for non-kosher. There is extensive literature on how to kosher properly all the various types of food-preparation implements — beginning with a lengthy discussion in the Gemara, which is continued with much debate of the Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries on myriads of details of koshering for Pesach. As a matter of fact, to remind people how to observe these halachos correctly, the thousand-year-old piyut for Shabbos Hagadol includes an extensive halachic discussion detailing how to kosher properly all the household items, and in earlier generations this often provided the substance of the local Rav’s Drasha for Shabbos Hagadol.

Today most people own full sets of both milchig and fleishig Pesach pots and tableware, so that koshering for Pesach is usually limited to sinks, counters, stoves and possibly ovens. I am therefore going to discuss some select laws of the third mitzvah mentioned above – that of immersing vessels before use.

Materials that require tevilah

The Torah teaches that utensils owned by a non-Jew made of gold, silver, copper, iron, tin or lead that transferred to Jewish ownership require immersion in a kosher mikveh or spring. According to most authorities, this mitzvah is a Torah requirement, although there is a minority opinion that this mitzvah is required only miderabbanan (Rambam, as understood by Pri Chodosh). We will assume that the requirement to immerse gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead implements is Torah-ordained. (Bear in mind that although we would not use lead as an ingredient because of valid concerns about lead poisoning, this medical problem was not discovered until the nineteenth century. Therefore, we find much earlier halachic literature discussing immersion of lead or lead-lined utensils.)

There is no requirement to immerse food utensils made of wood, earthenware, ivory, bone, leather, stone or most other materials. We will soon discuss glass and plastic.

Mechiras Chometz and Tevilas Keilim

As we all know, before Pesach one is required to rid one’s house and all one’s possessions of chometz. However, some items, such as toasters, mixers, wooden kneading bowls, and flour bins are difficult, if not impossible, to clean. Shulchan Aruch and Rama (Orach Chayim 442:11) recommend giving wooden kneading bowls and flour bins and the chometz they contain as a gift to a non-Jew before Pesach, with the understanding that the gentile will return them after the holiday. Today, the standard mechiras chometz that we perform includes selling this chometz and these appliances in the sale. However, what do I do if I have metal appliances that may be full of chometz, such as mixers and toasters? If I sell such an appliance to a gentile and then purchase the appliance back from him, will I now need to immerse the appliance in a mikveh?

The halachic authorities note that someone selling his or her chometz to a gentile before Pesach should be careful not to sell utensils that require tevilas keilim. Instead, one should rent the appliances to a gentile and sell the chometz they contain (Chachmas Odom; Noda Beyudah, cited in Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 120:13). An item rented to a gentile does not require immersion when it is returned to the Jewish owner.

Cleavers versus Graters!

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) quotes Rav Sheishes as suggesting that anything purchased from a gentile, even a clothing shears, should require immersion. Rav Nachman retorted that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal, which includes both utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and knives, and those utilized to eat or drink, such as drinking cups and tableware (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Grates and Grills

One is required to immerse only those items that usually touch the food directly. Therefore, stove grates, blechs, hotplates, knife sharpeners, trivets, can openers and corkscrews do not require tevilah (see Yoreh Deah 120:4), but grills, peelers, funnels, strainers, salt shakers, pepper mills and tongs do require tevilah since they all touch food.

What about storage vessels?

Is one required to immerse a metal container or glass jar used to store foodstuffs, but that is not suitable for preparing or consuming food?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (on 120:1, quoting Keneses Hagedolah [Beis Yosef 18]) discusses whether storage vessels require tevilah, and concludes that it is unclear whether they should be immersed. Therefore one should immerse them without reciting a beracha, because in case there is no mitzvah to immerse them, reciting a beracha al tevilas keilim before immersing them is reciting a beracha levatalah, a beracha in vain. A better solution is to immerse them at the same time that one immerses an item that definitely requires a beracha.

Klei Sechorah — “Merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10). Furthermore, several halachic authorities contend that the storekeeper cannot immerse the vessels prior to sale since there is as yet no requirement to immerse them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 8:70). This is based on a statement of the Rama that implies that a tevilah performed before one is obligated to immerse a vessel, such as while it is still owned by the gentile, does not fulfill the mitzvah, and must be repeated after it becomes the property of a Jew (Rama 9).

Based on this discussion, we can now address one of our above-mentioned questions:

“I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy dishes filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”

This question is a modification of a situation in which I was once involved. I once received a glass candy dish from someone with a note from the business, stating that the dish has already been toiveled. I called the proprietor of the business to inform him that, in my opinion, not only is he not required to toivel the dish, but I suspect that it does not help. My reasoning is that although the proprietor fills his dishes with nuts and candies, from his perspective this is still merchandise that he is selling. The dish therefore qualifies as klei sechorah which one need not immerse, and therefore immersing them does not fulfill the mitzvah. As a result, not only is the proprietor not obligated to immerse the dishes, but doing so fulfills no mitzvah, and reciting a beracha on this immersion is a beracha levatalah for him. Including a note that the dish was toiveled is detrimental, since the recipient will assume that he has no requirement to toivel this dish, whereas, in fact, the end-user is required to immerse it. For these reasons, I felt it incumbent upon myself to bring this to the attention of the owner of the business.

The proprietor was very appreciative. He told me that, in truth, it was a big hassle for him to toivel the dishes, but he had been assuming that halacha required him to do so before he could fill the dishes.

Some Immersing Details

When immersing the utensil, one should not hold it very tightly in one’s hand, since this will prevent the part of the utensil held from being properly immersed. Instead, one should either hold the utensil somewhat loosely, or alternatively, one should dip one’s hand into the mikveh water before holding the utensil that will be immersed (Rama 120:2; see Taz and Shach).

Prior to immersing a utensil, one must remove all rust and dirt from it. If one immersed the utensil that had rust or dirt that most people would not want on the appliance, one must clean it, and then reimmerse it (Yoreh Deah 120:13).

When one is immersing an item that definitely requires tevilah, immediately prior to dipping it, he should recite a beracha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keili. If he immerses more than one vessel, he should conclude, instead, al tevilas keilim (Yoreh Deah 120:3). Although some authorities mention alternative texts to the beracha, I have quoted the commonly used text which follows the majority opinion.

If it is uncertain whether the item requires tevilah, one should not recite a beracha. It is preferable, if possible, to immerse it at the same time that one immerses a different utensil that definitely does require tevilah, so that both items are included in the beracha.

Can a child toivel keilim?

If a child tells you that he immersed a vessel in a kosher mikveh, may you rely on his report that this indeed happened?

The halacha is that, if an adult supervised the child immerse the vessel correctly, one may use the utensil, but one may not rely on the child attesting to his having immersed the utensil properly (Yoreh Deah 120:14; see also Gr”a ad locum and Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 451:6). Apparently, this is not a well-known halacha, since one often finds children being used as agents to immerse utensils for their parents.

People eating from glass dishes…

The Gemara teaches that food utensils made of glass must be immersed prior to use, since glassware is similar to metalware in that, when it becomes broken, it can be melted and repaired. Most authorities understand that the Sages required one to immerse glass food utensils miderabbanan, because of the similarity between glassware and metalware, which requires immersion min haTorah. One recites a beracha prior to immersing a drinking glass just as one recites a beracha prior to immersing silverware.

Of course, this leads us to a question about plasticware, since many forms of plastic may be repaired. Does reusable plasticware require tevilah just as glassware does? Most people assume that plasticware is not included in the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, but why?

This takes us to an earlier discussion between Nineteenth Century poskim concerning a type of boneware, which, when broken or cracked, could be repaired by melting and melding it. (I personally have no experience with this material, but I imagine that one could probably melt and repair bone, just as one can repair horn by melting and melding. There is much halachic discussion about the repair of a damaged shofar by melting and melding the crack.) Rav Avraham Shaag, the rebbe of Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld (later the Rav of the old Yishuv of Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael) concluded that just as one is required to immerse glassware because it is repairable, one is required to immerse boneware (Shu’t Ohel Avraham #24, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah). This position was disputed by Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffman, the preeminent posek of Germany in his day, who contended that, since the immersion of glassware is required only miderabbanan, one need immerse only those items which Chazal required, but a newly developed material, albeit similar to glassware, would not require immersion (Shu’t Melamed Leho’il, Yoreh Deah #49).

The authorities of the last generation and this one have debated whether plastic items require immersion prior to use. Indeed, some authorities (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:76) require the immersion of reusable plastic plates and the like, because they follow the logic of Rav Avraham Shaag, although without a beracha, out of concern that Rav Dovid Hoffman is halachically correct. Nevertheless, most authorities conclude that one is not required to immerse plasticware (Shu’t Yabia Omer 4: Yoreh Deah: 8; Tevilas Keilim page 226).

Other Metals

When teaching that metal implements become tamei, and that one must immerse food utensils before use, the Torah specifies the six metals that were commonly used in ancient times: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead. (Bronze and brass are both alloys whose main component is copper; in bronze, the most significant minority element is tin, and in brass, it is zinc.) However, over the last two hundred years, mankind has developed the means to extract and process several other metals including platinum, chrome, aluminum, and titanium. Do these “new” metals have the same halachic status as the six mentioned in the Torah? Are platinum rings, aluminum urns and titanium airplanes susceptible to tumah?  Do chrome pots and aluminum trays require tevilas keilim?

The Tiferes Yisrael, in his extensive introduction to the Order of Taharos and its laws, rules that the newly discovered metals have the same halachic status as the six mentioned explicitly by the Torah, and they are all capable of becoming tamei (Yevakeish Daas #44). It follows from his line of reasoning that one is required min haTorah to immerse food vessels made of the new types of metal, and, indeed, this is how many authorities rule (Tevilas Keilim page 225). Many authorities contend that, although one is required to immerse aluminum pots, one is not required to immerse aluminum items that are disposable. Since they are meant to be disposed of after use, they are not considered “keilim” that require immersion.

On the other hand, other poskim dispute the Tiferes Yisrael’s conclusion that all types of metal become tamei. They contend that the Torah’s choosing a lengthy way of listing six types of metal, when it could certainly have used a brief, generic term for includes all metal items, demonstrates that these are the only types of metal that become tamei, and that any newly developed metals are not susceptible to tumah (Igros Moshe; letter from Rav Yaakov Kamenetski published at end of the sefer Tevilas Keilim).

According to the latter approach, one can argue that chrome pots and aluminum implements do not require tevilas keilim. The prevalent accepted practice is to assume that they do require tevilas keilim, although some authorities consider this a sufficient doubt, and therefore advise people not to recite a beracha prior to immersing these items.


According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood involve only man shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal 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 — using our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that these items be immersed in a mikveh before we use them 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 in order to focus on the spiritual.

How Do We Make Kosher Cheese?

Question: Is there a need for kosher cheese to cost such a premium over non-kosher cheese?

Before discussing the halachic issues involved in manufacturing cheese, we need to explain the basics of cheesemaking. Hashem made cow’s milk contain all the nutrients necessary for a newborn calf to grow big and strong until it is ready to be self-supportive by mowing the lawn – I mean, by eating grass for its nutrition. The major components of milk are lactose, or milk sugar, which provides the carbohydrates a young calf needs; casein and other proteins; cream (which is the fat component); various other nutrients, including calcium for healthy bones; and about 90% water, which keeps the other ingredients in suspension or solution. To make cheese, one causes the casein to precipitate (separate) out of the fluid milk and then to coagulate. The coagulated part of the milk, called the curd, separates from the rest, which is the whey.

What is the prohibition called gevinas akum, and why did Chazal prohibit it?

The origins of the rabbinic prohibition banning non-Jewish cheese are mentioned by the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 29b), which records that Rabbi Yehoshua evaded explaining why the Sages prohibited cheese. In actuality, the Mishnah and the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35) mention seven possible reasons why Chazal prohibited consumption of gevinas akum:

(1) The first reason mentioned by the Tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua: Because the gentiles set it using the stomach of a non-kosher slaughtered calf.

This approach is later reiterated in the Gemara by Rabbi Yochanan.

(2) The second reason mentioned by Rabbi Yehoshua: Because the gentiles use the stomach of a calf that had been offered for idol worship.

(3) Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: The milk may have been left in a place that snakes could poison it with their venom.

(4) Rabbi Chanina: The milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. Although most non-kosher species do not allow themselves to be milked, camels, donkeys, and mares (female horses) can all be milked and produce palatable product. Although milk from non-kosher species contains very little casein and thus cannot be made into cheese, some fluid remains in the cheese that could contain non-kosher milk.

(5) Rav Ada bar Ahavah: The surface of the cheese may be coated with lard.

(6) Rav Chisda: That non-kosher wine vinegar was used to set the cheese.

(7) Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak: That juice of an orlah fruit may have been used to set the cheese. The Torah (VaYikra 19:23) prohibits eating or benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years. Those fruits are called orlah, and the prohibition of the Torah applies whether the tree was planted by a Jew or a gentile, and whether it grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’Aretz.

The Rambam in his discussion of these laws mentions setting cheese with the juice of figs. Today, we extract an enzyme known as ficain (also known as ficin), usually from the sap of the fig, which can be, and is, used to make certain varieties of cheese.

As we will soon see, the Rishonim question whether these seven opinions are in dispute – meaning that each authority holds his reason to the exclusion of the others, or that they are each citing a different reason for the prohibition, and that the cheese was prohibited because of any of the reasons.

I want to share with you a curiosity: While researching information for this article, I discovered a forty-year-old article describing how one manufactures cheddar cheese (by the way, the origin of the name is that this cheese was originally developed in Cheddar, a village in England), which reports that the cheese was made by adding calf stomach rennet to the milk so that it curds, heating the curd, going through several processes to carefully remove “every scrap” of whey, pressing the curd and then plunging it into hot water briefly to form a thin rind, and then greasing the rind with pure lard to keep the shape and thicken the rind. Thus, three of the reasons mentioned by the Gemara to prohibit cheese were very much applicable to this cheese – the use of non-kosher rennet; the use of lard; and the remaining uncurded milk in the cheese which could contain adulterated milk, were it not processed so carefully to remove it all. Obviously, contemporary kosher cheddar cheese must use a different source for the rennet, and a substitute for the lard; but are those the only differences between kosher cheddar and non-kosher?

Why did Rabbi Yehoshua hide the reason?

Although we now have some background as to why Chazal prohibited gentile cheese, we have as yet no idea why Rabbi Yehoshua was reticent to explain the origin of the prohibition. However, the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35a) does explain his concern, in the following passage:

“Why did he not reveal the true reason? As Ula explained: ‘When the scholars of Eretz Yisrael decreed a new prohibition, they did not reveal the reason for twelve months — lest someone dispute their reason and be lax in its observance.'” Thus, we see that even when the prohibition began, no reason was given, out of concern that this might affect whether the takkanah would be properly observed.

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

In any instance, many communities were in the practice of using gentile cheese and found halachic backing for this position. (Several Rishonim quote this lenient position in the name of the Geonei Narvona.) Tosafos quotes Rabbeinu Tam as saying “that we do not find an obvious reason to prohibit gevinas akum.” Rabbeinu Tam felt that the different opinions quoted in the Gemara are in dispute, and that the authoritative position for the gezeirah of gevinas akum is that of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi — that the cheese may be contaminated with snake venom. Rabbeinu Tam then opines that according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, the prohibition of gevinas akum was never instituted in a place where snakes are not commonly found.

However, most Rishonim rejected this reasoning, contending that the prohibition against gentile cheese exists even when none of the original reasons apply. They contend that the prohibition has a halachic status of davar shebeminyan, a rabbinic injunction that remains binding even when the reason the takkanah was introduced no longer applies, until and unless a larger and more authoritative body declares the original injunction invalid. Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on gentile cheese, it remains, even when none of the reasons apply (Rambam, Maachalos Asuros 3:4; Rashba, Toras HaBayis page 90b; Semag, Mitzvah 223; Tur, Yoreh Deah 115). Others even contended that Rabbeinu Tam himself never permitted gevinas akum, but that his comments were meant to be theoretical in nature and not a definitive ruling (Semag; Semak).

The Shulchan Aruch rules in line with the majority opinion that there is no halachic basis to allow the practice of the Italian communities which permitted use of the local gentile cheese. The Rama follows a moderately more lenient view, permitting use of gentile cheese only in a place where one can ascertain that there was a long-established custom to permit it. Thus, today no one would be able to use gentile cheese, with the possible exception of an Italian community that can prove that they have such a tradition going back at least eight hundred years.

How is kosher cheese made differently from non-kosher cheese?

Having established that almost universal opinion contends that the prohibition against gentile cheese is alive and well even when none of the concerns apply, we need to clarify how one makes cheese in a way that it is considered Jewish cheese, not gentile. Does the cow or the milk require immersion in a mikveh and acceptance of mitzvos to become Jewish?

To resolve this issue we find a dispute between two major halachic authorities, the Rama (Yoreh Deah 215:2) and the Shach. These two authorities dispute concerning the definition of gevinas Yisrael; or, in other terms, what removes a cheese from the categoric prohibition of gevinas akum. To describe the dispute very succinctly, we could say that the Rama contends that supervision makes the cheese kosher, whereas the Shach insists that a Jew must be involved significantly in the processing of the cheese.

A Mashgiach resolves the problem.

The Rama contends that a Jew observing the production of cheese makes the cheese gevinas Yisrael, which is, by definition, not subject to the prohibition of gevinas akum. In his opinion, this is true even when the milk and curding agents are all owned by a gentile and even when gentiles performed all the steps in the cheese production.

The Shach takes tremendous issue with this approach of the Rama, contending that if a gentile owns the milk, the acid, and the enzyme, and he places the acid or enzyme into the milk, the resultant cheese is prohibited as gevinas akum, even if an observant Jew supervised the entire production! The Shach rallies support for his position from the wording of the Mishnah, which, when describing the prohibition against chalav akum, prohibits milk “milked by a gentile without a Jew watching,” whereas when discussing gevinas akum, the Mishnah simply prohibits “the cheese of gentiles,” omitting the proviso that a supervising Jew is sufficient to remove the prohibition. According to the Shach, the only whey (or did I mean “way”) to avoid gevinas akum is to have a Jew place the curding agent into the milk, or to have the Jew own the milk or the cheese. In these instances, the cheese is now considered “Jewish” cheese, because it was either owned or manufactured by a Jew.

The Shabbos Problem

Those who followed the Shach’s approach requiring the Jew either to make the cheese or to own it, occasionally ran into the following practical problem. In order to make the cheese kosher, they needed to arrange for a Jew to add the enzyme or acid to the milk. This could easily be done if the price was right. If the gentile ordinarily used non-kosher rennet, the Jew would supply his own kosher rennet. However, what was one to do when the gentile decided that the best day to set the cheese was on Shabbos? It is a desecration of Shabbos to add rennet into milk on Shabbos – and, according to the Shach, a Jew must put in the rennet to avoid a problem of gevinas akum!

This entire problem does not exist according to the Rama, since the Jew can simply oversee the work that the non-Jew is performing. The Jew himself is performing no melacha, and the non-Jew does not have to keep Shabbos. Furthermore, no violation of amira le’nachri, having a gentile perform melacha for a Jew, is involved, since the gentile is working on Shabbos as his own decision and for his own purposes.

The Pri Chodosh, who sides with the Shach’s position regarding the dispute concerning what makes a cheese “Jewish,” discusses the problem of what to do when the gentile wants to make the kosher cheese on Shabbos. He concludes the following:

If the Jew orders a certain quantity of cheese, the cheese is considered gevinas Yisrael. Since this cheese is being made specifically for the Jew, the Jew is considered the owner as soon as the cheese is manufactured, thus eliminating the prohibition of gevinas akum. This is true even if the Jew did not participate in the manufacture.

The Pri Chodosh also discusses another case: What is the law if the cheese is manufactured as a partnership between the Jew and the gentile? In this situation, must the Jew add the rennet to the milk to avoid a concern of gevinas akum? The Pri Chodosh rules that lechatchilah the Jew should add the rennet to consider this cheese kosher, but be’dei’evid, if he did not do so, the cheese is permitted, since the Jew is a partial owner.

However, the question is: Why does the Pri Chodosh permit this only be’dei’evid? Logically, this cheese should not be included under the prohibition of gevinas akum, since there is partial Jewish ownership.

It seems that the Pri Chodosh is somewhat concerned because part of the cheese is being made for the gentile – and that quantity of the cheese might be considered gevinas akum – whereas where the Jew is purchasing outright a certain quantity of cheese, whatever is made for the Jew is considered gevinas Yisrael and therefore is permitted.

Another Approach

The Noda BiYehudah (II Orach Chayim #37) discusses a similar case, where a Jew is “renting the schvag” of a non-Jew for the purpose of producing cheese. I do not know the meaning of the word schvag, and in many inquiries about the subject I have found no one else who knows either, but from the context in which the Noda BiYehudah uses the term, it seems that this was a Slavic word for a cheese factory. The case is that the Jew is paying the gentile to use his own facility to produce cheese for the Jew. Again, the Noda BiYehudah is faced by the same problem that the Pri Chodosh discussed: What should one do on Shabbos?

The Noda BiYehudah sides with the Rama: as long as the Jew supervises the process, the cheese is kosher, mentioning that this is the accepted practice, and that several earlier luminaries ruled this way.

In addition, the Noda BiYehudah demonstrates that the dispute between the Rama and the Shach originates as a machlokes Rishonim in which most authorities rule like the Rama, whereas the Maharam of Rottenberg held, like the Shach, that gevinas akum applies unless the Jew is the owner or the manufacturer.

The Noda BiYehudah adds the following point. He contends that when the Jew intends to purchase the cheese and also supplies the rennet, the Jew is already considered the owner of the cheese. Under these circumstances, there is no problem of gevinas akum, even according to the Maharam and the Shach. The Noda BiYehudah concludes that, under these circumstances, a gentile may himself actually produce the cheese without it becoming prohibited. Whereas the Pri Chodosh (115:15) permitted consuming cheese produced this way only be’dei’evid, that is, if it has been produced already, the Noda BiYehudah rules that lechatchilah one may produce kosher cheese this way.

Owning just the rennet

Based on the explanation of the Noda BiYehudah, some contemporary rabbonim have suggested that it is sufficient for the Jew to own the rennet. Others take issue with this approach, contending that this is sufficient only when the cheese is being produced specifically for Jewish consumption, whereas in the modern world, the cheese is usually produced for general consumption, and the non-Jewish company intends to market the cheese. According to the Orthodox Union Kashruth Division, Rav Yisrael Belsky rules that the Noda BiYehudah permitted only a situation when the Jews rented the cheese-plant and planned on purchasing the finished cheeses. The Noda BiYehudah contended that owning the rennet suffices to give the Jew a partial ownership in the cheese when it is a first step towards taking full possession. However, when the Jew now has no intention of ever owning the cheese, this approach is insufficient to create gevinas Yisrael.

Other rabbonim ruled that if the Jew owns the milk and the rennet, then the cheese produced is gevinas Yisrael according to all opinions. Subsequent to its production, the gentile then purchases the cheese back from the Jew, so that he markets it as his own cheese. However, I know of responsible, knowledgeable rabbonim who permitted cheese based on this heter, usually adding other requirements. For example, in one instance the rav made a kinyan on the factory and all its vessels, so that he would own the cheese as it was made. Another suggestion was that the rav remain a partial owner of the cheese as it was made, and that he sell his share in the finished cheese, after its manufacture was complete, back to the company in exchange for his “hechsher fee.”


The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding the prohibition of gevinas akum, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from various different sins. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfill all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

Double-Duty Soups, Onerous Onions, and Nat bar Nat, or Preparing Milchig and Fleishig for Shavuos

There is a widespread custom to eat at least some milchig meals on Shavuos. A housewife asked me this question: since this year Shavuos follows on the heels of Shabbos, and she has no large pareve pots, is there a way for her to prepare side dishes or desserts that she may then serve with both her meat and her dairy meals? In response, I bring you:

Double-Duty Soups, Onerous Onions, and Nat bar Nat, or Preparing Milchig and Fleishig for Shavuos

Question #1:

Rachel asks her Rav:

“Someone told me that I may cook a pareve soup in my fleishig pot and then serve it with both milchig and fleishig meals. Can this possibly be true?”

Question #2: Reuven wants to know:

“May I eat the leftover kugel alongside my milchig lunch?”

Question #3:

Mrs. Goldberg calls with the following question:

“My neighbor, Mrs. Dwek, told me that she cooks her rice and other vegetables in her dairy pots and then serves them with either meat or dairy meals. I was taught that this is strictly forbidden. May I trust the kashrus in her house? She seems more knowledgeable and careful about halacha than I am.”

To answer these questions properly, we need to study the following halachic areas:

I.          What is the status of pareve food cooked in milchig or fleishig pots?

II.         The rules of pungent foods.

III.       Why we wait after eating fleishig before eating milchig.

We will also acquire a glossary of several halachic terms, such as nat bar nat, davar charif, and eino ben yomo. I will explain each of these terms as we come to them.

I.          What is the status of pareve food cooked in milchig or fleishig pots?

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 dairy in the same pot on the same day, meat flavor goes into the dairy food – thus creating a prohibited mixture of meat and milk (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 93:1).

Chazal extended the Torah’s proscription against eating meat and milk cooked together to include eating meat and milk simultaneously, even when they are not cooked together (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 88:1). The issue that we will discuss is:

To what extent did Chazal prohibit the mixture of milk and meat? Did they prohibit eating pareve food cooked in fleishig pots together with dairy? To answer this question, we need to be introduced to the concept called nat bar nat.


The Gemara (Chullin 111b) states that, under certain circumstances, fish prepared in fleishig equipment may be eaten with dairy food. The poskim call this phenomenon nat bar nat, literally, a taste that is son of a taste. This means that since the meat taste has undergone two steps, first into the equipment (the first taste) and then back into the fish (the “son” of the taste), the residual “meat” taste is too insignificant to be considered meat. This rule also applies to the use of dairy equipment; that is, pareve food prepared in dairy equipment may be eaten with meat.


Most Rishonim contend that food cooked in a meat pot may be eaten with dairy, provided the meat equipment was clean from significant meat residue. Following their approach, a pareve soup cooked in a clean fleishig pot may be eaten together with dairy foods even if the pot was used to cook meat immediately before the pareve soup. Similarly, if one cooked dairy, emptied out the pot, and then immediately cooked vegetables in the same pot using exclusively pareve ingredients, these vegetables may be eaten with meat. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 95:1) follows this position, and this is the accepted ruling among Sefardim. However, many authorities rule that this is permitted only after the fact, but that one may not cook vegetables in a fleishig pot intending to eat or serve it with milchig food and vice versa.

Other authorities contend that nat bar nat applies only to pareve food placed in a kli sheni, that is, in a bowl in which hot meat had been placed after being removed from the fire. According to this approach, nat bar nat applies only if one cooked pareve food in a pareve pot and then emptied the very hot contents into a fleishig pot that was not heated or into fleishig serving vessels. However, fish or vegetables cooked in a pot in which meat was cooked the same day may not be eaten with dairy, nor can fish or vegetables cooked in a pot in which dairy was cooked the same day be eaten with meat (Rivan, quoted by Tosafos, Chullin 111b).

The Rama (ad loc.) follows this approach, ruling that one should not eat pareve food cooked in a meat pot together with dairy, or pareve food cooked in a dairy pot together with meat. However, the Rama accepts that one may eat such fish or vegetables which were cooked in a dairy pot on fleishig dishes and with fleishig utensils, and that one may eat them before and after eating meat. He prohibits eating these vegetables only together with meat. This is the approach followed by Ashkenazim.


Even according to the Rama, pareve food cooked in a pot that was last used for meat more than 24 hours previously may be eaten with dairy. The reason for this is that, once 24 hours have passed, the meat flavor absorbed by the pot no longer imparts a pleasant taste – and, therefore, the flavor transmitted to the pareve food is no longer considered “meat.”

A vessel that has not been used for hot food for more than 24 hours is called eino ben yomo, which I will translate as not used today.

The authorities dispute whether one may lechatchilah cook pareve food in an eino ben yomo fleishig pot in order to eat it with milchig.

Let us now discuss Rachel’s question raised above: “Someone told me that I may cook a pareve soup in my fleishig pot and then serve it with both milchig and fleishig meals. Can this possibly be true?”

According to what we have said so far, if Rachel already cooked her soup, she could serve it at a milchig meal, but not at the same time that she has milchig food on the table. If she is sfardi, then most authorities rule that she could even have milchig food on the table. However, it is important to note that many authorities rule that one may not plan one’s menu this way, and that the heter of nat bar nat is only after the fact.

There is also another very important caveat that we will now explain – all this assumes that Rachel’s soup does not include any pungent ingredients that may already have become fleishig.


Does the lenience of nat bar nat apply whenever one uses fleishig equipment to prepare pareve food? No, there are some exceptions. One major exception is that the rule of nat bar nat does not apply to what halacha calls a davar charif, a pungent food, such as radishes, onions, garlic and lemons. Pungent foods intensify flavor and therefore transmit flavor in ways that bland items do not. (For halachic purposes, we refer to any non-pungent food as “bland.”)

There are several ramifications to this law of pungent foods, as we will soon see.


The Gemara (Chullin 111b) prohibits eating dairy together with a radish sliced by a knife that had previously been used to cut meat, but permits eating bland food sliced by the same knife. Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 96:1) rules that the radish is fleishig, because the meat flavor absorbed into the knife transferred into the radish and is still considered a strong meat flavor. We do not consider the knife to be a nat bar nat, notwithstanding the fact that the flavor of the meat was first absorbed into the knife and only then transferred from the knife into the radish. The reason is that pungent foods, such as radishes, intensify flavor, causing the meat flavor in the radish to remain strong enough to still be considered meat.

However, although one should not eat these pungent items together with dairy ingredients, they do not become so “meaty” as to require six hours after eating them. One should be careful not to eat them together with dairy, but one may eat dairy immediately after eating the onions or other pungent foods.


Notwithstanding the fact that pareve food cooked in an eino ben yomo fleishig pot may be eaten with dairy, the Rama concludes that the lenience of eino ben yomo does not apply to pungent foods. Thus, someone who fried onions in an eino ben yomo fleishig pan must treat the onions as fleishig.


You sliced an onion or a lemon with a fleishig knife. Since these items are pungent, they have absorbed enough meat flavor to be considered fleishig and cannot be mixed with dairy.


From my experience, the most common type of kitchen mix-up involves the misuse of onions sliced with a fleishig or milchig knife. It is for this reason that I highly recommend a family kitchen policy of slicing all onions, lemons, radishes and garlic exclusively with pareve knives.

At this point, I want to return to Rachel’s question: All that we permitted Rachel to do assumes that she did not use pungent ingredients, such as onions or garlic, in her soup.

Should she want to add onions to her soup, she should be careful to slice them with a pareve knife. Should she want to sauté them first, and she has no pareve pot or pan large enough for the soup, she has the following option: she could first sauté her onions in a pareve pot. Once the onions are cooked, they lose their pungency; if they are now added to the bland ingredients in the fleishig pot, they will no longer absorb fleishig taste from the pot, and her soup will remain pareve. (Onions are interesting, because when raw, they qualify as davar charif, although they lose their pungency quickly when they are cooked.)

At this point, we can also answer the other two questions asked above:

“May I eat the leftover kugel alongside my milchig lunch?”

The answer is that if the pot in which the kugel was made was fleishig and ben yomo, then one should not eat the kugel at the same moment that one is eating actual dairy products, although one may eat it using dairy equipment.

“My neighbor, Mrs. Dwek, told me that she cooks her rice and other vegetables in her dairy pots and then serves them with either meat or dairy meals. May I trust the kashrus in her house?”

The answer is that what Mrs. Dwek is following a psak that, according to some authorities, is perfectly acceptable for Sfardim. An Askenazi should not do this lichatchilah. Either way, you may certainly trust her kashrus.

The Great Cottage Cheese Controversy

Before Yom Tov, I sent out a basic article on the concept of kosher cheese. This week I am sending out a sequel to that article.

Question #1:

The whey it was.

Rav Schwartz* tells me that his Rosh Yeshiva, a world-renowned European-born gadol, held that one may eat cottage cheese that is not chalav Yisrael, even though one should otherwise always be careful to keep chalav Yisrael. He also held that there is no gevinas akum problem. What is the rationale for this?

Question #2:

Is this the whey to go?

If gevinas Yisrael requires either that a Jew supervise the entire production, or that he own the milk or cheese, how can hechsherim certify cottage cheese produced by a non-Jewish company without a mashgiach temidi?

Question #3:

No whey!

My friend Yaakov* often travels in places where there are no kosher products available, and he has amassed a list of items that he can eat and drink wherever he finds himself. He told me that someone once told him that when traveling he may eat cottage cheese without any hechsher. What is the rationale for this psak?

In other articles, I explained the basic halachic issues involved in the rabbinic prohibitions called chalav akum and gevinas akum. Chazal prohibited consuming milk that was not supervised by a Jew out of concern that it could have been adulterated with milk from a non-kosher species, a prohibition called chalav akum. (Henceforth, I will use the term “non-kosher milk” in this article to mean milk from non-kosher species, and “kosher milk” to mean milk from a kosher animal.) In an earlier article, I explained the dispute among halachic authorities whether this prohibition exists when there is strong basis to assume that no adulteration took place, milk that is colloquially often called “chalav stam,” and that Rav Moshe Feinstein referred to as “chalav companies.”

There is also a prohibition called gevinas akum, cheese from gentiles. According to some authorities (Rama, Yoreh Deah 115:2) this is obviated by having a Jew supervise the cheese making and, according to others (Shach ad loc.), only when a Jew adds the enzyme or acid that curds or “sets” the cheese, or alternatively, when a Jew owns the milk or the cheese. “Curdling” or “curding” means that some of the solid particles naturally suspended in the milk, predominantly the casein (cheese protein), precipitate out of the milk and clump together.

When a Jew does not supervise the cheese making and does not own or participate in the manufacture of the cheese, it is prohibited as gevinas akum.

Also remember from our previous article that many authorities contend that if the cheese is kosher, we are not concerned that it was made from unsupervised milk because of a principle chalav tamei eino omeid – non-kosher milk does not curd into cheese. This law applies not only to the cheese produced, but also to the whey byproduct of kosher cheese production (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 79).

This is the whey we make our cheese

How is cottage cheese made? When cheese is made, the part of the milk that remains liquid and does not become cheese is the “whey,” whereas the part that solidifies is called “curd.” In earlier days, a forerunner of cottage cheese was made simply by allowing milk to curd naturally, which created a product called “curds and whey” (remember Little Miss Muffet?). Contemporary commercial cottage cheese is produced by adding an enzyme (also called rennet) to warm skim milk, allowing it to curd into its separate components, the curd and the whey. The curd is then removed from the whey and rinsed thoroughly to remove every trace of whey; after which a “cheese dressing” consisting of milk, some salt (unless it is sodium-free unsalted cottage cheese) and other minor ingredients (such as a preservative, and a stabilizer so that the cream and skim in the dressing does not separate) is added to the curd. If the cottage cheese is seasoned with fruit, chives or other garnish, these ingredients are also added to the dressing. The percentage of fat in the cottage cheese is determined by whether the milk in the dressing is made from pure skim milk, which means no fat, or has cream added.

There are three potential kashrus issues that can be involved.

  1. Is commercially produced cottage cheese prohibited because of gevinas akum if a Jew did not add the rennet and/or supervise the entire production?
  2. Must it be made from chalav Yisrael milk?
  3. Are the rennet and all other ingredients kosher? Although rennet is used in minuscule quantities, and a food containing less than one part in sixty of a non-kosher ingredient is usually kosher bedei’evid, after the fact, non-kosher rennet still poses a serious kashrus problem since this is what causes the cheese to form. This gives the rennet a halachic status called davar hamaamid, an ingredient that creates a physical change in the processed food, which is not nullified even in small percentages.

When there is a will, there is whey — a gevinas akum review

Is cottage cheese prohibited because of gevinas akum?

In a previous article, I noted that the Gemara mentions seven different potential concerns why Chazal instituted the prohibition of gevinas akum:

  1. The enzyme used to curd the cheese may be from the stomach of a calf slaughtered not according to halacha.
  2. The enzyme may be from the stomach of a calf that had been offered for idol worship (Avodah Zarah 29b).
  3. The milk used for the cheese may have been left in a place where snakes could poison it.

4.   The milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. Although milk from non-kosher species contains very little casein and thus cannot be made into cheese, some fluid that could contain non-kosher milk may remain in the cheese.

5. The surface of the cheese may be coated with lard.

6. Non-kosher vinegar may have been used to set the cheese.

7. Sap of an orlah fruit may have been used to set the cheese (Avodah Zarah 35).

As I mentioned in the previous article, the Rishonim dispute which of the above reasons we follow and what are the resultant halachic conclusions. For example, a minority opinion, referred to as the chachmei Narvona, permitted eating gentile cheese in places where they used vegetable rennet. However, the Shulchan Aruch rules like the majority opinion and prohibits this “vegetable rennet” cheese.

This is the whey we make our butter

Before analyzing whether cottage cheese is prohibited because of gevinas akum, we should research an old controversy concerning whether butter produced and owned by non-Jews is permitted for the kosher palate.

Let us first understand how butter is made:

Milk consists of many components: water, cream, proteins, natural sugars (lactose), and various other nutrients. Butter is made by first separating the cream from the rest of the milk, which happens on its own if the milk is not homogenized, and then churning the cream, which causes its fat globules to combine and solidify. The liquid left behind is called buttermilk (not to be confused with cultured buttermilk, a different product sold in the dairy case of your local supermarket, called by an almost identical name to confuse the innocent).

Is butter included in the prohibitions of gevinas akum or chalav akum?

A thousand years ago, Jewish communities grappled with the following question: “May one purchase butter from a gentile?” After all, both cheese and milk of a gentile are prohibited. Why should butter be any different?

Indeed many authorities and communities held this way. However, there were also authorities and communities who permitted chem’as akum – “gentile butter” (Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 3:15). According to the Vilna Gaon (Yoreh Deah 115:17), these authorities conclude that gevinas akum is prohibited because of concern of the use of non-kosher rennets, a reason that does not apply to butter. After all, although butter is a processed dairy product, it does not use rennet to separate the butter from the buttermilk.

Those who prohibit butter as gevinas akum rule in accordance with the other reasons mentioned above to prohibit gevinas akum that do apply to butter. For example, if gevinas akum was prohibited because of concern that some milk residue may be left (reason #4 above), this reason applies equally to butter, because some milk residue does remain in the butter even after the buttermilk is removed.

But why is butter not prohibited because of chalav akum?

Those who permit gentile butter contend that just as non-kosher milk does not make cheese, it also does not make butter. Although the processes of making cheese and butter are completely dissimilar, and different components of milk are used for each, it is still true that it is difficult to make butter from non-kosher milk because of its low cream content. (See Shu’t Melamed LeHo’eil, Yoreh Deah #34, who provides a chart for the amount of dairy fat and casein found in the milk of various common farm animals, both kosher and non-kosher.) Thus, there were early authorities who permitted purchasing butter from gentiles, contending that it was exempt from both the prohibitions of gevinas akum and of chalav akum. The common practice was to follow the lenient approach.

Beware of “whey cream”!

Please note: In the contemporary world, butter should not be used without a reliable kosher certification. This is because of a host of potential kashrus concerns in today’s butter manufacture, the most common of which is the use of “whey cream,” the cream salvaged from cheese production, which is often prohibited because of gevinas akum absorption. Also note that a hechsher on butter does not mean that it is made from chalav Yisrael milk unless this is specified.

A wheyward flock?

In a landmark teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the kashrus issues involved in the consumption of cottage cheese (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:48). It is important to understand the details and context of the responsum. In 1960, Rav Shimon Schwab, the late Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, was aware that people were using cottage cheese without any hechsher whatsoever. He asked Rav Moshe a shaylah whether one should publicly announce that cottage cheese that has no hechsher is not kosher.

In answering the question, Rav Moshe discusses all three issues that we raised above:

(1) Is cottage cheese prohibited because of gevinas akum?

(2) Is cottage cheese prohibited because of chalav akum?

(3) Do we need to be concerned that the rennet used may not be kosher?

Rav Moshe first analyzes whether cottage cheese is prohibited as gevinas akum, and presents a line of reasoning that might permit it. He notes that although accepted halacha rules unlike the chachmei Narvona and that gevinas akum applies even when the cheese is set with kosher enzymes, it is possible that the prohibition does not apply to varieties of cheese that can be produced without any rennet at all. If one leaves the milk at the proper temperature, it will naturally curd to create the cheese part of cottage cheese. This would draw a distinction between cottage cheese (and similar products such as farmer’s cheese, cream cheese, and baker’s cheese) and so-called “hard cheeses” that require rennet to produce them.

Rav Moshe concludes that although one should not rely on this analysis to permit cottage cheese, one is also not required to rebuke those who consume this product.

But maybe the rennet isn’t kosher?

Subsequently, Rav Moshe discusses that the cheese should be prohibited because the rennet used may not be kosher. Although rennet is used in very small quantities, it should not be nullified in the finished product because it qualifies as a davar hamaamid. Rav Moshe notes, however, that since cottage cheese can be made without any supplementary enzyme, the rennet is added only to speed up the process. A davar hamaamid is the exclusive cause of the forming of the product; however, when natural means or a kosher enzyme is assisted by non-kosher rennet, the rennet can become bateil in the finished product. Therefore, even if the gentile company used non-kosher rennet, the resultant cheese is not prohibited.

Rav Moshe also discusses whether one may eat cottage cheese that is not made from chalav Yisrael, which he permits based on his analysis that chalav companies (his own term) is permitted. I refer the reader to my previous article on the topic of chalav akum for a further analysis of this dispute.

I would like at this point to quote the conclusion of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah:

As a final decision, I do not say that this is permitted, but I also do not rebuke those who are lenient since there is a reason to permit it and the prohibition is rabbinic… as a result, I see no requirement… to prohibit those who are not asking, and even moreso since there is the possibility that they will not listen… which allows for the additional reason that it is better to violate negligently than intentionally. However, one certainly should not publicize that there is a basis to be lenient.”

Thus, Rav Moshe concludes that his reasoning excluding cottage cheese from the prohibition of gevinas akum is not clearcut and should not be relied upon. This allows us to make an interesting comparison between Rav Moshe’s psak and that of the other gadol I referred to in our original question:

Rav Schwartz tells me that his Rosh Yeshiva, a world-renowned European-born gadol, held that one may eat cottage cheese that is not chalav Yisrael, even though one should otherwise always be careful to keep chalav Yisrael. He also held that there is no gevinas akum problem. What is the rationale for this?

I have two observations based on this anecdote quoting this esteemed gadol, whom I knew personally. The first is that this gadol disputed with Rav Moshe on a halachic issue. Whereas Rav Moshe contended that one should not rely lechatchilah that cottage cheese and other “soft” cheeses are not prohibited as gevinas akum, this other gadol apparently held that one may lechatchilah rely on this heter.

Is this the wrong whey?

My second observation is that I believe this gadol was unaware of a technical fact. It appears that he assumed that the liquid part of cottage cheese is the whey byproduct of the cheese manufacture, precisely what Little Miss Muffet ate. It may be that where this gadol grew up this was a commonly produced or purchased food, and indeed this food would have no problem of chalav akum. However, contemporary cottage cheese is made by adding milk to the cheese curd. Although the heter of “chalav companies” that Rav Moshe accepts applies here, this particular gadol did not rely on this heter, but held like the Chasam Sofer that one may not use milk that a Jew did not supervise. Nevertheless, this gadol permitted whey from unsupervised milk that was a byproduct of kosher cheese production because he felt that the same heter that permits cheese from non-supervised milk, should apply to the whey, its byproduct.  Note that I mentioned before that the Chasam Sofer ruled this way. (or is it “whey”?)

Perhaps this gadol had some other reason why he felt that the “dressing” added is not a chalav akum concern.

By the whey

Many years ago, a prominent rav living in a community where chalav Yisrael milk was available but just making inroads, was faced by a dilemma. People in his community were using non-chalav Yisrael, non-gevinas Yisrael cottage cheese, which Rav Moshe rules that lechatchilah one should not use, yet the market for fully chalav Yisrael/gevinas Yisrael cottage cheese did not yet exist. He arranged that a mashgiach add the rennet to non-chalav Yisrael milk to produce a batch of cheese curd from supervised kosher ingredients. The curd produced this way is gevinas Yisrael. The rav arranged that the milk added as “cheese dressing” to the gevinas Yisrael curd be chalav Yisrael, so that the resultant product was certainly kosher, gevinas Yisrael and containing chalav Yisrael, although its gevinas Yisrael was not made from chalav Yisrael.

At this point, I would like to address the second question I asked above:

“If gevinas Yisrael requires either that a Jew supervise the entire production, or that he own the milk or cheese, how can hechsherim supervise cottage cheese produced by a non-Jewish company without a mashgiach temidi?”

According to Rav Moshe’s teshuvah, the above-mentioned product should not be used lechatchilah, so how can someone provide it with a hechsher? The answer is that they feel that there was an old minhag, going back to Europe, to permit soft cheeses that were not gevinas Yisrael. Although Rav Moshe clearly was unaware of such a minhag (otherwise he certainly would have mentioned it), it seems that the other gadol I mentioned above, who was raised in Poland, was familiar with such a minhag.

We can now address the last question raised above:

Yaakov often travels in places where there are no kosher products available, and he has amassed a list of items that he can eat anywhere. Someone once told him that when traveling he may eat cottage cheese without any hechsher. What is the rationale for this psak? The answer is that the person who permitted him felt that when traveling he could rely on the minhag that “soft” cheese is not considered gevinas akum. We should realize that Rav Moshe rules that this product should not be used, and, furthermore, even those who permit this cottage cheese do so only in a place where the leniency to use “chalav companies” applies.


Specifically in the context of gevinas akum, the Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. We see how a vast halachic literature developed devoted to understanding the prohibitions of gevinas akum and chalav akum, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

*All names in this article have been changed.

Must I Immerse a Candy Dish?

Question: A Sweet Saga

Avraham Sweet, the proprietor of Candy Andy, wants to know:

“I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy bowls filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”


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 to kasher equipment that was used for non-kosher food and 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. This renders them different from vessels made of stone, bone, wood or earthenware, all of which cannot be repaired this way.

What Types of Dishes must be Immersed?

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

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘One can derive from the verse 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 only mentions 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 kosherizing 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, cell phones and clothing shears!

To this, Rav Nachman retorted that the Torah only includes items used for klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal. 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 require immersion for all food preparation utensils, but only required immersion of klei seudah, items used for meals. We will soon see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim. But, alas, what exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food implements must be immersed?

Klei Sechorah — “Merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah, utensils that he intends to prepare food with or eat with, but items he intends to sell. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10). Furthermore, several halachic authorities contend that the storekeeper cannot immerse the vessels prior to sale since there is as yet no requirement to immerse them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 8:70). This is based on a comment of the Rama which implies that tevilah performed before one is obligated to immerse a utensil, such as while it is still owned by a gentile, does not fulfill the mitzvah and must be repeated after the utensil becomes the property of a Jew (Rama, Yoreh Deah 120:9). Thus, reciting a beracha on this precipitative tevilah would be a beracha levatalah.

Based on this discussion, we can now address our above-mentioned question:

“I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy bowls filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”

I was actually involved in the situation that precipitated this question. We received a filled glass candy bowl as a gift, including a note from the proprietor that the bowl had already been toiveled. I called the owner of the business to inform him that, in my opinion, not only is he not required to toivel the dish, but I suspect that the tevilah is premature and therefore does not help. My reasoning is that, although the proprietor fills his dishes with nuts and candies, from his perspective the bowl is merchandise. The dish therefore qualifies as klei sechorah which one need not immerse, and therefore immersing them does not fulfill the mitzvah. As a result, not only is the proprietor not obligated to immerse the dishes, but doing so fulfills no mitzvah, and it is a beracha levatalah for him to recite a beracha on this tevilah. Including a note that the dish was toiveled is detrimental, since the recipient will assume that he has no requirement to toivel this dish, whereas in fact the end user is required to immerse it. For these reasons, I felt it incumbent on myself to bring this to the attention of the owner of the business.

The proprietor was very appreciative. He told me that in truth it was a big hassle for him to toivel the dishes, but he had been assuming that halacha required him to do so before he could fill them with nuts and candy.

Shortly after writing these words, I received the following shaylah:

“I wanted to ask you whether one must toivel an item that one is giving away as a present. When I studied the topic, I concluded that even if I purchase a utensil that requires tevilah, but I am planning on giving it to someone, it does not have a chiyuv tevilah until it reaches the recipient’s hands. Only then does it become kli seudah. This would also apply, for example, if someone gave a shalach manos bowl filled with candy, etc.; the utensil wouldn’t require tevilah until the person receives it. What do you think?”

To which I answered:

“It seems to me that since one is purchasing the item for someone’s personal use, and not to sell, that it should have a chiyuv tevilah at this point. Only items meant to be merchandise are absolved from tevilah.”

And then I received the following response:

“Who says that the recipient is going to use the utensil at his table? Indeed, I had the very same shaylah tonight. My wife took a small receptacle that was holding a plant, filled it with nuts and dried fruit, and brought it to someone as a present. Who said that the recipient will use it afterwards for food? Maybe it will be a candleholder, a decorative piece, etc. It doesn´t become kli seudah until she decides what she will use it for.”

The point the correspondent is making is that it may indeed be that this item will never be a food utensil, and therefore never be required to be immersed. Only the end user determines whether the item is indeed a food utensil, and therefore until he decides what to do with it, there is no requirement to immerse it.


According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood only involve man shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal 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 — which was to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that the items produced be immersed in a mikveh before we use them, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are used for food. This demonstrates that although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, when doing so one must focus on the spiritual aspect that is served by the physical.

*Name has been changed to protect the confidence of the individuals involved.