Glycerin in Today’s World

Photo by Artem Zhushman from FreeImages

Question #1:

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

Question #2:

“Is glycerin kosher?”

Question #3:

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

Question #4:

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

Introduction:

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

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

Properties of glycerin

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

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

Athletics and glycerin

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

Food uses of glycerin

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

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

Is glycerin used as a sweetener?

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

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

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

Kashrus of glycerin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contemporary Kosher Bakery and Its Halachic Issues, II

Separating Challah

bakeryIn a previous week, I sent out an article that dealt briefly with many of the issues germane to providing kosher supervision at a bakery. This article will discuss in more detail a very common problem: the necessity and difficulty of separating challah in a commercial enterprise.

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

Upon your entering the land to which I am bringing you, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it (Bamidbar 15:18-20).

According to Torah law, any dough kneaded in Israel made from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats) in an era when most Jews reside there must have the challah portion separated and given to a kohen. Today this portion is burned, as I will explain. If the dough mixed has less than an “omer” of flour, equal to the amount of manna each Jew received as his daily portion in the desert, there is no requirement to separate challah. Contemporary authorities estimate an omer to be equal to somewhere between three and five pounds of flour. Accepted practice is to separate challah without a bracha from a dough of between three and five pounds of flour, and with a bracha from a dough that is larger. We treat the former case as a situation of a safek – a doubt as to whether there exists any requirement to separate challah. Therefore, we separate challah, but omit the bracha, a principle called safek brachos lehakeil, because we are uncertain whether there is a requirement to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Torah does not establish a minimum size portion that one separates for challah. The Mishnah records a rabbinically introduced minimum: If the dough is prepared for commercial sale, one should separate 1/48 of it, and if it is meant for private consumption, one should separate 1/24 of the dough. This challah portion is given to the kohen, to be eaten by him and his family in purity. Many opinions state that the sages established a minimum portion only for an era when the challah would be eaten by the kohen and his family. Since today we cannot achieve the status of taharah, purity, that would allow the eating of challah, the challah portion is burned and not eaten, and therefore, according to these opinions, the law reverts back to the Torah requirements, and no minimum size portion is required. Rema states that the Ashkenazic practice is to follow these opinions, but adds that the custom, according to the Maharil, is to separate a kezayis, the size of an olive, as a minimal portion.

There is a requirement to separate challah from dough that is kneaded outside of Israel. Halachic authorities are explicit that this requirement is if the dough is owned by a Jew, but not if it is owned by a non-Jew. Therefore, if a Jewish-owned business has non-Jewish employees handling production, there is still a responsibility to separate challah. Conversely, if a non-Jewish-owned business has Jewish employees handling production, there is no requirement to separate challah.

The obligation to separate challah often creates difficulties for a kosher bakery. If the bakery employs Shomer Shabbos staff, the responsibility to separate challah can be delegated to those employees. However, a bakery that has no Shomer Shabbos individuals on the premises presents a predicament. Granted that any Jew can actually separate the challah portion, the halacha stipulates that a Shomer Shabbos must ascertain that challah was, in fact, separated. In many communities, hiring a Shomer Shabbos for this task would make the cost of kosher supervision prohibitive, and other solutions must be found.

Jewish communal leaders have sought a variety of solutions to this problem. Many rabbonim assume responsibility only for the ingredients, but advise the consumers to separate challah themselves, after purchase. Although this practice is very widespread, the stumbling block for people who do not realize that challah must be separated is a serious concern, since people often do not remember or realize that they must separate challah every time they purchase.

Another approach that I have seen is for the non-Shomer Shabbos staff to separate challah from each dough. These challah portions are set aside and periodically checked by the mashgiach. Personally, I find this approach less than satisfactory. There is much room for error, as it is impossible to ascertain that challah is, indeed, always being separated.

Still another approach sometimes used is to arrange a “sale,” whereby a non-Jew owns the flour, and the Jewish-owned company acts as a contractor to process the flour into baked goods. The method for such a contract would be similar to the selling of chometz for Pesach. However, many authorities do not approve this use of heter mechirah. Granted that usage of such a sale has become accepted among Jewry to avoid the prohibition of owning chometz on Pesach and for a few other halachic issues, it is difficult to extend this leniency into an area that poskim have never recommended or advised.

Another solution that might come to mind is to separate challah once from each shipment of flour. However, the Mishnah in Challah states, “If one attempts to separate his challah portion while it is still flour, the challah does not take effect, and it would be considered stolen property in the hands of the kohen.” Since there is no requirement to separate challah before the flour is mixed with water, it is meaningless to take challah before making the dough, and the portion given to the kohen is not his property and must be returned.

However, there is a solution, based on the writings of the Tur and the Smag, who quote the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz that although challah cannot take effect when separated from flour when one intends it to take effect immediately, challah can be separated from flour with the intention that it take effect when the flour becomes dough. The rationale for this opinion is as follows: There is a halachic principle that a contract of procedure can be set up to take effect later, if conditions exist whereby the procedure could already be implemented. For example, A can sell an item to B and delay the sale to a future date, provided that A already owns the item. Since A has the legal right to sell the item now, he is able to delay the day of sale. Similarly, one could separate the challah from flour, intending it to take effect when it becomes dough, since he is already able to mix the flour with water and create the responsibility of challah-separating. Of course, the challah would not take effect until the dough is mixed. For this procedure to work, certain circumstances need to be met.

The Gemara that serves as the basis for Rabbi Eliezer’s reasoning expounds on how terumah can be separated in this fashion.

The Mishnah says that since there is no requirement to separate terumah before harvesting, one cannot separate the terumah portion from grain that has been cut, with the intention of fulfilling the requirement of separating terumah for grain that is still connected to the ground. If he attempted to do so, the terumah-separating has no effect. Rav Asi (post-Mishnah era) asked Rav Yochanan, “Is the separating of terumah valid if one makes the following declaration: ‘The unharvested fruits of this furrow should be terumah when cut, for the cut fruits of the next furrow?’”

Rav Yochanan responded, “As long as a person can create the responsibility for terumah, he would be able to set that procedure in motion.”

Rav Asi’s uncertainty was based on the following question: Ordinarily, one cannot set up a procedure to take effect later unless he is able to perform that procedure now. In this instance, one cannot separate terumah on produce still connected to the ground.

However, one could cut the grain and then separate terumah. Is this considered having the ability to perform the procedure immediately? To this question, Rav Yochanan responded literally, “Anything that a person can perform himself is not considered as lacking that action.” Whenever a person can create the responsibility to perform a certain action, we can treat it as if the situation already existed.

Based on this discussion, Rabbi Eliezer of Metz reasons that the same principles apply to the separating of challah. If one separates challah from flour, intending for the challah to take effect when the flour is mixed into dough, the challah-separating would be valid.

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

If one attempts to separate his challah portion while it is still flour, the challah does not take effect, and it would be considered stolen property in the hands of the kohen… All this is true when he wants the challah to take effect immediately. However, if he separated flour and said that challah should take effect when the flour is mixed into dough, then the challah does take effect

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

Let us further extend the circumstances. If one were to remove a sampling from a dough that still required challah-taking and specify that an additional kezayis of this sampling become challah for every dough that will be mixed in the course of the day, the challah will automatically be considered as being separated as each dough is prepared, provided that following six criteria are met:

Challah must be taken min hachiyuv, from that which bears the responsibility of challah-taking, i.e., the sample of dough being designated as challah must have an as-yet-unfulfilled responsibility (chiyuv) at the time. Challah cannot be taken min hapatur, from dough that does not bear (or no longer bears) the responsibility of challah-taking.

This principle has the following specific applications.

  1. The dough from which the challah sample is separated must contain sufficient flour for it to be definitely chayov in challah; i.e., it must contain at least five pounds of flour.
  2. The requirement to separate challah from that dough must still be unfulfilled. If challah was already separated from this dough, then the dough now has the status of patur – that which is not currently obligated in challah-separating — and a challah sample separated from it would have the status of min hapatur.
  3. The challah sample must contain a kezayis of dough for each dough to be kneaded later. Each mixing of dough creates another automatic challah-taking, and each challah-taking requires another kezayis, according to the Rema mentioned above.
  4. All dough whose challah requirements are being met by this challah sample must be kneaded before the sample of challah is burned. Since the challah-taking takes effect when the dough is mixed, the sample must still be extant for the challah to take effect.
  5. This challah-taking will be valid only for flour already owned by the bakery at the time that the challah portion is separated. Since the owner cannot create the chiyuv of challah on that which he does not own, arranging an automatic challah-taking for flour he does not possess is the same, halachically, as creating a contract for something not in one’s possession.
  6. If the bakery bakes any breads from pure rye, barley or oat flour, or from dough that is made mostly of rye, barley or oat flour, separate challah samples must be taken from wheat dough and from rye dough. Although a challah sample taken from a wheat dough can remove the requirements for challah from all varieties of wheat or spelt, it cannot accomplish the mitzvah of challah for rye, barley or oats. (Similarly, a challah sample taken from rye dough cannot accomplish the mitzvah of challah for wheat dough.)
  7. The challah being taken should be adjacent (mukaf) to the rest of the dough for which the challah is being taken. The definition and basis for mukaf is explained below.

 

In several places, the Mishnah mentions the requirement to take terumah and challah min hamukaf, from an adjacent area. Although lechatchilah one is required to take challah and terumah from adjacent areas (which Rashi, Sotah 30, says is based on a Torah verse), be’dieved one fulfills the mitzvah also when taking from non-adjacent areas, and there is no need to take challah or terumah a second time.

What are the criteria of mukaf? The Rambam states:

One can take terumah only from adjacent areas. For example: if there were 50 measures in one house, and 50 measures in a different house, one cannot take two measures of the production in one house as terumah on the entire 100 measures, because that is considered taking terumah from non-adjacent areas. If one did take from non-adjacent areas, the terumah is still valid… Fruits that are scattered throughout a house or two piles of produce in one house, can have terumah taken from one group on the entirety. Sacks of grain or of dried figs or barrels of dates that were piled in a circle can have terumah taken from one sack for all the produce. Terumah may be taken from one barrel of wine to include several unsealed barrels. If the lids are sealed, terumah must be taken from each barrel, independently.

The exact definition of adjacent areas remains ambiguous. The Vilna Gaon explains that there are three separate sets of conditions that can constitute adjacency:

  1. Produce that is not in any vessel is considered mukaf if all of it is located in the same building.
  2. Produce in a container that is open on top requires that the containers be near one another to be considered mukaf.
  3. If the containers holding the produce are completely closed, mukaf is limited to the produce held in each container. Produce in different containers are not mukaf, even if the containers are near one another.

It should be noted that many halachic authorities are of the opinion that the requirements of mukaf for challah are more stringent than those delineated by the Rambam for terumah. However, it is evident that the Shulchan Aruch and the later commentaries are of the opinion that challah and terumah have the same criteria for mukaf. Therefore, the above criteria used by the Rambam for terumah would also be valid for challah. We have quoted the Shulchan Aruch that concludes that a portion of dough can be made into challah for other flour, when that flour is mixed into dough. Rabbi Akiva Eiger poses an intriguing query. Is the criterion of mukaf met if, at the time that the dough is mixed, the challah is no longer adjacent to it? Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains the requirement for mukaf exists at the time that challah is separated and not that at the time that it takes effect. Since the flour and dough were adjacent at the time that the challah was separated, the qualifications for mukaf have been met.

The solution that Rabbi Akiva Eiger offers will not satisfy our application of the principle of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz. When challah is set aside for many doughs that will be mixed later, it will be mukaf only if all the flour is adjacent at the time the challah is separated. An alternate way to accomplish mukaf would be to have both the challah portion and the newly-made dough adjacent at the time of kneading. A more practical recommendation is to have the challah take effect when the dough is cut and shaped, rather than when it is mixed. The reason for this is that since the mixing takes place inside a vessel, the above-mentioned criteria for mukaf require that the vessels be adjacent to one another. Since the shaping takes place on flat surfaces, it would be similar to the third category of the Vilna Gaon mentioned above, and the mukaf would merely require that the challah be located in the same building as the dough.

Conclusions for Challah Taking

According to what we have explained above, challah can be taken by separating a piece of dough from a mix that contains at least five pounds of flour and declaring that a kezayis of this portion should become challah for every dough that will be mixed, to take effect at the time the dough is cut. The following conditions must exist:

  1. Both the flour used for the challah portion and the flour which is having its challah requirement fulfilled must already be in the possession of the owner of the bakery.
  2. A kezayis (size of an olive) of dough must be separated for each dough to be included later.
  3. The challah taken must not be burned until the last dough is mixed.
  4. Challah must be taken separately for wheat and rye flour.

A study of the halachic source material indicates that methods do exist whereby challah can be taken in a practical and effective manner. Hopefully, this research will be of practical usefulness to Rabbis faced with these circumstances.

Conclusion

This article and its predecessor were written to serve two purposes. Firstly, to present the multi-faceted issues of kashrus and halacha pertaining to a “commonplace” hashgacha, which heightens awareness of the complexity involved in responsible supervision. Hopefully this increases appreciation of the efforts made to ensure proper kashrus standards. Secondly, this article explores avenues that can improve the standards in smaller Jewish communities. I have hopefully shed some light and suggested some possible solutions. Perhaps this will enable others to upgrade standards in less than ideal situations.

 

Does Olive Oil Require a Hechsher?

olive oilQuestion #1: Were we mistaken?

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

Question #2: Is it the real thing?

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

Question #3: Which should I choose?

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

Answer:

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

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

Terumos, maasros and shmittah

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

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

Refined olive oil

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

Historical precedent

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

Sixteenth century olive oil

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

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

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

The Rema responds

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

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

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

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

Religious gentiles

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

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

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

A disputant

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

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

The Shach disputes

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

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

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

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

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

Hot off the press

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

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

Heimishe kashrus

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

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

Virgin oil

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

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

That which we call an olive…

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

 

The Right Type of Help

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

Household Help

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

Commuter Crisis

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

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

Surprise Sous-chef

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

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

Sichon’s Folly

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

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

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

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

Three Cardinal Rules

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

I. Yisrael – A Jew Participates

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

II. Uncooked – Edible Raw

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

III. Monarch

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

Bishul Yisrael

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

Ashkenazim versus Sefardim

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

Food Service Cooking

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

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

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

A More Lenient Approach

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

Partly Cooked

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

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

Not Yet Edible

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

Bishulei Blintz

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

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

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

What Could Be Wrong with the Steak?

Since the laws of kashrus and specifically of shechitah feature so significantly in this week’s parsha, I present:

Question #1: Why don’t we use that hechsher?

When Yankel returns from kollel one day, his wife Miriam asks for his advice about the following situation. While visiting a neighbor, Miriam noticed her neighbor using a brand of meat that nobody she knows considers reliably kosher. “Should I tell her that her meat does not have a good hechsher?”

Question #2: Ancient yet Different Standards

Chayim asks me the following: “Rashi mentions that Yosef reported to his father that his brothers ate meat that was prohibited, even for a Ben Noach; but Yosef was mistaken — the brothers were very careful to eat only properly shechted meat. Could it be that they were following different kashrus standards, so that Yosef thought what they were eating was treif, whereas the brothers were convinced that it was kosher?”

Shechitah Regulations

The Torah requires that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in a specific halachically-approved way (shechitah) and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah (Devarim 12:20-21) teaches: When Hashem will enlarge your border as he has promised you, and you will say, “I will eat meat,” because you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat… And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you. Yet nowhere in all of Chumash does the Torah provide such instructions. This is one of the internal proofs that the written Torah was accompanied by an explanatory Oral Torah, and, indeed, the laws referred to in the verse, And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you, are part of this Torah she’be’al peh. (As a matter of fact, every deviant movement that has attempted to deny the authenticity of the Oral Torah has discovered that one cannot interpret the Written Torah without it. As a result, they have created their own literature as an ersatz substitute for the Oral Torah. Of course, this demonstrates that one who chooses the way of the infidel invariably also follows the route of the fool.)

Via halacha lemoshe misinai, an oral communication that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai, the Torah provided five regulations that must be followed for a shechitah to be kosher (Chullin 9a). Violating any one of these regulations means that the meat was not slaughtered as I have commanded you, and is not kosher.

The five rules are:

  1. Shehiyah — Pausing during the act of shechitah invalidates it, even if the shechitah is subsequently completed (Mishnah, Chullin 32a).
  2. Drasah – Pressing down or chopping with the knife invalidates the shechitah. A proper shechitah involves a slicing motion, usually with a back-and-forth stroke (Mishnah, Chullin 30b).
  3. Chaladah – Burrowing the knife into the neck and then cutting in an outward direction invalidates the shechitah. Proper shechitah requires that the back of the knife is always exposed (Mishnah, Chullin 32a). (By the way, this is the way Moslem challal slaughter is usually performed, as I have seen myself.)
  4. Hagramah – Cutting above or below the area of the neck designated by halachah for proper shechitah (Mishnah, Chullin 18a).
  5. Ikur – Tearing, rather than cutting, is not kosher (Tosafos, Chullin 9a s.v. Kulhu, in explanation of Rashi). A shechitah knife that has nicks in it may tear, rather than cut.

The Shocheit

Thus, a shocheit must be highly competent, both in the halachos of shechitah and in the skills necessary to do the job right. His shechitah blade must not only be sharper than a razor, but it must also be totally smooth, because a slight nick invalidates the shechitah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 18:2). It takes a considerable amount of time and effort for a shocheit to learn all the skills of his trade adequately, including how to quickly hone the knife to its required sharpness and how to check with his fingernail that its blade is completely smooth. These are difficult skills to learn. I recently borrowed the shechitah knife of someone who is in the process of learning the skill, and although his knife was adequately smooth, it was not nearly sharp enough to pass muster. Indeed, halachic literature is replete with anecdotes of rabbonim who discovered that shochatim active in the profession were not as proficient in their skills as the halacha requires. The Maharshal reports checking the knife of a well-experienced shocheit while making his rounds of shechting chickens for kaparos Erev Yom Kippur, and discovering that not only was the shocheit’s knife nicked, but the shocheit repeatedly checked his knife too speedily to notice it! (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:39)

Furthermore, a shocheit must be fully proficient in all of the detailed laws applying to his profession; he is expected to review the laws of his field every thirty days, to maintain his expertise.

Since it is easy for a shocheit to invalidate a shechitah without anyone knowing about it, one should only use a shocheit who is known to be G-d-fearing, a yarei shamayim. Although one can never be certain whether someone is indeed a yarei shamayim or just pretending, a shocheit should at least appear to fulfill this qualification. It is therefore not surprising that, in the old European shtetl, people viewed the shocheit with tremendous esteem. He was respected second only to the rav for his erudition and his fear of heaven.

Other rules regarding shechitah include that it must be performed by an observant Jew. A gentile’s shechitah is not kosher, even if a knowledgeable observant Jew supervises to ensure that everything is done correctly.

(By the way, Moslem ritual observances are often feeble attempts at mimicking the Torah.  Although they ban the eating of pork, they permit consumption of other non-kosher species, such as camel and non-kosher seafood. Islam borrowed some ideas from shechitah, but their practice resulted in a very non-kosher product. Their slaughter, called hallal, does not require any of the five rules of the Torah she’be’al peh, although they insist that the animal be killed by cutting it at the neck. Kosher shechitah easily meets their requirements, and on a few occasions I have provided some livelihood to the proprietors of kosher restaurants by directing Moslem clientele to their eateries.)

We can already see why people sometimes hesitate to use a particular shechitah. Although one cannot be sure whether a shocheit is a yarei shamayim, one can sometimes sense that he is not. Indeed, the responsa literature is full of cases concerning shochatim whose behavior or personal shortcomings caused concern about their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, I, too, have met shochatim whose lackadaisical attitude to mitzvah observance did not reflect the character traits necessary to be found in the type of person I would want to entrust with this responsibility.

But Maybe It’s Treif!

Even if an animal received a flawless kosher slaughter, it may still not be kosher. The Torah prohibits eating meat of a bird or animal that is tereifah, meaning that the animal has certain physical defects (Chullin, Chapter Three). For example, a bird or animal with a perforated lung, gall bladder or intestine; a torn spinal cord; or that was attacked with the fang of a predator is tereifah. Although people colloquially use the word tereifah for any non-kosher food, technically speaking, it refers to an animal or bird with one of these defects. Not only is a tereifah animal non-kosher, but so, too, are its milk or eggs.

This leads us to an interesting question. If the milk produced by a tereifah cow is not kosher, how can we drink milk without checking to see if the milked cow has none of these defects? Most signs of tereifah are internal and cannot be verified on a living animal without a CT or MRI scan – neither of which is commonly performed on dairy cattle. Obviously, such testing would drive up the price of eggs and dairy products even more than last year’s heat wave.

The answer is that although the milk of an animal and the eggs of a bird with any of these imperfections is indeed tereifah, so long as we do not know that the animals or birds are tereifah, we may assume that most animals and birds are kosher. Therefore, we can rely on milk and eggs being kosher, unless there is reason to assume that there is a problem.

Regarding meat, we are not required to check for a particular tereifah, unless the defect occurs frequently. Thus, since animals commonly have lung problems, one is required to check their lungs, even if they do not smoke. Another example is a perforation in the intestinal wall that renders its possessor treif. There is a section of the small intestine on poultry called Meckel’s diverticulum that often becomes infected and swollen, which can result in a perforation that renders the bird tereifah. Since this defect is not unusual, mashgichim routinely check this part of the intestine in kosher poultry plants.

How Do I Check?

There are different opinions among rabbonim how carefully one needs to check for these tereifos, and, in some circumstances, whether one needs to check altogether. Disputes over such matters are often the reason why one rav accepts a certain hechsher, whereas another may reject it. The rav overseeing the packing plant may feel that he has adequate arrangements for checking for tereifos, while another rav disagrees. There may also be a disagreement over more subtle details, such as whether the factory is set up in a way that allows the shochatim sufficient time to perform their work properly, or whether their work schedule is too demanding for them to be able to do their job with sufficient care. Although one rav may feel that a particular hechsher is seriously lacking, the problems are not necessarily flagrant violations of halacha, but may involve grey issues that are subject to interpretation. Consequently, while Miriam’s rav may feel that a certain shechitah has inadequate control of particular tereifos and he therefore does not recommend relying on it, her neighbor’s rav may be perfectly comfortable with the standard observed.

At this point, I return to Miriam’s question: “While in my friend’s house, I noticed that they were using a brand of meat that no one I know uses. Should I tell her that her meat does not meet a proper kashrus standard?” The answer here would depend on circumstances: If there is, indeed, a real, serious problem at that abattoir, then Miriam should certainly tell her friend not to purchase that meat. However, this applies only if Miriam has firsthand knowledge of this issue, which is rarely the case. In the vast majority of situations, Miriam herself has no idea why the people in “her circle” do not use that shechitah. It may, indeed, be for the reasons we have mentioned.

When Miriam’s husband, Yankel, returned from kollel, she asked him whether she should say something to her neighbor. Yankel realized that aside from the laws of loshon hora involved here, he would also need active kashrus experience to answer her question. Lacking this qualification, he decided that this provided a good opportunity to educate himself on the subject, and  he made an appointment with an older rav, who was very experienced in issues associated with the kashrus of meat. Since this rav requested not to be identified, we will call him Rav Posek, as we present their conversation.

No Brisket for Me!

“I want to give you a bit of the history of shechitah in America,” began the rav. “Originally, almost all American kosher meat packers used a method called shechitah teluyah, which means ‘hanging shechitah.’ Shechitah teluyah involved hanging the animal from a hind leg, while a gentile employee or employees held the animal’s head still for the shocheit. This method of shechitah was highly popular, because the meat packer does not need to invest in any specialized equipment, and a non-kosher meat packer could easily be used to produce kosher meat. This was highly advantageous, since the kosher market in America does not use the meat from the hindquarters, and the non-kosher market considers hindquarter cuts, such as sirloin, tenderloin, and round roast, to be the highest quality cuts. The non-kosher meat packers had trouble selling their forequarters, so arranging a shechitah was a very convenient way of finding a new market for their product, without jeopardizing retaining their existent customers. It was a classic win-win arrangement that encouraged large non-kosher meat plants to have kosher shechitah, and was a significant factor in making kosher meat widely available and keeping its price down. One could justifiably argue that the practice of not eating hindquarters caused many marginally observant families to keep kosher.

Although the abattoir owners encouraged shechitah teluyah because it involved no investment on their part, it was not popular among most of the other people involved. Not the rabbanim, for reasons I will explain shortly; not animal rights advocates, who justifiably noted that this method is unnecessarily painful for the animals; not by the shochatim and plant workers, because it is unnecessarily dangerous; and presumably not by the animals themselves, because this is a rare case where they were in agreement with their self-appointed advocates.

“Many rabbonim frowned on shechitah teluyah for the exact same reason, considering it wrong to inflict such pain on the animals (Shu’t Menashe Halachos 16:2). Although this was perhaps the most popular method of shechitah both in North and South America until fairly recently, many rabbonim disapproved of shechitah teluyah for many other reasons.”

Pulling a sefer off his bookshelf, the rav continued. “Let me read you a teshuvah from Rav Pesach Frank, the rav of Yerushalayim for several decades, written to Rav Shmuel Yaakov Glicksburg, the rav of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

‘I rejoiced when I read your letter saying that you have succeeded in organizing a shechitah where the animals are not hung, similar to what we have here in Eretz Yisrael. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and the merits of the public are yours. If you have any other news about the kashrus of the shechitah, please notify me, as I am often asked whether one may eat the meat from Argentina and am constantly uncertain how to respond. I would like to hear from his dignity if I can guarantee to a G-d-fearing person that this meat is kosher without any concerns, because this is what they ask me’ (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Even Ha’ezer #189).

“It appears to me,” said Rav Posek, “that this meat was being shipped to Eretz Yisrael at the time – why else would many people have asked Rav Frank about its kashrus – and, he would not recommend it.

“In an article published in the rabbinic journal Hamaor in Teiveis, 5719, Rabbi Eliezer Silver ruled that one may not use shechitah teluyah, because he had concerns about the actual shechitah being non-kosher. He felt that the gentile holding the animal might actually push the animal into the shechitah knife, which would involve the gentile partially performing the shechitah, thus invalidating it.

“Rav Silver recorded that during the years the Ridbaz (who served as the Rav of Slutzk, Tzefas, and was even briefly Chief Rabbi of Chicago) spent in the United States, he once saw a shechitah teluyah in Denver and prohibited it. Also, when a shaylah about this matter was sent from Caracas, Venezuela, to Rav Menashe Klein, he responded that it was prohibited (Shu’t Menashe Halachos 9:151). Similarly, in a letter to Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung of Montreal, Rav Moshe Feinstein describes a shechitah teluyah that he saw in Toronto. Although his initial reaction was that there was basis to allow the shechitah, he told them that he would need to study the matter further. Upon further research, Rav Moshe wrote that he withdrew his original psak permitting this shechitah because of the ruling of the Simlah Chadashah, a major authority in the laws of shechitah, who prohibited shechting upwards because of concern that the animal might lean its weight into the shechitah knife, thus participating in its own shechitah, but invalidating the shechitah at the same time. Rav Moshe is concerned that even if workers hold the head in place during the shechitah, the animal could still be strong enough to sway into the knife during shechitah. He permits this shechitah only if the animal’s head is tied in such a way that it cannot move. (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13). Rav Moshe makes no mention of any of the other concerns about this shechitah, such as the possibility that the gentile may move the animal into the shechitah or about tzaar baalei chayim.

“Nevertheless, this method of shechitah was very popular in the United States even among some of the most responsible hechsherim. When I was involved in examining shechitos, back in the 1970’s and 80’s, most shechitos that I saw were still shechitah teluyah.

“As the animal advocacy organizations became stronger and plant procedures came under the scrutiny of the general public, shechitah teluyah became less popular, and was generally replaced with shechitah in a pen. Although the pen would certainly resolve Rav Moshe’s concern that the head must be secured during the shechitah, it may have created its own issues.”

At this point Yankel interrupted the rav’s monologue: “What do you mean by shechitah in a pen?”

“I have seen many such pens, each with a slightly variant design. The basic idea is that the entire animal, especially its head, is held in place in a pen operated either by electricity or through hydraulic power, which holds the animal securely during the shechitah. This appliance makes the shechitah safe for the shocheit, and he has plenty of time in which to perform the shechitah and to check afterwards that it was performed correctly. In the States, this became the standard method for most shechitos, but it is unusual to find such a shechitah in Europe, in Eretz Yisrael, or among those in South America that shecht for a chareidi market.

“Why do they not use this method in Europe?”

Again, the rav perused his well-stocked bookshelves, and produced a sefer Yankel had never seen before.

“In 1988, a movement was afoot in England to require that all animals be shechted only while standing in a pen. There was fierce opposition to requiring all Anglo-Jewish hechsherim to shecht with this device. This volume, Bishvilei Hashechitah, includes an essay by a shocheit named Rabbi Simcha Bunim Lieberman, who cites many reasons to oppose the change.

“Firstly, to shecht using a pen, the shocheit has to shecht upwards, which some poskim prohibit. This is a complex halachah, but there are authorities who contend that it is prohibited to shecht upwards, predominantly out of concern that this might cause the shocheit to press rather than slice while he is shechting, violating the Torah requirement of drasah (see, Shach, Yoreh Deah 6:8, but see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13).

“Secondly, a shocheit who is used to shechting in the way to which he is accustomed should not suddenly be required to shecht in a different way, foreign to his experience. This makes him uncomfortable, which could cause him to shecht improperly.

“The greatest concern was that the mechanical force used to control the animal’s head may be so strong that it injures the animal and renders it tereifah before the shechitah takes place. The contention was that this devise should not be used without first seeing whether the animal appears physically unharmed, and, ideally, the animal should be checked carefully afterwards.”

Yankel asked Rav Posek if he was familiar with the particular hechsher that Miriam had seen in the neighbor’s house.

“Although I have not been recently in the plant that they provide with a hechsher, I was there once many years ago. I cannot say that I was happy with the operation. The shochatim and bodakim all needed to work quickly to keep pace with the assembly line speed of the production. I found it difficult to imagine that they could do their jobs properly in the time allowed. As I recall, I even mentioned this at the time to the rav hamachshir, who told me that he hires only extremely competent personnel who are up to the task. I left very unsatisfied.”

“What would you tell our neighbor?”

“If she seems to be the type of person who wants to do the correct thing, tell her: ‘According to what I have heard, people feel that the kashrus standard used by that company is not the highest.’ This statement is accurate and reflects exactly what you know.” On the other hand, if she is the type of person who is more lenient about halachic matters, say absolutely nothing to her.

Conclusion

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

What Will the Neighbors Think? – Understanding the Halachos of Maris Ayin

When Yehudah’s friend the Adulami was unable to locate Tamar, Yehudah reacts: “What can I do? This will lead to an embarrassing situation.”

This sounds like a good week (parshas Va’Yeshev) to study the halachos of maris ayin.

Question # 1:  My boss asked me to attend a lunch meeting with a new client in a non-kosher restaurant. May I attend the meeting, or do I violate maris ayin if I am seen in a treif restaurant? If it is permissible to attend the meeting, may I order a cup of coffee or a fruit plate?

Question # 2: When I serve coffee after a fleishig meal, I like to put non-dairy creamer on the table in a small pitcher because the original container is unsightly. Recently, someone told me that I may not place the creamer on the fleishig table unless it is in its original container. Is this true?

Question # 3: Hyman Goldman would like to retire and sell his business, Hymie Goldman’s Bakery, to a non-Jew who will keep it open on Shabbos. Must he require the gentile to change the shop’s name?

Question #4: My not-yet-observant cousin is making a bar mitzvah in a Reform temple. We have a good relationship, and he is very curious about exploring authentic Judaism. May I attend the bar mitzvah?

Answer: Most of us are familiar with the prohibition of maris ayin, avoiding doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha. However, most of us are uncertain when this rule applies, and when it does not.

Here are some examples of maris ayin mentioned by the Mishnah and Gemara:

A. One may not hang out wet clothes on Shabbos because neighbors might think that he washed them on Shabbos.[1] This is true even when all the neighbors realize that he is a meticulously observant individual.

B. Officials who entered the Beis HaMikdash treasury did so barefoot and wearing garments that contained no hemmed parts or wide sleeves, and certainly no pockets or cuffs, so that it would be impossible for them to hide any coins.[2] The Mishnah states that this practice is derived from the pasuk vihiyisem nekiyim meiHashem umiyisroel,[3] — Do things in a way that is as obviously clean in the eyes of people as it is viewed by Hashem. Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that some types of maris ayin are prohibited min haTorah![4]

C. Tzedakah collectors should get other people to convert their currency for them and not convert it themselves, because people might think that they gave themselves a more favorable exchange rate.[5]

A Curious Contradiction

The concept of it being a mitzvah to avoid a situation of maris ayin is a fascinating curiosity, because it contradicts another important Torah mitzvah – to judge people favorably. This mitzvah requires us to judge a Torah Jew favorably when we see him act in a questionable way.[6] If everyone were to judge others favorably at all times, there would never be a reason for the law of maris ayin. Yet we see that the Torah is concerned that someone might judge a person unfavorably and suspect him of violating a mitzvah.

Indeed, a person’s actions must be above suspicion; at the same time, people observing him act in a suspicious way are required to judge him favorably.

Entering a Treif Restaurant

May I enter a non-kosher restaurant to use the bathroom, to eat a permitted item, or to attend a professional meeting?

A prominent rav once gleaned insight on this shaylah from early poskim, who discussed the kashrus issues of Jewish travelers. In the sixteenth century, there was a dispute between the Rama and the Maharshal whether a Jewish traveler may eat herring and pickles prepared and served in non-kosher inns.[7] The Rama ruled that, under the circumstances, a traveler could eat these items on the inn’s non-kosher plates, whereas the Maharshal prohibited using the inn’s plates. However, neither sage prohibited either eating or entering the inn because of maris ayin; from this, the rav inferred that entering a non-kosher eating establishment does not violate maris ayin.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that entering a non-kosher eatery is a violation of maris ayin.[8] Why does he not compare this law to the inn of the earlier poskim?

The answer is that in the sixteenth century, the inn functioned as a place of shelter and lodging, not only as a place providing food. Therefore, someone seeing you enter the inn would have assumed that you were looking for a place to sleep, and that you had no intention of eating non-kosher food there. Thus, the sixteenth-century inn is comparable to a twenty-first century hotel that contains non-kosher restaurants. There is certainly no maris ayin prohibition to visit a hotel, since a passerby would assume that you are entering the hotel for reasons other than eating non-kosher food. However, the primary reason people enter a non-kosher restaurant is to eat treif food. Therefore, Rav Moshe rules that it is prohibited to enter a treif restaurant because of maris ayin.

Likely? Or almost likely?

This leads us to a practical question. May one do something that could be interpreted in different ways, one of which involves violating the Torah and the other not? Is this activity prohibited because of maris ayin? For example, someone hanging up wet clothes on Shabbos may have just washed them, or he may have just accidentally dropped them into a basin of water or used them to mop up a spill. Yet the halacha is that this is prohibited because of maris ayin. This implies that since the most common reason for hanging out clothes is that they were recently washed, the activity is prohibited because of maris ayin.

Similarly, there are many reasons why one might enter a treif restaurant: to attend a meeting, to use the comfort facilities, or to drink a cup of water. On the other hand, the most common reason people enter a non-kosher restaurant is to eat non-kosher food. This is why Rav Moshe prohibits entering a treif restaurant.

However, Rav Moshe rules that under highly extenuating circumstances, such as when one is famished and there is nowhere else to eat, one may enter a treif restaurant. This is based on another principle of Chazal that when one suffers a great deal, one may override a rabbinic prohibition to alleviate the pain.[9] For this reason, Rav Moshe permits someone who is famished to eat kosher food in a non-kosher restaurant. Based on his ruling, one could presumably permit entering a treif restaurant to use the restroom, if it is the only one readily available.

The Company Cafeteria

Many workplaces provide a cafeteria where one can purchase (non-kosher) food or bring in one’s own food. Alternatively, some cafeterias have packaged kosher food available. In either of these situations, there is no concern for maris ayin, since people enter the cafeteria to eat kosher food also.

May I Attend a Meeting where they will serve Non-Kosher food?

Rabbonim rule differently on this issue; therefore, one should ask a shaylah of his own rav. Personally, I believe that the answer depends on how secure one is at one’s employment. If you feel that skipping the meeting might jeopardize your employment, then you may attend, since losing your job entails a great amount of suffering. However, if you feel that it will not jeopardize your employment, you may not attend.

Are there new Maris Ayin cases?

If a situation exists that could be a case of maris ayin, but is not mentioned by Chazal, is it prohibited because of maris ayin? There is actually an early dispute about this question, between the Rashba and the Pri Chodosh. A little explanation is necessary before we present this case: Chazal prohibited placing fish blood, which is perfectly kosher, in a serving bowl since someone might confuse it with animal blood.[10] Based on this Gemara, the Rashba prohibited cooking meat in human milk, even though human milk is halachically pareve.[11] Similarly, the Rama prohibits cooking meat in “almond milk” — a white, milk-like liquid made from almonds that probably looked similar to our non-dairy creamer or soy milk — because of its similar appearance to cow’s milk. One may cook meat in almond milk and serve it only if one leaves pieces of almond in the “milk” to call attention to its non-dairy origin.[12] The Pri Chadash disagrees with the Rama, contending that we should not create our own cases of maris ayin and one should prohibit only those items that were prohibited by Chazal.[13] The consensus of poskim is to prohibit these new maris ayin cases, following the position of Rashba and Rama.

Based on this ruling, some contemporary authorities contend that one should not serve pareve, non-dairy creamer after a fleishig meal, since someone might think that something milchig is being served after a fleishig meal. They permit serving the “creamer” in the original container that clearly identifies it as a pareve product, similar to serving the meat cooked with almond milk, provided there are some almonds in the “milk.”

However, other poskim contend that today no maris ayin issue exists germane to these products, since the average person knows about the ready availability of pareve creamers, cheeses, ice creams, margarines, soy and rice milk, and the like.[14]

This leads us to a new discussion —

Maybe this is no longer Maris Ayin?

If something was prohibited as maris ayin in earlier generations, does it become permitted if there is no longer a maris ayin issue? Can we prove that the prohibition against maris ayin disappears if the issue is no longer a concern? Is it correct that although, at one time, one could not cook meat in almond milk, today one may cook meat in soy milk, since pareve milk substitutes are readily available? Similarly, may one serve margarine at a fleishig meal?

We can gather proof for answering this shaylah from the following case:

One may not hire a gentile to perform work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. However, a non-Jew may operate his own business on Shabbos, even if he rents his facility from a Jew.

The Gemara rules that a Jew may rent his field to a non-Jewish sharecropper, since the gentile is not his employee. However, a Jew may not rent his bathhouse to a gentile, since the non-Jew may operate the bathhouse on Shabbos.[15]

How is a Bathhouse different from a Field?

Why may I rent the non-Jew my field, but not my bathhouse? What is the difference between the two?

At the time of the Gemara, it was common to rent fields, and thus someone seeing a gentile work a Jewish-owned field on Shabbos would assume that the gentile rented it. He would not think that the Jew hired the gentile to work for him, which would constitute a violation of the laws of Shabbos.

However in antiquity, it was uncommon to rent out a bathhouse. The person who owned the bathhouse hired employees to operate the business for him. Therefore, someone seeing a gentile operate a Jewish-owned bathhouse on Shabbos might assume that the Jew hired gentiles to operate his bathhouse on Shabbos, which violates halacha. Because of this, Chazal prohibited renting a bathhouse to a gentile, because it would result in maris ayin when people see the gentile operating the Jew’s bathhouse on Shabbos.[16]

Shulchan Aruch[17] rules that if it is common in a certain city for people to rent out their bathhouses, one may rent one’s bathhouse to a gentile, despite the Gemara’s ruling. There is no maris ayin, since people in this city will assume that the gentile rented the bathhouse from its owner. Thus, the maris ayin prohibition of the Gemara is rescinded in places and times when the concern of suspicion no longer exists. Similarly, we can conclude that nowadays, someone seeing non-dairy creamer served at a fleishig meal will assume that it is a pareve milk substitute, and that there is no issue of maris ayin.

Question # 3: Hyman Goldman would like to retire and sell his business, Hymie Goldman’s Bakery, to a non-Jew, who will keep the business open on Shabbos. Must he require the non-Jew to change the name of the shop?

First, some background to this shaylah.

Rama permits renting a business that people do not associate with a Jewish owner to a gentile.[18] Thus, a Jew may buy the regional franchise of a non-Jewish company and rent or franchise out the individual stores to gentiles. Acharonim dispute whether he may do this even where the Jew is sometimes involved in the management of the stores.[19] Similarly, a Jew who owns a shopping mall may rent the stores to gentiles, since people assume that each business is owned individually. However, if the rent includes a percentage of sales, he might thereby be receiving sechar Shabbos, profits from work performed on Shabbos. One should ask a shaylah, since the halacha in this case depends on the specific circumstances involved.

However, although a Jew may rent his facility to a gentile tenant, it is unclear whether he may sell the business to a gentile who will keep the Jew’s name on the business and have it open on Shabbos. Even if passersby realize that there are now exclusively non-Jews staffing Hymie’s, they may think that Hyman still owns the shop and is hiring gentiles to operate the business for him. I discussed this shaylah with several different rabbonim and received different answers.

Here is another interesting maris ayin shaylah:

“I will be working in a town with very few observant people. There is an observant woman in town who lives alone, who will be away the entire time I am there. She is very willing to let me use her house while she is away. Is there a problem that people may not realize that she is away, and they might think that we are violating the prohibition of yichud – being secluded with someone of the other gender to whom one is not closely related?”

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses this almost identical shaylah. Someone wants to sleep and eat at a widow’s house when she is out of town. Is there a concern of maris ayin, because people will think that he is staying at her house when she is home, and that they are violating the prohibition of yichud? Rav Moshe rules that it is permitted, reasoning that since there are many ways to avoid yichud, we need not assume that people will think that he is violating the halacha.[20]

This is not Maris Ayin

Rav Moshe Feinstein notes that maris ayin does not include doing something permitted that people might mistakenly think is forbidden. Maris ayin means that someone thinks I violated something – he thinks that I misappropriated someone else’s money, washed clothes on Shabbos, ate something non-kosher, etc. However, it does not include doing something permitted that people might mistakenly think is forbidden.

Thus, Rav Moshe discusses whether there is any prohibition in traveling a short distance by car on Friday evening after candle lighting time, when you will certainly not come to desecration of Shabbos. He rules that one may do this, since there is no prohibition against doing work after candle lighting time, even if ignorant people think that there is.

Question # 4: My not-yet-observant cousin is making a bar mitzvah in a Reform temple. We have a good relationship, and he is very curious about exploring authentic Judaism. May I attend the bar mitzvah?

Rav Moshe rules that one may not enter a reform temple at the time people are praying there, because someone might think one prayed there, which is prohibited according to halacha. Alternatively, someone might erroneously learn from this person’s example that it is permitted to pray with them. Someone faced with the above predicament should discuss the issue with his rav, how to develop the relationship with his cousin, without entangling himself in any halachic issues.

Conclusion:

By examining the parameters of maris ayin, we become aware of the importance of the impression that our actions make. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that it does not matter what others think of us. Our behavior must not only be correct, but also appear correct. In general, our lives should be a model of appropriate behavior and kiddush Hashem. Let others look at us and say, “He is a frum Jew – he lives his life on a higher plane of honesty, of dignity, and of caring for others.” — As Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu, One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator.


[1] Mishnah and Gemara Shabbos 146b

[2] Shekalim 3:2

[3] Bamidbar 32:22

[4] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:82

[5] Bava Basra 8b; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:2

[6] For further information on the mitzvah of judging people favorably, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah, 3:218.

[7] Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8:44; quoted by Taz, Yoreh Deah 91:2

[8] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:40

[9] see Kesubos 60a

[10] Kereisos 21b

[11] Shu’t HaRashba 3:257

[12] Rama, Yoreh Deah 87:3

[13] Yoreh Deah 87:6

[14] Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:59

[15] Mishnah Avodah Zarah 21a

[16] Avodah Zarah 21b

[17] Orach Chayim 243:2

[18] 243:2

[19] see Mishnah Berurah 243:14

[20] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 3:19

Observing a Colorful Lifestyle

clip_image002This week’s parsha describes how master artisans used three dyes, techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, in the manufacture of the Kohen Gadol’s vestments. These colors were also used to produce the curtains and coverings of the Mishkan, and the halachic conclusion is that these dyes are also used for dyeing the kohen hedyot’s belt (see Rambam, Hil. Klei HaMikdash 8:1, 11, 13, based on Yoma 6a, 12a). In addition, processing the ashes of the parah adumah (Bamidbar 19:6), purifying a metzora and decontaminating a house that became tamei all use tola’as shani (Vayikra 14:4, 49). As we will discover, correctly identifying the tola’as shani not only affects these halachos and those of the Beis HaMikdash, but also concerns a wide assortment of foods and beverages that we eat and drink.

At one point in my life, when I worked as a "rabbinic field representative" (aka  a mashgiach), I once made a surprise inspection of a company that produced juice drinks – let’s call it Generic Juices Inc. I was surprised to discover that the plant was bottling beverages containing carmine red coloring, and other drinks colored with enocianina, a coloring derived from grape skins. Neither of these products was on the lists of approved ingredients, and for good reason. Of course, this created a serious problem for the hechsher, the company, and most of all, the unsuspecting consumer.

Whether we like it or not, many of our foods are colored with a host of coloring agents; some derived from food items, such as beets, berries, sugar (caramel coloring), turmeric and annatto; whereas others are derived from inedible materials such as coal or petroleum, whose sources most consumers would prefer to ignore. Although processing colorants can compromise the kashrus of the finished product, few food colors are themselves obtained from non-kosher materials. However, two common food pigments originate from non-kosher substances: One is carmine red, also called cochineal, which is a very common color used to color fruits, yogurts, juice drinks, maraschino cherries etc., and the other is enocianina, colloquially often called simply eno, a red or purple color similarly commonly used in beverages, fruit fillings and confections. The origin of carmine is from a scale insect — I discussed the kashrus ramifications in an article that I sent out on Parshas Va’eira Suffice it to say that almost all kashrus organizations treat carmine color as non-kosher.

ENO – A GRAPE SKIN EXTRACT

After the juice has been squeezed out of the grapes, the remaining skin pulp is processed into a commercial coloring agent called enocianina. Although one could produce kosher eno from kosher-processed grape skins, grape skin color available today is almost always produced after the grapes have become non-kosher and thus we usually assume that eno is not kosher. However, the prohibition here is only the rabbinic prohibition of stam yeinam, grape juice and wine product handled by a gentile.

GENERIC JUICE DRINKS

Unfortunately, Generic Juices had already produced and shipped tons of product using either carmine or eno – and all of it bearing the kosher certification symbol on the label! Is the kashrus agency halachically required to insist on a recall of the product from the supermarket shelves?

RECALL

Companies hate having their products recalled, both for technical reasons, the major expense involved, and because it is a public relations nightmare. The policy of this particular hechsher was not to require the company to recall the product unless the product could not be used even after the fact, bedei’evid. However, if the product would be kosher be’dei’evid because of bitul, the hechsher would not require that the product be recalled. It was now the responsibility of the hechsher’s poskim to decide whether the product is prohibited or permitted after the fact.

Why should the finished product be kosher if the colorant added was not?

The basis for this question follows:

Coloring agents are used in very minute amounts. Indeed, when the Spaniards discovered carmine red, they sold the concentrated powdered pigment at a higher price per ounce than gold! Thus, the amount of coloring used to color a juice drink or maraschino cherry is significantly less than the amount that we usually say is bateil (nullified) in a finished product. Although one may never add treif product to a food and rely that it will become bateil, if non-kosher product was inadvertently added in minute quantities the finished product is usually permitted.

The primary criterion to determine whether the treif food is bateil is:

Can the non-kosher product be tasted, either because of its quantity or because it is a flavoring agent?

This test is passed with flying colors! None of these colors can be tasted in the finished product.

However, there is another criterion:

Is the treif product noticeable?

If one can see a treif ingredient floating inside a food, one may not consume the food without first removing the non-kosher item.

COLORS ARE NOTICEABLE

The boldness of a color announces its existence. Can we say that a color is bateil when we clearly see evidence of its existence?

Several great halachic authorities discuss this question, reaching widely different conclusions. Some prohibit consumption of the resultant product precisely because one can notice its existence (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 100:1; Minchas Kohen, Sefer HaTaaroves 3:3, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah 102:30). They contend that bitul can only happen when the offending item leaves no trace. A colorant is by definition very noticeable and therefore not bateil. According to this approach, all of the juice drinks mentioned must be recalled since the non-kosher ingredient is very noticeable.

On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon argues that determining whether the food is kosher depends on whether one can taste the treif ingredient (Yoreh Deah 102:6). In our instance, although the color is noticeable, no one tastes the colorant, and therefore the finished product is permitted, assuming that the admixture was made in error. An earlier authority, the Minchas Yaakov (74:5), also espouses this position.

A COMPROMISE POSITION – IN WHOLE CLOTH

Some authorities concluded a position between these two positions, comparing our question to a Gemara that discusses whether someone who stole dye and cloth and now returns the dyed fabric fulfills his mitzvah of returning what he stole. The Gemara rules that this depends on whether the dye is considered to still exist after it has been used because its color is still noticeable (Bava Kamma 101a). Is the color on the cloth treated as if the dye itself still exists, or did the dye become bateil and no longer exists?

The particular issue in that Gemara remains unresolved, and therefore halachically is considered an unresolved doubt, a safek (Shu”t HaRan #70). Based on this discussion, several prominent authorities contend that a colorant that may involve a Torah prohibition is prohibited, because of the principle of safek de’oraysa lechumra, we rule stringently in a question involving an unresolved Torah issue; whereas one that involves only a rabbinic prohibition is permitted because of safek derabbanan lekula, we are lenient regarding an unresolved question involving only a rabbinic prohibition (Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 102:5; Chasam Sofer, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah 102:30).

CONCLUSION

By this time, I presume most readers want to know what the hechsher did. The deciding posek ruled like the last position mentioned, and contended that the carmine coloring might be prohibited min haTorah and therefore the company must recall the beverages containing carmine. Since the grape skin extract only involves a rabbinic prohibition, he did not require the company to recall this product, contending that according to most authorities this product may be drunk since the eno is nullified in the final mix.

We should always pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands without resorting to any controversial shaylos.

The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

clip_image002Devorah calls me: “During our summer vacation, I entered a butcher shop that has reliable supervision and noticed a sign on the wall, ‘We sell washed and unwashed meat.’ This seemed very strange: Would anyone eat unwashed meat? Besides, isn’t all meat washed as part of the koshering process? What did the sign mean?”

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

Answer: This week’s haftarah foretells how, soon in the period of Moshiach, the nations of the earth will follow the Divine light shining on the Jewish people and bring their finest flocks to His altar. No doubt, the sheer quantity of all this livestock available in Yerushalayim will afford the Jewish people the finest choices of meat available for their tables.

Also today it is certainly ideal to have a steady supply of kosher meat with all possible hiddurim. However, in some circumstances this is not always feasible. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture; both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic dispute.

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

I was once Rabbi in a community that has memorable winters. Our city was often covered with snow around Rosh Hashanah and on occasion it was still snowing in May. On many occasions, we could not use the sukkah without clearing snow off the schach, something my Yerushalmi neighbors find hard to comprehend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXORCISING THE BLOOD

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

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

BROILING MEAT

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

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

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

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS OR BUST

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

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

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

Also, bear in mind that this soaking only helps when the meat was soaked within 72 hours of its slaughter. Once 72 hours have passed without a proper soaking, only broiling will remove the blood.

WASHING OR SOAKING

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

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

“Yes, you are raising a significant issue. Although most early authorities only mention ‘soaking’ meat, it became common practice to wash the meat instead, a practice that many authorities disputed (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 69:28; Darkei Teshuvah 69:231- 237). There are also many different standards of what is called ‘washing’ the meat. Some hechsherim permit meat that was not salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah by having the meat hosed down before the seventy-two hours have elapsed, and consider this washing as a renewal of the seventy-two hours. Thus, this meat is only permitted if it was washed within seventy-two hours of its shechitah or previous washing. If the meat was washed thoroughly, it is now ‘good’ for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by then, one can rewash it again to further extend its 72 hours. However, most authorities require that the meat be thoroughly wetted with a high-power hose so that the meat becomes moist even inside. This is unlike cases I have seen where someone sprays a light mist over the meat and assumes that the meat is ‘washed,’ or often simply takes a wet rag and wipes down the outside of the meat.”

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah?

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

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

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

I then asked Devorah if she wanted to hear the rest of the blizzard story. As I suspected, she did – and so I return to my anecdote.

MOTZA’EI SHABBOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

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

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

FROZEN MEAT

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

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

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

Someone meticulous about kashrus plans trips in advance to know what hechsherim and kashrus situations he may encounter. If one’s plans go awry, he should be aware that in extenuating circumstances, a rav may permit products that he would never allow in a normal situation.

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