Passing the Taste Test

Question #1: Gentile Goulash

Can a non-Jew determine if the cholent or the goulash is kosher?

Question #2: Expert Witness

Does halacha recognize the concept of an “expert witness?”

Question #3: It Tastes Bad!

Does whether something tastes good or bad affect halacha?

Foreword:

This article will discuss what happens if a small amount of something non-kosher falls into kosher food. Because of the limitations inherent in writing articles, at times I will need to omit significant details. As a result, please do not use this as a source for any halachic ruling. Refer a personal question to a rav.

When non-kosher and kosher foods become mixed together, it is forbidden to eat the mixture. However, when the amount of the non-kosher item is so small that it cannot be tasted, the mixture is usually permitted, since the offending substance is considered nullified, bateil.

Note that I wrote “usually,” because there are exceptions to this rule, most of which will wait patiently for future articles. One instance in which the offending ingredient is not bateil is when someone deliberately attempted to nullify a forbidden product or mixture. In this instance, the resultant mixture is prohibited because of the principle of ein mevatlin issur lechatchila (Beitzah 4b), one may not deliberately nullify a prohibited substance.

Ta’am ke’ikur

Why is the ability to taste a prohibited substance the criterion to determine whether the mixture is permitted? This is because of a halachic principle called ta’am ke’ikur, the taste is like the actual substance.

Nosein ta’am lifgam

Even when the non-kosher ingredient can be tasted, at times the mixture is still permitted. This is when the non-kosher substance does not add positive taste into the food, but adds an unpleasant taste, even if it is only mildly unpleasant. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 67b) quotes a dispute between tanna’im whether nosein ta’am lifgam, literally, that which provides a bad taste, is prohibited or permitted. According to the opinion that nosein ta’am lifgam is permitted, should a non-kosher substance provide an unpleasant taste when added to food, the food remains kosher. The halacha follows the opinion that nosein ta’am lifgam is permitted.

We can then reach this conclusion regarding a mixture of non-kosher and kosher food:

(1) When the non-kosher food is the minority of the mixture, and

(2) the non-kosher food can no longer be identified, and

(3) the non-kosher food does not improve the taste,

then the mixture may be eaten. And, as mentioned above, this is true only when the bitul, the nullifying, was not performed intentionally.

24 hours

The halachic assumption is that residual taste that is present in a vessel or utensil from a previous cooking usually spoils after 24 hours have elapsed. This means that the flavor imparted from such equipment is no longer beneficial and therefore food cooked in it is permitted. In addition, because of a more complicated halachic principle and reasoning, even when we do not know for certain whether equipment was used in the previous 24 hours, we are permitted to assume that the product cooked in non-kosher equipment is kosher (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Miklal). On this basis, although it is prohibited to use a non-kosher pot, food cooked in it with kosher ingredients usually remains kosher.

How do we know?

When a small amount of issur (prohibited food) got mixed with heter (permitted food), we need to know whether the issur is bateil and the food is therefore permitted, or whether it is not bateil and the food is prohibited. In general, there are two methods to ascertain that the food is bateil.

The taste test

A non-Jew tastes the mixture to ascertain whether he can detect taste of the non-kosher food (or the tiny percentage of milk in meat, or vice versa). He may also tell us that, although he can detect the non-kosher substance, what it adds to the mixture is distasteful. In this instance, the food is permitted, as explained above.

Must the non-Jew swallow the food that he is tasting? There is a dispute among later halachic authorities whether a taste test requires that the taster actually swallow the food, or whether it is sufficient that he chew the food thoroughly. The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav, Yoreh Deah 98:2) rules that when tasting to check for an issur, the person must chew the food and swallow some of it, whereas the Yad Yehudah (98:2) is satisfied that chewing well is enough and even that is necessary only if it is a solid food. If it is a liquid, even tasting the food in his mouth and spitting it out afterward suffices.

Most poskim contend that the non-Jew should not know that his answer is deciding whether a product is kosher or not. Why? Some explain that the non-Jew may want to help the Jew and tell him that he cannot taste any prohibited substance, even when he is uncertain (Badei Hashulchan 98:8).

Another possibility is that someone who does not understand that it is a violation of what Hashem wants may bias what he says because of other motivations. Thus, we cannot rely on information provided unless (a) the person is halachically concerned about the prohibition involved, or (b) there is a compelling reason why the person would tell the truth, such as an expert chef who would not want to jeopardize his professional reputation.

Ratio

If we know how much of a non-kosher substance fell in, we can try to determine (by measuring) whether the percentage is large enough to be discerned. That is, if what fell in is less than one sixtieth of the permitted substance, the mixture is permitted.

Some rishonim require that, when possible, we must use both methods. In other words, the prohibited substance must be one part in sixty or less, and even then, if a non-Jew is available, we should have him taste the mixture to determine that the prohibited food cannot be tasted (Rashi, Chullin 98a s.v. Beshishim). Others rule that it is better to have a non-Jew taste the food and tell us that he cannot taste the non-kosher substance. If no non-Jew is available, we may permit the food if we know that the kosher food is at least sixty times the volume of the non-kosher (Rambam).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes, like the Rambam, that we use one part in sixty as a determinant only when there is no non-Jew present to taste the meat. In such a case, we calculate if the heter is sixty times the issur, in which case it is mutar.

There are instances in which we cannot use the taste test and will only be able to use the ratio method. For example, what do we do if a small amount of non-kosher meat fell into a cholent or goulash in which there is more kosher meat than the non-kosher that fell in? What are we going to ask the non-Jew to taste? Of course, he is going to taste meat, because there is plenty of kosher meat in the mixture, and there is no way to know by taste whether the non-kosher meat can be tasted. In such situations, we will be forced to use the ratio method to determine whether the food is kosher (see Yorah Deah 98:2).

Chaticha na’asah neveilah

Here is another instance in which we will not be able to rely on taste to rule that something is permitted. A small amount of meat fell into a pot containing dairy. Afterward, another ingredient, that is neither meat nor dairy, was added to the pot. The problem in this instance is that, when the meat fell into the dairy, if the pot did not contain enough to make the meat bateil, all the milk and meat in that pot became prohibited as basar bechalav. Adding more to the pot will not help, nor will tasting the food afterward to discern that the meat cannot be tasted, since the dairy already became prohibited min haTorah. To permit the food (and the pot) we will need to determine how much was in the pot when the meat fell in originally; tasting it now will not help make that determination.

This concept is called chaticha na’asah neveilah, which means that once something absorbed a prohibited substance, we must treat the entirety as prohibited. This concept has ramifications for many other halachos, but space considerations will require us to leave the topic for a future article.

Why sixty to one?

Why is a prohibited substance usually bateil when there is sixty times its volume of heter in the mixture? The reason is because Chazal calculated that most prohibited foods will not be tasted when they are in the food at this small percentage. However, this calculation is not absolute. There are several prohibitions in which Chazal required a larger percentage, because they wanted us to be more stringent regarding these, more serious issurim. There is also the instance of a food that is avida leta’ama, meaning that it is a spice or other flavoring agent. Since these foods can be tasted even when in very tiny amounts, they remain prohibited even when there ar only very small amounts in the food.

Returning to the taste test

Exactly whose opinion do we need that the non-kosher cannot be tasted? Can we use any non-Jew to perform the taste test, or does it require an expert chef? Some contend that an expert chef is needed because we do not assume that the average person is so discerning (see Rashba). Others require an expert chef for a different reason: since he has his well-earned professional reputation at stake, he can be trusted to tell us the truth and not what he thinks we want to hear.

The Rambam and those who follow his approach do not require that the “taste tester” be an expert. They contend that we may rely on any non-Jew who tastes the food and tells us that he cannot discern the non-kosher ingredient in themixture. Among those who accept any non-Jewish taster, some contend that we can rely on him only when he does not know why we are asking him, whereas others are not concerned about this.

In general, halacha accepts that only someone affected by a situation pays attention to its details. For this reason, someone who witnessed something and did not realize the significance of what he was seeing cannot be relied upon for his opinion as to what happened. Thus, in general, it would seem that we should not rely on a non-Jew telling us whether he discerned the non-kosher product or not, if he is unaware of the reason we are asking.

There are some possible exceptions to this rule. One is when the individual has a professional reputation to protect. Someone in this situation is very concerned not to ruin his well-earned reputation, and will always be careful to render a correct answer to the best of his ability. Therefore, we accept his opinion to be true.

Others explain that we may ask a non-Jew whether he tastes the non-kosher when he knows that we are immediately going to see if he is right. Although it may not be his uppermost concern to provide us with accurate information, knowing that we will check immediately on his reliability will cause him to be more concerned to provide accurate information (Shach, Yorah Deah 98:2; Pri Chadash; based on Shu”t Harivash #433).

This approach is recommended by the Gemara and this is the approach followed by Sefardim as ruled in the Shulchan Aruch (Yorah Deah 98:1), who accepts any non-Jew’s opinion if he does not know that we are relying on him.

However, the custom developed among Ashkenazim not to rely on a non-Jew tasting the food. Why would Ashkenazim ignore the approach recommended by the Gemara? Did we decide to become frummer than the authors of the Gemara?

G-d forbid! There is much discussion among the later authorities why Ashkenazim follow this approach. One reason suggested is that, if we study the various explanations provided by the rishonim, we will realize that they are mutually exclusive. In other words, some hold that we can accept the non-Jew’s opinion only when he knows why we want the information, whereas others assume the exact opposite – that he is trusted only when he has no idea why we want the information. Since it is impossible to accommodate all the opinions, the custom is to be stringent and not use this approach. (This answer is provided by Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his glosses to Yorah Deah 98:1, but the Gra and Rav Shelomoh of Vilna, in their respective glosses, disagree.)

Avida leta’ama

Above, we noted that a non-kosher spice or seasoning is not usually bateil because it can still be tasted in the finished product. Thus, the ratio of sixty parts heter to one part issur will not permit this product. However, can you have a non-Jew try it to see if he can taste the issur? Certainly according to Sefardic practice, this is permitted. But can an Ashkenazi use a non-Jew to taste whether the avida leta’ama ingredient can still be tasted?

The Shach (Yorah Deah 98:29), an Ashkenazi who follows the Rema, rules that, when the question is whether you can taste an avida leta’ama, you may rely on a non-Jew. This ruling is accepted by Rav Shelomoh Eiger (in his notes on Rema, Yorah Deah 98:1); but there are those who disagree.

A Jewish taster

The Rema writes that “nowadays we do not rely on the tasting of a non-Jew” (Yorah Deah 98:1). This implies that if a Jew tastes a mixture and tells you that the “prohibited substance” cannot be discerned, you may rely on him (Shach). Most, but not all, authorities accept that we can rely on a Jewish taster (cf. Levush, who disagrees and concludes that Ashkenazim never rely on tasting).

Obviously, in the cases that we have been discussing, no halachically abiding Jew could taste the food, and a Jew who is not halachically abiding cannot be relied upon. Thus, when does this ruling apply?

There are numerous cases in which it might be relevant to have a Jewish person taste the mixture:

(1) If some terumah of one type of fruit or vegetable falls into a different species of non-terumah that is cooking, we may have a kohen taste it, since he is permitted to eat terumah. If he tells us that he cannot taste the species that is terumah, then a non-kohen may eat it. The same halacha is relevant to a case where the dough separated as challah became mixed into a product. (These cases are assuming that we are in a time and place when kohanim eat terumah and challah.)

(2) An individual made an oath or a vow prohibiting himself from eating a certain food. Subsequently, that food gets mixed into other food. Another Jew, who is not included in the oath or vow, may taste the mixture and ascertain that the prohibited food is not discernible.

(3) An onion was cut with a meat knife, and someone tasted the onion and contends that it has no fleishig taste. May someone now eat this onion with dairy? This application can be applied to any similar case where we want to verify if pareve food has a meat or dairy taste.

(4) A non-kosher substance fell into a kosher food and we do not know whether the kosher substance was sixty times the non-kosher. A non-Jew, who does not know why we are asking his opinion, tastes the food and tells us that the non-kosher substance cannot be discerned. At this point, a fully halachically observant Sefardi who heard the non-Jew’s ruling is permitted to rely on his pesak and taste the food. Upon tasting the food, the Sefardi notifies an Ashkenazi that indeed there is no taste of non-kosher in the food. According to the ruling of the Rema and the Shach, the Ashkenazi may now eat the food, relying on the tasting of a Jew.

All four of these cases are seemingly dependent on the dispute quoted above between the Levush and the Shach whether we rely on the tasting done by a Jew.

Conclusion

A well-known, non-Jewish criticism of Judaism is: “Does G-d care more about what goes into our mouths than He does about what comes out?” The criticism is, of course, both mistaken and conceited. Our development as avdei Hashem involves both what goes in and what comes out, and the height of vanity is to decide which is “more” important in His eyes. Being careful about what we eat and about what we say are vital steps in our growth as human beings.

image_print