Does kosher food really need a hechsher

Two sources:

The first is from Elie Avitan:

Food can be kosher according to Halacha, even without rabbinic certification. And so can converts. All Jews before 1911 ate food without a hechsher, and until a few years ago there was never even a concept of a conversion counsel that “vetted” converts. Rather, our ancestors made sure that food was kosher according to Halachic standards by looking into the ingredients and preparation methods, and Halachically observant rabbis trusted other Halachically observant rabbis when it came to conversions they sanctioned.

Now, many people will argue “What could be wrong with more supervision, wouldn’t we rather be safe than sorry?” I think true Halacha would argue back: Being unnecessarily stringent on kosher supervision leads to serious financial and communal strains, and being unnecessarily stringent on conversions leads to serious emotional suffering – issues the Torah seems to be particularly concerned with. So indeed, it is better to be safe than sorry, by avoiding supervision where Halacha doesn’t demand it.

No one is fully trustworthy, ever. However, Halacha says: eid echad ne’eman. Therefore, I have to treat anyone who would be a kosher eid. Whether you are accepting this fact or not, you are making an assumption that everything is a “safeik Kashrus problem” unless it has supervision. But such an assumption is not based in Halacha. Like it says in the Mishna in Yadayim, 4:3, the person who wants to be strict above the law needs to bring a proof.

אמר רבי ישמעאל: אלעזר בן
עזריה, עליך ראיה ללמד, שאתה
מחמיר–שכל המחמיר, עליו הראיה
ללמד

See the Tiferes Yisroel on that Mishna who says: “Everything that doesn’t have a known reason to prohibit it, “mutar hu bli ta’am”, because the Torah didn’t come to tell us what is permitted, but rather to tell us the things that are prohibited.”

As I know how things “work” in the frum world, I keep mainstream Orthodox customs at home (like having two sets of all utensils, dishes and pots and only buying food with a hechsher) but when it comes to speaking the truth about these issues I am not bound by communal norms, but rather by truth. And I haven’t yet found a universally accepted Halachic reason to justify needing supervision on commercial food products besides for meat, wine and hard cheese. (For things which are debatable like gelatin or beetle juice (lol), people who want to be strict can know to beware, but there is no reason to ‘protect’ the average kosher consumer from something which was permitted by great chachamim like R Chaim Ozer Grozinsky, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank and R Ovadia Yosef).

Again, if people only want to eat food with a hechsher and are willing to pay for it than fine, but the problem is that people who don’t want to limit themselves to the strictest, most limiting opinions get trapped being labeled “conservadox” or “not really frum” if they follow normative Halachic standards and not contemporary “Orthodox” standards.

Elie Avitan studied at Yeshivat Reishit/Yeshivat Bais Yisroel/Yeshivat Mir. He served as educational program director at Midwest NCSY, and as the Asst. campus director at the Jewish Experience of Madison.

————————————-

The following was written by Rabbi Marc Shapiro for the website Kashrut.org, a website run by Rabbi A. Abadi. Explanatory notes have been added in brackets.

Rav Henkin, who together with R. Moshe Feinstein was the leading halakhic authority in the U.S. in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is quoted as saying that the entire basis for the existence of the kashrut organizations is the view of [Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, 1235–1310, known as the Rashba, רשב״א . What did he mean by this?

There is a machloket rishonim [dispute among the Rishonim, ראשונים, leading rabbis during the 11th to 15th centuries] and the Rashba holds that if a non-Jew, in the normal process of making a food product, adds some non-kosher element, even a very small percentage, then it is not batel [nullified, by being mixed in a much larger volume of permitted food.] Bittul [nullification] only works when it falls in by accident. This view is known by those who study Yoreh Deah since it is quoted in the Beit Yosef.

If you look at any of the standard Yoreh Deah [a section of the Shulkhan Arukh] books you will find, however, that the halakhah is not in accordance with this Rashba. Rather, any time the goy puts a small amount of treif [non-kosher food] into the food it is batel [annulled by the larger volume], even if it is intentional on his part.

[The next section references the Noda Biyehudah, נודע ביהודה, “Known in Judah”. This is a book of responsa, answers to questions on Jewish law, by Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau (1713 – 1793).]

There is a famous Noda Biyehudah that discusses this at length. See Mahadura Tinyana, Yoreh Deah no. 56 where he permits a drink that was produced using treif meat in the production but the amount of meat was very small and could not be tasted. He states that it is permissible. There is a Rama who has a teshuvah and states similarly. (I am sure if you describe the Noda Biyehudah’s case to people, even learned ones, and say that there is a contemporary rabbi who permits this, they will mockingly refer to him as a Conservative or Reform rabbi since in their mind no “real” rabbi who knows halakhah could ever permit something that has non-kosher meat in it!)

So now we can understand R. Henkin’s comment. If you go to the kashrut organizations’ websites and speak to them they will tell you that you need the hashgachah because sometimes the runs are not properly cleaned between kosher and non-kosher or milk and meat and some slight amounts of the objectionable ingredient might remain (yet here even rashba will agree that it’s not a problem!), or they tell you about release agents or that small amounts of ingredients are not listed on the label, etc. etc.

The Rashba indeed holds that these last cases are problematic, but the halakhah is not in accordance with the Rashba. The hashgachot have raised the bar and are now operating at a chumra level here as well as in other areas. But the average person has no idea about any of this and has never even heard about the concept of bittul. Even if you explain the concept of bittul to him, his response will be: “OK maybe this is the strict halakhah, but I’m not starving so why should I eat something that we had to rely on bittul for. A person who cares about kashrut won’t eat something that has even the smallest amount of treif.” Since people haven’t been educated about the halakhot, they assume that bittul is a kula to be used in emergency situations, and it is not their fault that they believe this, since this is the view that the kashrut organization hold and publicize.

There is a good article waiting to be written about how in the last thirty years we went from halakhah to chumra when it comes to food issues.

Rabbi Marc Shapiro, 11/11/2003

http://www.kashrut.org/forum/viewpost.asp?mid=4915&highlight=rashba

Marc Shapiro holds the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton and is the author of various books and articles on Jewish history, philosophy, and theology. He received his BA at Brandeis University and his PhD at Harvard University, where he was the last PhD student of Professor Isadore Twersky. He received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt. Shapiro’s father is Edward S. Shapiro who has published books on American history and American Jewish history. Shapiro’s writings often challenge the bounds of the conventional Orthodox understanding of Judaism using academic methodology while adhering to Modern Orthodox sensibilities. His books Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy (a biography of Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg) and The Limits of Orthodox Theology (a study of the disputes over Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith) were both National Jewish Book Award finalists. In 2015 he published Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History, which documents the phenomenon of internal censorship in Orthodoxy.
Marc B. Shapiro. (2016, December 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
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