Category Archives: kashrut

Thou Shall Not Forbid, II – Kashrut

By Rabbi Haim Ovadia

R. Raphael Emanuel Hai Rikki, a 17th century Italian kabbalist, suggests a mystical reason for not ruling unnecessarily that something is not kosher [i]:

It is possible that the food contains a reincarnated soul. When one says a blessing and eats that food, the soul is healed and elevated from the status of an inanimate object to that of humans. By declaring the food non-kosher, the rabbi will prevent this healing process from happening… as it is written in Proverbs (17:26), a righteous person should not administer punishments…

The last comment of R. Rikki is interesting. The verse in Proverbs recommends that a judge should be compassionate, and R. Rikki applied that to the Halakhic questions presented to a rabbi.
If you do not connect so much to kabbalistic teachings, consider the following statement from the Yerushalmi Talmud (Kiddushin 4:12):

עתיד אדם ליתן דין וחשבון על כל מה שראו עיניו ולא אכל ממנו
One is going to be held accountable for all that he saw [i.e. was available to him] and he chose not to eat.

R. Ovadia Yosef adds that when a rabbi declares, unnecessarily, that an animal is terefah [treif], he is a sinner, and his sin cannot be atoned for by repentance[ii]:

When a rabbi mistakenly declares a terefah to be kosher, he has sinned towards God [and Yom Kippur will atone for him], but when he declares the opposite, he has wronged a fellow man by causing him monetary damage. This cannot be atoned for by repentance and by Yom Kippur, until he will appease the wronged party and pay for the damages he caused.

R. Yosef’s words are an admonition to the vast Kashrut systems which control the lives of Jews everywhere [I wonder… are they a Behemoth? A Leviathan? Both will be served as delicacies to the righteous at the end of days…]. The additional cost on “kosher” products to consumers is staggering, and the kashrut net is also cast over institutions and events, dictating where and when to have an event, and affecting the lives of observant and non-observant Jews alike.

The rabbis in charge of this massive extortion program excuse themselves by saying that the additional cost to each costumer is negligible and that they must adhere to the higher standard, but these excuses are not valid. There is no difference in the eyes of the law between stealing a penny or a million dollars, and while it is fine to adhere to a high standard, people should be given other options and informed that the “lower standard” product is as kosher as the “higher standard” one.

Kosher cheese and Pesah products, with their exorbitant prices are only the tip of the iceberg. For example, several years ago, observant entrepreneurs approached one of the biggest poultry processing companies with a proposal for automated kosher slaughtering. The possibility of automated slaughtering as completely viable is mentioned in the Talmud, and it would have erased the price differences between kosher and non-kosher poultry. As you may have already guessed, the proposal was killed by the Kashrut organizations.

Another example, more personal, is of a family who was geared up for a Bar Mitzvah and made all the necessary arrangement, including booking a caterer. A day before the event the caterer informed them that he will have to cancel because the event was taking place between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Hodesh Av. It is hard to assess the emotional and monetary damage caused, unjustifiably, to the family.

Not only that, decisions of kashrut which impact many people, sometimes in the range of hundreds of thousands, the doors of repentance are blocked for the rabbis who made those decisions, since they do not know who needs to be appeased and recompensed, as Maimonides explains in his laws of Teshuvah (4:3):

חמשה דברים העושה אותן אי אפשר לו שישוב בתשובה גמורה לפי שהם עונות שבין אדם לחבירו ואינו יודע חבירו שחטא לו כדי שיחזיר לו או ישאל ממנו למחול לו, ואלו הן: (א) המקלל את הרבים…. (ב) והחולק עם גנב.. [ה]גונב לרבים … (ד) והאוכל שור עניים ויתומים ואלמנות, אלו בני אדם אמללין הם ואינן ידועים ומפורסמים וגולים מעיר לעיר ואין להם מכיר כדי שידע שור זה של מי הוא ויחזירנו לו

There are five things which one cannot fully repent for because they are an offense towards another person, and the transgressor does not know the wronged person:
(a) one who curses a group of people… (b) one who buys from a thief… who steals from many… (d) one who steals from the poor, the orphans, and the widows, who wander from town to town and have no acquaintances, so the transgressor does not know whom to return the stolen object to…

Regarding such complications it was said: חכמים, הזהרו בדבריכם
Sages! Be careful with your rulings and teachings!

To be continued…
R. Haim Ovadia

[i]הון עשיר, חולין ב: וטעמא נ”ל עפ”י מה שכתוב בלמודי האר”י זלה”ה דשמא יהיה שם באותו דבר נפש בן אדם, המתוקנת ע”י אכילת אדם אותו הדבר בברכתו הראויה אליה ובכוונה רצויה, ואם יאסר אותה והיא מותרת הרי הוא גרמא בנזיקין שאין אותה הנפש מתתקנת, ואדרבא ע”י זה אפשר שיורידנה במדרגה יותר גרועה שתאכל מבהמה טמאה או כיוצא בה, וכתיב (משלי יז, כו) גם ענוש לצדיק לא טוב
[ii] חזון עובדיה, ימים נוראים, עמוד רמג: המכשיר טריפה בשגגת הוראה, היא עבירה שבין אדם למקום, אבל המטריף כשרה בשגגה, היא עבירה שבין אדם לחבירו, שהפסידו ממון, ואין יוהכ”פ מכפר עד שירצה את חבירו ויפייסו… וכשם שאסור להתיר את האסור, כך אסור לאסור את המותר… ודאי שעליו לרצות את חבירו, ולפייסו בממון, כדי שיסלח לו. שהוא בכלל עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו. ואין יום הכפורים מכפר עד שירצה את חבירו

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Jews and whiskey during prohibition

Who knew that prohibition was good for the Jews?!

The Prohibition, in the United States, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, from 1920 to 1933.

Prohibition loopholes

“The first was that [alcohol] enabled the farmer to preserve his fruit … which is to say, to take the fruit crop and preserve it over the winter, which literally meant take the apple. Turn it into hard cider. And the hard cider into apple jack, which was legal in the farm districts across the country. Interestingly, the farm districts were the ones that most supported Prohibition.

“The second one was medicinal liquor. I have a bottle on my shelf at home — an empty bottle — that says Jim Beam, for medicinal purposes only. In 1917, the American Medical Association — supporting Prohibition — said there was no reason at all to use alcohol as a therapeutic remedy of any kind. Then they realized with this loophole that there was an opportunity to make some money. And capitalism abhors a vacuum. Within two or three years, you could go into virtually any city in the country and buy a prescription for $3 from your local physician and then take it to your local pharmacy and go home with a pint of liquor every 10 days. And this is really how many of the large distilleries in Kentucky and the middle of the country stayed in business throughout the Prohibition years.
“The third loophole is sacramental wine. Among the groups who opposed Prohibition were the Catholics and the Jews — very avidly — and not necessarily for religious reasons; I think more for cultural reasons. … Tangentially to that, there was the reality that wine is used in the Catholic sacrament for Communion. … ”

“The Jews needed their sacramental wine for the Sabbath service and other services. They were entitled — under the rules — for 10 gallons per adult per year. … There was no official way to determine who was a rabbi. So people who claimed to be rabbis would get a license to distribute to congregations that didn’t even exist. On the other side of that, one congregation in Los Angeles went from 180 families to 1,000 families within the very first 12 months of Prohibition. You joined a congregation; you got your wine from your rabbi.”

kosher-wine-during-usa-prohibition

Prohibition: Speakeasies, Loopholes And Politics. NPR Fresh Air

________

Prohibition allowed for rare exceptions, most notably in the case of religious or medicinal alcohol, and bootleggers took full advantage of the loopholes. Section 6 of the Volstead Act allotted Jewish families 10 gallons of kosher wine a year for religious use. (Unlike the Catholic Church, which received a similar dispensation, the rabbinate had no fixed hierarchy to monitor distribution.) In 1924, the Bureau of Prohibition distributed 2,944,764 gallons of wine, an amount that caused Izzy to marvel at the “remarkable increase in the thirst for religion.” Izzy and Moe arrested 180 rabbis, encountering trouble with only one of them. The owner of a “sacramental” place on West 49th Street refused to sell to the agents because they “didn’t look Jewish enough.” Undeterred, and hoping to prove a point, Izzy and Moe sent in a fellow agent by the name of Dennis J. Donovan. “They served him,” Izzy recalled, “and Izzy Einstein made the arrest.”

Prohibition’s Premier Hooch Hounds, Smithsonian.Com

________________________________

The anti-alcohol movement, although politically based in a strange coalition of evangelicals, progressives and women’s suffrage advocates that had recently won women the vote, coincided with the arrival in the United States, between 1880 and 1920, of about 2 million Eastern European Jews, most with limited economic resources. These opposed Prohibition from the start, not least because alcohol was central to their culture. Also by the late 1800s, acculturated Jews were widely represented in the liquor industry. “At first,” said Marni Davis, author of the forthcoming “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition”, “alcohol offered a way for American Jews to present themselves as the best sorts of Americans, as the ones who consume alcohol regularly but are not drunkards, who participate in the economy in ways that benefit communities and society at large.”

As Prohibitionists touted the evils of drink, it was the Jewish distillers, wholesalers and saloonkeepers who found themselves cast as outsiders. Attacking the liquor industry, “dry” politician John Newton Tillman said: “I am not attacking an American institution. I am attacking mainly a foreign enterprise.” To prove it, he listed distillers’ names: Steinberg, Hirschbaum, Shaumberg.

….Section 6 of the Volstead Act, which allowed Jewish families 10 gallons of kosher wine a year for religious use, left an especially large loophole. For unlike the Catholic Church, which got a similar dispensation, the rabbinate had no fixed hierarchy to oversee distribution. Infractions were rampant.

In 1924, the Bureau of Prohibition distributed 2,944,764 gallons of wine; the American Hebrew marveled at the “rapid growth of Judaism.” Prohibition agent Izzy Einstein — himself a Jew from New York City’s Lower East Side and able to spot a ruse — arrested numerous rabbis for dispensing “sacramental” brandy, crème de menthe, vermouth and champagne. The scam was as common among actual rabbis as among those only claiming to be such: Einstein also arrested rabbis of convenience, named Houlihan and Maguire, as well as African Americans who claimed, according to Okrent, to have recently “got religion in the Hebraic persuasion.”

… This, Okrent says, was bad for the Jews. Reform leaders believed that Section 6 gave the impression that they were not held to a common standard of law, and sought to abolish it. Doctrinal warfare over wine divided Jews by immigrant and economic status and denomination, pitting Orthodox against Reform. The result, as Davis put it, was a “shande for the goyim.”

Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent claimed that Jewish transgressions against Prohibition represented widespread conspiracy against American morals. “The Jew is on the side of liquor,” Ford wrote, “and always has been.” Part of what made this screed horrible was that it was partly true: Okrent estimates that half the bootleggers were Eastern European Jews; as a result, Jews were seen as delinquents who neither understood nor respected American culture. This despite the fact that, Davis says, bootlegging was so common that it could almost be seen as part of the Jews’ Americanization process.

…By the end of Prohibition, so many Americans were involved in producing, selling and consuming alcohol that Jewish participation seems unremarkable. Eventually, the public came around to the view that most Jews held all along: Prohibition, which had begun as anti-immigrant, was now widely seen as anti-American. The start of the Great Depression was the last straw. With the Repeal of Prohibition, passed in 1933, Jews were among those who rerouted their illegal operations into legal channels. Bronfman moved his business to New York, paid a fine for violating the Volstead Act and bought out Newark’s bootleg kings, Zwillman and Joseph Reinfeld. For him and other Jewish bootleggers, Prohibition had ended by providing a path to status and respectability.

The struggle for American Jewish identity was, at a time when both Jews and alcohol were cultural flashpoints, brought into sharper focus by drink. Ridiculous as the Prohibition experiment seems today, its lessons remain relevant. The issue pitted city against country, rich against poor, and immigrant against native born. Released in an America dividing along similar lines, PBS’s “Prohibition” deserves the notice of Jew and non-Jew alike.

‘Prohibition’ Tells Changing Story of Jews in America, by Jenny Hendrix

Movies, books and articles

Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition

by Marni Davis. New York and London: New York University Press, 2012. x + 262 pp.

Let Them Drink and Forget Our Poverty” : Orthodox Rabbis React to Prohibition, By Hannah Sprecher, American Jewish Archives 43,2 (1991) 135-179

PROHIBITION is a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/

Kosher for Passover Whiskey

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In the Jewish faith, one does not drink whiskey on Pesach (פֶּסַח, Passover.) Whiskey is made from a distilled grain mash, and the halakhah (הֲלָכָה‎, laws) of Pesach forbids Jewish people from consuming any products made from chametz (חָמֵץ ) during this time:

Chametz is any food made from wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye that is either leavened – or even left moist long enough to theoretically become leavened on it’s own.  This rules out the grain mash of almost every whiskey. Among Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) there is a further minhag (מנהג‎‎, custom) to refrain from corn during Pesach, which would rule out even pure corn whiskey.

Food Restrictions on Passover Explained: Chametz and Kitniyot

However, there is growing acceptance among at least some Ashkenazim to accept foods made from corn and other kitniyot ( קִטְנִיּוֹת) on Pesach. So a pure corn whiskey could be kosher l’Pesach. In the United States several are available.

One of these is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey, aged 3 years. Aging is the difference between whiskey and whitedog. When one distills whiskey, the initial product is alcohol, water, and in tiny amounts, nonvolatile organic compounds.  This does not actually become whiskey until it has aged in a charred wood barrel: this lets whiskey react with the wood, creating the molecules characteristic of a good whiskey.  Without the aging, the distilled spirit is just a moonshine called “white dog.”  Since many corn-based products are unaged, finding something aged for 3 years is special.

corn-whiskey-passover

To create a kosher-for-Pesach whiskey the mash bill would have to be chametz free: Either 100% corn – or corn and some other acceptable product, e.g. rice or quinoa. So I began my investigation: Is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey kosher for Pesach?

In the USA, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) defines Corn whiskey as any “Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood .”

Now, questions arise which could only be clarified by contacting the manufactuer, the master distiller, and rabbis with a detailed knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut ( כַּשְׁרוּת‎) (“laws of keeping kosher.)  The questions were:

  1. Most “corn whiskies” are not completely corn-based. For instance, “Mellow Corn” is 90% corn, and 10% chametz. Coppersea New York Corn is 80% corn, and 20% chametz. Under Federal labeling laws from the American TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) , “corn whiskey” can be 80% corn, and 20% other grains (incl. wheat, barley and rye). So for this whiskey, is there any wheat, rye, barley or oats, at all? Or is it truly all corn?
  2. What type of barrels was it aged in? Some barrel staves are held together with a glue that uses wheat. Such whiskey would be generally kosher for year round use of course, but it may not be considered as such for Passover
  3. Since this corn whiskey has been aged for 3 years in used barrels, what did these barrels hold previously? Wine, bourbon? And if so, would that matter?

I sent a detailed inquiry to Platte Valley Moonshine, and quickly heard back from them. The representative contacted the master distiller, and let me know the following:

The barrels that it was stored in did not have any wheat in the glue mix.  It is a pure corn whiskey has been aged for three years – in barrels that had previously held kosher certified bourbon! That bourbon liquid itself contains no wheat or gluten, but was distilled from a grain mash of more than 51 percent corn. Now, there was some amount of rye or barley in the grain mash for the original bourbon – none of which makes it through the distilling process itself:

So our pure corn whiskey entered barrels which one held kosher bourbon, that had some chametz as a source.  The next question is, does that matter?  No chametz enters the corn whiskey whatsoever.  Is the presence of residual bourbon in the barrels annulled?

I ran this by several people, including Elie Avitan, who studied at Yeshivat Reishit/Yeshivat Bais Yisroel/Yeshivat Mir.  He then spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia (who received his Semicha in 1991 from Israeli Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, after studying rabbinics at the Shehebar Sephardic Center.) The result. Elie Avitan reports:

I spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia. He said that 100% Corn whiskey that is purchased *before Pesach* is ok to drink on Pesach. This is true even if it was stored in bourbon casks because the flavor transferred from the barrel (as opposed to actual food hametz) is considered to be Halakhically nullified when its source is the same material – bourbon in this case.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first kosher l’Pesach whiskey!  Granted, this is not officially certified as such: as always, on important issues consult with your local rabbi.

Given this, perhas any 100% corn, or 100% seed-based whiskey would be kosher for Passover, which would include:

Corn whiskeys
13th Colony Southern Corn Whiskey
Balcones True Blue 100 Proof, 100% corn whiskey
Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, 100% corn whiskey
Fitch’s Goat 100% Corn Whiskey
Glen Thunder American Corn Whiskey, 100% New York Corn (80% Corn 20% Malted Corn)
Hudson Baby bourbon (look for the 100% corn label)
Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey
Raymond B. 100% Corn Whiskey
Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey
Sipp’n Corn Bourbon, Coppercraft Distillery
Stillhouse Clear Corn Whiskey

Millet whiskey
Koval Single Barrel Millet Whiskey

My evaluation is that this whiskey is kosher Passover, for Jewish people who consume kitniyot on Pesach. But as always, consult your local rav.

Halakhic details

Daniel Sayani explains the halakhah on this issue:

Following the Ashkenazi tradition, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision. Why? In other areas of kashrut, it takes normally a proportion of 1.6% (roughly 1/60) or higher of a non-kosher element (usually additives) to render the whole product non-kosher. For example: a marmalade that contains a non-kosher element in a proportion higher than 1.6% is not kosher. But, if the presence of that element is less than 1.6% of the whole product, then the product is kosher.

On Pesah, however, the rules are stricter. Even the smallest amount of hametz is enough to render the whole food prohibited. Both Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree that the presence of a non-hametz ingredient in a food renders the whole product unfit for Pesah consumption, even if the proportion of that ingredient is as small as 0.001% of the total product.

Sephardic tradition holds, however, that if a hametz ingredient is mixed, accidentally or deliberately, into that food-product before Pesah begins, it will only render the final product as unfit for Pesah if that hametz ingredient is present in a proportion of or above 1.6%.

In other words, if a food made before Pesah contains a hametz element which is less than 1.6% of the total, that food will be kosher for Pesah.

Why? Because before Pesah, we apply the standard kashrut laws of 1.6%, and not the Pesah laws of 0.001%. And once a hametz element smaller than 1.6% is considered neutralized, it never “revives” again. According to the Ashkenazi tradition, however, if a 0.001% hametz element is present, it renders the whole food-product non-suitable for Pesah, regardless of when the food was prepared.

To explain in practical terms: Usually, in the food industry, an element found in a proportion of 1.6% or higher is one of the ingredients of that food-product, most probably an additive. On the other hand, an element present in a proportion of 0.001% is probably a consequence of an accident or a cross-contamination.

Outside kashrut, the presence of a 0.001% element might probably be the case of an allergen, like peanuts-residue, gluten, etc. Therefore, while identify the presence of a 1.6% ingredient is relatively easy, making sure that a 0.001% element is not present is virtually impossible – unless we completely clean and sterilize the factory, restrict the access of any unauthorized person or product; in other words, we make a special kosher for Passover supervision. In that case, the whole area where the food is produced, the machinery, etc., must be sterilized, and a supervisor should be present in the premises to avoid any accidental access of a hametz element, etc. Following the 0.001% rule, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision.

Now we understand why Sephardic Jews are in general more lenient with non-hametz foods, provided the food-product was bought before Pesah. Based on the above mentioned principle, Rabbi Obadia Yosef writes that according to the Sephardic tradition if a food, for example a marmalade, was produced before Pesah, and we know that it does not contain any hametz ingredient in a proportion of 1.6% or above, it will be permitted for Pesah even if it did not have any special supervision for Pesah.

Note: Does this apply to Ashkenazi Jews? In Israel, the custom is for Ashkenazi Jews to follow Sephardic dietary customs when there is an Ashkenazi-Sephardic marriage. Therefore, this includes a large and growing number of religious Jews there. Outside Israel, many Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews – even those who do not eat kitniyot – allow foods with kitniyot derivatives. And internationally, the rabbinical councils of the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movements have officially ruled that Ashkenazim may eat kitniyot on Pesach.

Further reading

“A Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesah”, by Amy Levin and Avram Israel Reisner, CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) November 2015
Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesah, Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, David Golinkin, Vol. 3, pp. 35-56
Nathan Jeffay (1 April 2009). “Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling”
Efrat Rabbi Tilts Against Passover Food Restrictions for Ashkenazi Jews
The Kitniyot Dilemma May Ashkenazim eat rice and legumes on Pesach?
TTB whiskey definitions

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Is all milk kosher?

Judaism offers ways to make every area of life kadosh/קדוש, holy. We do this by creating sanctifications/distinctions for eating (kosher vs treif), days of the week (Shabbat vs other days), and other areas. However, over the milennia, practices on this subject have increased in stringency, especially in the last 300 years. In the last generation, some leaders within Orthodoxy and Conservative/Masorti Judaism have taken a new look at assumptions about what it means to be “strictly kosher”. Many things observant Jews assume to be binding and traditional, are really not quite so.

Many observant Jews use only Cholov Yisroel (Hebrew: חלב ישראל‎‎) milk and dairy products. These are products that have been under constant rabbinical supervision from milking to bottling, to make sure that it is not adulterated with the milk of a non-kosher animal.

Today this is not a practical concern in the USA or most western countries; As such, most Modern Orthodox rabbis, and all Conservative rabbis, have ruled that FDA supervision is sufficient to be considered automatically kosher.

Is there such a thing as “Cholov Yisrael” cheese? (that is, cheese where a Jew watched over the whole production process to ensure that a gentile did not substitute a non-kosher animals milk into the ingredients)

Considering that the Talmud tells us that only milk of a kosher animal curdles , and that it is echoed by the Rambam (Maachalot Asurot 3:12) and Tosfos, we are on safe ground when we note that this is just another way that some kashrut agencies attempt to get more money for an item that need not be “Cholov Yisroel”.

Isn’t rennet an issue? Irvin Branwein writes:

A respectable and acknowledged body of Jewish legal opinion permits all hard cheeses made with rennet. Rabbenu Tam (b. 1100) grandson of Rashi, halakhic authority and leading luminary of the Franco-German, tosafist tradition, has written: “We have never found a proper reason to forbid the cheese of the gentiles and moreover, the Sages of Narbonne have permitted them.” [Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 35a, s.v. Hadda Qa-tanna]

More recently, orthodox, religious authorities have cited the Arukh Hashulhan in their lenient decisions on cheeses made with rennet. [Rabbis Hankin and Graubart, in HaPardes, Iyyar, 5722, page 9, and E’iduth L’Israel, pp.173-176, responsa, Havallim Bane’immim, Y.D. 23]

– Changing the Halakha, Irvin Branwein, Judaism, Issue No. 200, Volume 50, Number 4, Fall 2001

Our list of Kashrut articles. Halakhic, Traditional, Non-fundamentalist

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.

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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

Kashrut of whiskey

Is all whiskey kosher?

glencairn

 

Also see kosher for Passover whiskey, and Bob’s Whiskey Review Blog! Bourbons, Scotches, Ryes, Irish Whiskey, etc.

Generally speaking, yes. Even without a heksher, whiskey is kosher whether made from  barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat.  Corn-based whiskey is termed bourbon; rye-based whiskey is termed rye. Whiskey made in Scotland according to Scottish rules is termed Scotch.

A few whiskeys are aged in sherry casks. Some Orthodox poskim are concerned about extremely tiny amounts of wine that may be absorbed by the whiskey, if aged in sherry casks. The amount of wine absorbed is minuscule – so much so that most traditional halakhic considerations consider it nullified. As such, most rabbis hold that this type of whiskey is kosher, even without a heksher. However, this position is not accepted by all congregations so ask your local rav for guidance for your community’s traditions.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ״ל wrote about blended whiskey which, in rare cases, supposedly might contain very small amounts of glycerine. He ruled that “Kol ha’rabbonim shosim zeh” – all the rabbis drink it. – Igros Moshe: Yoreh Deah 1:62-63

To address this in more depth, here is Rabbi Chaim Cohen,  Rabbi of Netzach Yisrael and Yavneh Girls High School, Manchester.

Question: I have noticed that certain Scotch whiskies now have a hechsher on them. Does whisky need a hechsher?

Answer: The poskim agree that ordinary Scotch whisky (whether single malt or blended) which has no mention of any wine casks is perfectly Kosher. The question arises when whisky has been matured in wine casks, such as the Macallan Sherry Oak. R’ Moshe Feinstein famously addresses this issue in 2 responsa: Igros Moshe YD 1:62-63.

While the Shulchan Aruch (YD 134:13) forbids drinking a gentile’s beverage when it is customary to add non-Kosher wine to it, R’ Moshe follows the more lenient Rema. Providing the wine is nullified against 6 parts whisky (as opposed to the usual 1:60 ratio), the wine is Kosher.

While R’ Moshe advises that a baal nefesh should best avoid such whisky, seemingly he was specifically referring to a scenario where wine had actually been added to whisky. As Scotch Whisky Regulations dictate that Scotch may only contain water, grain yeast and caramel colouring, we can be assured that wine is not added.

Many American poskim are concerned that as the entire sherry (or port, Madeira, etc.) cask is saturated with non-Kosher wine, the wine is no longer battul 1:6 in the whisky. Others, including R’ Akiva Niehaus (Sherry Casks, A Halachic Perspective) argue that R’ Moshe wasn’t referring to Scotch, but to American or Canadian whiskey. Accordingly, they forbid Wine Cask Finishes, arguing that the wine adds a recognizable taste to the whisky.

Nonetheless, Rabbanim in the UK (including the London Beis Din) maintain that R’ Moshe’s rulings apply to Scotch, and follow R’ Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss’s permissive ruling, too (Minchas Yitzchak 2:28). Note, that distilleries outside of Scotland (including Ireland) are not bound by the same regulations, and their whiskies may be problematic. Thus one must consult their Kashrus authority.

Chaim Cohen is Rabbi of Netzach Yisrael and Yavneh Girls High School, Manchester.

http://doseofhalacha.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/kashrus-of-scotch.html

Further reading

Flavors, Finishes and Fireball: Understanding the New Age of Whiskey and its Halachic Implications, Source Sheet by Adam Miller

http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/11183

Rabbi Asher Weiss’ teshuvah allowing whiskey from sherry casks

Question: What is the Rav’s opinion about whiskey which is aged in Sherry Casks?

Answer: The flavor in the casks is considered insignificant in halacha and poses no kashrus concern for the whiskey. This is due to the fact that the flavor is halachically indiscernible, and presumed by chazal not to significantly improve the whiskey in any tangible way. See the attached teshuvos for elaboration [taken from Shu”t Minchas Asher chelek aleph]

http://en.tvunah.org/2014/01/13/whiskey-from-sherry-casks/

Further resources

Sherry Casks, A Halachic Perspective, Rabbi Akiva Niehaus

Sherry Casks, A Halachic Perspective, Rabbi Akiva Niehaus (2nd server)

Kosher Whisky, Part I: Production

Kosher Whisky, Part II, Sherry casks

Jews and whiskey during prohibition

Obsession with bugs in vegetables

Keeping kosher is how Jews bring holiness into eating. It is spiritually empowering, and shows our commitment to a 3000 year old tradition. Unfortunately, some Orthodox rabbis in the last 50 year have created unrealistic stringencies that make it impossible for Jews to eat healthy diets: these new stringencies make it nearly impossible to eat any fruits or vegetables, due to fears of insects.

Another story : “The War on Vegetables”, The Forward, Leah Koenigh

http://forward.com/articles/122190/the-war-on-vegetables/

In an article on his website, Luke Ford writes about a new right wing Orthodox obsession with insects in food.
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Jonah Lowenfeld writes in The Jewish Journal:

“The presence of even one whole bug, dead or alive, can render an entire vegetable treif — unkosher. On this matter, Orthodox rabbis are unequivocal. From a Torah perspective, eating a Big Mac or eating a salad with insects in it, the salad is worse,” Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, who runs the nonprofit Kosher Information Bureau, told me when I met him at his home office in Valley Village.”
– 1/25/2012, Can we afford kosher lettuce?

Shaking My Head

The above is nonsense. Orthodox rabbis have different positions on bugs. The historical Jewish position on bugs in fruits and vegetables is that you wash them until you see no bugs and then you are free to eat. Bugs that you can’t see with your naked eye are not treif.

As we drink water and breathe air, we ingest microscopic bugs. This is not a sin. If we eat a salad with insects in it that we can not sin, we are not committing a sin. I challenge anyone to present a traditional source that says otherwise….

The Jewish Journal reports: “…the RCC’s guidelines recommend that people use lightboxes.”

Do you think our ancestors in Eastern Europe used lightboxes to check for bugs? What about the Israelites in the desert 3200 years ago?

The Jewish Journal publishes: ““You have to wash [the fruit or vegetable] with a food detergent,” Muskin said about checking non-certified vegetables.”

Do you think our Orthodox ancestors washed fruit and vegetables in food detergent? Many Jews in Eastern Europe were so poor that they could not afford wine for kiddush. Do you think they bought food detergent or vinegar with their last funds to clean their fruits and vegetables.

I can use a magnifying glass and examine tap water or distilled water and find bugs. Drinking this water is not a sin. If you examine meat or cheese or you name it with a magnifying glass, you’ll likely find tiny bugs.

Rashi’s teshuvot (rabbinic rulings) were published in 1943. About 500 copies were printed. Rashi says that you wash vegetables and this removes all the bugs prohibited by the Torah.

The Rashba says you wash them and check them and any bug visible is prohibited but anything not visible is not prohibited. Reb Moshe Feinstein’s position was essentially the same as the Rashba’s. When this bug insanity started in Lakewood in 1982, Reb Moshe would have nothing to do with it.

Worrying about bugs is a way to avoid the real challenges to the Jewish community such as Biblical criticism (and modernity’s other intellectual challenges), agunot (chained women) and converts.

Los Angeles has an Orthodox community of about 30,000 to 40,000, less than 10% by the most generous of standards. Ask anyone who grew up in Eastern Europe before WWII if anyone washed vegetables with soap or vinegar? Many of these people did not have running water.

Most communal Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States don’t know much and they’re intimidated by their right-wing so they go along with this bug nonsense.


On a related subject see Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy: The author asserts that contemporary Orthodox Jewish religion and practice has undergone a major and profound change in nature during his lifetime. Where observance of Jewish law was once organic and transmitted through family tradition as much as by text and rabbinic literature, it has now become disconnected from family practice and connected only to the written word, the author explains. He explores the contours, sources and implications of this shift as pertains to Jewish (especially Orthodox Jewish) culture, philosophy, spirituality, education and relationship to the surrounding world.