Saturday, July 15, 2006

Question on Kashruth and Batel B'shishim

I've got a question regarding kashrut. I know this kind of question isn't in my normal category of discussions on this blog since I'm more concerned with theory and philosophy, etc., rather than the technical carrying-out of the Halachic system. My usual approach to Halacha being 'Don't sweat the small stuff."

I've been doing some studying lately and I've got something interesting that I wonder if actually works out in the wider system of kashrut. It seems to work out in what I've looked at so far, but maybe there's a diferent perspective that I'm missing from it.

Anyway, my point is that it appears to me that the Halachic idea of batel b'rov and it's further rabbinic structure of batel b'shishim is largely ignored when encountering questions of kashruth. Take, for example, the ideas of reicha and zeiah, the "aroma" and steam that arise from food via cooking. The idea is that if you cook meat in an oven the "meatiness" rises from the food and can then get absorbed into the walls of the oven hence making the oven itself fleishig. That means that you can no longer cook uncovered milk dishes in the same oven because while cooking, the "meatiness" in the oven's walls will be released and will settle on the milchik food, thereby traifing the food because of mixing meat and milk. This principle applies similarly to cooking in a oven once used to cook traif meat.

My question is why doesn't batel b'shishim relieve us of any concern regarding this mixture of "meatiness" and our milk dish? At worst we can only be talking about a few droplets of "meaty" particles that will land in the milk dish. We can't see any meatiness, it doesn't taste any different. The meat particles are far less than 1/60th of the total dish - why cannot we just consider it as cancelled out?

This further reminded my of using unkosher silverware or otherwise utensils on the wrong side of the milk/meat divide. Whatever the amount of unkosher stuff that gets added via the utensils, it can't hardly be enough to overcome the amount of kosher food actually being prepared. It can't even be a sixtieth of the amount.

Now, granted, there are generally accepted Halachic strictures with regard to food that is kosher through batel b'shishim. For example, that one person may not eat all the food so prepared or that one should not eat it all at one time since in doing so then you know that you've had to have eaten some non-kosher food. The strictest of these rules is that one should leave over an amount of food equal to the non-kosher stuff added. But even with the strictest approach, since the amount of non-kosher stuff can only be as much as a few droplets at most, as long as you don't lick your cooking pot clean, the actual eating of food would be no different.

We can go even further and discuss commercial foodstuffs. They need to list their ingredients on the packaging. As long as there are no questionable items in the ingredients wouldn't the food be kosher even if the machines or other non-ingredients that were used in its manufacture were not kosher? (This wouldn't work for renin in cheese and other stuff that operate by different rules, though.)

I also know that one cannot intentionally add non-kosher food with the intention of using batel b'shishim as a loophole. But in all of these examples, we are not intentionally adding traif to what was kosher, we are just not being very careful to ensure that traif doesn't get added. Yet with such an attitude the food is still kosher! Being 'careless' is not the same as being intentional.

And even for examples where non-kosher food was added intentionally, the fact is that the food is deemed unkosher only for the person who made it with such an attitude. It is still considered kosher generally and can be eaten by another Jew. The only stricture here is that the maker cannot derive benefit from it. So the maker cannot eat it, nor his family, and he cannot sell it as if it were a kosher product, with the inherent inflated cost. So for that commercial food - which is already sold as non-kosher food - and is probably even produced by a goy, it would be permissible to eat.

And naturally I recognize that this isn't mehadrin. But the point is whether or not it is indeed kosher, not whether it follows the strictest rules.

Of course all of this is speculative so don't take my word for it. But I'm really curious as to what a Halachic expert would say. Go, ask your rabbis and get back to me.


Larry Lennhoff said...

I'm not a halachic expert, and I haven't even consulted my references. That said, I believe that the issue is that one the taste enters the metal of the oven, the volume of the oven is the relevant one for the taam, not the the volume of the meat particles that were absorbed.

Manny said...

IANAP (I am not a posek) but in almost all cases reicha lav milsh (aroma is insignificant) bidieved,; if fleishig and milchig were cooked uncovered in the same oven you can eat the food (assuming that it it is only aroma that is transferred.) Lechatchilah, no. Which suggests that that reicha isn't really much of an issue of kashrus, but only a practice a concern implemented to avoid other potential problems of cooking simultaneously or consecutively.

Zeiah, steam, is more of a problem. I've never really understood this, since the condensate is essentially distilled water. However, my chemistry is a bit rusty and I'd like to hear about this from a scientific POV.

A lot of these problems are much less complicated if you hold by Rabbi Abadi's shitot ( He is a talmud chacham and used to be the posek of Lakewood, but is very meikel on many issues of kashrut. According to my rebbe (also a first class talmud chacham), although Rabbi Abadi is often a daas yachid, his psakim are based on solid halachik precendent. The kashrut industry in particular does not like RA, as if one were to hold by his shitot, a large percentage of their business would evaporate as he feels in many cases that one can rely on just reading the ingredients label! Look at these threads in particular:

Orthoprax said...


"...the volume of the oven is the relevant one for the taam, not the the volume of the meat particles that were absorbed."

Hmm. I'm not sure. But even here it's not so much the meat that's in the walls - we're concerned with how much meat lands in the dish itself.


"but in almost all cases reicha lav milsh (aroma is insignificant) bidieved"

Right. I knew about that. Which indicates that as long as you do it 'carelessly' then it's kosher. Almost all of my given situations above are based on being unintentional and hence kosher bidieved.

"Zeiah, steam, is more of a problem. I've never really understood this, since the condensate is essentially distilled water."

Well it is basically just water, but it can conceivably take other particles with it. That's valid even scientifically. Distillation doesn't always remove all impurities.

"A lot of these problems are much less complicated if you hold by Rabbi Abadi's shitot ("

Yeah, I've seen his stuff before. Is it based on the same type of reasoning I've given here? It appears to be. So why don't his views gather wider appeal? Is it really because they all have their hands in a money-making kashrut pie?

Daniel said...

IKANAH (I know absolutely nothing about halacha), but in secular law, being "careless" or "reckless" (i.e., carrying out an act without regard for its consequences where it should be obvious that there will be consequences - like throwing a brick over your shoulder on a crowded street) is equated with intent. Alternatively, "wilfull blindness" - deliberately concealing from yourself the possible consequences of your actions - (if it's actually any different from recklessness) is also equated with intent. So your kind of "careless" wouldn't help.

Orthoprax said...


Your first and last lines of your comment tell the whole story. There are many instances where Halacha operates differently from secular law. Oftentimes willful ignorance keeps an item within the bounds of Halacha even though an objective observation would find it outside the boundaries.

A lot of Halacha is based on 'how it appears' rather than 'how it is' on a theoretical level.

Daniel said...


Your third sentence is interesting.

In secular law, "willful ignorance" is ostensibly evaluated not objectively but subjectively.

That is, there is such a strong presumption that objective norms such as taking into account direct consequences of dangerous acts are internalised by every legally competent member of a society, that the deliberate overriding of such norms is presumed to be a subjective act of the will - and therefore intent.

By the way, can you give me a few examples of the assertion set out in your third sentence? I would be interested to learn.



Orthoprax said...


"that the deliberate overriding of such norms is presumed to be a subjective act of the will - and therefore intent."

No, I do understand. It is simply that Halacha sometimes works differently.

"By the way, can you give me a few examples of the assertion set out in your third sentence?"

Sure. One good example is found for Halacha surrounding niddah. I don't know if you are familiar with niddah, but it involves certain restrictions women are under while they are in the technical period of Halachic menstruational 'impurity.'

Anyway, the Halachic manner of telling when a woman is within her menstrual cycle is by checking her underwear and seeing if there is a spot of blood. Yet the Halachic stricture of the manner of such discernment requires that the blood be seen on a field of white. So during the time when a cycle is not expected or otherwise inconvenient, a woman will usually wear colored underwear, use colored toilet paper, and/or have colored sheets. A stain seen on such colored surfaces does not attain the Halachic status as a spot from niddah. Hence, no matter what the women's status really is in theoretical biology, if the spot isn't 'seen' then she isn't in a Halachic niddah state.

Another example involves bugs. There was a recent big brouhaha regarding copepods in drinking water. Technically such crustaceans are not kosher and people feared eating them inadvertently from tap water. This spurred many frum households and businesses to install water filters on their faucets.

The point is though that such animals are virtually invisible (they're about a millimeter long) and even if they were in the water, they don't really pass the standard of being an organism that one can see. If you can't see it with the naked eye then it doesn't count as even being there. Hence appaearance over theory.

Another example could be for the kashrut of a Torah scroll. In order for a scroll to be Halachically kosher to read from for ritual purposes every letter in it must be readable and full along with other conditional standards. So what if you have a Torah scroll which you don't know the status of but you need to read from it? It would probably be advised _not_ to check because if you don't check it then you can assume it is kosher until you find a problem during a regular reading.

Hence, an intentional ignorance keeps the scroll effectively 'kosher' even though in reality it may very well be pasul.

Anonymous said...

This is one of those cases where Halacha conflicts with objective reality. As a matter of objective reality you are certainly correct that the amount absorbed by an oven, pots or silverware is infinitesmal. As a matter of halacha, that is not the case: it is assumed that the volume absorbed is equal to the entire volume of the material of the pot or utensil.

Understand that this is a rabbinic prohibition. Since at the time of the prohibition it was impossible to determine the amount 'absorbed,' part of the rabbinic prohibition is that the entire volume of the utensil or pot be deemed to contain non-kosher absorbtion.

In this case, it is not an excuse that our modern knowledge is better than that of the rabbis. Great scientists they may not have been, but they were certainly sharp enough to realize that a pot whose entire volume consisted of (non-kosher) soup would not work too well as a pot.

There is also the question of ein mevatlin issur lechatchila.

Where you do have a point is in regard to the kashrut of products made by non-jews, which contain non-kosher ingredients in amounts that are batel. Mainstream kashrut agencies will not give a hechsher to such products, although there is no issur involved.

This is largely because there are divergent approaches to batel beshishim. One approach is that it is still a midat chasiddut to avoid such foods, in part because of the talmudic dictum that "ma'achalot assurot metamtemim et halev" (forbidden foods confound the heart). One could of course point out that foods that have been batel are not "ma'achalot issurot," but a kabbalistic understanding of this text and kashrut generally is that the molecular nature of these foods is evil. On the other hand, one need not necessarily concern oneself with kabbalistic understandings.

A second view of batel beshishim is neutral, but a third view is that it is heretical to deny the efficacy of bitul: since "Chazal" permitted these items, who are you to prohibit it?

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