In loving memory of my dear father, Moreinu haRav Avraham Benzion ben Azriel Hertz Isaacson zt’l, whose love of Torah, passion for justice, and acts of kindness inspire everything I do.
In earlier days, we did not have the level and scope of kosher supervision which is virtually taken for granted. Meat products were always purchased from reliable sources, and there were various decrees made requiring milk, cheese, and bread to be produced by or in the presence of Jews but many other products were purchased from regular suppliers and assumed to be kosher by default.
With the advent of the industrial age and the listing of ingredients on products, it was not uncommon to rely on these ingredients lists to accept products as kosher, and it is only in recent decades that a hechser can be found for virtually every type of product imaginable, including some, such as bottled water, which certainly do not require one.
In order to make an educated decision as to which kinds of products required certification, which can be assumed by default to be kosher, and which can be treated as kosher based on ingredients, it is essential to have a broad and deep knowledge of all the halachik principles and laws pertaining to mixtures of kosher and non-kosher substances, AND ALSO of the facts on the ground in each locale where products are produced and stored.
I do not profess to have this level of knowledge, and thus defer to experts in these matters, but as is our mandate, would like to at least highlight some of the issues from our dapim that relate to mixtures containing chametz on Pesach as well as mixtures that might contain non-kosher ingredients throughout the year.
One argument made by some people (often layman but also what appears to be a small minority of Bnei-Torah) who do not require certification for many shelf-items that contain mostly visible kosher ingredients is that any non-kosher ingredients do not form a significant part of the makeup and are thus בטל (nullified) by the majority of kosher ingredients or even בשישים (in sixty times.)
Others might not go this far but are happy to simply read the ingredients and make decisions based on what is listed. They sometimes argue that even if ingredient lists are not completely accurate and the government allows small quantities of certain ingredients to be excluded from these lists, such amounts are clearly negligible and the rule of בטול applies, not only by majority, but even by 60 times!
Yet as we shall see, while there might be some merits to the arguments which allows one to rely on ingredients, assuming one is in fact familiar with each ingredient and what it is derived from (enzymes, flavorings, colorings spring to mind here,) this is also not quite so simple for various reasons, some of which I hope to address today.
The opening dapim of this chapter contain some of the most important principles pertaining to kashrut in general, and chametz in particular, namely the rules regarding the halachik treatment of mixtures containing both permitted and forbidden foods.
When a mixture contains both chametz and non-chametz material, for example, it is important to determine whether the mixture is defined based on its forbidden (chametz) ingredients or based on its permitted ingredients (non-chametz.)
One of the rules used to define the status of such a mixture is the biblical rule of בטול ברוב – a minority of either permitted or forbidden ingredients is nullified by the majority with opposite status, and the mixture takes on the status of its majority ingredients.
However, there are times, either on a biblical or rabbinical level, where even a minority of forbidden ingredients can impart its forbidden status to the entire mixture, and though this can apply in all areas of halacha, chametz on Pesach in one of the areas where we are most stringent in this regard.
The opening Mishna of the chapter lists various things that while forbidden and punishable on Pesach, are not subject to the extremely severe penalty of כרת .
Though there is some dispute amongst the Rishonim as to whether the Mishna is referring to a prohibition against eating these things, or even against owning them, it seems to be agreed upon that the things listed therein can be divided into 2 categories:
- תערובת חמץ גמור – a mixture containing fully fledged chametz
- חמץ נוקשה – substances that have only partially fermented and are not fit for normal eating, but rather only for eating in an emergency.
The Bertenura explicitly states that the first 4 fit into the former category whereas the last 3 fit into the later category, and this grouping could be hinted at by the Gemara itself, which refers to “4 states” and “3 professions,” as well as later on daf 43.
For our purposes, I wish to focus on the first category, and the 4 examples given by the Mishna:
- כותח הבבלי (Babylonian ‘kutach’ [roughly translated as dip])- the Gemara notes that this contains 3 unhealthy ingredients, namely נסיוני דחלבא (the fatty milky residue left over from cheese making), מילחא (salt – according to Rashi specifically מלח סדומית), and קומניצא דאומא (moldy bread)
- שכר המדי (Median beer)- the Gemara notes that this contains barley water (what else it contains is not mentioned explicitly )
- חומץ האדומי (Edomite vinegar)- the Gemara identifies this as wine vinegar that barley was added to in order to assist the fermentation process.
- זיתום המצרי (Egyptian ‘zeytun’)- The Gemara says that this consists of one third barley, one third קורטמי (a kind of herb used among other things to treat impotence-see Gittin 70a), and one third salt.
In all 4 cases, it appears that there is a significant minority of ingredients that contain chametz, and despite the usual rule of following the majority, the Gemara derives from כל מחמצת (“any leaven”) that one is forbidden to eat even such mixtures.
The Gemara also notes that this stringency is not universally accepted but is the view of Rabbi Meir and/or Rabbi Eliezer (see debate between Rav Yehuda and Rav Nachman in this regard on daf 43a)- the Chachamim hold that at least on a biblical level, there is no such prohibition for such mixtures!
There are various possibilities regarding when and why this stringency would apply:
- The moment a kezayis of the mixture is eaten בכדי אכילת פרס (In the time it takes to eat a loaf of bread- the usual period used for measuring a kezayis) , seeing as we view the entire mixture as chametz.
- Only if one eats a kezayis of the actual chametz contained within the mixture during the above period.
- If the entire mixture contains the taste of the chametz, and a kezayis of the mixture is eaten within the above period
The above are all discussed on the daf in the context of the principles of התר מצטרף לאסור and טעם כעיקר, an understanding of which is vital for any student of הלכות תערובות .
The first principle, subject to debate, is that when it comes to certain prohibitions, when ) אסור a prohibited substance) is eaten together with התיר (a permitted substance), the permitted substance joins together with the prohibited one to make up the kezayis for which one is liable.
It is thus possible to eat less than a kezayis of the actual אסור and still be liable.
The second principle tells us that if a permitted substance contains the taste of a forbidden substance (such as water in which grapes were soaked, for a nazir), even if there is an insignificant amount of the original forbidden substance in it, the entire substance is viewed as אסור.
Hopefully, we shall have more time to discuss these in the future- due to time limitations, I have been forced to be brief of late, yet one can immediately see that it is important to be very sure what ingredients are contained in products that one buys and that sometimes even miniscule amounts of non-kosher substances can render the entire product non-kosher, in the case that they give taste to the mixture, and as we shall hopefully see in future discussions, under various other circumstances too.
As such, it seems clear that when it comes to relying on ingredients alone, even in a place where kosher certified products are not available, the layman should not make these decisions himself, but should seek guidance from the kind of experts mentioned above, who is well versed both in the theoretical and practical matters required to make such decisions.
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.