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The Kashrut Status of Inedible Non-Kosher Food Items Part I

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Mar 5, 2010

The Kashrut Status of Inedible Non-Kosher Food Items

Part I

There are many ingestible products that contain inedible non-kosher ingredients.  These ingredients may be found in food products or in medications.  In this issue, we will provide the background discussion regarding the kashrut status of these items.  In the next issue, we will discuss how this discussion applies to products that are used throughout the year as well as Pesach products.


The Relationship between Inedible Items and Undesirable Taste

The Torah (Devarim 14:21) states that one should give non-slaughtered animals (neveilah) to the non-Jewish citizens.  The Gemara, Avodah Zarah 67b, quotes the opinion of R. Shimon who derives from this verse that an item is only considered a neveilah if it is fit for consumption by the non-Jewish citizen (i.e. fit for human consumption).  Anything that is not fit for human consumption is not considered a neveilah.  For this reason, R. Shimon is of the opinion that if non-kosher food imparts an undesirable taste into a kosher food, the food remains kosher.  R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575), Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 103:1, codifies R. Shimon's opinion.

The Gemara states that according to R. Shimon, there is an important leniency regarding food that was cooked in a non-kosher utensil.  If the utensil was used for non-kosher in the last twenty-four hours, the utensil imparts non-kosher taste into the food and the food is not kosher.  However, after twenty-four hours, that taste is assumed to be an undesirable taste and therefore, if the utensil was not used for non-kosher in the last twenty four hours (and was cleaned from actual non-kosher residue), food that was cooked in that utensil remains kosher.  This idea is codified in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 103:5.

The Rishonim question the comparison of a food that is not fit for human consumption to a utensil that imparts undesirable taste.  The undesirable taste doesn't render the food inedible.  It only worsens the taste of the overall mixture.  If so, why should is the undesirable non-kosher taste considered insignificant?

Rashba (1235-1310), Torah HaBayit He'Aroch 4:1 (19a), answers that anything that is not fit for human consumption is permissible on its own.   For this reason, it must be completely unfit for it to be considered permissible.  However, an item that comprises a minority of the mixture doesn't require the same degree of spoilage.  It is sufficient if it is undesirable to the overall mixture.  Rabbeinu Nissim (1320-1380), Avodah Zarah 32a-32b, s.v. U'D'Amrinan, presents a different approach.  According to Rabbeinu Nissim, the reason why non-kosher food that it not fit for human consumption is permissible is that one does not benefit from eating it.  Similarly, there is no benefit from non-kosher food providing an undesirable taste to a mixture.  Therefore, the mixture is kosher.  Rabbeinu Nissim then contends that if the non kosher food does provide benefit to the mixture, the mixture is prohibited.  The example he gives is the case of non-kosher food that is mixed into kosher food and gives it an undesirable taste but significantly enhances the volume of the mixture.  If the benefit of having more food outweighs the cost of having an undesirable taste such that the addition of the non kosher food proves to be beneficial, the mixture is prohibited.  Rabbeinu Nissim notes that Rashba disagrees with his conclusion regarding a mixture whose volume increased significantly from the non-kosher food.

A number of Acharonim question Rashba's explanation.  According to Rabbeinu Nissim, the common denominator in both cases is that there is a lack of benefit from the non-kosher food.  According to Rashba, what is the common denominator that connects both cases?

R. Chaim Soloveitchik, Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim HaLevi, Hilchot Ma'achalot Asurot 15:10, suggests that the prohibition against eating kosher food that absorbed non-kosher taste is not a function of the prohibition against eating the original non-kosher item.  Rather, there is an independent prohibition against eating foods that absorbed non-kosher taste.  As such, the edibility of the mixture as a whole is inconsequential in determining whether the imparted taste prohibits the mixture.  The determining factor is whether the imparted taste provides a desirable effect in the mixture.  If it does not, the taste in the mixture is effectively inedible similar to a food item that is not fit for human consumption. 

R. Ya'akov Yisrael Kanievski (1899-1985), Kehillot Ya'akov, Avodah Zarah no. 25, suggests a different explanation of Rashba's opinion.  Rashba's opinion is similar to Rabbeinu Nissim's in that the common denominator is whether one benefits from the non-kosher food.  However, Rashba is of the opinion that regarding a mixture of non-kosher food with an undesirable taste, the focus is not whether the non-kosher food provides benefit, but rather whether the taste that it imparts provides benefit.


What is the Nature of the Permissibility of Inedible Food?

R. Yonatan Eibeschitz, Kreiti U'Pleiti 87:15, suggests that the equation between food that is unfit for human consumption and food that imparts an undesirable taste is only necessary according to R. Shimon who is of the opinion that eating a prohibited item in an irregular manner is biblically prohibited.  [R. Shlomo Luria, Chochmat Shlomo, Sh'vuot 23b, asserts that R. Shimon considers eating prohibited food in an irregular manner a biblical prohibition.]   However, according to the opinion that there is no biblical prohibition against eating a prohibited item in an irregular manner, inedible food and undesirable taste are included in the general exemption of eating something in an irregular manner.  R. Eibeschitz supports this idea from Rambam (1138-1204), Hilchot Ma'achalot Asurot 14:11, who provides a number of examples of eating in an irregular manner including eating food that has a bitter ingredient mixed in or food that became spoiled and is inedible.  R. Eibeschitz then suggests that since basar b'chalav (meat and milk that were cooked together) is biblically prohibited even if eaten in an unusual manner (Pesachim 25a), a mixture containing basar b'chalav that produces an undesirable taste is prohibited.

R. Ya'akov of Lisa (1760-1832), Chavot Da'at 103:1, disagrees.  He contends that the biblical leniency to eat something in an irregular manner is fundamentally different than the leniency regarding food that is inedible.   The leniency regarding food that is eaten in an irregular manner applies in situations where there is no inherent change to the food.  If one were to reverse the effect, that food would be biblically prohibited.  Regarding the leniency of inedible food, any food that is rendered inherently inedible is not subject to a prohibition, even if it later becomes edible.  While the leniency regarding eating in an irregular manner does not apply to basar b'chalav, the leniency regarding inedible food does.  Therefore, if basar b'chalav imparts an undesirable taste, it does not prohibit the mixture.

R. Kanievski notes that there is a difficulty in Chavot Da'at's suggestion.  Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 103:2, rules that if a non-kosher food imparts an undesirable taste that later becomes desirable, the mixture is prohibited.  According to Chavot Da'at's assertion, food that is inedible can never become prohibited again.  If the leniency for undesirable taste is derived from inedible food, how does undesirable taste that becomes desirable cause the mixture to become prohibited?

R. Soloveitchik, op. cit., without directly addressing the opinions of R. Eibeschitz and R. Ya'akov of Lisa, provides a different approach.  First, R. Soloveitchik notes that Rambam, Hilchot Ma'achalot Asurot 15:30, states explicitly that if basar b'chalav produces an undesirable taste, the mixture is permitted.  Second, R. Soloveitchik agrees with R. Eibeschitz that basar b'chalav is not subject to the leniency of inedible food because it is biblically prohibited to eat basar b'chalav in an irregular manner.  However, he asserts that the prohibition against eating a mixture that contains the taste of basar b'chalav is not of the same prohibition as eating basar b'chalav itself.  While basar b'chalav itself is not subject to the leniency regarding inedible food, taste imparted from basar b'chalav is subject to its leniency.  Since the undesirable taste of basar b'chalav is effectively inedible and is subject to the leniency of inedible food, it does not cause the mixture to become prohibited.    


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