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The Very Strange World of Kashruth Stringencies, Part 1

May 21, 2014

This is from an article at the OU website. My fisking is in ordinary letters.

The Gemara (Niddah, 17a), notes that a person who eats shelled eggs, peeled onions (sic.) or garlic that had been left overnight, endangers his life and will be judged as a person who took his own life. The Gemara explains that the danger associated with these foods is ruach ra’ah. How do kosher certifying agencies address this concern?

I hope by trying to analyze why those foodstuffs would be dangerous.

Does the concern for ruach ra’ah still apply to these foods?

There is a disagreement among later Poskim about this question and other details of the prohibition.  The following is a summary of these views:  Yad Meir and Shevet HaLevi hold that this halacha is no longer relevant because Tosfos states that certain ruach ra’ah do not descend in “these countries”. 

The Tosafists began to understand that many of the natural and explainable phenomena we see in certain places are less prevalent elsewhere. This is obvious in light of modern science. Why would one need to cite Tosafos for this? Because for many, something can not enter the halachic discussion if it is not written in a book in the name of some one dead, even if it is obvious…

We can infer from Tosfos that we do not have to be concerned for any ruach ra’ah unless we have a mesorah that that specific form is still prevalent. 

I do no understand the inference, nor do I think that ruach ra’ah is a matter of mesorah. It is a matter of metziuth, reality and facts on the ground. Why? Because ruach ra’ah, literally “evil spirit,” is a term used in rabbinic literature to refer to, among other things, 1. many natural phenomena we now know to be caused by microorganisms and oxidation, 2. superstitions that were present throughout even gentile society, and 3. miasma, which was thought to be the main cause of many disesaes before the modern era.

Yad Meir and Shevet HaLevi cite Hago’os Mordechai as a source for adopting such an approach regarding leaving eggs, onions and garlic overnight.  They are supported by the fact that the Shulchan Aruch cites certain dangerous activities listed in the Gemara but not these. Minchas Yitzchok discusses this issue and concludes that there is basis for those who are lenient. 

And the objective approach is to realise that peeling eggs, onions, and garlics leaves them exposed to the effects of oxidation and spoilage, which to the ancients must have been caused by some undetectable “evil spirit,” and therefore, such items, if placed in bags and then refrigerated, would not become spoiled so fast.

The overwhelming majority of Poskim hold that the Gemara continues to be relevant nowadays.  They address, but do not resolve, the fact that Shulchan Aruch doesn’t discuss this danger. 

Neither does Maimonides, by the way. Perhaps because they realized this was not a hard and fast rule? See this wonderful essay by Rabbi Yuter Junior about the Consensus and Majority Fallacy. Thankfully, he does not cite the sources for the next string of illogical claims.

They also argue that:

* One must have absolute proof that a form of ruach ra’ah no longer exists before considering as irrelevant a clear directive of the Gemara.

One must have absolute proof that the tooth fairy does not exist before declaring she does not exist. Or better, “you can’t prove I am not the reincarnation of George Washington!” Remember the rule of logic, “You can not prove a negative”?

* We do have a mesorah that this form of ruach ra’ah still exists because Tosfos and Rosh both mention it and the minhag has always been to be careful.

Yes. people believed in supertsitions and bunk science for too long, and now you have to too.

* Even Hago’os Mordechai only says that maybe one can be lenient because this ruach ra’ah no longer exists, but he is not certain that this is the case.

He was uncertain. But today, in light of the evidence, he would say of course one does not have to worry! Why do we have to assume that earlier scholars would not have listened to modern evidence?

What can be done to prevent ruach ra’ah? According to this second, strict opinion, it is generally agreed that: If the egg etc. is mixed with other ingredients before being left overnight there is no concern.  Divrei Yatziv (the Klausenberger Rebbe ZT”L) suggests that there must be enough of the other ingredient to be nosein ta’am, i.e. give taste, to the egg, but other Poskim do not cite this requirement.  Divrei Yatziv rules that one may not use eggs, onion or garlic as the “other ingredient”.

Baseless conjecture based on strange assumptions.

Some Poskim agree in principle with Divrei Yatziv that there must be some threshold at which point the “other ingredient” is insignificant and does not protect the peeled egg, but disagree with the suggestion that the criteria is nisenas ta’am.  Rather, as long as the other ingredient had some effect on the egg, it would be significant enough to not be “batel”.  Thus, it would be sufficient if the other ingredient acted as a preservative or balanced the pH in the egg.  These Poskim also agree that eggs, onion or garlic could not serve as the “other ingredient”.

More of the same. Also not subject to falsification. You can’t test it out.

However, there is disagreement regarding the following: b. The Gemara in Niddah states that if one leaves part of the shell (egg) or “hair”, peel (onions and garlic) on the eggs, then it is protected from ruach ra’ah. Divrei Yatziv takes this literally and rules that the food is only protected if there is at least one piece of hair or shell which was never removed from the food, but it is ineffective to add pieces of shell, peel or hair.  However, SMa”K is of a different opinion and holds that the shell or hair can protect even if they were completely removed and later added back. c. Beis Shlomo and Kaf HaChaim (504:1) hold that only raw eggs are dangerous while Hago’os Mordechai implies that there is danger on cooked eggs (and doesn’t discuss raw eggs).  Darchei Teshuvah cites Yad Meir and Degel Ephraim who hold that only cooked eggs are dangerous.  Divrei Yatziv suggests that Hago’os Mordechai and Beis Shlomo actually agree, but Hago’os Mordechai is discussing eggs which were peeled after cooking (and are therefore susceptible to ruach ra’ah) while Beis Shlomo is discussing eggs which were cooked before being peeled/cracked (and are therefore protected from ruach ra’ah).  Maharsham, Yabeah Omer, Chelkas Yaakov and Shevet HaLevi leave the issue unresolved. Yabeah Omer suggests that according to Beis Shlomo dried onions (e.g. onion powder) would be permitted since they are dried with heat which provides a minimal cooking as well.  Chelkas Yaakov and Shevet HaLevi raise the point that the Gemara discusses “peeled” eggs which implies that the eggs are cooked. d. Darchei Teshuvah cites Degel Ephraim who maintains that ruach ra’ah does not descend on dried eggs, garlic or onions.  Yabeah Omer agrees with this and says that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank permitted powdered eggs for this reason.  He also notes that Chelkas Yaakov discusses powdered eggs and does not mention this leniency. Iggeros Moshe suggests that since we do not understand how ruach ra’ah operates, we cannot extend the Gemara’s warning to any cases other than those mentioned specifically. Thus, we can assume that the Gemara is discussing a typical case of a housewife who peeled an egg and accidentally left it overnight or who peeled an egg today with the intention of eating it tomorrow. (Similarly, a certified caterer would not be permitted to crack eggs for the next day’s breakfast or to cut onions and garlic for the next day’s salad.) However, the Gemara’s ruling does not apply to a company that cracks eggs that will not be used for many weeks or months.  Therefore, we do not have to be concerned for ruach ra’ah in such cases. In contrast, Beis Shlomo, Chelkas Yaakov and Divrei Yatziv hold that we can extend the Gemara’s chumrah to include industrially produced eggs. 

This is the root of the problem. Nowadays we do understand, but everyone has to make like he does not, as how can we know more about it than our predecessors?

How do Kosher certifying agencies address the concern for ruach ra’ah? Many Kosher certifying agencies rely on the Iggeros Moshe. This would provide a basis for certification of all commercial egg, garlic and onion products but would not permit a caterer to crack eggs for the next day’s breakfast or to cut onions and garlic for the next day’s salad.  Others do not accept this approach, and either don’t certify such products or follow one of the approaches noted above (e.g. mix in other ingredients, cook the eggs).

According to the opinions of Maimonides and R’ Hirsch and other rational scholars, as long as any of these foods have not spoiled, they are kosher. As with any food, the way to prevent possible danger is to understand the science behind something and act accordingly. As R’ Schachter jokes, there are so many people who are also stringent with regards to the danger of eating fish and meat together, a practice based on ancient Persian bunk science, yet they are not stringent with regards to health matters that have been scientifically proven!

We cannot see ruach raah, and perhaps that is why there are so many differences of opinion on this matter. Nonetheless, the concept of ruach raah teaches that there is a plane of reality that we don’t see and there is more to life than what meets the eye.

I remember someone used this argument once when he tried to explain why he was reading books about palm reading and other forms of divination. There may be more than meets the eye, but this is not one of them. Only by purposely trying to keep one’s eyes shut to now-discernable realities does one get involved in meaningless and complicated halachic “discussions.”


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