Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle.
What is kosher cheese? Is it made of supervised milk without rennet?
Yes, but it is the absence of rennet which really counts not the supervised milk. The reason for supervised milk (where this is still observed) is in order to prevent the introduction into the milk of milk taken from a forbidden animal (pig’s milk, for instance). The din says the milk of a forbidden animal does not curdle sufficiently to be able to make from it butter or cheese.
12 June 1970:
Why does nobody object to buying fish from an ordinary fishmonger, since they weigh non-permissible fish on the same scales?
The fish is washed thoroughly, of course, before cooking so that any particles of forbidden fish which may have become attached are washed away. As with forbidden fish the principle here is that forbidden food only contaminates by contact when it is hot since only then does it impart a “taste.”
Can we use genuine bone china?
The question is raised presumably because of the small portion of bone ash added to the clay. This is permitted on a number of grounds. The portion of trefa bone added is small and is mixed thoroughly with the clay; it has undergone a complete change from its previous state in the process of manufacture; and, in any event, the bone “taste” (unlike that of the marrow, for instance) is not strong enough to render forbidden food or drink used in the utensil.
Are brandy and sherry bottled by non-Jews yayin nesech?
It is not too pedantic to point out that with the term yayin nesech now widely used for Gentile wine is a solecism. Yayin nesech (lit. “wine poured out”) is the term used by the rabbis for wine that has been offered as a libation to idols. The correct term is stam yenam, “their [the Gentiles] wine in general,” i.e., that has not been used in idolatrous worship but which is forbidden none the less by the rabbis as an extension of the original prohibition. (It is well known, incidentally, that a tendency to leniency in this law, though not to total abolition, is to be observed among some of the medieval authorities on the grounds that Christians and Muslims are not idolators.) According to strict Orthodox law the answer is that the brandy and sherry are forbidden.
10 July 1970:
I understand that an egg may not be eaten if it has a blood speck. How can we tell in the case of boiled eggs?
It is possible to tell even in the case of boiled eggs, but if a dish has been prepared with eggs so that there is no way of telling, the dish is permitted since one then relies on the probability principle and the majority of eggs do not contain specks (see Tosafists to Betza 16b).
17 July 1970:
Why is fish not fleishik?
The laws forbidding the cooking or eating of milk (milchik) and meat (fleishik) together are based on the thrice-repeated verse: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23, 19, etc.). Consequently, the rabbis teach that, since seething a “kid” is mentioned, only the meat of animals falls under the prohibition. Even chicken meat is only forbidden by rabbinic, not Biblical law, on the grounds that if it were permitted people would tend to confuse it with animal meat and permit the latter. There is no fear of confusing fish with meat in this way and hence fish is not fleishik.
23 October 1970:
I was amazed to hear from a friend that in Poland tomatoes are considered trefa and not eaten. Is there any basis for this?
As a Litvak I am not astonished at any of the religious practices of the Galitzianers, but cannot imagine what basis there can possibly be for a prohibition of tomatoes. This is the first I have heard of it. Are you sure that your report is correct? If it is may it be that the prohibition had to do with tiny worms possibly found in tomatoes in those parts?
I recently bought a set of secondhand cutlery in a shop. Can I kasher these and if so how?
The principle behind the laws of kashering is that the trefa food is removed by that method in which it was absorbed in the first place. Thus spits and grills must be heated in fire to be kashered while pans used for boiling must be plunged into boiling hot water. The cutlery should be thoroughly immersed in a pan or cauldron of boiling water. Some types of cutlery cannot be kashered in this way (e.g., if they are not made entirely of metal and have joins) and you should therefore consult your own rabbi for the procedure to be adopted.
6 November 1970:
How long does it take to kosher meat and what comes first in the process, the soaking in water or the salting?
The correct procedure for koshering meat is as follows: The meat should first be soaked in water for about half an hour. Some of the water should then be shaken off the meat and the meat thoroughly salted. The meat should be left covered in salt for an hour. After salting, the meat should be washed thoroughly to remove all the salt.
In an emergency, it is sufficient if the meat is soaked for less than half an hour and if it is salted for 25 minutes. Under no circumstances must the meat be left soaking in water before salting, for a full 24 hours.
13 November 1970:
May pigskin shoes be worn in synagogue, or at all?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. In rabbinic law a distinction is made between things prohibited for food (e.g., trefa) and things from which no benefit may be enjoyed (e.g., leaven on Passover). Pig belongs in the former category, although pig-breeding is forbidden. Consequently, there is no objection to wearing pigskin shoes (even in the synagogue), having a pigskin wallet or, for that matter, binding a religious book in pigskin.
5 February 1971:
Can an Orthodox Jew partake of hot meals prepared on the Sabbath in a strictly vegetarian non-Jewish hotel?
The general rule is that a Jew is forbidden by rabbinic law to instruct a non-Jew to do for him on the Sabbath anything that he himself is not allowed to do on that day. Moreover, even if it is done without his explicit instruction, it is still forbidden for the Jew to have benefit on the Sabbath from that which has been prepared especially for him. (There are exceptions to all this, e.g. in the case of a sick person.)
Orthodox Jews who do have meals cooked for them in a vegetarian hotel on the Sabbath presumably argue that the food is not cooked for the Jew as Jew but as paying guest, so that the non-Jewish cook is simply working to earn his own living. It should, however, be noted that, in any event, a good deal depends on what you mean by an “Orthodox Jew.”
According to the strict din it is forbidden for a Jew to eat food cooked by non-Jews even on the weekday (bishul akum) so that a strictly observant Jew would have reservations about eating at all in a vegetarian hotel owned by non Jews. (The general rule here is that one may eat food cooked by a non-Jew only if it is either food that can be eaten raw or is food that “does not appear on a royal table,” i.e., is inferior food.)
26 February 1971:
How can the Beth Din certify a function as being kosher if unsupervised wine is served?
Strictly speaking the term “kosher” is used only of food that one may eat because it does not contain any trefa fat and the like or because it has been adequately prepared, e.g. meat that has been salted and of an animal that has had shechita. Wines do not tall under this category.
If the term “kosher” is used of wines, it refers to the fact that Gentiles have not handled it, either before its manufacture or afterwards. The prohibition of Gentile wine is rabbinic (though based on the injunction against using wine poured as a libation on an idolatrous altar) and its aim was to discourage social intercourse between Jews and Gentiles.
During the Middle Ages some authorities favoured certain relaxations of the full prohibition on the grounds that the Gentiles of those days were not idolators, as they were in the Talmudic period. Some Jews, otherwise observant, consequently treat the whole matter of Gentile wine rather lightly. However, there is no doubt that according to the strict din such wine is forbidden. (The Sephardim are specially strict about this prohibition, and at functions catered under Sephardi supervision only “kosher” wine is served.)
I suppose that the attitude of the Beth Din is that while they do not accept responsibility for the wines served, there is no reason why they should not see to it that the food served is kosher. Their argument appears to be that it is better to turn a blind eye to what, on any showing, is a lesser infringement of the din for the sake of proper observance of the kashrut laws.
How long after a meat meal can one partake of milk foods? There seem to be differing practices.
The Talmud (Hullin 105a) does not speak of a definite time lapse but that milk should not be partaken of after meat at the same meal. It appears that the normal practice was for dairy foods to be eaten at the next meal whenever it took place provided that mouth was thoroughly washed in between. However, in the same passage it is stated the specially pious would not eat milk foods on the same day as they had eaten meat.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 89, 1) records two opinions: one requiring a person to wait on hour, the other requiring him to wait six hours. The usual Ashkenazi practice has been to wait six hours but in some parts of Germany they waited three hours. So it all depends on one’s custom. So far as I am aware the Anglo-Jewish custom in Orthodox circles has been to wait three hours.
26 March 1971:
We are always told that shechita, the Jewish method of slaughtering animals for food, is humane. Why then are we allowed to eat battery hens and other meat in the production of which unnecessary cruelty is involved?
The key word here is “unnecessary.” Even shechita obviously involves some pain. The general principle is that while it is strictly forbidden to cause pain to animals it is permitted if this is essential to human welfare, otherwise one would have to be a vegetarian and refuse to wear leather shoes. The question, then, is whether the practices you mention involve unnecessary or inessential suffering. I would agree with the implications of your question that if the spirit behind the laws of shechita has been seen as the reduction so far as possible of animal suffering, the practices you mention would be frowned upon by Jewish teaching.
28 May 1971:
Why are there shechita laws for animals and poultry but not for fish?
The question is asked and answered in the Talmud (Chullin 27b): “Whence do we know that fish do not require shechita? If flock and birds be slain for them, will they suffice? Or if all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, will it suffice for them?” (Numbers 11, 22).
The verse speaks of animals and birds requiring shechita but of fish it states that they can simply be “gathered together,” i.e. they can be taken out of the water without requiring shechita. The reason behind it is not stated, but it is possible that since fish cannot live without water there would be little point in requiring shechita after they have been taken out of the water. Perhaps, too, since fish appear to experience less pain than animals and birds the comparatively less painful method is not demanded.
8 February 1985:
What is glatt kosher? I know what is kosher and what is non-kosher, but what is glatt?
Glatt, in Yiddish, means “smooth.” Many animals have adhesions on the lung. There are complicated rules for determining which of these render the animal trefa and which do not.
The usual practice is for the shochet, who has been trained for the purpose, to conduct an examination of the lungs. He is relied on to state whether, as a result of the examination, the animal is kosher or not.
But some pious Jews, unwilling to rely on the shochet’s examination, adopted the practice (not demanded by the din but as an extra precaution) of eating meat only from animals without adhesions on the lung. Such a lung is “smoth,” i.e., having no adhesions, hence the term glatt kosher.
In recent years, evidence of a determined swing to the right in Orthodox circles, what was previously the practice of the extremely pious has been adopted by many ordinary Jews who can lay no claim to any special piety, with a proliferation of glatt kosher butcher shops.
Moreover, the term, originally only applicable to meat, has been extended to other matters of kashrut, so that glatt kosher becomes a term for “very kosher” or “extremely kosher.”
Basically, this is an absurdity. Kosher means the absence of trefa and is a term that does not allow superlatives. It is not like “holy,” say, where one man can be holier than another.
If something is kosher, it is kosher, and that is an end to the matter. It is impossible for something to be more kosher than something else.
If the term has any meaning at all, it can denote that greater precautions have been taken to avoid the slightest possibility of trefa.
What has really happened here is that rules and attitudes, traditionally the preserve of the saintly, have been adopted, or urged upon, ordinary Jews. Such adoption of religious one-upmanship really runs contrary to the Jewish tradition which frowns on saintliness unless practiced unconsciously by a saint.
The traditional term for it is yohara, meaning something like “religious arrogance” or “showing off.”
Some of my friends deride me for keeping the laws of kashrut. They are vegetarians and claim that the kashrut laws are outdated since it is as unhealthy to eat any meat, kosher or not, as it is to eat smoked fish such as salmon. How should I answer them?
Their derision is based on the unwarranted assumption that the dietary laws were introduced for hygienic purposes. This kind of argument is often heard, i.e., in ancient times the dietary laws were the best that people could do to promote health, but, nowadays, we have far better methods.
The truth is that, in the Torah, the dietary laws are stated to be for the purpose of holy living. By abstaining from certain foods, by the discipline to our appetites in obedience to God’s will, we bring religion even into those areas associated with the material and physical.
So the answer you ought to give your friends is that you prefer to follow a way of life conducive to holiness that has made the Jews a holy people.
If you want to be rude (and I do not see why not since they were rude to you) you might accuse them of faddishness. How many doctors or scientists would agree that smoked salmon should be banned?