Monday, June 7, 2010

Rav Belsky on Anisakis Worms

I recently received Rav Yisroel Belsky's formal responsum on the anisakis worms that are found in fish (you can download it here). It is an excellent, powerful responsum in which he makes two main points:

  • There is no significant difference between the phenomenon of anisakis worms today and any other worms that have existed.

  • No halachic authorities, from Chazal through Shulchan Aruch, have ever given qualifiers on their permission to eat worms found in the flesh of fish.

Rav Belsky draws the clear (and to my mind, undisputable) conclusion that you either say that all worms have always been prohibited, or you say that all worms have always been, and still are, permitted.

Now, Rav Belsky's own conclusion is that Chazal were correct, and the heter is based on the fact that the worm completes its growth in the flesh of the fish, not that it spontaneously generated there. As I discussed in an earlier post, I think it's clear that Chazal did mistakenly believe in spontaneous generation. But, following Rav Herzog etc., I would say that Chazal's ruling is still valid and thus all worms found in the flesh of fish are kosher. In other words, I agree with Rav Belsky's conclusion, while disputing a component of the reasoning. I can also understand (although I dispute) those who take the approach of R. Lampronti and say that, since Chazal's science was in error, the heter was invalid from the outset.

But what all these three approaches (Rav Belsky, Rav Herzog, and Rav Lampronti) have in common is consistency. Either worms were always permitted, or they were always forbidden. The current group of rabbonim who seek to prohibit anisakis are trying to claim that these worms are forbidden, while the worms that Chazal permitted were indeed permissible. But Rav Belsky discusses all the reasons why some people claim that the anisakis worms found today are problematic, and shows how according to that reasoning, there would never be any worm that we could be certain was permissible. And Chazal said that not only some, but all worms found in the flesh are permissible, without drawing any distinctions.

The bottom line is that those rabbonim who prohibit these worms are effectively undermining Chazal due to their acceptance of science. Which is odd, because that is exactly what they condemned me for doing! But apparently, if a rav strenuously denies that he is disputing Chazal due to science (even if others prove him to be doing exactly that), it is socially acceptable in Charedi circles, since he has not undermined Chazal's authority. I think that this does actually make sense, strange as it may sound.

(I was intrigued by one part of Rav Belsky's responsum, regarding Rav Moshe Feinstein:

וכבר נתפרסם תגבתו של מרן רשכבה"ג הגאון האדיר רב משה פיינשטיין זצוקללה"ה בעת הגישם לעיני כבוד תורתו זצ"ל ענין הנ"ל ואמר, על דבר זה אין לענות בכתב כי פשוט ההיתר מדברי חז"ל והפוסקים ואין מה להוסיף עליו, ובזה הורה לנו מרן זצ"ל הוראה ברורה שכאן טובה השתיקה וכבוד אלקים הסתר דבר

What is the application here of "the glory of God is in the concealment of the matter"? Is it something to do with the distastefulness of the heter, or due to its casting doubts on the scientific knowledge and rulings of Chazal, or due to the fact that the very discussion of something to which Chazal gave blanket permission effectively undermines their authority?)

22 comments:

  1. "The bottom line is that those rabbonim who prohibit these worms are effectively undermining Chazal due to their acceptance of science"

    I think there may be another way of looking at this:

    In the world inhabited by chazal (ie according to the science of their day) these worms spontaneously generated and therefore they were permitted. In our world, where spontaneous generation does not occur, they would be forbidden, since the hetter is based on spontaneous generation.

    According to the above, an issur today would not undermine chazal, since (our understanding of) nature has changed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am not sure what you mean. If you are saying that Chazal were mistaken, then you are not representing the position of Rav Elyashiv and the others who forbid it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was wondering about the following notion. We know that Hilchot Kashrut are all chukim. After all, there is no apparent reason why certain things should not be eaten, and the Torah does not provide a reason for it either. We observe it because the Torah requires it. To observe chukim requires us to "suspend" our daat and manifest our faith in G-d that His ordinances are true and correct, even if their rationale is elusive., and indeed many commentators say that is precisely why there are chukim in the Torah; to give us a chance to physically apply that faith. Since Kashrut then requires a level suspended reality or at least suspended understanding, what is the harm in relying on what we know to to be mistaken science (spontaneous generation) in the application of the law? After all we are dealing with the manifestation of matters of faith, which is ultimately empirically unfalsifiable, even if intuitively knowable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, obviously there's no issue of undermining chazal if it makes people more machmir!

    ReplyDelete
  5. In an earlier post, you mention the position of Rav Dessler, that in these types of cases there is really a forgotten reason for Hazal's position, which then is based on the science of their time. You are skeptical about this position. A similar stance, and a more likely one in my opinion, was that the facts on the ground were that everyone ate fish, and there was no existing custom to check for the worms. Therefore they must be permitted. The science of their time can resolve the conflict with the verses that prohibit shratsim explicitly.

    I suspect that the verses only prohibit deliberate consumption of insects -- entomophagy. Later, Hazal began to be strict on bugs that found their way into food. Then the question arises about where to draw the line.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "The bottom line is that those rabbonim who prohibit these worms are effectively undermining Chazal due to their acceptance of science. Which is odd, because that is exactly what they condemned me for doing!"

    My friends and myself amusedly made the same observation when this tummul was getting started.

    "But apparently, if a rav strenuously denies that he is disputing Chazal due to science (even if others prove him to be doing exactly that), it is socially acceptable in Charedi circles, since he has not undermined Chazal's authority. I think that this does actually make sense, strange as it may sound."

    Why do think that it makes sense?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think Rav Moshe's point was simply that any elaboration on this heter would open the door wide for those who would pick apart his words to draw the complete opposite conlusion (much like many are now doing, for example, with his teshuvot prohibiting an Eruv in Brooklyn).

    ReplyDelete
  8. "The bottom line is that those rabbonim who prohibit these worms are effectively undermining Chazal due to their acceptance of science. Which is odd, because that is exactly what they condemned me for doing!"

    Thank you for pointing this out. This was my thought at the get-go.

    I do think though that you may be splitting hairs with the spontanious generation argument. If I understand correctly:

    Rav Belski's view: Since the worm is microscopic when it enters the fish, and all its material makeup is derived from the flesh of the fish, it is classified as "from the flesh" and therefore is permitted according to the oral law brought down by Chazal - that "from the flesh" worms are OK.

    Your View: Chazal beleived (wrongly)that the worms spontatiously generated in the fish, and that is why they are "from the flesh" (literally) and so Chazal permmitted it, and since we don't have a sanhedrin today, we are still bound by that halchah. But if Chazal would have known that they enter the fish microscopically, they would have forbade them. (?)

    Either way they are permitted. But I lean more towards Rav Belski in the sence that his explanation fits nicely into the idea that Chazal base halachah on obervational (i.e. human 5 sences, language of man) reality, not on absolute truth reality.

    This idea allows a compromise position, where one could say Chazal were mistaken in the Science, but that it doesn't matter as follows:

    Since the worms LOOK like they form inside the fish to anyone who does not have a microscope, then on a human-level Torah halachah, they are not swarming things in the water until they emerge. The question of "what is the TRUTH of what is going on when a worm is "formed in the flesh" " was answered back then as spontanious generation (wrongly), and today is answered by microscopic larva, etc.

    The observation of the teva has not changed, just the explanation of the obervation, but since the halachah is based on the observation, it is not only binding today, but it is quite possible that had Chazal known the science of today, they would have never-the-less permmitted the worms.

    (Since as I think everyone holds, if Chazal knew about microscopic bugs on our food, forks, hands, etc, they would still not have assured food!)

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Chazal said that not only some, but all worms found in the flesh are permissible, without drawing any distinctions."

    This is incorrect. The Gemmarah explicitly discusses a variety of worm that is assur, called kukayani, because it is an invader. Ostensibly, if you can qualify it to be an invader it is forbidden. For some reason Rav Belsky only mentions half of the Gemmarah.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Why do you dispute the approach of Rav Lampronti? It seems to me the most rational and intellectually honest. Chazal and Torah Sh'b'al Peh gave us the principles, but since Chazal's science was mistaken, their application of the principles was wrong in this case. Since we know these worms come from the outside, we should prohibit them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. >I am not sure what you mean

    Yes, I can see that. How much philosophy of science have you studied?

    Let me give you an example: Phlogiston was once believed to be contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion. Now lets look from the perspective of science that accepted this theory. In that world the substance could be produced, and bottled. It "existed" in the same sense that anything else existed. It was real, it had taste, mass, pressure, etc. So in that world "hilchos" phlogiston would have made sense and was entirely correct.

    Once the theory became defunct, phlogiston can be said have have ceased to exist, replaced by the oxygen theory.

    This is no different to spontaneous generation, which "existed" in the world of chazal, but has now ceased to exist, because we today look at the world based on science that does not accept that theory. This doesn't mean we are disparaging chazal by not accepting spontaneous generation, it simply has ceased to be part of our reality.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Does anyone know where I can find printed information on Rav Belsky's halachic opinion on "bugs" in New York City tap water?

    Background: A few years ago there was a whole bruhaha about how New York City water is no longer being filtered appropriately. Everyone in New York City in chassidish and yeshivish circles had to put halachicly acceptable water filters on either their kitchen faucets or their water tanks, and it continues to this day. (And, I might add, is a big hassle and expense).

    I heard that Rav Belsky did not agree with the whole thing, but I can not find it in writing.

    If anyone can help me find something in writing from him saying that halachically one does not have to filter the water in New York City, I would very much appreciate it.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Clarification to my above post about filtering water in New York City:

    "New York City" means the five boroughs of New York City, namely: Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Bronx.

    This does NOT include other areas in New York State like Monsey, the Five Towns (Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere), etc which get their water from different sources than New York City does. And it also does not include anywhere in New Jersey or outside of New York State.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Here is an article discussing Rav Belsky's view on NY water:
    http://homepages.nyu.edu/~dys216/papers/RJJ%20Copepods%20-%20Long%20Version%202.0.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  15. Rabbi Dessler suggests that the "real" reason for permitting lice is not the reason that Hazal attached post-facto. I.e., Hazal suggested spontaneous generation, but if science disproves this, then we know there must be some other "real" reason for the law, and so the science doesn't change the law.

    I am not convinced of this regarding lice. But I do like this logic for fish. Here's what I'm thinking:

    We know we don't have to shekht fish or check their lungs, etc. It seems that in general, the requirements for consumption of fish are far lower than for other animals. Perhaps, for some reason or another, G-d simply doesn't expect us to check our fish and be punctilious (maqpid) about them. Maybe worms in fish are alright simply because G-d doesn't expect us to check for them. Hazal simply tried to find some rational post-facto justification for why G-d doesn't expect us to check them thoroughly.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "Does anyone know where I can find printed information on Rav Belsky's halachic opinion on "bugs" in New York City tap water?"

    R. Belsky is directly quoted in the NYT, linked below, but don't pasken by it :)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/07/nyregion/07filter.html?pagewanted=print&position=

    Also see the exchange between R. Lach and Dr. Berger in the Jewish Press linked below(towards end of page of second link):

    http://www.jewishpress.com/printArticle.cfm?contentid=16906

    http://72.32.50.217/pageroute.do/17134/

    ReplyDelete
  17. >"Chazal said that not only some, but all worms found in the flesh are permissible, without drawing any distinctions."

    >>"This is incorrect. The Gemmarah explicitly discusses a variety of worm that is assur, called kukayani, because it is an invader. Ostensibly, if you can qualify it to be an invader it is forbidden. For some reason Rav Belsky only mentions half of the Gemmarah."<<

    June 8, 2010 1:16 AM

    Rabbi Slifkin, what say you to this revelation? Aren't those who forbid the worm merely claiming that this type of forbidden worm is the reality here? Where is the rejection of Chazal implicit in their forbidding the fish on the basis of this type of worm?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Checkout this shiur (cut and paste from http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/06/audio-roundup-xcvi.html#more)


    http://hp.download.yutorah.org/2010/1053/745156/Worms%20in%20Fish:%20When%20Torah%20and%20Science%20Collide.MP3
    Rabbi Shmuel Marcus -Worms in Fish: When Torah and Science Collide?
    “Mr., is this fish fresh?” Well done (as opposed to sushi?) shiur tracing the worms in fish skin issue from Talmudic sources to shulchan aruch to 1970’s/80’s (comes around like Haley’s Comet?) to present day.
    Parallel to other seeming torah/science “conflicts” (e.g. spontaneous generation) and how halacha approaches these issues.
    Personally, I prefer the symmetric approach to halacha (i.e. call ‘em consistently as you see ‘em whether l’chumrah or l’kula). Funny that R’Slifkin has a letter to R’Belsky post up recently!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I see you deleted my comment highlighting development on your previous post about R. Belsky. Understandable, it was mostly unrelated to the current post, and was only a way to drawing attention to an earlier post. I expect this post to be deleted as well. Would you be kind enough to do me the favor of a reply then? I would sincerely appreciate it.

    DF

    ReplyDelete
  20. Notice to DF and to a host of other people: If you have a question for me that is unrelated to the post, please email me rather than cluttering the comments section, which is read by many people who are not necessarily interested in your specific question. On behalf of everyone, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  21. While Rav Belsky certainly has some textual support for his permissive p'sak on the anisakis worm in fish, I am uncomfortable with his tone. Why can't controversial issues be treated dispassionately by poskim? Of course, the other side is even more guilty of converting an halachic issue into a political one. Besides the tone used in this dispute, there are issues of fact that remain to be clarified. Are the listed species of fish headed by wild salmon, indeed, muchzakim betola'im? If not, then carefully cleaning and checking the surfaces of filets (after removing the skin) may be sufficient. If the fish is ground or finely chopped (and its permissible to do that if there is only a possibility of worms), that would allow the normal din of bitul beshishim to permit the cooked fish (the advice given by another leading posek, Rav Shlomo Miller).

    The size of the juvenile worms when they are swallowed by their first host (a crustacean such as krill) needs to be clarified. Are they visible or microscopic? In other words, are they definitely sheretz hamayim or not? By the time the krill and its resident juvenile worms are swallowed by the salmon, the worms are several millimeters long. In the salmon (or some other sea fish) they can reach lengths of several centimeters (1 inch).

    As to the view of the Gemara in Chulin, a certain parasite residing in the flesh of fish, darni, is permitted. According to the Rabbenu Tam's understanding of the Gemara, another parasite found in fish organs, kookiani, is prohibited since it is presumed to have entered the fish from the air or water. Residing in the flesh is, apparently, taken as a sign that the worm is native to the fish, i.e., not a sheretz hamayim.

    We now know that the anisakis enters the fish from an outside source and tunnels into the flesh. Does that remove the heter associated with the darni parasite, or does the din remain as enunciated in Chulin? Associated with this question is the identity of the darni and kookiani creatures and whether the Babylonian sages ate sea fish or only freshwater ones? If the latter, then they weren't dealing with the anisakis worm at all.

    ReplyDelete
  22. This story actually made it on the local news:

    wejew.com/media/9151/Group_Of_Rabbis_Spark_Controversy_Over_Kosher_Lox/

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.