Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Close Shave... But With What?

Last week, I was invited to the Yom Ha-Atzma'ut celebrations at the home of the President of Israel. It is a long ceremony, involving awards to the 120 most outstanding soldiers, songs by the Prime Minister and President (!), and lunch. For various reasons, I was not able to go.

Which was just as well. It turns out that the caterer discovered, the day before Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, that the meat had all spoiled. Shockingly, he decided to replace it with meat from a supplier in Abu Ghosh - which was, of course, entirely treife. Somehow slipping it past the mashgiach, the caterer thought he had gotten away with it. But it transpired that he had been caught on the security cameras in Abu Ghosh. Unfortunately, this was only after the meat had been eaten by the guests.

And so it's just as well that I didn't attend the event. Because if I would have gone, then I would have inadvertently eaten treife, and... what?

As Professor Menachem Kellner explains, in Maimonides' Confrontation With Mysticism, the consequences of inadvertently eating treife are subject to a dispute between Rambam (Maimonides) and Ramban (Nachmanides).

According to Nachmanides (and probably most other rabbinic authorities), non-kosher food inherently houses spiritual harm. If one had some kind of metaphysical measuring device like those of the Ghostbusters, one could take a measurement of it. Like poisonous food, it will cause harm even if one eats it entirely inadvertently.

According to Maimonides, on the other hand, the laws of kashrus are institutional rather than relating to some kind of metaphysical reality. There are various reasons why we must not eat non-kosher food, but it has nothing to do with anything metaphysical inherent to the food itself. Consequently, if one inadvertently and unknowingly eats non-kosher food, one's soul has not been harmed.

Personally, the thought of eating treife food, even inadvertently, gives me the heeby-jeebies. I guess I'm not so much of a rationalist, after all.


  1. the rambam was going with Aristotle. that would mean that metaphysical realities exist and are in things. but it does not leave much room for mystical numinous realities. even the rambam's idea of most mitzvot is basically instrumental--i.e to bring about certain results.

  2. Even according to Ramban, the inherent spiritual harm is defined by halachic status. Thus if there was a mashgiach, since ed echad ne'eman be'issurim, therefore the spiritual harm would not exist.
    It would be incorrect to say that halacha permits eating something that is battel, but when the individual gets to that piece, he has ingested spiritual harm.

    Also - only a rationalist would eat regular Rabbanut!

  3. R. Slikfin,
    Can you please provide maarei mekomot for the opinions of Ramban and Rambam?
    Barry Kornblau

  4. PinchasBenYairs DonkeyMay 2, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    You are in good company! :-)

  5. So all the rules of kashrut concerning nullification left out the important fact that you can eat it but your soul will be harmed?
    Joel RIch

  6. But cerrainly you could give a rational explanation why you feel this way!

  7. I find it a bit unsettling that you had to resort to Kellner to call attention to this point. This issue has been discussed in many places in trational literature, with greater depth and breadth.

  8. reject said...

    "So all the rules of kashrut concerning nullification left out the important fact that you can eat it but your soul will be harmed?
    Joel RIch"

    i believe there is a discussion of this somewhere in פתחי תשובה.

    r. slifkin, have thought of some particular good deed that would earn you your save from the shave?

  9. "A Close Shave... But With What?"

    Whew, for a second there I thought you were going to talk about shaving for Yom Ha'atzmaut. Talk about spiritual damage!

  10. someone should really inform the rambam about this view of his. הלכות תשובה פרק א הלכה א: כל המצוות שבתורה, בין עשה בין לא תעשה--אם עבר אדם על אחת מהן, בין בזדון בין בשגגה... חייב להתוודות לפני האל ברוך הוא.
    מורה נבוכים ח"ג פרק מ"א: אבל השוגג חוטא, כי לוּ הרבה לבדוק היטב ולהיזהר לא היתה קורית לו שגגה

  11. I wonder what Rambam does with Leviticus 11:44:

    וְלֹא תְטַמְּאוּ אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם

    which suggests that there is something defiling to the soul. Or is the intent of נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם different than colloquial usage?

  12. If someone eats treif b'shogeg, he still has to bring a korban to atone for it. So according to all opinions there is some sort of sin or harm that needs to be atoned for.

  13. Re: Joel Rich's comment about nullification

    IIRC the Shlah says you shouldn't eat food that has been permitted based on bittul for this reason.

  14. "Also - only a rationalist would eat regular Rabbanut!"

    Or a shochet. I have a friend here in Jerusalem whose a shochet and has no problem eating rabanut because he knows the rules and what's required and what's chumra.

    And he's a Chabadnick to top it all off :-)

  15. I don't eat non-kosher food because God told me not to, not because I will suffer damage as a result.

  16. koillel nick,

    Why "would it be incorrect to say that the halacha permits eating something that is battel"?

    There is a piece in the Shlah quoted by the Bnei Yissasschar that indicates that if something is halachically batel, it dafka should be eaten.

    I realize that neither of the above mentioned sources are rationalists however there are many rationalist sources who discuss the mechanisms of how bitul works visa vi if the status of the item in question is transformed to heter or if it is still retains its identity however may now be eaten.

    Did I misunderstand your comment?

  17. R' Jeremy,
    So the Shlah thought that the gemara didn't think this worth mentioning? Also why rely on not checking for items that are not miyut hamatzui - isn't that another source of timtum?

    BTW I have no objection to people who are at a certain level of purity in their total existence concerning themselves with such issues, I'm just not there yet,

    Joel Rich

  18. All this discussionm about bittul is irrelevant. Heter that contains a botel amount of issur is heter, and it would be quite non-rationalist to say that there are negative consequences for eating it. But treif eaten b'shogeg is still treif, and could even require a korban for consuming it if the food was issur kares, under certain circumstances. A shogeg on a d'oraisa undoubtedly requires kapparah in any event, as the Rambam from Hilchos Tshuva quoted earlier in the comments says. And the Rambam in the yad is also very clear that there is something more to, e.g. korrbanos, than the strict rationalist reasoning. No one reading the Torah in good faith could even deny that, as the Torah over and over again talks about people and objects needing "kapparah" which is some kind of spiritual purging.

  19. "I guess I'm not so much of a rationalist, after all."

    You don't have to be a non-rationalist to feel uncomfortable violating a Mitzvah, even by accident. This is especially true if you've been raised from a young age to fear Hashem and to fear violating His word. I think the point of being Chayav for an Aveirah BeShogeg (as opposed to being Patur for an Oneis) is that you could have been more careful, which is where the fear of almost violating and Aveirah would come from.

    Which brings me to the main point of this comment--loved the Ghostbusters reference!

  20. I found this halachah in the Rambam: (Hilchos Ma'acholos Assuros, 14:12):
    האוכל מאכל ממאכלות האסורות דרך שחוק, או כמתעסק--אף על פי שלא נתכוון לגוף האכילה--הואיל ונהנה, חייב כמי שמתכוון לעצמה של אכילה; והניה הבאה לו לאדם בעל כורחו באיסור מכל האיסורין--אם נתכוון, אסור; ואם לא נתכוון, מותר.
    I understood that the emphasis is deriving pleasure from the eating--if the non-kosher food was spoiled, or was sizzling hot and burned your mouth, the issur is "only" derabbanan. In this case, the people (I assume) enjoyed the non-kosher food, so they performed an Torah issur, albeit b'shogeg.

    Again, perhaps R. Kellner's proof is more compelling, that the Rambam would exempt them entirely.

  21. There's a world of difference between being uncomfortable after eating treif vs believing it caused some sort of metaphysical damage/'timtum ha-lev'.
    It in no way diminishes one's rationality.

    BTW, I found Kellner's book most rewarding. I guess the traditional literature's deeper, broader treatment wasn't there for me.

  22. To WFB and Ari, regarding shogeg:

    The scenario described by Rabbi Slifkin here is a situation of ones, not shogeg. Shogeg implies negligence and some degree of culpability. If you are attending a normally kosher venue, and there is a mashgiach telling you that the food is kosher, and you have no reason to believe otherwise, you have done your due dilligence, and if the food turns out to be treif, you have not sinned b'shogeg; you were an anus.

    Also WFB: How does your quote from the Rambam refute Rabbi Slifkin's assertion that the Rambam does not hold of an inherent spiritual harm in treif food?

  23. A halachist would claim that one can rely on one generally regarded as a proper mashgiach to eat the meat served at a dinner. For that matter, one can rely on someone regarded as a GOD-fearing and knowledgeable host to eat his/her food. A rationalist would further claim that having consumed such food that is later determined to have been treif is not a spiritual issue. If there was a good basis for the reliance then eating that food was not a shogeg, but close to an oness. It is even possible that no korban is required. The torah prohibition of contaminating one's soul by eating treif refers to eating it deliberately or through negligence - not involuntarily (or the halachic equivalent).

    I have no knowledge of the hashgacha (orlack thereor) that was involved in the state dinner in question. However, I do recall the case of the treif chicken sold by a prominent figure in Monsey some years ago. The rav hamachshir had the temerity to tell the consumers of said chicken to do teshuva on their inadvertant "transgression". They were totally innocent; he was the one who should have done teshuva.

  24. It's not just cases of bittul; take the classic case: there are 3 pieces of meat; 2 kosher, and 1 absolutely unkosher. They get mixed up. Isn't the halacha that all 3 are permitted? Since you're not mixing the 3 together, you can't argue that the "impure" meat is somehow diluted. You are allowed to eat all 3 pieces, knowing full well that one of them id definitely unkosher. Doesn't that make a stronger case against the irratioal approach?


  25. If anyone is interested, I looked into the subject of timtum halev a bit over here:

  26. Noone in ParticularMay 3, 2012 at 5:27 AM

    Chaim... why does it bother you that R. Slifkin brings ideas from Menachem Kellner? Kellner is educated, intelligent and thoughtful. He discusses this point specifically in his book. what's wrong with that?

    Doesn't Pirkei Avot says something about learning from anyone? Implication being that it's not only traditional sources that are fountains of wisdom. Rambam certainly thought so...

  27. Noone in ParticularMay 3, 2012 at 5:32 AM

    koilel nick

    I agree with you. I am sure there is a connection between being rational and eating regular rabbanut supervised food.

    I can think of any number of rational reasons for doing so - ranging from a reasonable aversion to unreasonable humrot, through to a reasonable aversion to supporting an unreasonable (and perhaps extortionate) set-up.

    Eating Rabbanut is something i do with pride. Others should follow your advice and eat rationally.

  28. Mergatroid said...
    To WFB and Ari, regarding shogeg:
    The scenario described by Rabbi Slifkin here is a situation of ones, not shogeg..

    definition of shogeg
    This is incorrect, it is a standard case of shogeg. One is chayiv to bring a korban even if he had reason to think the food was kosher.

  29. this entire post is a category error (apples and oranges). no one has ever argued that an averah be-shogeg is not an averah; if you do an עבירה בשוגג, you must do תשובה--according to everybody. if it was באונס, maybe you do, maybe you don't but that has nothing to do with this מחלוקת between the ramban and ramban. (in fact, according to r. soloveitchik, the rambam holds that an עבירה באונס is an עבירה and the ramban holds that it is not.) the implication of this post is that acc. to the rambam, an עבירה בשוגג is not so bad. this is not true. so how is kellner's shtickel torah relevant?

  30. It's not just cases of bittul; take the classic case: there are 3 pieces of meat; 2 kosher, and 1 absolutely unkosher. They get mixed up. Isn't the halacha that all 3 are permitted? Since you're not mixing the 3 together, you can't argue that the "impure" meat is somehow diluted. You are allowed to eat all 3 pieces, knowing full well that one of them is definitely unkosher. Doesn't that make a stronger case against the irratioal approach?

    There seems to be a basic misunderstanding of the halacha here. There is nothing not rational about these halachos (which have been oversimplified, but I won’t deal with that).

    Rov here isn’t verifying a fact or convincing us of anything; it is simply a rule in the halachos of doubts. If you are in doubt and your odds are 50/50, you aren’t allowed to take the risk of eating unkosher food. If there is less than a 50% chance of doing the issur, the Torah is okay with you taking the risk (with exceptions). According to this understanding (Rashba, Toras HaBayis 4:1), of course, one would not be allowed to eat all three pieces in the above scenario; at least not together. Some go even further (Rosh, Chullin, Gid HaNasheh 37) and say that the fact that Torah allows you to take the risk is a reasonable indication that the Torah releases the issur from the unkosher piece in such a situation. The Torah certainly has this power/right, does it not? What could be not rational about this?

    Bitul works a little differently, but the point as it relates to this discussion is the same. No one claims the unkosher food in the mixture suddenly ceases to exist. It is a technicality.

  31. "if I would have gone, then I would have inadvertently eaten treife ... For various reasons, I was not able to go."

    One of those reasons, no doubt, is because Hashem was protecting you from eating treife, just like in the Chassidic stories. You're up there with those Rebbes!

  32. My first reaction on reading about this kashrut contretemps was to compare it to the notorious Treif Banquet of 1883. For an account, see

  33. Zach,

    Re: וְלֹא תְטַמְּאוּ אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם

    I don't know what the Rambam says on this pasuk, but the pshat is simply that you shouldn't contaminate yourselves by putting something into your body that could PHYSICALLY harm you. "Nefesh" is life-force, associated with blood.

    It's only in retrospect that we look back at these laws and associate them as pertaining to "spiritual" harm, and call the nefesh "soul".

  34. WFB: The very quote from the Guide you cited indicates that the reason the shogeg sinned was because he was negligent.

  35. @Gil,
    Yes I wasn't clear enough. I wrote
    "It would be incorrect to say that halacha permits eating something that is battel, but when the individual gets to that piece, he has ingested spiritual harm."
    Read it as one long sentence. I meant that it can't be that it is muttar to eat at the same time that there is timtum halev. Rather that the halacha dictates the spiritual harm.

  36. Dov F,

    But again, I think the halacha I cited is even stronger that those regarding bittul. And it's not exactly a safek. One of the 3 pieces is DEFINITELY treif - yet all 3 are permitted. Doesn't that argue strongly that Chazal did not regard treif as something harmful?
    As an analogy: if there are 5 glasses of wine, and one of them DEFINITELY is laced with a lethal poison, of couse you should not drink ANY of the 5 - even though the odds are 80% that it's safe. But the 20% chance of certain death is enough to prohibit all. Clearly the halacha treats trief differently that poison - the obvious conclusion is that while forbidden, treif in itself is not "harmful".

  37. WFB said: "the implication of this post is that acc. to the rambam, an עבירה בשוגג is not so bad."

    No, the implication of this post is NOT that the Rambam holds that an aveirah beshogeg is not so bad. It is that the Rambam does not hold that treif food is INHERENTLY spiritually harmful, whether consumed beshogeg, bemezid or beones. He could very well hold that the maaseh of eating the treif food (in a manner that would involve culpability) is a horrendous thing to do, and your selected quotes would be relevant to that. But your quotes have no bearing on the question of the spiritual qualities of the treif food itself.

  38. @ y aharon

    the rav hamachshir did plenty of his own teshuvah.

    and is he more guilty than everyone else? the crook had been a straight shooter before, upon whom you may rely. you don't have to double guess the whole world any more than the halachah requires.


  39. Chullin 17a states that during the 7 years of conquest of the Land by the Israelites:
    And houses full of all good things,and R.Jeremiah b. Abba stated ill the name of Rab that even bacon was permitted! (from the Soncino translation.)
    Rambam, in Laws of Kings, Chapter 8, applies this principle to ALL wars fought by the Jewish nation.

    I think the Timtum Haleiv people woud have trouble dealing with this Gemara.

  40. שו"ת משנה הלכות חלק טז סימן כה ד"ה והב"י הביא
    והב"י הביא דעת מוהר"ם שנתן א' לנכרי ולא רצה לסמוך על הביטול ברוב וכתב אפשר משום דהי' ת"ח וצדיק והי' נראה דרך גנאי שיזדמן שום אכילת איסור לפיהו כדמפרשים התוס' (חולין ה' ע"ב ד"ה צדיקים) השתא בהמתן של צדיקים וכו' וכיון שרצה להחמיר ולהסיר אחד ולומר שהוא האיסור והשאר כולם היתר לא נתן אותה חתיכה לישראל אחר שהיה נראה כמאכילו איסור ולא רצה לסמוך אשריות דשאר בנ"א דמ"מ הוא בספיקא כמו באידך כ"כ בהגש"ד ע"ש. ומבואר דחש לה משום איסור ולדעת הבנ"י אדרבה הרי הי' לו ליתן לישראל או שיאכל הוא בעצמו ויעלה הניצוצות הקדושות ואמאי קרי ליה אכילת איסור אם נזדמן לו כך אשרי חלקו שיעלה הקדושה מהטומאה, ועי' ש"ך יו"ד סי' ק"ב סק"ח.

    An interesting counterpoint!
    Joel RIch

  41. Natan,

    As far as I'm concerned, the real question is -- how is it that you keep getting invited to the President's house?

    There was that post several weeks ago about your theory on which bird it is that he's named after . . .

  42. See the Maharal's Gur Aryeh to Rashi on Bamidbar 9:1 (regarding why it was a G'nus that Klal Yisrael didn't bring more than one Korban Pesach all the years they were in the wilderess).

    He makes the case that when we say "Oness Rachmanh Patrei" it means that a person won't be held accountable for the Mitzvah he wasn't able to fulfill.

    However, that person still has not had the spiritual benefit of the Mitzvah he could have performed.

    In other words, Oness Rachmanah Patrei speaks to whether or not a person will be punished. It does not speak to the spiritual nature of wat was done.

    I'd guess that the opposite is true as well.

    If one was compelled to do something wrong, they wouldn't be punished -- as we'd state Oness Rachmanah Patrei. However, that doesn't speak to the spiritual loss that was suffered as a result of the action.

    What do you think Natan?

  43. Avi then you would have people saying those pigs were special and chewed their cud. And rewrite history to fit their perspective.
    lol I couldn't resist posting this

  44. Ezra -

    Ah, I misunderstood your question. However, it's still not shver.

    The "poison" of triefe food (according to the opinion which believes in it) is not an effect of the physical characteristics of the unkosher item. It is rather an effect of the fact that the Torah doesn't allow you to eat it. So if the Torah says that it's okay to eat, it follows that the poison is gone.

  45. In line with Phil's statement:
    Phil said...
    "if I would have gone, then I would have inadvertently eaten treife ... For various reasons, I was not able to go."

    One of those reasons, no doubt, is because Hashem was protecting you from eating treife, just like in the Chassidic stories. You're up there with those Rebbes!
    "רגלי חסידיו ישמור"

  46. Dov F,

    Sorry; I'm Sephardic. I don't know what "shver" means.

    But doesn't it seem clear that the "poison" is NEVER there - despite being forbidden? Isn't this strong proof that those opinions are, in fact, based on a misunderstanding of the nature of kashrut?

  47. As for the prohibition on non-kosher animals the Torah says the following, "for the blood is the life"... of the animal, Re'ey 12:23 Devarim.

    Place a piece of raw clean kosher chicken in the microwave for a few minutes and you will observe traces of blood oozing out from it.

    You will see that the blood can not be completely cleaned from the meat. The same will be true with non-kosher meat.

    Now look in Shemini 11:1-47 Vayikro. Here you will see the Torah mentions many times "unclean and repulsive to you" if non-kosher meat is eaten.

    In 11:43 ibid. states (a Kal Vachomer) "do not make yourselves repulsive" and "for you will become unclean (and repulsive) with them" if eaten.

    The sages (e.g. Ramban etc.) explain this to mean that "unclean and repulsive" refers to their attributes, and by that "the blood is it's life" means, by eating it, this life along with its unclean and repulsive attributes will become part of your blood/life.

    E.g. if one eats meat from a wild (non-kosher) animal, that person will tend to act wild, i.e. taking on the attributes of that particular animal, etc. etc.

    It is therefore more of a physical phenomena then spiritual.

    If you wish to say that there is no such effect only when one is aware that treife has been eaten, then we must say, "all non-Jews are of a pure soul" no matter what they eat, because they are not aware of eating forbidden meats, and of it's effects.

  48. David Meir,

    "Life" or "lifeforce" is one of the meanings of nefesh, but not the only one, even in lshon hatorah. See e.g. נפש כי תחטא

    In any event, even ıf nefesh by kashrus has that meaning, the contamination is undoubtedly spiritual. The tum'ah mentioned undoubtedly does not refer to natural dangers the food brings to the physical health.

  49. Ezra -

    Something can be poisonous due to its physical properties. Something can also be harmful to a person in a "spiritual" way as a result of its metaphysical properties. So think of it this way: The metaphysical property of a thing which generates harm to a person is "issur." Once "issur" is neutralized, there is nothing to generate harm. It doesn't matter that the meat still has all the same physical properties as it did before. Because the spiritual harm is not a product of its physical properties, but rather of the metaphysical property called "issur," which has effectively been removed, through the Torah's law of bitul.

    Sorry for the Yiddish before. FYI shver means "difficult"; in this context, "problematic."

  50. Shmulee,

    Re: נפש כי תחטא

    "Nefesh" in this case simply means a person, in the sense of a "living being". The use of nefesh is to emphasize the fact that the law under discussion affects the person's life-force. Cheit affects the nefesh, the person's health/vitality - again, having nothing to do with a "soul".

    the contamination is undoubtedly spiritual

    Don't be too sure! In the Chumash world, there was clearly an awareness of what we would refer now to as "infection", i.e., something which is invisible yet which causes damage. And because it can't be seen, it has a "spiritual" connotation (like ruach/wind being an invisible force also connoting "spirit"). However the damage the Torah is referring to is undoubtedly physical.

    Think of "pigul". The reason you don't eat meat after a certain period of time is that it becomes spoiled, full of bacteria - i.e., dangerous. Or "neveila". You don't eat a carcass found lying on the ground for the same reason - it may be diseased. Think about "zav", "niddah", "hotza'at zerah" - these are all bodily fluids which were known (sometimes misconstrued) as transmitting disease. Think about "tumat meit" and "tzaraat" - we're talking about protecting people from disease.

    Tuma = infection. Yes, mixed in with that are things like morality and superstition, but that is because the mechanism of disease was not understood.

    You cannot underestimate the extent to which we're influenced by our current knowledge. You have to try to put yourself back to a time when there was NO CLUE about what disease actually was, apart from knowing from experience some things you could do to avoid it - like washing yourself, distancing from certain things/people, and not eating certain foods.

    What about the whole notion of "kedusha" then? Well, life is kadosh! That's why we must work so hard to protect it.

    נשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם

  51. If it's unintentional and you took normal precautions to avoid it, why does the possibility of treife give you the "heebie-jeebies"? There are so many worse things you could do inadvertently, and none of those is as bad as a knowing transgression.

    It's a probability so high as to approach certainty that you've eaten treife without knowing it in the last year. Best just to do what is reasonable, accept the reality and move on. Otherwise you'll get into a never-ending cycle escalating precautions and starve to death.

  52. Isaac, I have seen completely exsanguinated meat. It had blood almost down to the capillary level removed. You would not want to eat it.

  53. In light of this discussion, I recalled the statement of Chazal,(Berachot 35a):"It is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world with reciting a blessing"--no one would say that the food has changed in any way physically between the time before and the time after I recite a berachah. Nonetheless, partaking of it before the berachah is "ossur", and after the berachah it's "muttar"--the distinction between the food, and its effect on the person eating it, is purely spiritual.

  54. David Meir,

    It's ironic that you end the post with ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם because that is one פסוק that undoubtedly does not refer (on the p'shat level) to health! It is brought in the context of avoda zara, which was certainly not believed to be a danger to the physical health. Likewise השמר לך ושמר נפשך concerning forgetting Ma'amad har sinai. Although the original meaning nefesh probably meant something along the lines of life/ lifeforce, by the time of the Torah it definitely carried a broader meaning.

    Tum'ah did not mean infection. The general concepts of tum'ah and tohorah probably predated k'lal yisroel and would have been in the pre Mattan-Torah indigenous culture, much like many of the specific types of korbanos definitely were, as we know from alot of archeological evidence and the like. It's certainly possible that at the earliest stages of being born, "tum'ah" was a shorthand term for what we would call a risk of disease being spread. Nonetheless, the concept had developed well beyond its original moorings by the time of Mattan Torah when its halachos were specified to us as how to adapt to it.

    I think its true even in its avoda zara counterparts, but you can certainly see it in the laws laid out in the Torah. The whole parah aduma process and sprinkling on days 3 and 7 as combatting tum'as meis were never understood as there to ward off a threat of phsical disease, for instance. And regardless of any disease theory you can come up with why we aren't afraid of disease when tzara'as covers a person מראשו ועד רגליו, it make no sense from a disease satndpoint that the same condition becomes a concern again when an odd patch starts to heal. And a real nail in the coffin for the Tum'ah=disease concern theory is the fact that the contents of a tzar'as filled house can be saved from tum'ah if they are removed before the kohen examines the infection on the walls. The halachos of tum'ah were just not meant as a disease preventing set of rules, regardless of their original pre-Torah Middle Eastern basis.

    A Korban Todah gets one less day than a regular שלמים- disease? Again, it may well be that the concept of sacrificial time limits originated pre klal-yisroel, but by the time they were adapted for the Torah, any disease-warding reasoning had morphed into other reasoning.

    Finally, when the nations before the Jews were vomited out of Eretz Yisroel for giving "tum'ah" to the land through Molech, incest, adultery, male homosexuality, and bestiality, it was not because those acts were causing disease.

    As I have noted other times on this blog, I think many people are so concerned about avoiding anachronisms that they often don't approach evidence opposing their anachronism-busting theory in an unbiased fashion. There are times that,במחילת כבודו, I believe Rabbi Slifkin has fallen into that trap, and I think we have another example of that here.

  55. See my post here Is non-kosher food objectively harmful? for an extensive discussion on this.

  56. 1. The harm can either be physical or metaphysical.

    2. There is no evidence that non-kosher food is physically harmful, and it is difficult to imagine how it could be. What physical difference could it make if, for example, the knife had a nick? And if pork is dangerous to human health, then why wouldn't God warn non-Jews?

    3. If the harm is metaphysical, then as Jews we believe that God is the only autonomous metaphysical being. Thus, any harm should be directly controlled by God.

    4. I can understand why God would punish you for deliberately eating treif food; but the situation you described is an ones: why would God harm you for something that is not punishable?

    A similar argument is often made regarding bittul: yes, it's kosher, but we don't eat it because "ma'achalot assurot metamtemot et halev." My response is: according to Hazal, something that is batel is by definition not a ma'achal assur.

    5. It never ceases to amaze me that people who believe in hashgacha pratit--i.e., that in the natural world, despite the known existence of natural cause-and-effect, God controls even the most trivial outcomes--can believe that in the metaphysical world, God allows metaphysical cause-and-effect rules to take their course, without regard for guilt or innocence.

  57. I think many people are so concerned about avoiding anachronisms that they often don't approach evidence opposing their anachronism-busting theory in an unbiased fashion

    Shmulee, I presented some examples and reasoning pointing to tuma in the Chumash as being a primarily physical concern. And despite my admittedly having a "bias" (would you call yourself completely "unbiased"?), I am very much open to evidence to the contrary.

    But before I respond to your points, I want to say that even if my remarks were to represent the "pshat", I believe this to be a mostly academic point - not something which would/should undo Jewish thought and practice.

    About ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם, you're right that the pshat in the Chumash relates to Avoda Zara. I brought it the way this pasuk is popularly taken - as about guarding one's life physically (which is the interpretation brought in Brachot 32b).

    You make some good points re: mei niddah/chatat, laws of tzara'at and pigul. As I said, mixed into the idea of what was "dangerous" was a considerable measure of morality, superstition, and folk medicine concepts. "Remedies" therefore reflected this and were not always 100% logical (to today's thinking).

    And just as today we use the term "infection" in a broader connotation than just microbial contamination (e.g. "infecting the mind"), it is completely reasonable to think that the Chumash employed such usage as well (e.g. "infecting the land" with avoda zara).

    But even if you cite examples where the approach to tuma/tahara is not 100% "physical", it is another thing altogether to claim that tuma/tahara had NOTHING to do with concerns about physical health and disease, that tuma and nefesh are terms which pertain to the "immortal soul". Is that really a reasonable hypothesis?

    If you consider the kinds of topics the Chumash brings under the umbrella of "tuma" (see my previous comment), and consider that we're talking about Late Bronze Age concepts of how the world worked (yes, I think it's absolutely appropriate to be wary of anachronism here), it's difficult NOT to come to the conclusion that Bnei Yisrael were gravely concerned about their lives, about the devastating blight of plague and disease (which understandably they saw as eminating from God, or other harmful "forces"), and that the Torah addressed that concern as one part of its teachings.

  58. There is an excellent, rational reason to feel discomfort with this situation: the violation of trust by a caterer engaged (probably with a signed contract, since it was an official event) who covertly provided something else. That alone is a serious violation of halacha.

  59. Wait a second...

    "Finally, when the nations before the Jews were vomited out of Eretz Yisroel for giving "tum'ah" to the land through Molech, incest, adultery, male homosexuality, and bestiality, it was not because those acts were causing disease. "

    Not to be crude, but haven't you ever heard of STD's?

  60. What happened to the caterer?


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