Monday, December 8, 2014

Peeled Onions and Evil Spirits

In the course of a culinary discussion, my wife recently mentioned to someone that she was storing half an onion in the refrigerator. The other person was horrified, and informed my wife that this is categorically forbidden by halachah. Was she correct?

Rav Ari Kahn has a terrific shiur on this topic at YU-Torah, in which he says as follows: True, the Gemara does say that eating peeled onions (and garlic, and eggs) that were left overnight is lethally dangerous, due to the "evil spirit" that rests upon it. The Gemara further says that someone who does this is considered to be responsible for the ensuing loss of life. However, there are three factors which mean that this is not a halachah today.

First is that not many people since that time believe that there is actually any such danger. (Reinterpreting the Gemara to be referring to some sort of scientifically-confirmed phenomenon is problematic, since the danger is considered to be neutralized if even a tiny amount of peel is left on it.) And we are not just talking about Maimonidean rationalists; even Tosafos states that such "evil spirits" are no longer found.

Furthermore, whereas other such statements in the Gemara (based on views that are not consistent with contemporary science) may still be halachically binding due to their having been canonized in the halachic tradition, this is not the case with peeled onions. None of the major halachic works of the Rishonim or early Acharonim make any mention of this. Only recently did it become more common to find halachic works making mention of it.

Finally, it is certainly not part of the living tradition. How many of our mothers and grandmothers were ever concerned about such a thing, or even heard of it? Not many!

Thus, concludes Rabbi Kahn, if it's not mentioned in any of the major halachic works, and is not part of the general tradition, and is not a person's own family tradition, then while a person is entitled to adopt it as a stringency, you can't call it a halachah!

While I think that Rabbi Kahn's analysis is excellent, I'm not sure how long it's going to be accurate for. Due to the phenomenon of "chumrah creep", and the rise of the book tradition over the living tradition, the practice of not eating peeled onions that were left overnight is rapidly spreading. At some point, it is going to be considered normative practice in all circles. And at that point, it effectively becomes halachah. That's probably not a good thing, but it's near-inevitable. Such is the nature of Jewish evolution.

On an entirely different note: If you are coming to Israel for Chanukah, then (a) book a tour at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, and (b) let me know if you can bring some supplies for the museum from a US or UK reptile store!

93 comments:

  1. Does this apply to leaving water uncovered overnight or leaving eggs out?

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  2. It's interesting to think that the BT movement may be responsible for this chumra creep. A BT who learns this halacha isn't aware that it isn't normative practice, and incorporates it just as he does netilas yadaim. Book learning without context can be very misleading.

    And I imagine that this applies to MO-raised kids who are BTs to charedism as well.

    Then of course the FFBs can't be less stringent than BTs and ex-MOs, and we see how an archaic custom takes root.

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  3. I have one sefer by, I believe, Rav Fuchs (the Halichos Bas Yisrael guy), and he brings this as a rule without any comment, it's just a halacha like everything else.

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  4. Thank you very much for this post. I encounter so many similar issues and am not sure whether I should follow the "halacha" or not. I recently heard you have to eat two meals erev Yom Kippur even though I never heard of this growing up (in Litvish and other charedi schools). I suspect it's the latest "frum" thing to do, but am not 100% sure. Did older readers of this blog eat two meals erev Yom Kippur growing up?

    The issue that gets me the most is walking between two women. Do I have to avoid this as the Shulchan Aruch says one should? Is this really halacha l'maaseh even though the origin of this law is probably superstition and one I only learned about in our new book-culture? Anyone know about this issue?

    Oh, and one other issue: kissing relatives (great-aunts etc.). Anyone have any insight on this one?

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    1. I recently heard you have to eat two meals erev Yom Kippur

      Are you thinking of Tisha B'Av? (Not that that you have to eat two meals, but it is a common leniency to do so, so that you can have a regular meal before the more restrictive last meal).

      Oh, and one other issue: kissing relatives (great-aunts etc.). Anyone have any insight on this one?

      This is not a new issue. You can find lots of discussions in English from reasonable sources using google (although I don't recommend paskening from google). Hugging and kissing some relatives *other than parent/child* for whom on has no illicit desire (e.g. a sister) is not strictly prohibited, but is "frowned upon" by some including Rambam, while others are more lenient than Rambam. I would suggest that issues of hurt feelings and embarrassment are strong factors to consider as well.

      http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/960669/jewish/Issurei-Biah-Chapter-Twenty-One.htm
      Halacha 6

      When a man embraces or kisses any of the women forbidden to him as ariyot despite the fact that his heart does not disturb him concerning the matter, e.g., his adult sister, his mother's sister, or the like, it is very shameful. It is forbidden and it is foolish conduct. [This applies] even if he has no desire or pleasure at all. For one should not show closeness to a woman forbidden as an ervah at all, whether an adult or a minor, except a woman to her son and a father to his daughter.

      I am not a Rabbi or Posek; please don't rely on anything in this comment for practice.

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    2. I am thoroughly Litvish. Imagine my surprise when my new wife (Hungarian-Chasam Sofer) did not understand why I had to eat two fleishig meals on Erev Yom Kippur. Wasn't she Jewish too?
      Please don't even bring up her quizzical look when on Erev Pesach I had trouble finding the liver and mashed potatoes that were supposed to be on my lunch plate.

      I had never heard of the onion , eggs, or garlic thing as halachah, but tonight I intend to peel an egg and eat it tomorrow. If I don't survive, you'll hear about it.

      As an aside, I find myself walking between two women often. I used to kiss my great aunts. They are gone now, I hope it's not my fault. I kiss my aunts, at least the ones still around.

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    3. I believe eating 2 seudos on Erev Yom Kippur is fairly common, but not as a halacha but as a custom (I say custom as opposed to "minhag" to put it more in the category of latkes on chanuka, rather than something like hakafos on simchas torah). At most, people would think of it as a hiddur in the mitzva of eating on erev yo"k.
      If it was presented to you otherwise it was by someone who is not well educated. Or perhaps by a chassid some of whom do not distinguish between customs and halacha.

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  5. "Finally, it is certainly not part of the living tradition" This argument, that our grandparents did not hold of such views, would stab at Torah-evolution. Would it not? When or when would this statement buttress an argument?

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    1. It wouldn't in this context, because evolution has nothing to do with Halacha.

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    2. I am inclined to say that it has a strong hashkafic component.

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  6. This ruach rah thing has got to go. It falls on you when you get a haircut? When you give blood? When you sleep? I know a learned rabbi who studies Torah while giving blood. How can he do so if a ruach rah descends
    on him? Am I the only one tired of superstition
    In our tradition? Its a sakanah to eat meat and fish together? Really? Explain how. Let's smoke outside and discuss it.

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  7. This is deeply distressing. To the disgust of his family, Temujin is fond of pickled eggs which are sold peeled, in a jar of pickling vinegar and under the OU hashgacha. Nothing about pickling juice nullifying the effects. Would an extended humra-creep also affect chopped onions and garlic or egg salad left overnight? If a partial onion is issue, one would imagine so.

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  8. It seems to me that the issue at hand is much larger than a few onions...

    If Chazal thought there was a danger in eating day old onions how do us moderns suggest chazal were wrong? And if they happened to be wrong about onions and other superstitions, how do we know they were not wrong about other things they say? Or everything they say???
    Ah! you will say, there is a difference between the "Torah" they recorded and their medical advice which was simply based on the best(?) science of their times.
    BUT, where does one draw the line? What about halachot BASED on that outdated science? If only the gemara was so neatly divided between science and Torah...Further, did chazal even realize that they were recording Torah SheBa'al Peh- the same Torah received from Har Sinai and which would be passed on for all future generations? Why then would they include medical advice based on the best science of their times?
    Ah! you will say- Nishtaneh Hateva! It was true once, even though it is no longer.
    SO, we are suggesting that they are recording authentic G-d given oral tradition and fail to mention that parts of it are only applicable for about 500 years at which point the nature of the world will change and it will become outdated? Do other things get outdated too? Should chazal have perhaps mentioned the impending change and how it would affect us..etc...

    Better/Easier to just accept: Chazal said so- that's the end of the story...

    Bet Shemesh Jew

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    1. You know that there's a book which addresses precisely your questions, right?

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    2. No- but I'd love to read it. Please share...

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    3. I think it's called "Holy Monstrosities" or something like that.

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    4. I think it's called "Holy Monstrosities" or something like that.

      No, no; pretty sure it's called Hallowed Miscreations.

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    5. Wait, now I remember! It's called "Sacred Monsters".

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    6. Natan,
      Do you discuss trolls in Sacred Monsters?

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    7. No. But I deal with trolls all the time on my blog.

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    8. "If Chazal thought there was a danger in eating day old onions how do us moderns suggest chazal were wrong?"

      So, perhaps they weren't wrong -- but (in the case of an onion) can we note that today we have refrigerators, and tupperware and saran wrap?

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  9. There is some kind of popular connection -- not just in the Jewish world -- between cut onions and illness / spirits / ayineh horeh:

    http://www.snopes.com/food/tainted/cutonions.asp

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    1. Not that Temujin can or wants to pasken, but he can speculate that you may have just provided the ammunition against this humra-creep. Your article lists superstitions about "didease-absorbing qualities" associated with onions left out in the open. The examples are relatively recent, but Temujin would wager a quiver of his arrows that this superstition goes back a long way. If this is the case, we are looking either at a common medical belief of the times or a shtut goyim, which may make the stricture non-binding.

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  10. The availability of refrigeration in nearly all homes may be relevant to this discussion.

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    1. Yes! If pickled or processed eggs, onion and garlic are ok...going by their hechshers...preservation might be the principle. Pickled eggs, for those unfamiliar with this Heavenly delicacy, are kept refrigerated in the stores. Besides, if Temujin can't find stuff in his fridge ("man-looking" as his wife calls it), how could the dybbuks?

      Correction, the hashgacha on Temujin's pickled egg jar, by Strub's brand (which he cracked open and dug into during the commission of these comments), is actually by C.O.R., not OU.

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  11. Not sitting between two women is another interesting one.
    See below, where the Yated editor feels compelled to move, but although he declares it as "halacha," can't cite a source, which likely has to do with passing between two women being a threat to remembering one's Torah.

    Perhaps sitting between them has the same effect?

    http://lifeinisrael.blogspot.com/2014/12/why-haredi-women-cant-become-mks.html

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    Replies
    1. Always thought that a woman passing between two men was an issue, one related to tzniut.

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    2. See: http://www.jemsem.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=123&Itemid=54

      L'chvod HaRav:

      I have a shaila for you that has been floating around in my head for a little bit... What is the purpose of our not sitting/standing a woman between two men, a man between two women? Is it for tznius purposes?

      Thank you for your help!

      Name & Seminary withheld upon request

      ****************************

      Dear Name Withheld,

      This is quite an interesting question, and it is something that most people don't properly understand. The Gemara in Pesachim 111a says "The following three things a person should not walk between, nor let them come between him and another man, dogs, palm trees, and women". Now obviously, if the issues was Tznius, there wouldn't be a problem with palm trees and dogs!! How are we to understand this?

      It is clear from the context of the Gemara there, which is talking about things that people should avoid doing so as not to expose themselves to the power of magic, that witches would be able to "do their spells" on a person who would do one of those things, i.e. they were exposing themselves to the power of witchcraft if they walked between two women, dogs, or palm trees. Therefore the Gemara is advising a person what precautions they should take so as not to fall into the hands of witches.

      Today, since magic is not as prevalent as it once was, it isn't as necessary to take these precautions. However, the Gemara in Horiyos 13b says that if a man does frequently walk between two women, this makes his "learning difficult", and Rashi explains that it will be hard for him to understand his learning. This is probably why we find that even today many Yeshiva students and Talmidei Chachamim are stringent regarding this.

      Take care,
      Rabbi Aaron Tendler


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  12. All american hashgachot OU, OK, Star K, chaf K, local vaadim, all forbid peeled eggs (don't forget to check the eggs), onions, etc in their restaurants, products unless pickled in garlic (the usual) or salt water.

    Don't know about Israeli hashgachot.

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    1. This is an odd comment as any number of lunch-places under these mainstream hashgachot offer "create your own salad' options whereby customers specify what to add to a container of lettuce. Peeled hardboiled eggs is invariably one of the available options.

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    2. The issue of ruach ra'ah only applies if they are left out overnight.

      Reb Yid

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  13. What about a piece of thread in your mouth when sewing something you are wearing?

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    1. Is that a segulah not to get pricked?

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    2. We actually did that when I was growing up.

      SoCalMother

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    3. One recalls reading that this custom arose from the fact that a burial shroud is sewn-on while on the deceased's body. As superstitions go, this one is almost understandable, given the "creepiness" of the association.

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  14. "At some point, it is going to be considered normative practice in all circles. And at that point, it effectively becomes halachah."

    Really?????

    Halacha and common Jewish practice are apparently two separate things - otherwise being rationalist would be completely forbidden: in present days books it is generally considered as a heresy!

    I can accept evolution approach in the nature, but "Jewish evolution" must be rejected, no matters how much is it "natural". This Tora shall not be replaced or changed.

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  15. http://oukosher.org/blog/consumer-kosher/peeled-eggs-onion-or-garlic-overnight/ is OU Kosher Division policy on this matter.

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    1. The OU statement is very strange. It says that "The overwhelming majority of Poskim hold that the Gemara continues to be relevant nowadays". Surely that is not true, if one is talking about the era of the Rishonim, and even the early Acharonim.

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    2. Odd indeed, because one was under the impression that kosher hamburger or falafel restaurants put away their chopped onions overnight. Also, those little packets of chopped and frozen herbs and garlic from Israel would by problematic. Perhaps refrigeration or freezing makes the difference, but the OU notes only mention that presence of other ingredients (e.g., egg salad) provide protection.

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    3. It's more than strange. It's downright embarrassing to read.

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    4. you can just look at the footnote where they give you the list of poskim. it is a list of achronim. not such a strange statement for people who value the opinion of achronim in deciding halacha. not such a crazy chumra to adopt. yes, a crazy chumra to impose on others- we should never be imposing chumras on others.

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    5. Temajun the little frozen garlic and herbs are full of other things mixed in such as sugar (!) and soybean oil. Check out the ingredients on the pkg. You will be as surprised (and disappointed) as I was.

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    6. Temujin didn't know that, and it's just as well; as much as he likes putting as many Israeli products in his weekly food basket, he prefers to cut, peel, chop and season his culinary masterpieces with his professional knives and graters himself. Very therapeutic, that and while nothing against prepared foods on principle, one wishes the manufacturers would use fresh seasonings instead of imagining they can get away with the cut-rate stale sweepings.

      One wonders whether the food processors added those ingredients as a product enhancement, or to comply with this humra.

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    7. A perfect example of what is wrong with the halachic process. If I didn't know better, I would say that this entire document was an hilarious parody.

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  16. Also in the YU Torah site, Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz in "Ten Minute Halacha - Leaving Exposed Onions and Garlic Overnight" at:
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/761032/Rabbi_Aryeh_Lebowitz/Ten_Minute_Halacha_-_Leaving_Exposed_Onions_and_Garlic_Overnight

    There he mentions mitigations suggested by R'Belski of OU, such as washing the eggs or onions on the principle that the ruach rah can be washed off as with morning hand washing; sealing the stuff hermetically, as in a Ziplock bag; and of course mixing with other ingredients, such as mayonnaise for an egg salad.

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  17. This is slightly off topic, but there is an article by Gil Student in the latest edition of Jewish Action, where Gil Student reviews two books at opposite ends of the spectrum. New Heavans and a New Earth, The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought, and The less rational Torah, Chazal and Science, by R. Meiselman which has been evaluated on this blog previously. Gil seems to, with some reservations, to give equal intellectual heft to both books. I found this disturbing. Can you R. Natan write a response or analysis of Gil's review? It seems to me that comparing the books the way Gil did, can cause people to mistakenly give a rationalist approval to Meisels' work.

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  18. There are peeled hardboiled eggs with OU hashgacha for sale in many supermarkets. One would assume they've been kept overnight, although they go bad quickly out of refrigeration. I believe that they are acceptable for Pesach as well, although my family minhag has been to start the seder meal by smacking the egg on one's brother's head, and that's difficult to do without the shell.

    SoCal Mother

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  19. Perhaps readers may be unaware that the "evil spirits" were given warm overcoats to wear whilst in refrigerators so they can resume their dastardly infectious missions. It took much scientific effort as the little guys wouldn't stand still long enough to be fitted out properly. But Yehudi, you know the little guy who turns the light on and off in the refrigerator (except on Shabbos and Yom Tov, of course) successfully argued that if they did not get back to work (having been made technogically obsolete since the invention of refrigeration) they were effectively causing people to ignore this very important halacha, equivalent to ignoring obstacles in the path of the blind.

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  20. Everyone i know in BP does not save a "cut" onion in water without leaving intact the end that has the roots (i.e. that connects to the ground). Did you ever smell a cut onion left in the frig overnite? Doesn't smell good, and for that reason I do not save cut onions. I buy a variety of sizes and use the whole onion in cooking. About the garlic, a home delivery co of veggies plus, prepares 'peeled' garlic (with root end intact) and 'peeled' shallots (with root end intact), which i promptly put into the freezer and use as needed. Also in Israeli markets one will find small frozen containers of crushed garlic, dill, parsley, sage etc., all without skins or roots. I just think it prudent not to eat a leftovernite peeled onion.

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  21. This is p-r-i-m-i-t-i-v-e r-u-b-b-i-s-h !-!-!

    Devarim 4:6 says that when the nations of the world see us observing the Torah, they will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people!" When they find us being afraid to leave half an onion or a peeled egg in the fridge overnight 'cause the boogey man might get us they'll say (something like), "Surely these people are a bunch of benighted morons!" It's in the Gemara? *So what?* Having simple faith does *not* require us to be simple-minded!! Hashem put brains into our heads & when we use them we do His pleasure!

    Oh, I have two dogs. I walk them every day, love doing so, thank Hashem for blessing me with them while doing so, and am frequently found between them. To any spiritual lemming who says that I would do well not to do so, I say *woof!*

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    1. Rabbi Slifkin, look at the type of idiots you are attracting here! What exactly did this douchbag add to the conversation except to disparage Chazal? Why would you publish this asinine comment?

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    2. Nevertheless the "idiot" and "douchebag" as you kindly put it, has a legitimate objection which is also a question; does not an unqualified revival of an abandoned practice which may be based on abandoned superstitions not endanger the honour of the Torah? And do you think you honour the Chazal or the Haredim with that ignorant punk attitude and potty mouth of yours?

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    3. Northward, it's quite possible that these rulings by the Chazal were set up to counter Egyptian and Babylonian superstitions around eggs and veggies of the Allium family. Both served as sacrificial offerings perhaps...and this bit is purely Temujin's speculation...only in peeled form, so leaving a few peels and shells may have served as a ritual rejection of these Pagan practices. The point is that some of the reasons for the halakhot and minhagim have been lost in the proverbial mists of time and we do need to consider the issues with care and respect.

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    4. Hi Chareidi4! "Douchebag" here (nice that). The contention that evil spirits possess cut onions or peeled eggs left overnight is patently absurd. Such beliefs may have been commonplace when this statement was written but we're a bit more advanced now I think.

      Rav Hirsch says: "Aggadic sayings do not have Sinaitic origin….Nor must someone whose opinion differs from that of our sages in a matter of aggadah be deemed a heretic [or a douchebag -- nb], especially as the sages themselves frequently differ."

      Rambam writes decries those who, "believe that all soarts of impossible things must be. They hold such opinions because they have not understood science and are far from having acquired knowledge...They understand the teachings of the sages only in their literal sense, in spite of the fact that some of their teachings when taken literally, seem so fantastic and irrational that if one were to repeat them literally, even to the uneducated, let alone sophisticated scholars, their amazement would prompt them to ask how anyone in the world could believe such things true, much less edifying. The members of this group are poor in knowledge. One can only regret their folly. Their very effort to honor and to exalt the sages in accordance with their own meager understanding actually humiliates them."

      I'll throw my lot in with those who believe that, "whenever the sages spoke of things that seem impossible, they were employing the style of riddle and parable," although I will openly admit that inner meaning of the statement about evil spirits & cut onions & peeled eggs is waaay beyond me.

      I will grant you that "rubbish" may have been a bit harsh. How about "p-r-i-m-i-t-v-e a-b-s-u-r-d-i-t-y the inner grasp of which is utterly beyonf me"? (I meant, and still mean, no disrespect.)

      Question: Do you believe that lice spontaneously generate?

      Enjoy those leftover cut onions. I've got to go walk my hounds.

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    5. Northbound and Temujin -

      Yes, I strongly object (with my potty mouth) to your characterization of Chazal's words as "primitive rubbish" and of Chazal themselves (by inference) as "simple-minded". The absolute irreverence and lack of respect that you demonstrated towards the greatest and holiest of our Rabbis is itself a reason for your comment not to be published on a torah website.

      I am not making a judgment call as to what Chazal meant with these rules. It's possible that they believed in the accepted beliefs of their time. It's also possible that the phenomenon of "evil spirits" is no longer here but was a fact 1500 years ago. Its also possible that they were speaking in "riddles and parables". These are all valid opinions, and I don't disparage any of them. As Slifkin points out in his many monographs and writings, different Rishonim and Achronim has differing opinions. However I do not, and can not, countenance a lack of basic respect towards the originators of our mesorah and indeed the basis of the entire torah sheb'al peh! it's asinine, idiotic and wrong! Now go play with your hounds...

      P.S. Lets not drag the whole censorship issue up here. Slifkin would not publish Atheistic or Christian comments on Chazal and torah. Neither should he publish comments like yours.

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    6. Chareidi4, the reason why I didn't censor their comments is that they did NOT show irreverence to Chazal, and certainly did not portray Chazal as "simple-minded".

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    7. OK so calling superstitions quoted by Chazal "primitive rubbish" is not irreverent?

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    8. Chareidi4, I object to your deification of Chazal. It's just another form of Avodah Zarah. Chazal were never meant to be seen as infallible or never having faulty ideas or opinions.
      Mishnah and Gemara are good sources of Jewish Law, not medical or nutrition advice.

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    9. Ha ha ha! Perhaps a fine traditional penalty by the kehilla's bet din is in order for the potty-mouthed rascal; an appropriate number of lashes and lying prostrate at the stiebl threshold to be steumbled over and spilled coffee on by sleepy fellows on the way to shahrit! Traaaa-dition!

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    10. Good one, Temujin. Appropriate for the Genghis Khan...

      -Potty Mouth

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    11. I am scored for showing a lack of respect to learned rabbonim. Hmm...why do you dispect Rav Slifkin by calling him (merely) "Slifkin"?

      Walking dogs is very relaxing; you should try it.

      Question: Do you believe that lice spontaneously regenerate?

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    12. I have stumbled on this site . Wow what an insight . I love your God of the Hebrew scriptures . In micah 6 :v8 he has said to exercise justice to cherish loyalty and to walk modestly . Is it not the same God who gave Adam and Eve all the food of the ground to be under thier subjection Genesis 1 v 29 and 30 .I am what you would call a gentile of the nation's. I was �� to be a pagan with my mum's superstitions and fortune telling I turned my back on that and I felt free getting to know the God of the Hebrews . I have come to know that he doesn't like the pagan ways I had and had to change my belief to ones that would honour him .from the scriptures I have found out he does not like superstition or traditions of men .he said his way is higher than mine and his thoughts higher than mine . He said he wanted obedience and not sacrifice .he hated kings who followed practices of the nation's that included their beliefs . I was shocked at reading about shibta I'm confused is that a pagan goddess or is that the only true God who exacts exclusive devotion and shall have no other god before his face ? I am an ex pagan . Please forgive me for being so blunt . The majesty of this uinverse is bigger than eating or drinking.your god is so much bigger than that . He offers true freedom that's why I love him . We all want to please him. I hate seeing him reduced to man's level.

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  22. The question is: what if you don't? What if you don't worry about this, and you leave your onions overnight? Is anything going to happen? Of course not. We know its imaginary. Concerning all of these superstitions the Gemara itself says מאן דלא קפיד, לא קפדינן עליה. But we would know it without the Gemara. And the same is true with all the ruah raah notions. Let people say nistaneh hateva, or "magic is less prevalent", or whatever mechanism they wish, to avoid the uncomfortable conclusions. The point is, nothing's going to happen. Most people observe laws because they wish to avoid the consequences of disregarding them. So why would anyone be careful with unpeeled eggs?

    (If someone believes unpeeled eggs falls within the rubric of halacha, and thus believes he will be punished upstairs for not observing halacha, I understand. I think that person has other problems, but at least I can understand the rationale.)

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  23. Much to my surprise and disappointment, when you buy those little frozen herbs and garlic you are buying a product with other ingredients mixed in. Read the label. They contain sugar and soybean oil. Bleh.

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  24. Most people observe laws because they wish to avoid the consequences of disregarding them. So why would anyone be careful with unpeeled eggs?
    ===============================
    I would guess a frum version of Pascal's wager.
    KT
    Joel RIch

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  25. Thank you Slifkin for showing once again that youare obsessed with proveing that your smarter than the Chachamim in the Gemara. Well done!

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    1. And your point is?

      Can you back up this outlandish & unfair claim?

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  26. Interestingly, neither you nor I believe that I did any such thing!

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  27. I believe that this egg, garlic, onion storage matter has a basis in actual health issues rather than the result of mere superstition. The source is a Beraita (T.B. Nidah 17a) which lists these stored peeled foods and diluted juice (among others) as dangerous to life. It doesn't matter that the reason given in the Gemara is 'ruach ra'ah'. That is just their way of understanding an actual issue - food spoilage, which can include growth of the botulin bacteria. Health issues appear also to be the reason that they qualify the 'dangerous' juice storage as pertaining to metal containers. Apparently, the issue in the latter is the leaching of the metal by the acidic juices to generate harmful heavy metal contaminants. While our relatively short-term storage in a cooled container, i.e., refrigerator, can relieve such concerns about the peeled garlic, onions, and cooked eggs, it doesn't justify writing the Gemara off as 'total nonsense'. While some aspects in the Gemara may not be rooted in reality, the basic concept is. In fact, peeled commercial garlic, as I understand it, must be packaged with acid to prevent botulin contamination. I believe that the peeled hard-boiled eggs that one can buy with hashgacha (OU, I believe) must also contain some acid to discourage such growth.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. "It doesn't matter that the reason given in the Gemara is 'ruach ra'ah'. That is just their way of understanding an actual issue - food spoilage, which can include growth of the botulin bacteria."

      This is a classic dodge. No, Y. Aharon. With all due respect, if chazal wanted to say it was a health issue, they would have said so. They called it "evil spirits" because that is what they believed in. You would probably have done the same if you lived in 4th and 5th century Persia.

      Delete
    2. Y. Aharon, I agree with your basic analysis, although I would say that give the state of scientific method at that time, large of numbers of old wives tales were mixed in with the practical observations. Thus concern for health and superstition are hard to separate: it was their concern for health which led to superstitious fears, given the inability to systematically evaluate evidence.

      Moreover, your (correct) interpretation leads the conclusion that we should simply follow the best procedures available in our day for food safety rather trying to reconstruct ancient procedures for which we have no evidence of efficacy. This would not be writing off the Gemara as nonsense, but rather it would be a continuation of the basic imperative of the Talmud, expressed in these prohibitions, to guard ones health.

      In fact, the OU link above is quite interesting in this regard. I appears that the OU will mandate procedures that they don't think are necessary, because they know if that if they don't do so, others will not want to eat food produced under their auspices.

      Delete
  28. But wouldn't it have been normative practice in the times of the Gemara as well. And according to this logic, it would have became Halacha then already...

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  29. And regarding that normative=Halacha thing....
    I was always confused as to why people have the minhag not to eat fish on Peach just because in Europe there used to be chametz in the fish.

    Not that I really understand how that can be a blanket approval of any minhag

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  30. G. PicklesDecember 10, 2014 at 10:10 PM
    "It doesn't matter that the reason given in the Gemara is 'ruach ra'ah'. That is just their way of understanding an actual issue - food spoilage, which can include growth of the botulin bacteria."

    This is a classic dodge. No, Y. Aharon. With all due respect, if chazal wanted to say it was a health issue, they would have said so. They called it "evil spirits" because that is what they believed in. You would probably have done the same if you lived in 4th and 5th century Persia.


    G. Pickles: The problem with your reasoning is that you assume that there is no overlap between Ruach Raah and health issues. This is an anachronism; medicine was simply largely unscientific at that time; furthermore, the microscopic world lay undiscovered. Moreover, in many cases the Gemara the danger in leaving food uncovered is attributed to snake poison. I think that in those cases it is clear that they were concerned with food poisoning but they had no way of understanding the etiology. In fact, while our rules for safe food storage differs from theirs, we certainly do cover our foods as a matter of course, in part to prevent micro-organisms from contaminating them from the air.

    To summarize the same thing in a different way; judge the prescriptions by what they could have known, not by what they could not have known. They could observe that how food is preserved is important to health and therefore tried to encourage customs that would protect people's health. They could not come up with a proper theory of causation, because the world of microorganisms had not yet been discovered.

    It is for that reason that I think that someone that blindly follows these rules in modern times are the ones that make Chazal look odd and out-of-date. If you take the approach, as the Rambam did, that they wanted you to use the best science available, then the ideas are still relevant even if the details are different.

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    1. When chazal wished to speak in medical terms, they did. Shmuel was a doctor, for example. Tudos Ha-Rofe was another. They knew well how to convey medical opinions.

      When they spoke of "ruach ra'ah", they meant exactly what they said. To claim otherwise is to inadvertently accuse them of lazy speech and imprecise diction. There are scores and scores of references to evil spirits in chazal. You simply cannot cherry pick two or three instances to re-interpret so as to fit modern understandings. Teach your tongue to say, "they didn't know." I realize that has troubling implications for some. That's not an excuse to misrepresent their words.

      As for snake poison - that has nothing to do with evil spirits. It was a legitimate concern, not much different than the concern for germs today. Now, as for other snake fears, like the fear of them "propositioning" a woman - that's something else again.

      Delete
  31. I have wondered if, rather than "evil spirit," רוח רעה could be translated as "bad air," a miasma, which was commonly thought to cause disease until the nineteenth century. Probably not in most cases where it's used, but maybe in this one.

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  32. It's not inevitable .... if we fight back.

    But we have to fight back properly, not by being against humras, or by demanding we stick to some arbitrary point in Jewish history, but by sincerely searching for truth and living by the results of our search.

    The problem is most of "us" don't really want to. Haredim are left as the only significant body of people who, at least superficially, are actually serious about keeping the Torah. Moreover, because "our" understanding of Judaism is to a large extent cobbled together from recycled Haredi tropes, we are always in the position of inferiority to those who practice the real deal. For these two reasons they win.


    ***
    "I was always confused as to why people have the minhag not to eat fish on Peach just because in Europe there used to be chametz in the fish."

    Because they are idiots. Morevover they are idiots who have a totally confused and cloudly understanding of what the Torah is all about, in general, and the festival of Pesah in particular.

    The same, though, is true of people who don't eat kitniyot, just to a lesser degree. To defeat the Haredim, we must first defeat the haredut within ourselves.

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    1. Aah, there you are, Gavriel M. Not too sure this is the best time to blow the bugle and rattle the war drums to rally the rationalista cavalry, old man. You see, the remnant of the Dor Dayim have mellowed and gone mainstream, the Talmidim ha Rambam are in retirement in Florida, the MO are rediscovering the charms of ecstatic Hassidism as harmonized with the six string acoustic guitar and the rest of the folks appear to be crunching Torah codes and placing wagers on the arrival of the Messiah. Perhaps in better times.

      Delete
  33. G. Pickles, I did not claim that the 'ruach ra'ah' mentioned in the Gemara was a health concern. I claimed only that the basic issue of leaving peeled garlic, eggs, and onions overnight (unrefrigerated, of course) was a health concern. R' Shimon b' Yochai who is cited by the Gemara said only that 'these 5 things represent a willful danger to life'. Most of those things can be associated with health issues - including the peeled items, diluted juice, and having intercourse after blood-letting, but not tossing out nail clippings. The Gemara's 'ruach ra'ah' interpretation need not be that intended by R' Shimon. Then again, evil spirits may in some cases represent a physical agent as well as some 'purely' mystical one - as David Ohsie contends.

    I have previously given my view of the allegedly asexually reproduced lice in T.B. Shabbat. That was specifically the rationale advanced by the Amora, Rav Yosef, to account for the long-standing permissibility of killing lice on Shabbat. However, that halacha stems from the position of Bet Hillel centuries prior to Rav Yosef and need not have been based on his assumption. My point is that the Talmud needs to be evaluated carefully before concluding that some halacha or practice is based on nonsensical ideas and can be simply discarded.
    Y. Aharon

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    1. When they spoke of "ruach ra'ah", they meant exactly what they said. To claim otherwise is to inadvertently accuse them of lazy speech and imprecise diction.

      G. Pickles: Your latest comment is completely non-responsive to my own, and simply repeats what I believe to be the erroneous assumption in your first comment: that demons are health issues are mutually exclusive. Saying that Ruach Ra'ah (aka demons) is the cause of a health problem is not imprecise diction: that is exactly what they believed. Here is another example from F Rosner, "Rabies in the Talmud", Med Hist. Apr 1974; 18(2): 198–200, where the Talmud's observations are accurate, but theories of etiology and treatment are not. Note also the importance of demons in causing disease:

      The Talmud continues (Yoma 83b) with the following description of a rabid
      animal:

      Our Rabbis taught that five things were mentioned in connection with a mad dog: its mouth is open, its saliva is dripping, its ears flap, its tail hangs between its thighs, and it walks on the edge of the road. Some say it also barks without its voice being heard. Where does it [the dog's madness] come from? Rab said witches are having their fun with the dog. Samuel said an evil spirit rests on it....


      The Talmudic discussion then mentions that even if a person only rubs against the mad dog, there is danger, and he should remove and destroy his clothes. Samuel further said that one should kill it by throwing something at it, avoiding direct contact with the rabid animal. From these Talmudic statements, it is obvious that the etiology of rabies was not at all understood, although the symptomatology was correctly recognized.

      The treatment for someone bitten by a mad dog is detailed in the Talmud (Yoma 84a) as follows:


      What is the remedy [for the bite of a mad dog?] Abaye said Let him take the skin of a male hyena (or leopard) and write upon it: I, so and so, the son of that and that woman, write upon the skin of a male hyena Kanti, kanti, kloros, G'd. G'd, Lord of Hosts, Amen, Amen, Selah. Then let him strip off his clothes and bury them in a grave at the crossroads for 12 months of a year. Then he should take them out and burn them in an oven, and scatter the ashes. During the 12 months, if he drinks water, he shall not drink it but out of a copper tube, lest he see the shadow of the demon and be endangered. Thus the mother of Abba ben Martha who is Abba ben Minyumi, made for him a tube of gold [for drinking purposes].

      The reason for the copper tube is explained by Preuss and Ebstein: otherwise the patient would see the reflection of the mad dog in the water, and would be further endangered by cramps in the throat and inability to drink, i.e. hydrophobia.

      You see here that they correctly identify rabies and they incorrectly identify demons contributing to rabies. Unless you feel that this whole discussion is foolish and we need not be concerned with rabid dogs.

      There are scores and scores of references to evil spirits in chazal. You simply cannot cherry pick two or three instances to re-interpret so as to fit modern understandings.

      I don't get your argument. It is not modern understanding that demons are the cause of food poisoning or infectious disease. But that was their understanding.

      Delete
    2. Teach your tongue to say, "they didn't know." I realize that has troubling implications for some. That's not an excuse to misrepresent their words.

      They didn't know about the microscopic world. That is not a misrepresentation and I don't feel the implications to be troubling.

      BTW, Y Aharon is right that the Talmud is not a monolith so it is also true that later explanations were not always part of the original intent.

      As for snake poison - that has nothing to do with evil spirits. It was a legitimate concern, not much different than the concern for germs today.

      For you, snake poison and demons are obviously different. For them, they were not. Either way, we see that they understood that covering food is important (and it is), but both the details and etiology were incorrect due to both insufficient observation and an insufficient theoretical framework.

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    3. When chazal wished to speak in medical terms, they did. Shmuel was a doctor, for example.

      Yet Mar Shmuel says the following:

      Our Rabbis taught that five things were mentioned in connection with a mad dog: its mouth is open, its saliva is dripping, its ears flap, its tail hangs between its thighs, and it walks on the edge of the road. Some say it also barks without its voice being heard. Where does it [the dog's madness] come from? Rab said witches are having their fun with the dog. Samuel said an evil spirit rests on it....

      Delete
    4. Glad to see someone else has Rosner's Medicine in the Bible and Talmud, Mr Ohsie! Temujin has the 1977 Ktav edition and can also boast about one of the rare Friedenwald volumes of his The Jews and Medicine. It's a theme in both works that, indeed, Rabbinic commentators and Jewish physicians ascribed a multitude of causes of diseas, physical and metaphysical. Whether demons or even improper attitude, as with yerakon...jaundice or anemia...physical causes are discussed, but also "causeless hatred, and hatred and anger" which "were thought to be related to yellow bile or gall" (p.74). Another rare gem one can gloat about is David Riesner's Medicine in the Middle Ages, which gives a broader historical context and there too we can see that ewven in later periods (right up to the Modern Era, in fact) notions about causes and treatments in the Muslim and Christian worlds were virtually indistinguishable from the Jewish ones.

      Delete
    5. "I believe [this] to be the erroneous assumption in your first comment: that demons are health issues are mutually exclusive"

      Argh... Of course I meant to write "demons and health issues are mutually exclusive".

      Delete
    6. Glad to see someone else has Rosner's Medicine in the Bible and Talmud, Mr Ohsie!

      Actually, I pulled the quotation directly from the article here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1081547/. But I was motivated to order to a used copy of Dr. Rosner's translation of Pruess' Biblical and Talmudic Medicine which should arrive soon.

      Delete
    7. David Ohsie, quite a surprise to see what these books cost now. Saw Rosner's Medicine, the one I have from the original publisher, for about a $ 100 in a store...and it was a reprint under a different publisher and from film, not the original crisp lead plates. His Preuss translation is on Amazon for about $60, though. Do let us know about it's in a fair state, if you please.

      Delete
  34. In the short time I have before Shabbat, I will state this: My dear wife believes that if you put an onion in the room it will soak up at the back humors/elements/G-d knows what and dispel them. To keep peace in the home, I let her pursue this and put up with it. She is into Kabbalah,etc(which is laced with Paganism), She knows that I am a rationalist of sorts but we do not get into arguments(it does not work). I will say that over the years, I am getting short of temper and voicing my opinions more on this and other whacky notions...not of her, but others. It is also eroding level of being religious(not belief in G-d).

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  35. Puzzled over the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of this minhag/halakha in question, Temujin sniffed and rooted about his yellowing volumes and found...nary a specific mention. Lo and behold, though, a possible explanation emerged in Joshua Trachtenberg's The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jews and its Relation to Modern Antisemitism (JPS, 1943).

    So lethally freaked-out was Christian society and the Church over their belief in the malignant magical powers of the Jews among them, that the Jewish public and the rabbis began to reluctantly eliminate customs and rituals which frightened the Gentiles. Trachtenberg cites an unnamed thirteenth century author mentioned in Or Zarua (Zhitomir, 1862,) who opined that customs or observance which frighten the non-Jews should be retired:"Since Gentiles are to be found among us, and there are servants in our homes, we must be on guard lest they say it is magic."

    Trachtenberg goes on to point out that even major customs were affected: "In Talmudic times fear of the same [i.e. sorcery] accusation had led Jewish authorities to excuse the head of the household from the rites of 'searching out the leaven' on the eve of Passover in places owned in common with a non-Jew; in the Middle Ages there was a strong but unsuccessful agitation to suspend this rite altogether, even indoors, 'because we have Gentile serving-girls in our homes' who might spread the alarm." (Trachtenberg, p.89)

    Not proof of why and how the custom over onion and eggs lapsed and then reappeared in our relatively safer times, but perhaps strong supporting evidence.

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  36. I don't understand those who claim that the term "Ruach Ra'ah" refers to demons. It is used in Tanach, and is a general term for malaise that comes from an unknown / invisible source. Or would they say that Shaul HaMelech was possessed by demons?

    "Everyone knows" that a cut onion absorbs diseases and cannot be used if left out. I was never taught this as Halacha, but nobody I know would reuse an onion left out overnight. Does that make us superstitious? Or just cautious?

    Frankly, food science is nowhere near as advanced as some of the comments above make it appear. Or else we wouldn't be receiving conflicting recommendations all the time.

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    1. I don't understand those who claim that the term "Ruach Ra'ah" refers to demons.

      I don't have detailed evidence, but Preuss says on p 140 (the book arrived) that "These spirits or ruchot, which certainly differ from shedim and mazzikin in nuances only..."

      Marc Shapiro says on pg 107 of Studies in Maimonides "...demons or as they often are referred to in the Talmud, ruah ra'ah."

      Yoma 77b has this: "The School of R. Menasseh taught: R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: A woman may wash one of her hands in water to give bread to an infant without any fear. It was reported about the older Shammai that he would not [hand food] to be eaten even with one hand, whereupon the Rabbis decreed that he must do so with both hands.7 Why that? Abaye said: Because of Shibta.". Here you see that that need to wash Ruach Ra'ah from the hands is identified with a demon called Shibta. (this is referenced in the blog post linked below).

      It is used in Tanach, and is a general term for malaise that comes from an unknown / invisible source. Or would they say that Shaul HaMelech was possessed by demons?

      I don't know what the original intent was, but certainly demons were long thought to be a cause of mental illness by many cultures. See for example, RH 28a

      They sent to inform the father of Samuel: If a man is compelled by force to eat unleavened bread [on Passover], he thereby performs his religious duty. Compelled by whom? Shall I say, by an evil spirit [שד or demon in the original]? But has it not been taught, ‘If a man is sometimes in his sound senses and sometimes crazy, when he is in his senses he is regarded as a sane man in all particulars, and when he is crazy he is regarded as insane in all particulars’?

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  37. http://pitputim.me/2011/12/04/of-peeled-eggs-onion-and-garlic/

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  38. The Gemara cites an extremely strong, yet puzzling, statement by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai[1]. He states that one who eats a peeled onion, egg or garlic that has been left sitting out overnight is literally endangering his life, and will be ultimately judged as a person who took his own life[2]! The cause of this prohibition is a ‘Ruach Ra’ah’, a type of ‘spirit of impurity’ or spiritual contamination that rests upon these three foods when peeled and left overnight.

    The reason why this statement is considered intriguing is that although there does not seem to be a dissenting opinion, and in view of the severity of both the offense and the punishment stated, nevertheless, this prohibition is not codified by the classic halachic authorities. Astoundingly, there is absolutely no mention of this proscription in any of the works of the greatest Jewish doctor, the Rambam, nor the Rif, Tur, nor Shulchan Aruch!

    Yet, many later authorities, including the Pri Chadash, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Chida, Ben Ish Chai, and Aruch Hashulchan[3], all do cite the Gemara’s statement, and consequently rule that eating a peeled egg, onion or garlic that sat overnight is strictly forbidden. http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/5213

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  39. I read that according to the Chazon Ish, discarding eggs,onions left over night is baal tashchis.

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