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Who is Making a Mockery of Halacha?
A number of people took grave offense at the previous post, about checking fruit for bugs. There were two general types of criticism. One was that the position that I was espousing was completely against halachah. The other was that I was engaging in inappropriate mockery of the standard practice.
With regard to the first criticism, let me first reiterate what I explicitly stated in the previous post: That I was oversimplifying, for dramatic effect. And yet not by much. There is a vast gulf between that which Rav Vaye presents as normative halachah, and what was historically normative halachic practice. Consider the following from Rav Eliezer Melamed:
Some poskim are of the opinion that since under certain conditions, experts can see these insects – every vegetable or fruit that most likely has tiny insects, is forbidden to be eaten without removing all the bugs. And when in a minority of cases, tiny insects can be found in them, one must make an effort to remove them, and bediavad, if one mistakenly did not check, the food is kosher.
On the other hand, some poskim hold that although if one sees a tiny insect like this, it is forbidden to be eaten, nevertheless, when it is on a food that an ordinary person cannot see without making a great effort, or without auxiliary means – it is considered tafel and batel to the food, and there is no prohibition of eating the vegetable or fruit, which chances are, contains an insect.
...According to accepted rules of halakha, the law goes according to the lenient opinion since it is a safek d’Rabbanan, for a person is not interested in eating the insect, but is compelled to eat it along with the food, against his will. Moreover, according to the majority of poskim, a tiny insect is batel b’shishim from the Torah, and it was only the Chachamim (Sages) who were stringent in declaring that a ‘briyah’ (a whole insect) is not batel even in a thousand. Some poskim say that the Chachamim were stringent only in regards to an insect that has some importance, but if it is tiny and disgusting, even from rabbinical status, it is batel b’shishim. In addition, it’s also doubtful whether in actuality a tiny insect exists.
On the other hand the strict approach also has a strong argument for under certain conditions anyone can see the tiny bugs, and with great effort, even if it takes a few hours, since one can find the bug and remove it, it is not considered to be mixed-in, and is not batel even in a thousand.
Therefore, the halakha follows the lenient approach, and the mehedrin minhag is to be machmir. The mehedrin minhag is clarified in detail in the books of Rabbi Moshe Vaya and Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach, however, the claim that this is the binding halakha for all Jews, is not correct.
Thus, there is ample basis for strongly disputing that Rav Vaye is presenting normative halachah.
Now, with regard to the accusation that my post was engaging in inappropriate mockery of Rav Vaye's approach, I saw as follows: There was indeed some humor intended in the way that I contrasted his approach with the traditional and normative approach. However, I consider this humor to be totally appropriate.
There is ample precedent in rabbinic discussion for sharpness and humor in disputing views that one believes to be incorrect. And when I engage in it, it's usually not actually using mocking words, but rather bringing to light how the exponents of the view are actually themselves making a mockery of halacha.
Consider, for example, Rabbi Yair Hoffman's view that on seder night, one should eat one-and-one-third of a matzah, within the span of two minutes, using the following method:
Place both kezeisim in the mouth together. Both kezeisim are then chewed well and split, within the mouth, in half—one kezayis on each side. Then one is swallowed, followed by the other.
Notwithstanding the fact that he can build a halachic case for this, I think it's perfectly legitimate for someone to call it ridiculous and to accuse Rabbi Hoffman of making a mockery of halachah.
By the same token, consider figs. When Rav Vaye, in his one-page handout, states that for strawberries, one must do as follows:
With a knife, cut off the leaf at the top together with a few millimeters of the fruit. Remove any cracks, deep clefts, or damaged areas. Soak in water mixed with a little dishwashing liquid for 3 minutes, rub in the water, and rinse well under running water in such a way that the water reaches every part of the berry. This process should be done three times, after which the berries may be cooked or blended.
Some of the materials required for eating fruit.
...and for figs, says that the process is so complex that he cannot even give such a paragraph of instructions and one must instead to refer to his book, this, to my mind, makes a mockery of halachah. For no reasonable person can possibly think that eating figs historically involved anything so complex (and the Gemara in Shabbos 90a clearly indicates that no such checking was being done). Rav Vaye no doubt builds a halachic case for his requirements, and may consider Rav Melamed's approach to be totally unacceptable. But by the same token, others are entitled to sharply dispute his approach.
Many are concerned about widespread laxity and even complete disregard for halachic observance. That is not caused by people advocating a reasonable approach to halachah. It is often caused by just the opposite - by people insisting on an approach to halachah that is too far-reaching and which is reasonably perceived as ridiculous.
UPDATE: I have published a follow-up post at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2018/01/keep-science-away-from-torah.html
See this post for my forthcoming US lecture schedule.
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