Thursday, August 04, 2005

Is non-kosher food objectively harmful?

Updated


If a person eats non-kosher b'heter (e.g. a nursing baby or a person who eats it for health reasons), will the food harm them spiritually?

The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah Siman 81 paskens that a Jewish baby is allowed to have a non-Jewish wet nurse, however the Shulchan Aruch says that you shouldn't do it because the non-kosher food will harm the baby spiritually. Likewise the Rama there states that a Jewish woman who needs to eat non-kosher food for health reasons should not nurse her baby because the non-kosher will harm him. The Gra comments that 1 of the sources of this din is the Medrash in Parshas Shemos. The pasuk says they brought a nursing woman from the Jews, the Medrash brought down by Rashi comments that Moshe refused to nurse from an Egyptian woman because he was going to grow up and be a Navi so how could he eat non-kosher food. In other words, the non-kosher food would have affected his soul and made it impossible for him to be the Navi that he became.

We see from the above, that non-kosher is intrinsically harmful for a person's soul even if they eat it b'heter.

The Ran in his Drashos says this explicitly. In the 11th drasha he discusses why Halacha is decided by Chachamim and not Neviim. He asks the following question. He says that if a Chacham makes a mistake and permits a forbidden food it is like a doctor who makes a mistake and gives a patient poison instead of medicine. In both cases the person is harmed. If so, why don't we have Neviim decide halacha with nevua and there would be no mistakes? He answers that nevua is not always available (see the drasha for more details). He then explains that even though eating non-kosher food is harmful the mitzva of listening to Chachamim may counterbalance the harmful effects. In any case, we see clearly from the Ran that non-kosher is objectively poison and harmful even if you eat it b'heter.

The Abarbanel (Devarim 17,4) disagress with the Ran. He holds that a person is never harmed by following the Chachamim. If it is mutar then it cannot be harmful. It would seem that the Abarbanel holds that non-kosher is not objectively harmful, rather it is harmful because it is prohibited. If for you there is no prohibition then it is not harmful.

Rashi in Chullin(5a) seems to agree with the Abarbanel. The gemara there is discussing whether a mumar l'avoda zara can do shechita. The gemara tries to bring a proof from Eliyahu Hanavi. At 1 point Hashem tells Eliyahu to go live by himself and the Orvim (birds) brought him meat to eat from Achav's place and (almost)everyone in Achav's palace worshipped Avoda Zara. How could Eliyahu eat the meat if meat slaughtered by a mumar is not kosher? It must be that a mumar is allowed to slaughter. The Gemara answers that על פי דיבור שאני. Rashi explains that Hashem permitted him to eat non-kosher meat (a Navi is allowed to violate the Torah based on his nevua). The obvious question is how could Eliyahu Hanavi eat non-kosher food if it is spiritually harmful? It didn't seem to affect him as he continued being a Navi. The answer would seem to be like the Abarbanel that because he ate it b'heter it was not spiritually harmful.

In fact, the Ritva in Chullin as well as the Maharsha understand the gemara's answer differently. They understand that the Gemara answered that Eliyahu Hanavi knew b'nevua that the meat was kosher, that it had been slaughtered by Ovadia who did not worship Avoda Zara. According to them, Eliyahu Hanavi did not end up eating non-kosher food.

To sum up, we have a major dispute whether non-kosher food is objectively harmful to a person (even if he eats it b'heter like a nursing baby) or not.

R' Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:88) quotes a teshuva of the Chasam Sofer where he discusses a handicapped girl in the following situation. If she stayed at home she would never develop and remain an ayno bar daas. However, if the parents sent her to a special school they claimed that she would reach the potential of a 13-14 year old. However, the school was in a non-Jewish area and there was no possibility of providing kosher food. The Chassam Sofer said that al pi din it is muttar, however he recommends against sending her for the following reason. If they send her she will become a bar daas and be chayav in mitzvos. However, the non-kosher food will affect her lev and she will probably violate torah and mitzvos and therefore it is better for her to remain an ayno bar daas.

We see clearly that this idea that any non-kosher food is metamtem halev, even if eaten b'heter (the girl was a ketan and an ayno bar daas so there was no issur), is brought down l'halacha.

28 comments:

Lone Bochur said...

According to Rashi in Chullin, how do we understand the ma'aseh of Moshe and the egyptian wet-nurses?

bluke said...

The story of Moshe and the Egyptian wet nurses is a Medrash, all teh Chumash says is that she proposed to bring a Jewish wet nurse. The gemara in Chullin would presumably argue on that and understand the pesukim simply that they brought in a Jewish woman.

ADDeRabbi said...

I think that the midrashic notion that we absorb certain characteristics from our 'mother's milk' is veryy suggestive and real on the metaphoric level, and which can definitely inform our actions, but is not to be taken as 'halakha le-ma'aseh'.

i find it difficult to imagine that there's an objective status of 'treif' as something harmful independent of the 'issur achilah'. this may be talui in the machloket between the toras ha-asham and the issur ve-hetter mentioned in the pischei teshuvah to yoreh deah, 116:7, ayen sham, ve-acamo"l.

bluke said...

The Ran in his drasha (drasha 11 in the middle of the drasha) compares eating non-kosher food (where the chacham paskened incorrectly) to a doctor giving a medicine which is poison. The Ran says that non-kosher is like poison, he is not talking about mother's milk.

This is taken very seriously l'halacha as well. There is a teshuva of the Chasam Sofer (I believe quoted by R' Moshe) where he discusses a handicapped girl in the following situation. If she stayed at home she would never develop and remain an ayno bar daas. However, if the parents sent her to a special school they claimed that she would reach the potential of a 13-14 year old. However, the school was in a non-Jewish area and there was no possibility of providing kosher food. The Chassam Sofer said that al pi din it is muttar, however he recommends against sending her for the following reason. If they send her she will become a bar daas and be chayav in mitzvos. However, the non-kosher food will affect her lev and she will probably violate torah and mitzvos and therefore it is better for her to remain an ayno bar daas (this is all from memory, I haven't seen this techuva in a long time). We see that this idea that non-kosher food is metamtem halev is brought down l'halacha.

I will try to find the teshuva tonight as well as R' Moshe's techuva that quotes it.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

"The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah Siman 81 paskens that a Jewish baby is allowed to have a non-Jewish wet nurse, however the Shulchan Aruch says that you shouldn't do it because the non-kosher food will harm the baby spiritually."

Interesting.

There is a chassidishe maaseh (that may have involved R. Maerl Primishlaner) about a baby which died after very short time. The grief stricken parents were told by the rebbe that for some reason R. Yosef Caro's mother couldn't nurse him and a non-Jewish wet nurse was employed and that this baby was born to this couple so that R. Yosef Caro's neshama could have a tikkun in the form of being nursed by a Jewish woman.

bluke said...

The Tzitz Eliezer 18:70 also uses the idea of timtum halev from nonkosher food in a halachic context. He writes that althoug one is permitted to feed a sick person nonkosher food, it is better to be mechalel Shabbos for him rather than to feed him nonkosher food because the latter is metamtem es halev.

lamedzayin said...

S.,

How is that sort of story different than the NS fish story? What's the moral - make up any ridiculous thing to make grieving people feel better? Not necessarily a bad idea, but the obvious problem, as we see from the fact that this story gets told, is that people believe that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Do any of the Rabbis offer a remedy to those who have eaten nonkosher meat for medical reasons.(upon the opiniion of both doctors and Rabbis.) In other words, how can the heart be brought back to its original state?

Manny said...

See the Tanya (Likutei Amarim) Ch 7 & 8 in which R'SZ says essentially that forbidden food (and forbidden sex) derive from the 3 klipot that are completely tamay and are therefore bound up FOREVER, OR until one does a great tshuvah b'ahavah...

Observant said...

I would think that one cannot infer anything from Rashi - by achav, the shailah was neveilah. Obviously, a cow is not a metamtem until shechitah!

Metamtem - i thought - only refers to things which are truly not kosher - chazir, sheratzim etc.

To me Abarbanel is the only remaining source.

the junior said...

i am sorry to say this, but this entire notion is farcical
let us imagine a non-jew eating a bacon sandwich - nothing wrong with that and no harm to him
he then converts and finishes his sandwich
are we to believe that the sandwich is now harmful to him in some way - not just that he shouldn't be eating it, but that it's actually harmful?
what do we mean by harmful in this context?
when you quote the chatam sofer saying that non-kosher food will affect her lev, can you explain (a) what he means by lev (is he really saying that her physical heart is damaged) and (b) what he means by affect?
this is mitzvot as magicalism at its worst

Nobody said...

"is he really saying that her physical heart is damaged"

It is a reference to emotion (the heart of the soul), and more specifically one's emotional connection and openness to holy things, like doing Mitzvos. The harm here is spiritual.

bluke said...

The harm is of course spiritual harm not physical harm. The phrase metamtem es halev, means it hardens your heart so that it will beharder for you to connect to Hashem.

The spiritual harm of non-kosher food affects only Jews. When someone converts his nefesh changes and therefore becomes affected by non-kosher food.

In short, the harm here is on a spiritual level to your nefesh.

the junior said...

"The spiritual harm of non-kosher food affects only Jews. When someone converts his nefesh changes and therefore becomes affected by non-kosher food."

as you knbow, that is a statemnet which (a) doesn't mean anything - or would you care to define nefesh, spiritual harm, and affects in this context?
(b) cannot be proved or disproved

i believe that if jews eat kosher food it ensures that gravity stays just the way it is, and things don't fall down too quickly or not at all

see, it's easy to talk godol-nonsense once you know how !

DarkBlueHat said...

Bluke – I didn't look up that Medrash inside, but it seems it could be readily explained by those who say treif food is not inherently harmful. When a baby or toddler nurses, it involves more that just simply eating. Without getting even remotely Freudian (Chas V'Shalom), it is an experience that usually happens between a child and his mother and which may leave very positive memories – especially for an exceptional child like Moshe Rabbeinu. You can see how you wouldn't want a Jewish child to have such attachment stowards and memories of a non-Jewish woman. In that sense it is almost like an extreme version of the problem of Bishul Akum (the Halachic category, not the blogger). Surely a child would have more of an attachment to his wet nurse than an adult would to the woman who cooked his meal.

bluke said...

Except that the Gra brings this is as the source that if the real mother has to eat non-kosher food she shouldn't nurse either

DarkBlueHat said...

That is an excellent Nafka Minna if non-Kosher food causes spiritual harm when Halachicly permitted. The Gra holds like those who say it does (the Mekuballim would generally tend to agree). I don't see this Medrash as a kasha on those who hold differently. Would you say that Rashi and the Abarbanel weren't aware of the Medrash or that they must have argued with it? Presumably some of those who held like them took an approach similar to the one I did in understanding the Medrash.

DarkBlueHat said...

Lots of positions out there. It seems to be a fundamental Machlokes.

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DarkBlueHat said...

I wish I could edit these comments...

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bluke said...

With all due respect, the student of R' Mann is wrong, There are certainly many sources who say that non-kosher is inherently bad. To say that this does not hold true in Judaism is a mistake. We see from the din in the Rama by a nursing mother and the Gra who applies the medrash by Moshe as well as the Ran as well as the Chasam Sofer.

bluke said...

DBH,

We see from R' Yaakov's comment as well that he held that the medrash was talking not just about nursing but about any non-kosher food like the Gra.

DarkBlueHat said...

There certainly are those who take the position that non-kosher food is inherently harmful. I suppose someone could write to Rabbi Mann and see if the article written up in his name fully explains his POV, and if it does, how does he explain those Rishonim who differ. It seems that nowadays most hold that non-kosher food can harm someone even when Halachicly mutar. The Gra held that way (possibly Al Pi Kabballah), and most Litvish Rabbonim seem to follow him when it comes to these sorts of things. I thought you may like the links I found, but my main point is that the Medrash can be explained by those who agree with Rashi and the Abarbanel.

Each side has questions that need to be answered. Rabbi Mann brought some in favor of the "Rationalist side" but there are plenty more to ask. For example, if you find a piece of meat on a block with ten kosher butchers and one treif one, you can eat it. Would anyone take such a risk with real poison? Even if it only meant an upset stomach, people wouldn't risk it. Surely spiritual harm should be worse. If someone were to eat meat in such a situation hundereds of times, as Halachah permits, they would be eating spiriitual poison many many times. It ends up that the Halachic system is not protecting us, and is telling us not to worry about real danger. You could even strengthen that question but I have to run. You get the point. There are important questions that each side must be able to answer. If you can find a flaw in my explantion of the Medrash I'd love to hear it. Again, I didn't get a chance to see it inside so it may not fit in. Anyway, thanks for a great post. I'll be back.

bluke said...

Your point about the ten pieces of meat is an interesting one and deserves a comment.

Mishne Halachos 16:137 specifically states that even where something is muttar to eat because of bittul b'rov, nevertheless, one may be machmir not to eat it because of timtum ha'lev.


Basically it depends on how we look at bitul b'rov. When we say bitul b'rov is it a hanhaga that we can eat the food or is it a din that the issur turns into heter. In other words, when you say bitul b'rov does the issur still exist (this has ramifications in other areas as well). One nafka mina is if a piece of issur is mixed with two pieces of heter, is one person allowed to eat all three pieces? The rishonim have a big machlokes about this, the Beis Yosef Yoreh Deah 109 quotes the Rosh (yes), Rashba (yes, but not together, just one after the other) and SeMaG--based on Tosfos (no, because then it is definite that he eat an issur). Ramo paskens that l'chatchila we are machmir.

bluke said...

DBH,

The gemara in Sotah 12b says as follows
פה שעתיד לדבר עם השכינה יינק דבר טמא

The emphasis seems to be on the fact that he would be eating non-kosher food, not any attachment with the nurse.

Anonymous said...

I have a relative from one of the North African Sephardic countries (I think Tunisia) whose great-grandfather was a Rav there. He told me that the pask over there was that if someone needed to hire a non-Jewish wetnurse they would hire a woman from France and not a local Arab woman. The reason was so that the child wouldn't have an emotional attachment to the local non-Jewish women. I guess they figured an attachment to a foreign woman wouldn't pose the same problem. I don't know if they were worried about an attachment to that very woman, and so they wanted someone who would return to their home country, or if they were concerned about an attachment towards the local population in general and figured French women wouldn't pose a threat. I'll try to ask him the reason again the next time we see each other.

lakewoodyid said...

Rashi Yuma 39:b says that "O'temes V'so'semes Mi'kol Chochma"

It blocks the heart from wisdom.

They say that a child who had been learning well and then changed for the worse was brought to R' Akiva Eiger who asked that they should research if the child ever ate Ma'acholos Assuros. They inquired, and found that the child had once eaten Treif. R' Akiva Eiger claimed that that was the reason the child's learning was distrupted.

zevi said...

Do you really think your soul knows the difference if the food has an ou on it? A rabbi shows up at the factory once a month for food that is inherently kosher. Kashrus these days is all about money and politics.

Mac said...

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