Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Avoiding Invisible Bugs

I'm always amazed by the ongoing crusade by some in the Torah observant community to assur any healthy foods that normally don't require any supervision. When it comes to fruits and vegetables which don't seem to be a money maker for kashrut organizations, it seems the problems multiply like insects.
The recent example of this has been a supposed epidemic of bugs in strawberries around the world. According to the people who detected them, these buys are nearly microscopy and the exact same colour as the strawberry. In other words, you can't seem them but they're there. As a result, according to some authorities, all strawberries are now trief. (Rubashkin's meats, however, are still fine).
Recently, however, what I thought was a voice of sanity, poked through the clouds of confusion when Rav Shlomo Amar, chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, noted the obvious: the halachah forbids that which the eye can see under normal lighting conditions. Ultra-powerful or special lights, jeweller's glasses and microscopes are not necessary. Otherwise all food, which is covered in non-kosher bacteria, would be forbidden.
Unfortunately, Rav Amar has already been forced into a clarification:
Just a few weeks before, many chareidi rabbonim forbad eating strawberries because they are heavily infested with tiny insects which are impossible to completely remove. The announcement removed the popular delicacy from the table of many frum homes.
Then the sensational news was published throughout Israel: Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar announced in a shiur that one may eat strawberries after rinsing them in water and removing their leafy tops! The news appeared in Israel's leading newspaper and even in the chareidi world's leading VosIzNeias web blog.
Many reported relief upon hearing the lenient psak. Others sideswiped at the poskim who always seem to find a new prohibition to saddle the public with.
But now the Shas party organ reports that Rav Amar's psak was quoted incorrectly. They asked Rabbi Shlomo Amar for his clarification, and he explained that his shiur had been about worms which are not visible to the eye and had nothing to do with strawberries.
"It never occurred to me, chalila, to dispute the prohibition against eating visible worms!" he says firmly. "To say otherwise is misleading."
Rav Amar explained, "I was speaking about a recent tshuva I had just written which dealt with worms that are not visible to the eye. I wrote that according to many great poskim of our generation, led by Rav Ovadya Yosef (SHU"T Yecheve Daas 6:47), they are not forbidden. I further was mechadesh that they are not even considered 'worms' according to halacha."
Rav Amar said in the shiur that if, for example, strawberries had such invisible 'worms' on them, the strawberries would not be prohibited to eat. Obviously, the strawberries were only mentioned by way of illustration and not as the basis for a chiddush or a psak.
The Chief Rabbi reiterates that as experts have shown, strawberries are infested with worms which are visible to the eye and can be seen without the help of a device. These worms must be avoided, and if it is not possible to clean strawberries of them, then strawberries may not be eaten.

So which is it, then? Is it enough to look at the strawberry carefully after washing it thoroughly?: It should be and people should know this when confronted with those who would change the rules and retroactively accuse 3500 years of Jews who age vegetables not checked by microscopy of eating bugs.


Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I suppose you're aware that this isn't an issue which is limited to checking fruits or vegetables.

Concerning checking mezuzot, tefillin, etc. we find a debate among poskim about using aids to magnify the writing or not. Does one use only the naked eye, or a magnifying glass as well? How powerful? (Since at some point of magnification, the writing will appear to have cracks no matter what.) If just an unaided eye, the halacha still seems to posit that a trained eye should make a determination, not an amateur eye. And if that trained eye is in doubt, then do we resort to the glass?

When davenning kavatikin with sunrise, does one use a watch to determine the moment of sunrise? Seconds? or only minutes? Or does one go by an approximation based on the light outside?

When checking vegetables, does one use only an unaided eye? But hold the vegetables up to light?

The idea of using aids versus not is to this day not a clearly settled issue, to my limited knowledge. There are rabbanim, certainly among ahronim, who support either position - rely on the developing technologies, or not. And if one is to rely on technological aids, how much? At some point we inevitably say 'this has gone too far'; but what is that point, and how is it determined, and by whom?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

As a final note, there certainly needs to be a voice of sanity; but who determines what that sanity is? R.D. Laing promoted the idea that there is not real insanity. Maybe he was right; maybe we have to accept multiple sanities as long as they are within the bounds of the Shulhan Aruch. Which means living also with those who promote humrot/strictures that make little sense to us. Maybe.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Good points. I could add that computers are now routinely used to check STa"M for errors as well.

My own personal concern is as follows: if we come to make new technologies standard in the application of certain halachos, we come to question the "kashrus" of previous generations. Like I suggested, if one MUST check vegetables with a jeweller's glass and bright white light, does that imply that my grandmother, a"h, did not properly keep kosher because she didn't have those available?

On the other hand, could one make the argument that each generation must make use of those technologies without casting aspersions on previous ones? So that I must use modern technology to be as kosher as my grandmother was with her pre-modern devices.

Not an easy answer, eh?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Your concern about 'lo lhotzi laz al harishonim', not impugning previous generations is a valid one. Rav Kook invokes it, for instance, in a t'shuvah about not changing one's pronunciation in Ivrit now that we have met our Yemenite brothers. Interestingly, on that issue Rav Henkin (the grandfather) advocated change in Aidut L'yisrael.

BTW, computers are only used to determine if sifrei Torah, etc, have the proper number of letters and in proper sequence. They are not, AFAIK, relied upon for determining the kashrut of an individual letter. Nor can they make judgement calls in applying the halacha. They are basically used as programmed scanners.