Writing of the Laws of Kashrut

The thoughts and decisions behind the new volume of ‘Peninei Halakha’ dealing with kashrut * The order in the new book differs from the order in the Shulchan Aruch: In the Land of Israel, the mitzvot dependent on the Land are once again the main laws * In exile we focused on prohibitions whose main concern was survival amongst the Gentiles, whereas the mitzvot that are dependent on the Land deal with society’s rectification, and the building of holy life * As long as most of the Jews live abroad – the mitzvot dependent on the Land are not applicable from the Torah, and the vision of overall redemption is far from realization * We are not close to a Jewish majority in Israel, because there are many Jews in the world who are not aware of their Jewishness, such as Madeline Albright and John Kerry, for example

The New Volume: Kashrut I

With the grace of God, last week, the book “Kashrut I: Vegetation and Animal” – was published as part of the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series. Since this column is personal, I thought that it would be appropriate to share the thoughts that accompanied the writing of the book (which appear for the main part, at the beginning of the book).

For years, I thought to arrange the laws of kashrut as they are arranged in the Shulchan Aruch, section Yoreh De’ah. In other words, to begin with the laws of shechita (ritual slaughter) and treifot (mortal injuries or physical defects that disqualify a member of a kosher species of mammal or bird from being kosher), the prohibition of blood, chelev (animal fat prohibited from eating), vermin, meat and milk, mixtures, cooking of Gentiles, tevilat kelim (immersion of vessels in a mikveh to make them kosher), and yayin nesech (wine poured in the service of idolatry) (S.A., Y.D. 1- 138), and afterwards, deal with the mitzvot dependent on the Land, and the laws of vegetation and animals (S.A., Y.D. 292-333). However, while studying the laws of shechita and treifot, mixtures, and meat and milk, I found that if one wishes to look at the laws of kashrut in full, one must precede the laws of vegetation to the laws of animals, since most of our food is from vegetation – grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetables. Moreover, since my plan was to preface every issue with a conceptual idea, I found that the basic ideas about kosher food are hidden in the commandments related to foods produced from plants, mainly the mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel, because out of the sanctity of the Land, the holiness of the fruit that grows on it becomes apparent. The central expression of this is in the mitzvot of terumot and ma’aserot (tithes), challah, and matanot l’ani’im (gifts to the poor) – leket, shichichah and pe’ah, peret and ololot.

The Part Devoted to Vegetation

Therefore, I decided to begin with a clarification of the laws relating to the growing of vegetation, including the laws of chadash, orlah, kilei ilan and behama, kilei zera’im and kerem, and matanot l’ani’im (chapters 1 – 6). Afterwards, the laws of permitting vegetation to be eaten by means of the provision of separating terumot, ma’aserot, and challah (chapters 7-12). While dealing with vegetation, a chapter was devoted to the laws relating to the prohibition of “bal tashchit“, which is based on the preservation of fruit trees and foods (chapter 13). Thus, most of the book deals with the laws of vegetation (242 pages out of 375).

The Part Devoted to Animals

Afterwards, three chapters (14-16) were devoted to the basic attitude toward eating meat, and the way of raising animals, and in doing so I explained at length the laws of cruelty to animals and shiluach ha’ken. In chapter 17, the pure and impure species were detailed. Another two chapters (18-19) were devoted to the laws of ritual slaughter, the prohibition of oto v’et be’no (‘it and its son’), the covering of blood, and laws the Torah commanded to be given from animals – such as the zeroah, l’chaim, and keiva, bechorot, ma’aser behema, and reshit ha’gez. With this, I finished the first part of the laws of kashrut, which is titled ‘Ha’Tzomayach ve’Ha’Chai‘ (“Vegetation and Animals”) (some of the laws in this volume are explained briefly in ‘Peninei Halakha: Likutim’, part 1, chapters 12-13, and ‘Likutim’, part 3, chapters 9-12, and henceforth will not be printed anymore in the ‘Likutim’).

The Plan for the Upcoming Volume

In the second part, God-willing, I will explain the details of the halachot concerning the consumption of meat foods: the examination of treifot – glatt and kosher, the preparation of the meat by removing the blood, chelev and gid ha’nasheh, the laws of meat and milk and the separation between them. In addition, I will explain the laws of vermin and worms, the order of the kitchen, the preparation of vessels, and the distancing from the cooking of Gentiles, yiyin nesech, and the immersion of vessels. Therefore, the second part will be titled “Kashrut II – Food and the Kitchen.” On first thought, it seemed that the second part would be longer, but now, apparently, (most of it is already written), it will be shorter than the first, for concerning the number of mitzvot and halachot, the first part is much larger, and by far, broader. Its content relates to the majority of the Seder of Zera’im in the Mishna, which is one of the six orders that cover the entire Oral Law, and a few more chapters in Tractate Chulin; while the second part, although very practical, deals with less than two tractates in the Gemara (the majority of tractate Chulin, about half of Tractate Avodah Zarah, and a little of the tractate of Pesachim).

The Values ​​Revealed in the Laws of Kashrut

The attitude toward the food that Jews eat in the Land of Israel is one of the expressions of a faith-based life, as expressed in the commandment of the Torah to recite Birkat Hamazon after eating, the main portion being the blessing of the Land, as our Sages said: “There is no blessing more cherished than the blessing over the Land”, as is the plain meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 8:10): ” When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless God your Lord for the good land that He has given you.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 23:7; Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5: 1, 5: 4). In the Land of Israel, holiness is revealed within nature (Orot HaTikhiya 28), and therefore, food and eating in the Land are related to holiness. In the system of the mitzvot dependent on the Land, we express the totality of values ​​that are revealed in the food that Jews grow in Israel.

First of all, the mitzvoth of chadash and orlahchadash in grain, and orlah in the fruit of the tree. These two mitzvot are meant to sanctify the first crop, in grain – by the offering of the Omer to God each year, and in the fruits of the tree – by eating the fourth year’s fruit in holiness in Jerusalem. In both of these mitzvot we also learned the element of restraint. Kilayim express the uniqueness of each species, a uniqueness that expresses the unifying-faith and its revelation in the world by multiplicity of species, each with its own uniqueness. In the mitzvah of gifts to the poor, we learn how to reveal the values ​​of charity when we merit to reap the fruits of our labor. In terumot, ma’aserot, and challah, we learn how to uphold the values ​​of holiness and education in Israel, by maintaining the Kohanim (priests) and Levites dedicated to Torah and the education of Israel, and by connecting all of Israel to the Temple by eating ma’aser sheni in holiness in Jerusalem together with the poor, in joy. Thus, holiness is revealed within reality, and elevates the foods of the Land of Israel to the level of holiness, by virtue of which Israel is given the strength and vitality to reveal God’s word in the world, and thus rectify the entire universe.

In light of this, it is more understandable that it is indeed appropriate to open the laws of kashrut with the mitzvot of vegetation that grows in the Land of Israel, and with the basic laws pertaining to eating meat, which reveal the values ​​that should be revealed in food. From this we will continue to volume two, which will deal with prohibitions related to food from animals, and the separations from non-Jewish cooking. It is true that during the long exile, the central issues in the laws of kashrut were meat in milk and their mixtures, the prohibitions of yayin nesech and the cooking of non-Jews, because we dealt mainly with survival, which is halakhicly expressed in terms of caution of prohibitions and assimilation, and goes according to the order of halachot in the Shulchan Aruch – Yoreh Deah. However, now that we have been blessed with the Ingathering of the Exiles and the building of the Land, it is appropriate to return to the revised order, in which we first deal with the values ​​of holiness that are revealed in the mitzvot dependent on the Land, according to the order of the Mishna, which begins with the Order of Zera’im, beginning with Berachot Ha’Nehenim, and continuing with the mitzvot dependent on the Land.

Since most of the book deals with the mitzvot dependent on the Land, I have devoted a long chapter (chapter 12) to a review of all the mitzvot that have been dependent on the Land throughout Israel’s history – from the time of Israel’s entry into the land during the time of Yehoshua Bin Nun, through the destruction of the First Temple and the destruction of the Second Temple, and until God merited us with His great mercy to return to the Land of Israel and establish the State of Israel.

Spiritual Introductions are Unnecessary

In previous books I found the need to preface spiritual, faith-based introductions, sometimes in an entire chapter at the beginning of the book, and sometimes in the introductory sections at the beginning of the chapter. In this book, however, which opens with the mitzvot dependent on the Land, I find there is no need for this: the explanation of the mitzvah is itself the idea, and there is no need for any preamble.

There Is Room to Aspire for More

From the study of the many important mitzvot that deal with the kashrut of food grown in the Land of Israel, we can understand just how lacking our lives are: we have yet to gather all the exiles and the Temple is still destroyed, and therefore, we cannot properly observe the mitzvot dependent on the Land, and reveal holiness within all walks of life. Nevertheless, the observance of these mitzvot, according to the guidance of our Sages, gives us inspiration and guidance to reveal the values ​​of holiness within our lives, and thus, we will merit, with God’s help, to speedily fulfill them completely, and from the mitzvot related to agriculture, Torah instruction will spread to all the other areas.

When Will We Be Biblically Obligated to Fulfill the Mitzvot?

As is well known, the mitzvot of terumot, ma’aserot, and challah are binding from the Torah only when the majority of Israel live in the Land; but when most of Israel still lives abroad – the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot is only of rabbinical ordinance. Some believe that the Jewish people today numbers about thirteen million people, and if so, the majority of Jews will soon live in Israel and be obligated in these mitzvot from the Torah. But apparently, the number of people who can prove that they are Jews is at least twenty million. As an example, we can bring the case of George Osborne, who, for six years, was the British Minister of Finance; only recently, at the age of 46, did he discover that he is Jewish: his brother Theo had asked to convert properly to marry a Jewish woman named Justin Fischer, but it turned out that in fact, he was Jewish. His grandmother, the mother of his mother, was a Jewish woman, a member of a synagogue in Budapest who, because of the Holocaust, hid her Jewish roots, until recently, after a simple check, it became clear that she was Jewish. About two weeks ago, Theo married according to halakha, and his brother, the former finance minister, said that the entire family was happy to meet with its Jewish roots, and participated happily in the kosher Jewish wedding.

Professor Madeleine Albright, who served for four years as US Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, related a similar story. Her parents converted to Christianity to be saved from persecution, and only in adulthood did she learn that she was a Jew, and that her relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. This is similar to the story of John Kerry, who was a candidate for the presidency of the United States and served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, and only at the age of sixty did he learn that his father’s family were Jews who had converted to be saved from persecution. His brother returned to his roots and converted. Therefore, we see that in spite of everything, even educated and astute people sometimes are unaware that their grandmothers and grandfathers were Jews. If we add to the account the descendants of Marranos from hundreds of years ago, we will reach more than 100 million. With God’s help, soon the words of the Torah will be fulfilled in us:” Even if your diaspora is at the ends of the heavens, God your Lord will gather you up from there and He will take you back… God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors… God will remove the barriers from your hearts and from the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love God your Lord with all your heart and soul. Thus will you survive” (Deuteronomy 39:4-6).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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