Between Yeshiva Students and the Tribe of Levi

One of the claims in the issue of recruitment of yeshiva students to the IDF is that according to Rambam, anyone who wants can be like a member of the Tribe of Levi, who did not participate in wars * From close examination of the Torah, Chazal, and Rambam himself, the Tribe of Levi’s role towards the nation is clearly indicated: to educate, judge, and even serve as police officers * Members of the Tribe of Levi would encourage the nation in war, release those exempted from service in a milchemet reshut, and pray for the success of the soldiers. When necessary, they would also fight * If that is the case, whoever wants to serve in the role of a Levi must devote his life to service of the nation, and in times of emergency, fight for it

The Torah’s Position Regarding Recruitment of Yeshiva Students

In response to my previous column, I was asked: “What is the source for the claim that yeshiva students must respect and pray for the soldiers, and that the postponement of enlistment for yeshiva students is appropriate only for students whom the public is in need of their study in yeshiva, so they can later become a teacher or rabbi?” These questions are based on what Rambam wrote about the Tribe of Levi: “Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large … Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world. They do not wage war like the remainder of the Jewish people, nor do they receive an inheritance, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are God’s legion, as written: ‘God has blessed His legion’ and He provides for them, as stated: ‘I am your portion and your inheritance.’ Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him… he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites (Laws of Shmitta and Yovel 13: 12-13).

The Choosing of the Tribe of Levi

In order to understand the Torah’s instruction, we must have another look at the Tribe of Levi and their intent. Since the Torah was given to all of Israel, at first, the roles of the Kohanim (Priests) and Levi’im (Levites) were intended to be entrusted to the bechor (firstborn male) of families in all tribes of Israel, so that in each family, there would be a bechor dedicated to Torah study, education, and service in the Mikdash (Holy Temple), and thus, the entire nation, among all its tribes, would be connected to Torah and the sacred service. However, after the firstborn also participated in the Sin of the Golden Calf, they fell from their high spiritual level, and in their stead the Tribe of Levi who did not participate in the sin, were chosen and sanctified – they even assisted Moshe Rabbeinu in putting a halt to the sin, and punishing the sinners.

From this event, it is possible to learn that the idea of the bechor​​a is too lofty for us, and as a result, instead of the firstborn acting as Kohanim and having a positive affect on their families and the public at large, the secular lifestyle of the general public influenced them, and annulled their uniqueness. Consequently, they failed to prevent the people from sinning in the Golden Calf. Therefore, there was a need to dedicate an entire tribe, all of whose members would strengthen each other against the winds of time and the various temptations, so they could fulfill their sacred mission.

The Role of the Tribe of Levi

Thus, God sanctified the entire Tribe of Levi, led by the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, “to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments to worship the Lord and to serve and teach his upright and righteous ways” as Rambam put it, and as written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:10): “They will teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel.” They were also intended to serve in rabbinical and judicial positions, as written: “If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, or any other case where there is a dispute in your territorial courts …You must approach the Levitical priests and other members of the supreme court that exists at the time. When you make inquiry, they will declare to you a legal decision.” (Deuteronomy 17: 8- 9). Likewise, the Prophet said: “And you will know that I have sent you this command so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace … True Torah was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a Kohen should safeguard knowledge, and people seek Torah from his mouth…” (Malachi 2: 4-7).

In order for the Kohanim and Levi’im to fulfill their duties, the Torah stipulated  they should not be given a portion in the Land, rather, all members of the tribe would be spread throughout all of Israel, and each and every tribe would assign them residential areas in their inheritance to dwell in (Numbers 35: 1-8). And this is what B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) did (Joshua 21: 3). We find then, that the Kohanim and Levi’im served the entire public, and in order for them to fulfill their duties, the Torah commanded that B’nei Yisrael support them with terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 7: 3).

Police Officers

Many perceive the members of the Tribe of Levi as being gentle and frail people – all talk, but no action. But, in fact, they also served as shotrim (police officers) intended to govern law and order in Israel, as written: “David had now grown old; he had lived many years; so he made Shlomo his son king over Israel…a census of Levi’im thirty years old and over was taken… of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work on the house of God, while 6,000 were officers and judges” (1 Chronicles, 23: 1-4). It is also written: “From the family line of Yitzhar came Kenaniah and his sons. They were given duties that were away from the Temple. They were officers and the judges over Israel” (ibid. 26:29). And also in the days of Yehoshaphat: “The Levites will serve as your officials. Be brave. And may God be with those of you who do well” (2 Chronicles 19: 11). And also in the days of Josiah: “They supervised those carrying the loads and everyone doing any kind of work; and there were also Levi’im who were secretaries, officers, and gatekeepers” (ibid. 34: 13).

Our Sages said as well: “At first, (i.e., in the days of the First Temple) officers were appointed from the Levites only, for it is said, ‘And the officers of the Levites before you…” (Yevamot 86b). In addition, our Sages said that the Levi’im were the police officers who accompanied the judges to punish the sinners (Sifre, Deuteronomy 15). And Rabbi David Pardo explained that this role is ascribed to the Levi’im due to their spiritual root in the attribute of gevurah (strength) (Sifra debei Rav, Deuteronomy I: 15), and continued in this role in Egypt, and ever since stopping sinners and punishing them in the Sin of the Golden Calf (Meshech Chochma, Numbers 9: 9-10; Malbim, Exodus 32:27).

True, it appears that each and every tribe appointed officers (Deuteronomy 16:18), nevertheless, it’s possible to say that it refers to the members of Levi who lived among that same tribe. And there are meforshim (commentators) who explained that in addition to police officers from members of a tribe, the Levi’im were also police officers, with judicial powers (Be’er Sheva, Sotah 42a; Aseh Lecha Rav, 3:48).

Police Officers as Fighters

Rashi wrote: “I found in the Talmud Yerushalmi (quoted in other Midrashim), when Aaron died, the clouds of glory withdrew, and the Canaanites came to fight against Israel. The Israelites set their hearts on returning to Egypt, and they went back eight stages of their journey from Mount Hor to Moserah… and the Levites pursued them to bring them back, killing seven of their families. The Levites lost four families in the battle” (Rashi, on Numbers 26: 13).

Encouraging the Army and the Fighters

The Tribe of Levi had another most venerable role, to encourage the Israelite fighters. To this end, in addition to the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) who was in charge of the service in the Holy Temple, there was an additional Kohen, who was anointed with the anointing oil, and called the “Kohen Mashuach Milchama” (the Priest Anointed for War). His job was to go out with the fighters, and before the battle, say to them: “Listen, Israel, today you are about to wage war against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them. God your Lord is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will deliver you” (Deuteronomy 20: 2-4).

And the Kohanim were commanded to blow the trumpets in order to encourage the warriors to prayer and heroism, as written: “The priests who are Aaron’s descendants shall be the ones to sound the trumpets… When you go to war against an enemy who attacks you in your land, you shall sound a staccato on the trumpets. You will then be remembered before God your Lord, and will be delivered from your enemies” (Numbers 10:8-9).

War Officers

Along with the encouraging words of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama, in a milchemet reshut (optional war), the shotrim (police officers) would talk to the people, and exempt from enlistment the afraid and disheartened, vineyard-planters, home builders, and groomsmen in their first year.

After all those exempted had returned to their homes and the war had begun, the shotrim stationed brave guards amongst them to help those who fell in battle to rise, and break the legs of anyone who wanted to flee the battle, seeing as such a person was liable to endanger everyone, “because the beginning of falling in battle – is fleeing” (Mishnah Sotah 8:6).

The Carriers of the Holy Ark and the Prayers

The Kohanim also carried the Holy Ark that would go out with the fighters to war, to fulfill what is written in the Torah: “For it is the Lord your God that goes with you to fight” (Sotah 42b; Yeri’im 432; Binyamin Ze’ev 102, and others). And they did so also in Joshua’s war in Jericho, and Saul with the Philistines. The Tana’im and Rishonim disputed which ark went out with the fighters, but this is not the place to expound.

At the same time as the fighters went to battle, the Levi’im would sing and pray for the sake of the fighters armed for war, as was said in Yehoshaphat’s days: “Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice… as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (2 Chronicles 20: 19-22). And some say that the Psalm “May Hashem answer you when you are in distress” in Psalms (Chapter 20) was written for the Levi’im praying for the warriors in battle (Meiri, Sotah 42b).

Is it conceivable that today there are Roshei Yeshivot (Heads of Yeshiva’s) who do not agree to pray for the peace of our soldiers?! And what’s more, in the name of the legacy of the Tribe of Levi?! And if they say that today the spiritual state of the leaders and soldiers is worse, then it is advisable for them to have a look at the Tanach and the words of the wicked kings of Israel, for all of these rules were valid in their days as well.

The Guard Corps of the King of Kings

We see then that the role of the Levi’im and Kohanim is to be the Guard Corps that secures Israel’s sanctity and nationalism. With courage and strength, they had to fulfill all policing duties, including standing up to criminals and violent people, as well as defecting soldiers. Therefore, in times of emergency, they were able to enlist in battle as elite combat fighters. This was the case during the times of shmad (apostasy), when the Greeks sought to turn Israel away from their religion – the Kohanim and the Levi’im were called to stand and fight valiantly to guard the Nation and the Land, and the Hasmonean Kohanim lifted the flag of rebellion against the Greeks, as we will relate during the coming days of Chanukah – they should be for a blessing.

The Roles of the Tribe of Levi Today

In conclusion: Those who want to fulfill the roles of the Tribe of Levi nowadays, must serve the entire nation, by teaching Torah, educating, policing, service in the Military Rabbinate, and the corps responsible for the terms of service and exemptions from the army. To do so, they must learn Torah diligently and be willing to devote their lives to Am Yisrael, and if an emergency arises – to join the campaign to protect Israel and its sacred ideals from the hands of her enemies. From this, I wish to send a blessing to my nephew, a student of mine and a Kohen, who enlisted last week for an exceedingly elite and extended combat service. May he, along with all his friends, merit to protect the Nation and the Land, and may they all merit to establish glorious families, according to the law of Moshe and Israel.

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

Must Yeshiva Students Enlist?

Haredi rabbis are correct in their claim that Talmud Torah is of utmost importance, and that Am Yisrael needs people who will postpone their recruitment in order to grow in Torah and become teachers and Torah scholars * However, the majority of yeshiva students will not become rabbis, and therefore, they must fulfill the great mitzvah to enlist in the army * The Haredi claim of spiritual danger in the army is also correct – true,  keeping Shabbat and kashrut has improved immeasurably, but the mixing of male and female soldiers has worsened the state of modesty * The solution is not to avoid the mitzvah of army service, but rather to strengthen the army, and adapt it to the Haredi public and Clal Yisrael

Recently, the issue of recruitment of yeshiva students into the army has come up once again. It was disclosed that, in general, the Haredi public avoids enlisting in the army. Almost all recruits counted as being Haredi are either young men who left Haredi society, and usually religion as well, or older men who find their livelihoods in the army; men who grew up in marginal communities of Haredi society, such as baalei teshuva and olim chadashim (new immigrants) who have not adopted the full views of Haredi society, or young men from the Torani-Leumi public (Chardal).

At the same time, it was revealed that army authorities, maliciously or inadvertently, distorted the recruiting data, creating a misrepresentation as if the Haredi public was in the process of joining the army.

The Mitzvah to Serve in the Army

A question repeatedly asked: Are yeshiva students studying Torah exempt from enlistment in the army? Before addressing the very question, first, it must be clarified that it is a great mitzvah to serve in the IDF, and this mitzvah is one of the greatest and most sacred mitzvot of our generation, and is based on two mitzvot: saving Israel from the hand of her enemies, and settlement of the Land.

Saving Israel from the Hand of Her Enemies

Concerning saving the life of a single Jew, we are commanded: “Do not stand aside when trouble befalls your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16). To rescue someone, Shabbat is desecrated, as our Sages said in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4: 5): “Anyone who saves the life of a Jew, it is as if he saved an entire world.” How much more so is the great obligation to save an entire Jewish community, and in order to do so not only is it a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat, but it is even a mitzvah to endanger lives, as we have learned that in order to save even the property of a community on the border – Shabbat is desecrated, and lives are endangered (S.A., O.C. 329:6). All the more so that this must be done to save Clal Yisrael. And this is a clear milchemet mitzvah (a war commanded by the Torah), as Rambam wrote (Laws of Kings 5: 1): “Which is a milchemet mitzvah? … and saving of Israel from those who rise up against her.” This mitzvah obligates mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), and overrides the individual’s obligation to guard his life (Maran Rabbi Kook, Mishpat Kohen 143; Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 13: 100).

The Mitzvah to Settle the Land of Israel

The second mitzvah is the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land of Israel), as written (Numbers 33: 53-54): “And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land…” Our Sages said this mitzvah is equal in weight to all the mitzvot (Sifri, Re’ah 53). This mitzvah overrides pikuach nefesh (saving life) of individuals since we were commanded to conquer the Land, and the Torah did not expect us to rely on a miracle; since in every war there are fatalities, it is clear the mitzvah of conquering the Land requires us to risk lives (Minchat Chinuch 425 and 604; Mishpat Kohen pg. 327). All the more so must we fight to protect parts of the Land we already possess, and every soldier serving in the IDF takes part in this great mitzvah.

The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation, as Ramban and many other poskim have written. Only due to oh’nes (forces beyond our control), seeing as we lacked the military and political capability to settle the Land, were we unable to fulfill this mitzvah throughout our long exile. Indeed, some poskim believe that in the opinion of Rambam, following the destruction of the Holy Temple, there is no mitzvah to conquer the Land, nevertheless, all agree that in Rambam’s opinion, there is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, and thus, if after Jews are already living in Eretz Yisrael enemies come to conquer parts of the Land in our possession – the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz obligates us to fight in order to protect them, since it is forbidden to relinquish parts of Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews (D’var Yehoshua 2, O.C. 48; Milamdei Milchama 1; Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve Ha’Aretz 4:2).

Conflict between Talmud Torah and Enlistment in the Army

With all the immense importance of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah study), it does not override the mitzvah of enlisting in the army. This is not only because of the well-known halakhic rule that any mitzvah that cannot be carried out by others overrides Talmud Torah (Moed Katan, 1), as this rule also applies to individual mitzvot, such as the mitzvah to pray, to build a sukkah, to give a loan, and providing hospitality to guests. However, the mitzvah of enlisting in the army is far more important because all of Israel’s existence depends on it.

We have also found that the students of Yehoshua ben Nun and King David went out to war and were not concerned about bittul Torah (the neglect of Torah study). Moreover, Chumash BaMidbar (Book of Numbers) is called Chumash HaPikudim (The Book of the Two Censuses), because in it, all the soldiers who were about to conquer the Land were counted.

And regarding what our Sages said (Baba Batra 8a) that Torah scholars do not need guarding, the meaning is that they are exempt from the type of guarding primarily intended for prevention of theft. But when Jews needs to be protected, then there is a mitzvah to save them, as the Torah says (Leviticus 19:16): “Do not stand aside when trouble befalls your neighbor”, and in a situation of pikuach nefesh, the mitzvah is first incumbent on Talmedei Chachamim (M.B. 328:34).

The Importance of Torah Study of Yeshiva Students

With that being said, it is essential to know that the most important mitzvah is Talmud Torah, and there is no mitzvah that guards and sustains the People of Israel in the long run more than Talmud Torah. Therefore, together with the mitzvah to serve in the army, it is imperative to incorporate in the order of life of every Jew a number of years in which he devotes himself, to the best of his ability, to Torah study. And this is what our Sages said (Megillah 16b): “Talmud Torah is greater than saving lives,” because saving lives involves the momentary rescue of a physical body, while Talmud Torah revives the Israeli nation’s soul and body for the long term.

The Mitzvah to Enlist and the Mitzvah to Develop Torah Scholars

In practice, the mitzvah to enlist in the army applies to all Jewish men, including those who wish to study Torah in yeshiva. However, when it is not a security necessity to recruit all young men without exception, as was the case in the War of Independence, it is a mitzvah to postpone the enlistment of those interested and suitable for rabbinical and educational positions, so they will be able to study diligently and excel in Torah – and when they are rabbis and educators, contribute from their education and Torah knowledge to strengthen Jewish awareness of Israel’s security, and yishuv ha’aretz. And although there are genuine Torah scholars who combined enlistment into the army during their first years in yeshiva, nevertheless, many of those who are worthy of being rabbis can contribute more from their Torah knowledge to Am Yisrael if they postpone their enlistment, as long as they continue developing in their yeshiva studies. This was the role of the Tribe of Levi, who learned in order to teach, and were exempt from enlistment in the army. They did not receive a portion in the inheritance of the Land, so they would be unhampered and readily available for service in the Temple, and to educate and instruct. Only in a case of national pikuach nefesh did the Levites and Kohanim (priests) enlist in the army and, when necessary, even led the army as in the days of the Hasmonean priests.

It is important to point out: this contribution of Torah students can ensue provided the students treat the mitzvah of soldiers guarding our nation and land with great respect. Only Torah study stemming from this viewpoint can contribute to elevating the spirit and heroism of Clal Yisrael. On the other hand, Torah study that denies the sanctity of a soldier’s mitzvah is inherently absurd, similar to the study of someone who denies the mitzvah of Shabbat.

Consent and Criticism of the Haredi Position

In light of this, we do not have a fundamental disagreement with the Haredi public about the need to postpone enlistment of diligent yeshiva students who will become rabbis and educators – with teachers postponing enlistment for a few years, whereas rabbis should be able to postpone for several years, without restriction.

The criticism is in two areas: one – that those studying in yeshivas must learn Torah properly, and thus, respect the mitzvah of enlistment to the army. Second – the majority of yeshiva students who are not going to be rabbis, even if they are studying well and diligently, must fulfill the mitzvah of enlistment.

The Haredi Explanation for Not Enlisting

Nonetheless, the position of the Haredim is understandable, for they fear that army service will a cause spiritual decline, to the point of abandoning Torah and mitzvot. If this is the case, then this is an existential problem that cannot be compromised. Spiritual pikuach nefesh.

In practice, there are two parallel processes occurring in the army. On the one hand, over the last few decades the ability of an observant soldier to keep mitzvot, such as kashrut, prayers, Shabbat and holidays has improved. On the other hand, as the result of the mixing of male and female soldiers in the various units, the general atmosphere has become extremely immodest, such that a young man who grew up in religious circles, and all the more so Haredi, is faced with difficult challenges. In such a situation, the position of Haredi rabbis is that the promise of the young men’s spiritual future is preferable to the mitzvah of military service. Although the army is ready to create for Haredi recruits a framework suitable to their lifestyle, they are still concerned that over time, military service will cause them to become less religious.

Instead of Avoiding – Strengthen the Army

However, halachicly and in practice, their position is wrong. Instead of avoiding enlistment, they should be vigilant, and make certain the atmosphere in the army is as it should be for a machaneh kadosh (holy military camp). Already today, Hesder yeshiva students have reasonable conditions, adapted to the lifestyle of the national-religious public.

Incidentally, in recent years, I have consistently asked the young men returning to yeshiva after their military service in the Hesder framework, whether, as a result of army service, they have become religiously weakened, or strengthened. Almost all of them responded that they got stronger. It is important to note that in contrast, of those who went into regular army service, at least half responded they had weakened, and needed strengthening.

Effort must be made to Fulfill Mitzvot

The general rule is that one must make an effort in order to fulfill mitzvot, and not give up in advance for various reasons.

Suppose, for example, it turned out that Shabbat observers, seeing as on Shabbat they don’t have to work,  are lured to indulge in drunkenness, drugs, and other abominations. Would we stop observing Shabbat? God forbid! We would struggle to find ways to prevent them from such activity (incidentally, this is one of the explanations for the takanah (ordinance) of reading the Torah at Mincha on Shabbat; see, “Peninei Halakha: Shabbat” 5:8).

Similarly, an effort must be made to regulate the fulfillment of this great and holy mitzvah. With half the effort Haredi public representatives invest in exemption from enlisting, they could sucessfully regulate the terms of religious observance of army service for the members of the Haredi public, and Clal Yisrael.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The Hebrew version can be found at:

Relying on the Kashrut of Traditional Jews

A person who does not observe Shabbat but says he keeps kosher and is careful not to cook meat and milk together, if he is known to be a reliable person – an observant Jew can eat by him, but first must ask five questions * The questions concern the kashrut of the meat, tithes, vegetables that might contain insects, were the dishes tovelled, and was challah taken * In some of the questions, even if the answer is negative there is a solution, such as separating tithes before eating, and eating with plastic utensils * There is no need for questions in other areas, but the required questions must not be waived.


Q: May an observant Jew who keeps kosher according to halakha, eat at the home of a masoriti (traditional) relative or friend who is not Shomer Shabbat, but says he keeps kosher in his home and is careful to separate dishes – he does not cook meat in milk utensils, or milk in meat utensils – but his knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut and his strict adherence to them are uncertain?

A: If he is known to be a reliable he may be trusted, however, since he may not be familiar with halakha or keep it precisely, you cannot rely on his general statement that the food is kosher. Consequently, if you want to eat his food, you must first ask five questions encompassing all problematic areas of kashrut. Needless to say, in order to avoid offending him unnecessarily, the questions should be asked before the meal.

The Five Questions

1) As for the meat, it must be clarified that it has a credible hechsher. Those who eat kosher meat may rely on standard kashrut, and those who are mehadrin (enhance the mitzvah) and eat glatt meat, may eat the cooked meat dishes provided the meat is glatt.

2) With regard to fruits and vegetables, it must be clarified whether they were bought from a store or a chain of stores where terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) are taken, and if not – one should separate terumot and ma’asrot himself.

3) For vegetables that may contain insects, it must be clarified whether they were rinsed well. Those who are mehadrin should ask whether the vegetables were bought from insect-free produce, or soaked in water with soap and then rinsed. If they were cooked, those who are mehadrin may also eat them.

4) As for metal and glassware used for eating, such as metal cutlery and plates and glasses, one should ask the host if they are tovelled (immersed in a mikveh). If not, one should eat on plastic or disposable utensils.

5) As far as home-baked goods are concerned, it must be clarified whether there was a quantity of dough requiring hafrashat challah (separating challah from dough), and if it was not done – one should separate a small bit himself.

Questions about this Halakhic Instruction

Arguments about this halakhic instruction come from four different directions: 1) some people argue that the kashrut of a masoriti (traditional) Jew cannot be relied upon at all because he does not keep the mitzvot precisely. 2) Why not ask about other problems? 3) Conversely, some argue: Why not believe him when he says his food is kosher without asking questions? 4) Others claim these questions will cause unpleasantness, therefore it’s better not to eat, or ask. I will address the four claims.

A Reliable Traditional Jew May Be Trusted

Seemingly, one could ask: Since outside of his house a masoriti Jew is not careful to eat only kosher foods, or only in kosher restaurants, consequently, he is considered as someone who occasionally eats non-kosher food, and is not trustworthy to testify about the kashrut of his food (S. A. 119:1). Also, if he publicly desecrates Shabbat, he is not trustworthy to testify about any mitzvah (S. A. 119:7). According to this, how can we trust the credibility of a masoriti Jew who occasionally eats non-kosher food, and all the more so, when he sometimes publicly desecrates Shabbat?

However, there is a difference between Jews who were suspected of kashrut matters and chillul Shabbat in the past, and today. In the past, when society was traditional, familial, and ancestral, it was clear that those who violated these mitzvot were light-minded or extremely brazen people who broke customary practices, and consequently it was clear they could not be trusted. Today, however, there are those who are not observant but are known to be honest and reliable people – fact is, they are trusted when it comes to monetary matters. Therefore, an honest and decent person can be trusted in matters of kashrut, even if he himself is not careful to eat kosher all the time (as we have learned in Rabbi Kook’s essay “Ha’Dor” [“The Generation”]. This is also explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut” Vol. 2, 29:13, in connection to public Shabbat desecrators. This is also written in practice in ‘D’var Chevron’, Y.D. 2:125, and ‘Echol B’Simcha’, pg. 155).

In addition, we have a general rule that when it is easy to obtain kosher foods, we rely on a person whose credibility is doubtful and says he bought his food from a kosher store, for why would he go and buy non-kosher foods when it is easy for him to buy kosher foods, or as in the words of our Sages: “Lo shavik hetera ve’achil isura” (‘one does not intentionally forsake the permitted and eat forbidden food’(Chullin 4a-b; S.A. 2:4).

The Claim Additional Questions are Needed

Some people claim that while in general a masoriti Jew is careful about separating between meat and milk, in practice, they may not be so meticulous about it. Indeed, a baal teshuva (a secular Jew who returned to Torah-Judaism) once told me that his family was considered masoriti, and yet, his mother would use the same pan once to fry meat, and another time to make an omelet with hard cheese. On account of this, I wrote: “A person hosted by a masoriti Jew, i.e., a Jew accustomed to eating kosher food and is careful to separate dishes – not to cook meat in milk dishes, and not cook milk in meat dishes” (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 38:9). In other words, this is the definition of masoriti, and such a definition is faced with five questions. One should not be concerned that maybe the masoriti erred in this matter, because bedi’avad (after the fact), stam keilim (normal utensils) are considered as not being bnei yomam (a vessel that has sat for 24 hours since a prohibited substance was cooked in it), and the taste of the previous meat or milk cooked in them are made foul, and in any case, the dish cooked in them is kosher (S.A., Y.D. 122:6).

There is no need to ask about non-kosher fish, for masoriti person who eats kosher is careful about that.

Some claim one needs to ask if they cooked in the pots on Shabbat, for if they did, in the opinion of Rashba, the pots are prohibited, and must be kashered by hagalah (immersing them in boiling water). However, even according to Rashba, the pots are prohibited only for those for whom the food was cooked for on Shabbat, whereas for everyone else, the pots are permitted. In addition, in the opinion of Rosh, even for the person who cooked on Shabbat, the pots are not prohibited (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 26: 8).

There are also some who ask about the third question, claiming it is not enough to ask whether the leafy vegetables were rinsed, but to also ask whether they were inspected after rinsing (as explained in Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 23: 10). However bedi’avad, rinsing, most likely accompanied by a general lookover, is sufficient.

The Claim that No Questions Should be Asked

On the other hand, some people claim that since in practice a large majority of the meat in Israel is kosher, terumot and ma’asrot are taken from most fruits and vegetables, and most people rinse leafy vegetables, one can rely on the host’s general statement that the food is kosher, without asking the five questions.

However, according to halakha, as long there is a safek (doubt) which can be clarified by asking a question one must do so, as we learned concerning bedikat chametz (Pesachim 4a; S.A., O.C. 437:2).  And Pri Chadash (437:2) explained that when the clarification process is extremely difficult, such as in the case of examining all seventy types of treifot, we rely on the majority. But when it is not difficult, such as asking a question, one is obligated to ask.

Therefore, in a situation where posing the five questions would be extremely insulting, such as when the host is an important relative, or a very distinguished person, and on the other hand, eating there cannot be avoided without causing a serious dispute, a masoriti host can be relied upon that his food is kosher without asking the five questions. And although chances are his metal and glassware were not tovelled, besha’at ha’dachak (in times of need) when asking a question about it would be extremely insulting, one can rely on the lenient poskim who permit eating off non-immersed dishes on a temporary basis (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 31:8).

The Allegation of Unpleasantness

Some claim that asking the five questions is offensive, and therefore, it’s better not to eat. Indeed, one must examine and evaluate what the host would prefer, that they not ask him the five questions and not eat with him, or ask him the five questions and be able to eat with him. In my estimation, in most cases a masoriti Jew would prefer all questions be laid on the table, and that the guest feel comfortable and able to eat. Moreover, chances are that the answer to four of the questions will be satisfactory, and this will please the questioner and the person asked. Granted, as far as tevilat keilim is concerned, chances are the answer will be that the dishes were not tovelled. However, since there is a solution by using plastic or porcelain dishes, this will not cause great unpleasantness. In addition, it could be that as a result of this question, before the next visit, the host may tovel his dishes.

A Cake Made by a Traditional Jew

Q: At our workplace, where most of the employees are observant, one of the non-observant workers brought a cake that her mother made in honor of her birthday. She said her mother does not observe Shabbat, but is very careful about keeping kosher. In the end, the workers were apprehensive about eating it, and thus the cake remained untouched until it was finally thrown in the garbage. Did we do the right thing?

A: When a person brings a cake and says it is kosher because a masoriti person who is careful to keep kosher prepared it, if the person who brought the cake is a reliable person – he can be trusted. Nevertheless, one question should be asked: If the dough contained an amount requiring separating challah, was it taken? When there is a safek, a crumb can be separated. If there is fruit in the cake, one must also ask whether terumot and ma’asrot were taken, and if it is uncertain, terumot and ma’asrot should be set aside.

Concerning products from which cakes are made there are no questions, since in Israel, these products are kosher, and only someone who makes a great effort to search for non-kosher products can find them, and a masoriti is not suspected of doing so.

One need not ask whether the flour was sifted, since even if it was bought from the shuk (marketplace) and not sifted, the cake is kosher. The reason is that in most cases, there are no insects in flour, and in a case where it is no longer possible to check the flour, we go according to the majority (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 23:15). And as for the eggs, me’ikar ha’din (according to strict halakha), it is not obligatory to check them for blood since they are not fertilized (ibid, 24: 2-3). And there is no concern that the cake was baked in a treif baking dish, seeing as he is masoriti.

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

Bringing Issues of Kashrut to Every Home

From the introduction of the new volume of “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut” Vol. II, “Food and the Kitchen” * In many ways, it was the most complex and complicated volume * The laws of kashrut should be clear to everyone, both in order to avoid frequent doubts, and because knowledge of Torah elevates man * Having merited the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’, we are obligated to learn the customs of all ethnic groups and poskim, understand the common halakhic foundations, and bring the halakhic divisions closer together, while maintaining the different traditions * More about kashrut and hospitality: When hosted, should one be meticulous to keep the minhag of chalita for meat

The New Book

With the grace of God, last week the second volume of “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut – Food and the Kitchen”, came off the printing presses. Thus, I merited completing the three books dedicated to the laws of kashrut: Volume I – ‘Vegetation and Animals’, this volume, and another book on the “Laws of Shivi’it and Yovel”, which also includes many laws in the field of kashrut.

Here are some of the main points I wrote in the introduction of my new book:

“The mitzvah of kashrut elevates our eating, so that in addition to our body’s health, it purifies our soul as well. Usually, spiritual people tend to disregard eating, relating to it as an inferior, physical matter that hinders a person’s spiritual attainment, and thus, matters of food and eating are valueless to them. However, according to Judaism and Torah guidance – everything has importance, and the physical body also possesses holiness, and consequently, many mitzvot deal with managing the body, and eating. Moreover, a profound connection exists between the body and the soul, and any perfection of the body affects the soul. The main goal of the mitzvot of kashrut is to prepare and purify our foods, so that by way of them, we can connect to the Torah’s values. How fortunate we are, how goodly is our lot, and how pleasant is our fate, that God sanctified us in His mitzvot, and commanded us to elevate our eating to a level possessing emunah, kedusha, and bracha (faith, holiness, and blessing), through which we can fulfill our mission of Tikun Olam (perfection of the world) in the Kingdom of God.”

The Complexities of Kashrut Issues

“In many ways, this book was the most complex and complicated. It deals with the most common issues rabbis have encountered for generations, and consequently, numerous books have been written on it, as well as many responses. Also, there are numerous commentaries on the explanations of the Shulchan Aruch particularly on this subject. On almost every chapter of my new book, entire works have been written in recent generations. As with all the previous books in the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series, my intention was to define the foundations of the halakha well, so that the details branching out from them would be understood on their own, in a way there would be no need to elaborate on details and examples.”

Halakha Should Be Understandable to All

“The general rule guiding me is that Torah mitzvot should be understandable to all Jews in a way they can fulfill them without all types of doubts and always having to ask rabbis impractical questions. Because if people always have to ask about every detail, only a few will fulfill the halakha correctly. That being the case for the entire Torah, all the more so in a practical and everyday matter that affects every family and individual. Beyond that, Torah knowledge elevates and inspires every Jew, enabling him to implement his full talents in all areas of all his pursuits – for the glory of Torah, the Nation, and the Land. This is the reason God gave his Torah to the entire nation of Israel, so the words of Torah would be understood by all, and not just scholars. Only in this way can the Jewish nation fulfill its mission to reveal the word of God in the world, and be a blessing to all families of the earth.”

The Need to Delve into the Fundamentals

“In some areas I had to delve deeper into the fundamentals of the issues, either because reality has changed, or because sometimes the poskim of previous generations referred mainly to their local traditions and the opinions of their ethnic group, and less to the traditions and poskim of different communities and distant places. Today, having merited the ingathering of millions of Jews from the four corners of the world, and the different ethnic groups are marrying one another, it is our duty to learn the minhagim (customs) of all ethnic groups and poskim collectively, to understand the common halakhic foundation, and while carefully safeguarding the various traditions, endeavor to join together the halakhic branches, in the tradition of the Talmedei Chachamim (Sages) of Eretz Yisrael, who treat each other graciously when engaged in halakhic debates (Sanhedrin 24a).”

The Yeshiva Har Bracha Institute

“By the grace of God, over the years, significant Torah scholars have developed in Yeshiva Har Bracha, who understand how to clarify revealed tradition from its very foundation till the offshoots of all its branches in recent generations. It is a great privilege for me to thank my close partners in examination of the issues, led by Rabbi Maor Kayam shlita, head of the Yeshiva Har Bracha Institute, who accompanies me throughout the learning. Thanks to his special talent and diligence, together with his deep understanding of my approach of halakha and its writing, his assistance in solving the issues is enormous. As head of the institute, he has taught and mentored members of the institute – Rabbi Yair Weitz, Rabbi Ephraim Shachor, Rabbi Danny Keller, and a recent participant, Rabbi Aharon Friedman – so they can also help clarify the issues. From the very first chapter of the laws of kashrut, their great contribution is evident. Thanks to them, it was possible to encompass and clarify complex issues, taking into account all the hundreds of explanations and responses they dealt with, especially in the issues of shratzim (insects) and the kashering of utensils.”

The Contribution of the Residents of Har Bracha

“A special thanks to the residents of Har Bracha. Thanks to them, I encounter practical questions from all areas of kashrut. In addition, in the regular classes I give every Shabbat to both men and women, hundreds of participants have learned along with me all the issues of kashrut, have heard the questions and the ambiguities, and contributed important ideas and information. Even the residents’ fathers and mothers who visit the community and participate in classes contributed from their personal experience, and from traditions of their predecessors according to their various ethnic groups. Likewise, over the years, a number of scientists and specialists in various academic fields have emerged within the Yeshiva and its academic/Torah study program ‘Shiluvim’, who also contributed to the book.

Readers of Revivim

“I also gained knowledge from responses of readers of my newspaper column ‘Revivim’, especially the contributions of scholars in various fields of science, who added important information in understanding the issues and actuality.”

Here, I will add that sometimes thanks to readers’ comments and questions, I realized that the explanation I had written was misunderstood, that it created confusion between related halakhic areas in which perhaps was a mistake, or a proof that I thought was clear, was not to various Torah scholars. Thanks to all of this, I endeavored in the book to explain the halakha’s more accurately, and to base them on stronger foundations.

A Memorial for Tzuri Hartuv z”l

I further wrote in the introduction: “This book is dedicated to the elevation of the soul of my beloved cousin, Tzur Hartuv, who passed away suddenly in the darkness of the night of Tevet 5779 at the age of fifty-eight. He left behind his widow Yehudit and their five children. Tzuri, who was born in Bnei Brak and established his home in Efrat, was a graduate of Or Etzion Yeshivot, Merkaz HaRav, and Har Etzion. He was a dedicated employee in the insurance field, beloved by his friends, a community volunteer, set times for Torah study, and like his father, may he live a long life, served as the shaliach tzibbur (cantor) on Shabbatot and Yamim Nora’im. He was fond of Hasidic and Israeli music, played organ at weddings and poetry evenings, and pleased God through his voice and actions. Tzuri was the first to encourage me to write the laws of kashrut, emphasizing that the public at large, and even graduates of yeshivas, do not properly understand the complex issues of kashrut. Almost every time we met, and after each book was published, he mentioned that he was still waiting for hilchot kashrut. When the first volume was published, he said that indeed it was a start, but he was still waiting for a clarification of the main issues. To our dismay, now that the book has been published, all we can do is dedicate it to his memory. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life, and may he continue to serve as a shaliach tzibbur in his prayer, for his entire family and Israel.”

Being Meticulous about Chalita when Hosted

Q: I am a Sephardic Jewish woman, married to a Yemenite. From what I understand, for Yemenites, chalita (koshering by boiling) of meat is an actual halakha, and not a minhag or chumra (stringency). For that reason, as a Rabbi instructed us, we are careful about this even when we are guests. Can we act leniently and fry schnitzel in deep oil on a stove, or does it require chalita specifically? And is the chumra necessary even when we are guests?

A: Yemenites who are meticulous to perform chalita at home, do not have to be machmir about it when they are guests. I will briefly discuss the issue.

In the opinion of Rambam, Ra’ah, and Ritvah, melicha (salting) is only effective in extracting blood from the outer side of meat, but not from the inner parts. Therefore, after melicha of meat and rinsing, the salted meat must be scalded in boiling water, so that all blood remaining in it will be solidified in the meat and can no longer be secreted while cooking, for as long as the blood cannot be secreted, it is considered dam averim she’lo parash (non-excreted blood of limbs) which is not prohibited. And if chalita in boiling water was not performed on the meat, the red liquid that issues out of it on its own, or as a result of cutting the meat, is prohibited due to the prohibition of eating blood. And if the meat was cooked, since in cooking liquids are secreted from the meat and re-absorbed, the meat would be prohibited.

However, in the opinion of the vast majority of poskim, after meat has been salted properly, the red mohal (sap) secreted is permitted, because it is not considered blood, but rather “chamar basar” (meat wine). Therefore, after salting, the meat is permitted to be cooked, because all liquids secreted are kosher.

In practice, as guests, even those who are machmir should act leniently for two reasons. First, the machloket (controversy) concerns a law based on Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance) since blood that has been cooked is forbidden from Divrei Chachamim alone, and therefore, when the vast majority of poskim are lenient in a law d’Rabananbe’sha’at ha’tzorech (in times of need) one should rely upon them and act leniently. And certainly, when one is a guest, it is considered a sha’at ha’tzorech.

In addition, some poskim say that the obligation of chalita according to the opinion of Rambam is only when melicha was done to the meat for only eighteen minutes, but if the meat is put in salt for an hour as is customary today – all the blood is secreted or solidified in the meat, and even according to Rambam, it is unnecessary to perform chalita on the meat in boiling water afterwards (Aruch HaShulchan, Y.D. 69: 36-40). And although many have disagreed with this s’vora (logical argument), since the law is from Divrei Chachamim, even Yemenites accustomed to be machmir and perform chalita on meat, may rely on it in times of need. And there are some who rely on this l’chatchila (from the outset).

The General Attitude towards Chalita

It is worthwhile noting that most of the Badatz kashrut organizations are lenient in regards to chalita, but it would be appropriate for the mehadrin hechers to be machmir, seeing as chalita is one of the most important chumra’s in the halakha’s of kashrut.

In our yeshiva, I asked the cook to always perform chalita on meat, so that everyone would be included in the enhancement of the mitzvah according to method of Rambam, and the Yemenite minhag.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The article in Hebrew appears here:

Relying on the Kashrut of a Host

A clarification of last week’s article: In clear and firm minhagim practiced in entire communities, one should be machmir even when hosted by someone who does not hold by that minhag * There are three firm minhagim: eating only glatt kosher meat, Ashkenazim not eating kitniyot on Pesach, and eating only bug-free leafy vegetables grown in special crops, or soaking them in water with soap * Other minhagim, which are either a hidur or chumra, do not undermine the halakhic rule: when hosted by a “kosher” Jew who follows halakha, one should trust his kashrut * In the case of chalav nochri and avukat chalav nochri, the regular kashrut of the Rabbinate is in accordance with halakha

Summary of the Law Concerning Eating at a Friends House

Last week, I dealt with those who are accustomed to beautify the mitzvah of kashrut by buying products that have Mehadrin kashrut, how they should behave when hosted by a friend or relative who keeps kosher according to halakha, but does not meticulously buy products with Mehadrin kashrut, rather, settles for regular kashrut of the Rabbinate. I responded that the guest should rely on the host and eat his food, because regular kashrut follows halakha, according to halakhic rules. And although there is virtue in the hidurim (beautifications of the mitzvah) that take into account opinions of poskim who are machmir (stringent), we have learned from the words of our Sages on several issues that it is more important to increase peace among the Jewish people, and to respect halakha (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 38:8).

However, concerning clear and firm minhagim practiced by entire communities, and whose members do not budge from them unless forced to due to illness, there is room to be machmir even when they are guests. There are three firm minhagim: 1) those accustomed to always eat glatt meat, 2) Ashkenazim who do not eat kitniyot on Pesach, 3) those careful to eat only leafy vegetables from special insect-free crops, or to soak them in water with soap and rinse well. (In contrast, they should not be machmir with cooked food containing leafy vegetables because of safek safeika (a double uncertainty) (Rashba, as brought in Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 23:7)

Correction from Last Week’s Article

Some people asked questions stemming from a mistaken sub-heading, which stated that the firm minhagim a guest should keep are “well-known minhagim identified with certain ethnic groups, such as kitniyot and glatt kosher meat.” This title, however, is misleading, for I did not write that one should be machmir because of the minhag of an ethnic group, rather, because they are firm minhagim practiced by entire communities.

However, when people are machmir not to eat other products with regular kashrut certification, which according to the accepted halachic rules of all ethnic groups and poskim are kosher, they act in contradiction to halakha, and harm the honor of Torah and halakha, by treating kosher products as non-kosher.

What Distinguishes the Three Minhagim

Some readers asked: After all, in addition to the three minhagim, there are other chumra minhagim, for example avukat chalav nochri (dry milk powder derived from milk that has not been milked under the supervision of a Jew). Why shouldn’t a guest be machmir in these chumras as well?

Answer: I wrote three minhagim because of a combination of two considerations: one, the extent of the minhag’s firmness, and their halakhic weight. Indeed, the minhag of kitniyot on Pesach is relatively minor in weight halakhically, but from the aspect of the minhag’s validity, it is extremely firm, since for more than six hundred years all Ashkenazim are extremely careful to safeguard the minhag. On the other hand, from the aspect of its halakhic weight, eating glatt kosher meat is the most severe of the halakha’s of kashrut, therefore, although it is not so firm in the minhagim of ethnic groups, it is correct for those who are always careful to eat glatt to do so as well, even when they are guests. As for leafy vegetables, I debated, for on the basis of its halakhic weight, it is a chumra intended to solve a safek d’rabbanan (a rabbinical uncertainty), since from the Torah, shratzim (insects) are batel b’shishim (halakhic nullification of a substance if mixed into another which is sixty times greater in volume). And yet, since this is an important chumra that many people are always careful to keep, I added it.

Ignorance in the Chumra Not to Eat Regular Kashrut

However, the other minhagim of hidur and chumra, both on the basis of their halakhic weight and firmness, cannot undermine the halakha that regular kashrut certification is kosher, and cannot undermine the principle that a Jew who is hosted by a “kosher” Jew, should respect and rely on him in matters of kashrut.

Indeed, there were some readers who argued – how can we trust the kashrut of the Rabbinate “upon whom doubts have been raised”, and in the opinion of many poskim “should not be relied upon”, or a private kashrut body from abroad that the Rabbinate approves, although abroad, “many people refrain from relying on it.” However, once again the question must be asked: What exactly are the claims against regular kashrut? Are these claims that, in accordance with the rules of halakha, cause these foods not to be kosher?

To this end, I have turned to my readers twice, asking to inform me about problems they are familiar with. For the third time: Is there anyone who knows of a claim based on facts, as a result of which regular kashrut should be designated not kosher?

In the meantime, however, claims of the machmirim against products manufactured in factories with regular kashrut stem from ignorance, for such people do not know the halakha, and consequently believe that regular kashrut is lenient beyond the boundary of halakha. This is incorrect; regular kashrut is in accordance  and within the boundary of halakha.

Indeed, someone who beautifies the mitzvah of kashrut and takes into consideration the methods of the machmirim is clearly virtuous, however, it is forbidden for them to invalidate regular kashrut and undermine the rules of halakha, for if so, their gain is cancelled by their loss.

Example: The Claim about Chalav Nochri

Many readers wrote me that regular kashrut should not be relied upon, since it depends on opinions of individual poskim, for example Rabbi Feinstein’s opinion regarding chalav nochri, despite the fact that most poskim are machmir, and therefore it should not be relied upon except in sha’at dachak (time of need).

This is a clear example of ignorance. I will summarize the issue:

Our Sages forbade Jews to consume milk milked by a non-Jew, lest he mixed-in the pure milk, impure milk (Avodah Zara 35b). However, when a Jew supervises that the non-Jew does not mix impure milk in the pure milk – the milk is kosher. And the intention  is not that the Jew maintains absolute supervision, rather, that he supervise in such a way that the non-Jew fears mixing-in impure milk with pure milk (Avodah Zara 39b; S.A., Y.D. 115:1).

The Law When there is No Concern of Mixing Impure Milk

Is supervision required when there is no concern impure milk will be mixed-in? Many opinions were stated in this issue, but in general, they can be divided into three methods:

The first method is divided into several opinions. The lenient poskim claim that for a non-Jew who does not have an impure animal in his flock, the milk he milked is kosher (‘yesh omrim’ in Mordechai; Tashbetz 3:143). Some say that only if there is no impure animal in the entire city, or that impure milk is more expensive, the milk milked by a non-Jew is kosher (Pri Chadash 115:6; Chazon Ish, Y.D. 41:4). This was the custom in most of the communities of North Africa (Otzar Ha’Michtavim Vol. 3, 1,392).

The second method: The prohibition is practiced even when there is a very remote concern, and this was the custom in Eretz Yisrael and Turkey (Chida, Birchei Yosef 115:1, and so wrote Chochmat Adam (67:1): “Everything the Chachamim decreed, even in a situation of remote concern, nevertheless it is forbidden.” This is also what Beit Meir wrote, Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 101), Aruch HaShulchan (115:16), and others (and safek in Radbaz, 4:75, whether the first or second method).

The third method: In the opinion of Chatam Sofer (Y.D. 107), this prohibition was decreed for any milk milked by a non-Jew, consequently, even if there is no concern that it contains impure milk, milk that is milked by a non-Jew is prohibited. This is the opinion of Melamed L’Ho’eil (36:4). And in our times, this was the ruling of Chelkat Ya’akov (Y. D. 34), Minchat Yitzhak (9:25), and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l.

In summary, in the opinion of the vast majority of poskim, only when there is a real concern, or even a remote one, that the non-Jew will mix impure milk in the pure milk, the milk he milked without supervision is forbidden. Consequently, according to the rules of halakha, the halakha is in accordance with the matirim (lenient poskim), both because they are the majority, and also because the machloket (controversy) is in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic), in which case halakha goes according to the lenient opinion.

Discussion on the Strict Opinion

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote (Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 1: 47-49) that even according to the strict opinion, in law-abiding countries, cow milk milked by non-Jews is kosher, since government supervision is as effective as Jewish supervision. And just as when a non-Jew fears that a Jew will catch him if he cheats – his milk is kosher, so too, a company that fears that if caught cheating will receive a fine and its reputation will be damaged – its milk is kosher. This is the accepted practice of the OU, the most widespread kashrut organization in the United States.

On the other hand, there are machmirim who argue that government supervision is not as effective as Jewish supervision, for two main reasons: 1) perhaps the supervision is not tight enough; 2) supervision must be done specifically by a Jew (Chelkat Yaacov, Y.D. 34; Mishneh Halakhot 4:103).

Discussion of the Strict Opinion on Avukat Chalav

Regarding avukat chalav nochri (non-Jewish milk powder), more poskim are of the opinion that even according to the strict method, there is no prohibition, since the entire basis of the method of the machmirim is that it is a decree of the Chachamim that applies even when there is no concern that the non-Jew will mix in impure milk, but the decree applies only to milk, and not milk powder. This was the opinion of Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi, Y.D. 103), Zaken Aharon (Vol. 2, Y.D. 44), D’var Yehoshua (Vol. 3, Y.D. 17-19), Beit Avi (Vol. 1, Y.D. 92), Yaskil Avdi (Vol. 5, Y.D. 4), and Tzitz Eliezer (16:25). On the other hand, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (Ma’amar Mordechai, Vol.1, Y.D. 4) and Binyan Av (5:47) were machmir, and Shevet HaLevi also inclined to agree (5:59).


In light of what we have learned, since today there is absolutely no concern – even one in a thousand – that in the cow milk of large company’s impure milk will be mixed-in – in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the milk is permitted, and consequently, milk powder made from it is also permitted. And according to the rules of halakha, one does not have to take into consideration the opinion of the machmirim. First, because the opinion of the vast majority of poskim is to be lenient. Secondly, even within the opinion of the machmirim, some poskim hold that nowadays in supervised companies, and kal ve’chomer (all the more so) regarding avukat chalav, the lenient opinion should be followed. Third, even if the poskim were equally divided, since it is a din d’rabanan (rabbinic law), halakha goes according to the lenient opinion (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 30:4-6).

The Rabbinate Hechsher

What are the standards of the Rabbinate’s regular kashrut hechsher today? Regarding chalav nochri, since it is very easy to be machmir in Eretz Yisrael, they are accustomed to be stringent according to the opinion of the machmirim, and do not give kashrut to chalav nochrim, even when there is absolutely no concern that impure milk was mixed in. However, regarding avukat chalav nochri, in which there is a certain difficulty to be machmir, seeing as it is included in numerous products that come from abroad – the Rabbinate gives regular kashrut, according to the method of all the lenient poskim, and according to the method of the lenient poskim in the explanation of the method of the machmirim.

Here is an example of what I have written, namely, that the Rabbinate’s regular kashrut is in accordance with halachic law, and even beyond so when there is no difficulty to be machmir.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The Hebrew version may be found at:

Beautify Kashrut, But Not at the Expense of the Host

A person who eats only Mehadrin and is hosted by a someone who keeps standard kashrut – should eat what the host serves him * Only in known minhagim identified with certain ethnic groups, such as kitniyot and glatt meat, should a person be machmir when being hosted * The Torah’s command is that Jews should trust each other, therefore, as long as a person is not known to disregard halakha, his kashrut should not be questioned * Those who refrain from eating food prepared by people who keep kosher according to halakha, sow discord and offend the Torah * A son who keeps Mehadrin, and his parents keep standard kashrut, must eat by them because of respect for parents

A Guest who keeps Mehadrin, Hosted by Someone who keeps Standard Kashrut

A question that troubles many people: Someone who meticulously keeps the halakha’s of kashrut and buys only products that are kosher l’mehadrin, how should he behave when he is a guest at his brother, relative, or friend who keeps kosher according to halakha, but perchases standard kosher products, and is not meticulous in the minhagim of mehadrin kashrut laws?

I will first open with the summary of the halakha, and then I will elaborate on its sources and reasons.

Trust the Host

Answer: The guest must trust the host and eat his food because standard kashrut is the halakha according to majority of poskim, and according to the rules of halakha. Although there is virtue in the various hidurim (beautifications of halakha) that take into consideration the opinions of the machmirim (poskim who rule strictly), it is more important to increase peace among Jews, and respect the halakha.

Admittedly, there are definite and unambiguous minhagim that are practiced by entire communities, and members of those communities do not budge from them unless forced to due to illness. For example, those who eat only “glatt” meat, are careful to do so even when they are guests at other people’s homes. Similarly, Ashkenazi Jews who do not eat kitniyot (legumes) on Passover, are meticulous to guard their minhag even when they are guests at someone else’s home. This is not considered an insult, since it is a recognized minhag. Also, many people who eat only leafy vegetables from special crops without insects, or soak the vegetables in water with soap and rinse well, are careful about this even when they are guests. Nevertheless, in a cooked dish that contains leafy vegetables, they should not be machmir, because it is a safek, safeka (a double doubt in a prohibition).

The Torah Commandment: Mutual Trust

The general rule is that Jews who believe in Hashem and His Torah are trustworthy in mitzvot, thus, anyone who is a guest at the home of a friend who observes kashrut should trust him and eat his food. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One witness is relied upon in prohibitions” (Yevamot 87b), and Rashi explained that if not, “no one would be able to eat his friend’s food.” And even rabbis and righteous Jews should rely on a simple Jew who keeps kashrut according to halakha, as we learned from the Torah’s command that any Jew who slaughters his beast for himself, gives the Kohanim (priests) as a gift the zeroa, lechayim, and keiva (foreleg, cheeks and stomach). Thus, we see that even the Kohanim, men of holiness, relied on the slaughter of every Jew.

Nevertheless, all of this is provided that it is a person who knows halakha and does not disregard its fulfillment, just as it was customary to examine a person who began the trade of slaughtering to see if he knew how to do it according to halakha (Chulin 3b; S. A., Y.D. 1:1). And similarly, when our Sages in the Second Temple period found that due to the high price of ma’asrot (tithes), many amei ha’aretz (uneducated Jews) did not set them aside properly – they decreed that only those who pledged before three witnesses to be faithful to the laws could be trusted in matters of terumot and ma’asrot (Sota 48a; Yerushalmi, Sota 9:11; Rambam, Ma’aser 9:1).

However, this not to say that every Jew must be tested in his yirat Shamayim (fear of God) and knowledge of halakha. Rather, anyone who is known to be observant of mitzvot, is careful to buy kosher food, and knows the general rules of halakha – for example, as women knew from watching their mothers, and hearing from their fathers – is trustworthy regarding kashrut.

Peace is More Important

We also learned that when a person who is machmir in a certain detail is a guest in a place where they are not machmir, and their minhag is well-founded in halakha, the guest should act according to the local minhag. Only if his being machmir is not evident is he permitted to act according to the minhag of his place (Pesachim 51b). Some poskim say that even when something is prohibited according to the minhag of the machmirim based in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), the visitor should act leniently (Tosefot Rosh, Maharshdam), while others say that only in chumras rooted in minhag must one act leniently according to minhag ha’makom, but for things forbidden according to his minhag based in Divrei Chachamim, he should not act leniently (Rabbeinu Tam, Ramban, Shach 119:20).

In a similar way, we learned that our Sages instructed that in certain circumstances one should forgo tithing demai, because of aiva (hatred) and darchei shalom (ways of peace) (Mishna Demai 4:2; Jerusalem Talmud, ibid). Similarly, we learned that someone who is careful not to eat pat paltar goy (bread baked by a non-Jewish baker) in accordance with the enactment of the Chachamim, when he is with friends who follow the instructions of the poskim who were lenient about eating pat paltar goy – he should eat from their bread “mishum aiva ve’ketata” (to prevent hatred and quarrels).” This is because bread is the main part of the meal and refraining from eating it is clearly evident and may cause hostility (Rema S. A. 112:15, according to Maharil). Nevertheless, Rema added: “And we do not expand this concept to other forbidden acts.”

Should One Inform the Guest?

Corresponding to this, we learned that the poskim were divided on whether a host must tell his guests that the food he gives them is not kosher according to their minhag. Some say it is proper to inform them, but not obligatory (Ritvah; Pri Chadash 119:19), however in the opinion of many poskim, one is obligated to inform them (Ohr Zarua, Yam Shel Shlomo, Rema 119:7. Shach 20). According to this, Rema wrote that someone may eat at a friend’s house who knows his minhagim, as he will surely not feed him something “which he regards a prohibition.”

Seemingly, one might ask: Did we not learn that a guest should forgo his minhagim of chumrot and eat the host’s food, according to the accepted halachic ruling of the host?

However, this is with regard to recognized minhagim of chumrot, such as glatt meat, a fact that the host is aware of. In addition, we are not talking about a guest who has come to a community that has a definite, lenient minhag, that whoever violates it, appears to insult the dignity of the community and its rabbis.

The Practical Halakha

Therefore, when it comes to definite and recognized minhagim related to a prohibition, such as glatt meat and kitniyot on Passover, keeping these minhagim does not cause hostility, for doing so does not result in a person being totally unable to eat the food his friend normally eats at home. Regarding these prohibition-related minhagim, in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the host is obligated to inform his guest which of the foods he serves are prohibited according to his minhag, and some say it is only proper to inform him, but not obligatory.

Machmirim Who do Not Eat Standard Kashrut

Consequently, there is no basis for the minhag of those who eat kosher l’mehadrin products in their home to also be machmir even when they are guests. Their minhag, although, can be explained – as a result of the upheavals the Jewish nation underwent, and changes in modern lifestyles, guarding of the masoret (tradition) was harmed to the point where today it is difficult to discern who knows halakha, and who is careful to keep it properly; as a safeguard, they are meticulous to consume only mehadrin products, and by refraining from eating the food of someone not meticulous, they resolve most of the doubts.

However, their position is contrary to halakha, since “standard kosher” is kosher according to the rules of halakha, and the halakha is that one must trust every Jew as long as they are not known to be ignorant or belittle the mitzvot. Thus, those who are machmir when they are guests is contrary to the instruction of the Chachamim, and also an insult to the honor of Torah and halakha, in that they consider kosher products as if they are non-kosher.

The Aim of Separation

There is concern that the position of those refraining from eating kosher when they are guests has another essentially negative objective promoted by elements supporting the means of separation, who wish to segregate Haredi society from the general religious public so they won’t be influenced by them and their rabbis – for if they don’t even eat with them, clearly, their Torah positions are not to be taken seriously.

Moreover, our Sages enacted that a Jew should not eat bread and cooked dishes of non-Jews in order to create a fence between Jews non-Jews, and even in the prohibition of milk of non-Jews they were machmir to take into consideration remote concerns in order to distance Jews from non-Jews (Rabbi Shmuel Abuhav, Sefer HaZichronot 3: 3). Those who scrupulously refrain from eating kosher food by their fellow Jews, relate to them as if they were goyim, and separate themselves from Knesset Yisrael.

Extreme Chumras

While there were tzadikim (righteous people) whose personal custom was to refrain from eating outside their home, also because of kashrut concerns, they did so in a sweeping manner and did not determine to refrain from eating with Jews who ate standard kashrut, but would eat with those who ate mehadrin, for such a minhag is in contrast with the halakha stipulating that every “kosher” Jew should be trusted. Consequently, if they refrain from eating they insult the host’s honor, and the honor of the Torah, which, according to its rules, determined that standard kashrut is kosher.

Standard Kashrut is Kosher

Possibly, the mistake of many machmirim in this issue stems from ignorance, that they do not know the halakha and believe that in standard kashrut is lenient beyond the line of halakha. This is not so — rather, standard kashrut goes according to the line of halakha and even beyond, when there is no difficulty to be machmir.

I repeat my request from last week: If there is anyone who knows that I am mistaken, please inform me about a halachic issue in which the standard kashrut hechsher in a food-producing factory follows a method that is not in accordance with principle halakha, according to the rules of halakha.

When Eating at the Home of One’s Religious Parents

When a person is hosted by his religious parents, even if they hold by standard kashrut according to the lenient opinions, and even in definite and recognized minhagim, owing to kibud horim (respect for parents) he should eat their food. And even if he is accustomed to eat glatt meat and they do not, he should eat what they serve him, because the mitzvah of kibud horim is more important than this chumra, even though eating glatt is the most important in the halakha’s of kashrut. This was the instruction of our guide and teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l to yeshiva students who took upon themselves to eat glatt, namely, that when they were at their parents, they should eat kosher meat according to the minhag of their parents.

The reason is that although the concern of eating glatt is important and the students took it upon themselves, since the mitzvah of kibud horim is more severe, their acceptance does not obligate them in the event of a conflict with the mitzvah of kibud horim. Even after they are married, if the concern of eating glatt would cause great anguish to their parents, it would be better for them to eat regular kosher meat, and not insult them. However, if possible, it would be proper to persuade them respectfully to buy glatt meat for them, nevertheless, it seems that in the case of hidurim that only go according to a few poskim, it is proper not to ask them to be machmir for them.

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

The Difference between Standard and Mehadrin Kashrut

Even strict hechshers do not take into consideration new chumras, which are liable to call into question previous generations who did not * Badatz kashrut organizations belonging to certain ethnic groups are stringent and lenient according to the minhag of their community. In Israel it would be appropriate to establish hechshers that answer to all opinions and customs * Kashrut that chooses not to rely on the Heter Mechira and to buy produce from non-Jews in the Shmitta year is not necessarily higher quality kashrut * Supervision in restaurants is more difficult than in factories, therefore it is advisable to choose a restaurant with mehadrin kashrut * Do not rely on a restaurant whose certificate is invalid * For those who desire higher quality kashrut , it is advisable to choose kashrut organizations that respect their competition

In the previous column, I explained the difference between standard and mehadrin kashrut, namely, that standard kashrut goes according to the rules of halakha, whereas mehadrin kashrut takes into consideration the strict opinions, beyond what is required by halakha.

Incidentally, if there are any readers who know differently, and indeed, there is a halachic issue in which the standard hechsher (a rabbinical product certification, qualifying items that conform to the requirements of halakha) follows a method that does not conform to the principle halakha, according to rules of halakha, please inform me.

To be more precise: There is no hechsher, even the highest quality mehadrin, which meets the requirements of all strict opinions, for if the hidur (embellishment) involves extremely high costs, the mehadrin are usually also lenient. In other words, the difference between standard kashrut and mehadrin is not absolute, for even in standard kashrut when it is not difficult, takes into consideration the strict opinions, even if it involves a disagreement in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), and most poskim permit. An example of this is the chumra (stringency) of the Chief Rabbinate in the Land of Israel regarding chalav nochri (milk not produced under Jewish supervision): Although the entire basis of the prohibition stems from Divrei Chachamim and in the opinion of most poskim when in practice there is no concern milk from an impure animal was mixed in, and furthermore, government regulation prevents this, the chalav nochri is not prohibited. Nevertheless, the Chief Rabbinate takes into consideration the opinion of the few poskim who prohibit such milk (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 30: 3-4. The volume will be published soon).

On the other hand, even in mehadrin hechshers, when it comes to extremely high costs, opinions of very individual poskim are not taken into consideration. For example, the opinion that flour harvesting for matzot mitzvah for Pesach should be done by hand, is not taken into consideration (see, Peninei Halakha: Pesach 12: 3).

And yet, the difference between standard and mehadrin kashrut is clear, and is expressed first and foremost in the level of supervision: standard kashrut suffices with occasional supervision suitable in accordance to the rules of halakha, while in mehadrin kashrut, supervision is closer and stricter, thereby reducing mishaps that are liable to occur.

New Stringencies

Another reason why even the most demanding mehadrin hechshers do not take into consideration all the chumrot (stringencies): if it is a chumra that righteous Jews of past generations did not take into consideration because they believed the strict opinion was rejected by the vast majority of poskim – it is improper to be machmir, lest it seem the dignity of former righteous Jews are underestimated. For example, the Jerusalem tradition of nikkor (the process of making an animal kosher by removing the chelev (forbidden fats) and the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) was established about a hundred and fifty years ago by Ashkenazi rabbis in Jerusalem who incorporated all the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chumrot, to the point where approximately 13 to 25 percent of the weight of the meat was removed from the hind of the animal. In the days of the establishment of the State of Israel, slaughterers from Hasidic areas immigrated to Israel, who, although their overall tradition of nikkur was more lenient, were more machmir about certain fats. However, despite their demands, their chumra was not taken into consideration. Firstly, because according to halakha they felt it was unnecessary, and secondly, because the addition of their chumra would seem as underestimating the dignity of former righteous Jews who established the Jerusalem tradition of nikkur (this is explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 21:9, footnote 8).

However, there are issues that righteous Jews of past generations were lenient about because the chumra involved a great loss of money or a great effort to fulfill, but if today, it is possible to embellish kashrut according to the stringent opinion without a great loss of money or a great effort – one should do so because it would not be considered underestimating the previous generations, just as today it is commonplace to embellish kashrut with mehadrin hechshers when it comes to produce containing tiny insects – above and beyond what was previously acceptable when refrigeration or running tap water to wash the produce did not exist.

Private Kashrut Bodies of Ethnic Groups

Today, as a result of ‘kibbutz galiyot’ (the ingathering of Jews from all over the world to Israel), a situation has been created where the chumras of ethnic groups differ from one another. Every Badatz serving a certain community are machmir in their own chumrot, and do not take into consideration the chumrot of other communities. Take for example the issue of bishulei goyim (food cooked by non-Jews). There are Badatz organizations of Ashkenazi immigrants who do not take into consideration the opinion of the machmirim, and also in the case of Ashkenazi chumrot on Pesach the Badatzim of Sephardic Jews do not take them into consideration.

The prime example of this is the chumra of chalita of meat after its salting: Although in the opinion of Rambam, Ra’Ah, and Ritva, it is obligatory to perform chalita on meat in boiling water after it’s salted in order to constrict the blood remaining in the meat and this is the minhag of Olei Teman (Yeminite immigrants), nevertheless, all the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Badatz kashrut bodies do not take this into consideration (this will be explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 22:7, footnote 12). They should not be condemned, for as far as they are concerned, they carefully guard accepted customs of hidur of the eminent religious leaders of their community, and as long as they are defined as a Badatz of a particular ethnic community, the addition of a chumra would be considered an offence to them, and an underestimation of the previous eminent rabbis of their community.

It would be desirable for all Israeli mehadrin supervisory bodies to take into consideration the opinions of all the poskim and minhagim of all ethnic communities. This does not mean that in practice they need to be machmir in all the chumrot, including those whose cost is high; rather, that all opinions and minhagim should be taken into consideration, each kashrut according to the degree of hidur it wishes to enhance.

Fundamental Disagreements

There are issues where the disagreement concerns what actually is mehudar, such as the issue of fruit in the Shmitta year. Many Badatz kashrut bodies are meticulous not to eat fruit grown by Jews using the Heter Mechira, and this chumra is so vital to them, they prefer buying fruits and vegetables grown by non-Jews, and even enemies. On the other hand, as we have learned from our rabbis, it is more mehudar to buy fruit and vegetables grown by Jews in the Shmitta year by means of the Heter Mechira, for the Heter Mechira is a safek, safek, safeika of an issur d’Rabbanan (a triple uncertainty of a rabbinically ordained prohibition) (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 7:5), while buying from Jews rests on two Torah mitzvot: yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and giving preference to our fellow Jews over a non-Jews. Therefore, when faced with two options in Shmitta – standard kashrut by means of the Heter Mechira, or kashrut mehuderet that prohibits fruit from the Heter Mechira – we prefer the hidur of buying Jewish produce over the other hidurs that take into consideration rabbinically ordained safekot.

Kashrut Certification in Factories

The classification of “kosher” and “kosher l’mehadrin” exists in factories that produce food and in restaurants, however, in practice, the ability to supervise large factories is easier compared to supervision needed for restaurants. This is because in the method of mass production, the mashgiach must first conduct a thorough examination of all the ingredients from which the food is produced, and afterwards, only make sure the factory continues to function as agreed. In addition, in a large factory it is easy to finance strict supervision, and thus, in practice, even standard kashrut of a factory is close to being considered kashrut l’mehadrin in terms of the level of supervision.

The Problem in Restaurants

However, in restaurants that involve different types of cooking supervision is more complex, since supervision must be over all types of food the restaurant purchases from suppliers who change now and then, and since cooking is done by people who usually are not well-versed in halakha – sometimes mistakes arise. In order to fully supervise a restaurant there must be a mashgiach on-hand, but most restaurants are unable to meet the cost of employing one. Therefore, the Rabbinate maintains basic supervision relying on trust of the restaurant owner and employees adhering to their prescribed kashrut procedures, and the mashgiach comes occasionally to check that the prescribed procedures are maintained. In contrast, mehadrin supervision is on-hand, ensuring a higher level of kashrut.

It is Recommended to Prefer Restaurants with Mehadrin Kashrut

Therefore, even someone not meticulous about eating kosher l’mehadrin, it would be a good idea to prefer restaurants that have mehadrin kashrut, or at least a restaurant that belongs to a kosher chain that maintains the quality of its products. This is especially true of meat restaurants, since the temptation to cheat in meat products is great, because the price of kosher meat is double that of treif meat, and on a monthly basis, it can be a very large profit. In addition, the prohibitions concerning meat are most severe.

Nevertheless, someone who wants to rely on standard kashrut food is permitted to do so, even in a meat restaurant. Although the risk of possibly eating treif is higher, as long as the restaurant has a kashrut certificate, supervision that in the vast majority of cases prevents it exists, and therefore, according to halakha, the food it serves is be’chezkat kasher (presumed kosher). And if a diner wishes to benefit himself and others, he should ask to call the mashgiach, and check to see the food is indeed kosher. A sign of such interest improves the level of kashrut, because it inspires the restaurant owner and the mashgiach to comply with the kashrut rules they are signed on to.

Reliability of a Restaurant Courier

Q: May I order for food from a restaurant when the courier who brings the food is not observant, and maybe not even Jewish?

A: When there is no incentive to cheat, as in the case of a restaurant courier, the kosher restaurant is trusted the courier it sends brings the kosher food ordered from it (Avodah Zara 34b; S.A. 118:10; Shach 1).

An Expired Kashrut Certificate

When a kashrut certificate expires, the restaurant owner must not be trusted when he says that the restaurant is still under supervision and they have not yet been given the new certificate, rather, one should call the rabbinate representative and hear from him that the restaurant is still properly supervised. Without that, one should not eat there.

Which Hechsher to Prefer

These are the considerations for someone who wants to maintain a higher level of kashrut, and someone who does not know how to judge this, should consult his rabbi. It should also be added that, naturally, there is competition and arguments between the various kashrut bodies, and as a rule, it is appropriate for those choosing to enhance the level of kashrut to prefer rabbinates or kashrut bodies that respect their competition, and do not boycott or slander. And although the foods they supervise may be flawless, it is proper to stay away from such ugliness and anything resembling it.

And after all, someone who does not want to enter into all the subtleties and differences between the various kashrut bodies and Badatzim – can rely on the fact that, in general, standard kashrut is indeed kosher, and mehadrin kashrut hechshers are indeed enhanced, and the more well-known and recognized the kashrut body is, the more one may rely on it.

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

Relying on Kashrut

Notwithstanding the basic trust of man, since people have a financial reason to cheat, supervision is required to permit food they sell * Supervision is based on deterrence, by means of surprise and punishment * In the kashrut system, both the Rabbinate and Badatz organizations, there are problems requiring improvement * Nonetheless, on the whole, the level of kashrut in Israel is good * In spite of flaws and forgeries now and then, if there is a kashrut certificate that has not been proven to be fake – one can rely on it, and if it turns out that the Rabbi or mashgiach was negligent in their job – the sin is on their head, and not on the purchaser

In this article I will discuss the kashrut system in Israel, and explain the need for a kashrut certificate for food, and the difference between a standard kashrut certificate and a mehadrin kashrut certificate (the most stringent level of kosher supervision).

The general rule is that when a business operator has a financial incentive to cheat, supervision is required to monitor he does not do so. For that reason, the Torah commanded that merchants be supervised to make sure their weights are accurate, so as not to deceive buyers (Deuteronomy 25:15; Baba Batra 89a). However, this does not mean venders and food manufacturers are not be trusted at all, for if so, supervision would be required at all times, and even the supervisors would have to be supervised lest they are dishonest, ad infinitum. Rather, the basis of everything is basic trust in people requiring reinforcement by means of supervision when they face financial temptation.

The Foundation of Supervision: Deterrence

Hashgacha (kashrut supervision) rests on the basis of deterrence, which is divided into two components – surprise, and punishment.

Surprise: When there is concern that a business owner or worker will do something that renders the food non-kosher, he must be aware that at any moment the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) might appear and observe him. To this end, a key must be given to the mashgiach so he can come to the factory at any time without prior coordination, and inspect everything done there (Avodah Zara 61a; S.A., Y.D. 129:1; 131:1).

Punishment: If a shochet (ritual slaughterer) or a business owner is caught selling non-kosher food, God forbid, his kashrut certificate must be revoked. As our Sages instructed, a shochet who sold treif (non-kosher) meat, is permanently disqualified. And even if he claims he did it inadvertently and will do teshuva (repent) by letting his hair and nails grow as an expression of grief for his wrong-doing, he is no longer trusted. Since he has lost his credibility, there is concern his teshuva was done for the purpose of obtaining a permit to sell meat, but when faced with temptation once again – he will fail, and cheat. Only if he moves to another location , and there a rare case occurs by which it becomes crystal clear he overcame his lust for money, can he be trusted to have done teshuva (Sanhedrin 25a; Rashbah 1:20; S. A. 119:15).

The Weakening of Deterrence, and the Increase of Supervision

At the beginning of the period of the Achronim some four hundred years ago, when the process of professionalization grew, there were families whose entire livelihood depended on the ritual slaughtering and selling of meat, and if a father was permanently disqualified from selling meat, his livelihood, and that of his family, was destroyed. Therefore, the rabbis instructed to judge him leniently and arrange a method for him to do teshuva by way of fasting and self-punishment, and after his punishment was completed, his credibility was re-instated (Rashal, Taz 119:16; Sho’el U’Mayshiv 141, 2, 170. See, Chulin 18a; Daat Kohen 2).

This is also the custom today: if it appears to the rabbis responsible for kashrut that someone caught cheating will change his ways for the better, they punish him by disqualifying his kashrut certificate for a certain amount of time and arrange for him a method of doing teshuva, and afterwards, return his kashrut certificate. Certainly, however, since general deterrence has been hampered by the fact that denial of kashrut certification is not permanent, the need was created to increase the importance of supervision of all food businesses, especially those who were caught cheating.

Kosher and Mehadrin

In kashrut organizations, it is customary to grant two types of certificates: a standard kosher certificate, and a mehadrin kosher certificate. The difference between them is in two areas: first – in mehadrin kashrut, when there is no great difficulty, the opinions of the machmirim (strict poskim) are taken into consideration even when they are a minority, and even when the law is based on Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance). Whereas in standard kashrut, they go according to the rules of halakha, namely, in a dispute of Divrei Chachamim, when necessary, they rule according to the lenient opinion, and in a dispute regarding an issur Torah (a Torah prohibition), if there is a clear majority of poskim who rule leniently – when necessary, they rely on their opinion, and if the dispute is equal – they are machmir (rule stringently). Only in the law of sirchot (scar tissue) of the lungs of animals – although considered an equally disputed law of a Torah prohibition – they rule leniently, and the reason for this is due to the high cost of the chumra (a stringency that exceed the bare requirements of halakha), and also because the lenient opinion seems more acceptable (since animals who have sirchot do not die within twelve months).

The second area concerns the degree of supervision. Standard kashrut follows the customary rules of halakha according to the majority of poskim, and they rely on the business owner to adhere to the system of kashrut practices they set for him; consequently, the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) visits the business periodically to check that everything is going as agreed. If they find he had cheated, they invalidate the kashrut, but as long as they did not find a significant problem, they continue trusting the owner. In contrast, mehadrin kashrut relies less on the business owner, and usually requires a mashgiach on-hand to oversee all food preparation.  In addition, a slight violation of the instructions can also invalidate the kashrut certificate.

As a general rule, the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates provide both standard and mehadrin kashrut, while the various private kashrut organizations usually provide one kashrut level. The recognized Badatz organizations in Israel only grant mehadrin kashrut.

Problems in the Kashrut System

For various reasons, the kashrut system suffers from a number of problems, in particular: 1) A lack of uniform procedures for defining kosher and mehadrin. 2) Lack of supervision of certain rabbinates and Badatz organizations who are sometimes negligent in their work. 3) Competition that sometimes becomes unruly, accompanied by defamation which unjustly harms the presumption of the kashrut of trustworthy people. 4) Often there is a conflict of interest that may cause mashgichim or kashrut organizations to turn a blind eye to problems in order to continue being paid for the kashrut.

Between the Rabbinate and the Badatz Organizations

One of the problems about kashrut in many local rabbinates is that the mashgiach receives his salary from the business owner, raising concern he will be afraid to voice disapproval. On the other hand, the Badatz organizations have an incentive to continue providing kashrut because they earn a living from it, while a local rabbi has a fixed salary and no incentive to continue granting kashrut, and as a result, his halachic ruling is impartial. In addition, the local rabbinate may be examined by the Chief Rabbinate and the State judiciary system, and in this way, the Rabbinate has an advantage (as Rabbi Moshe Bigel explained in the introduction to his book ‘Echol B’Simcha’). On the other hand, by fact that the Badatz organizations deal with higher-standard kashrut with closer supervision, this balances out their conflicts of interest. The fear of criticism from competing kashrut organizations also balances out conflicts of interest.

Striving for Improvement

It would be appropriate to attempt improving the entire kashrut system; establish uniform procedures for defining kosher and mehadrin and procedures reducing the concern of conflict of interests; require kashrut organizations to report transparently on their level of supervision so the buyer knows what they are strict about and what not; and have the Chief Rabbinate monitor all of this reliably.

In Spite of All, the Level of Kashrut is Good

Nevertheless, despite all the problems requiring correction, overall, the kashrut system in Israel is good. There are a few reasons for this: First, thanks to the basic yirat Shamayim (fear of God) of the vast majority of people involved in the field of kashrut. Second, the competition between the various kashrut organizations and the media exposure of faults, causes them to analyze themselves and improve. Third, the fact that most of the food produced in Israel is kosher, greatly helps maintain kashrut.

The Presumption of Kashrut for all Supervisions

Although rumors are occasionally spread about the kashrut of a particular rabbinate or Badatz being remiss and employing fraudulent or negligent mashgichim, and sometimes there are stores that sell treif (non-kosher meat) alongside their kosher certificate, and the media now and then reports about a store presenting a fake kashrut certificate – in spite of all this, as long as there is no clear evidence of exactly where the treif is being sold, one is permitted to buy food in all places that have a kashrut certificate from a rabbinate or private kashrut organization. There are two main reasons for this:

First: The basis of relying on kashrut is that “one witness is relied upon in prohibitions,” and consequently, we rely on the mashgiach who testifies verbally or by a kashrut certificate that the food is kosher. Although the mashgiach receives a salary for this, since the rabbis choose reliable mashgichim and supervise them, they may be trusted. And while sometimes people lie, including those considered particularly trustworthy, the minority of liars does not cancel out the general rule that “one witness is relied upon in prohibitions.” Just as two witnesses may sometimes lie, nevertheless, as long as it is not otherwise proven, we rely on two witnesses even in the most severe judgements (Rambam, Yisodei Torah 7: 7). In other words, the first foundation is the presumption of basic kashrut of the rabbinate granting the kashrut seal, which cannot be uprooted without thorough investigation.

We Follow the Majority

The second foundation: we go according to the majority, and most places that have a kashrut certificate are kosher. After all, the halakha is that even if food is found on the street, if in the area the majority of stores are kosher, although the minority of stores sell treif food, the food found on the street is kosher, for we go according to the majority (Chulin 95a; S. A., Y.D. 110:3). Kal v’chomer (a fortiori) it is permitted to buy food in stores that have a kashrut certificate (and it should not be argued that the fraudulent places are considered kavu’ah (permanent), because in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the law of kavu’ah applies only to a known place, or at the very least, a place that with little effort may be easily found, whereas in this situation, one does not know which place is fraudulent. And in the law of kavu’ah the opinion of the machmirim is not taken into consideration, since it is d’Rabbanan (rabbinical), and in any safek (doubt) concerning the law of kavu’ah, halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, as explained in ‘Peninei Halakha: Kashrut’, Vol. II, 16).

Standard Kashrut is Kosher, and Mehadrin Kashrut is Mehadrin

Therefore, in halakha and in practice, all foods that have kashrut supervision of the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinate are kosher, and foods having mehadrin kashrut of the Rabbinate or private kashrut organizations are usually kosher, or kosher l’mehadrin as appears on the kashrut certificate. If it turns out that the rabbi and mashgiach were negligent in their job, and the food a person ate was not kosher or not mehadrin as requested, the sin is entirely on the head of the rabbi and the mashgiach, whereas the buyer who was meticulous in purchasing food having kashrut supervision – is free of sin. If the rabbi and the mashgiach did their job faithfully, but the manufacturer cheated them, the sin rests entirely on the fraudulent manufacturer’s head.

All Together Now – On the Holiday of Sukkot

The Jewish nation was commanded to take the four species on the holiday of Sukkot, as it is written: “On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows [that grow near] the brook. You shall rejoice before God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

The Sages taught that the four species are mutually indispensible, in other words, if one of the species are missing, the mitzvah is not fulfilled (Tractate Menachot 27a).

Le’chatchila, (at the preferred halachic level), they should be taken together, binding the lulav (palm frond) with the hadassim (myrtle branches) and the aravot (willows).

Bedi’aved, (ex post facto), if one took the four species separately, he has fulfilled his obligation, since, in the end, he took all of them (Shulchan Aruch 651:12).

A profound idea is hidden in this halakha concerning the unity of the Jewish nation, which is also connected to our preparations for Yom Kippur, since the primary aspect of kappara (atonement) is reliant upon our being a part of Clal Yisrael (the Jewish nation as a whole).

Four Species, Two Groups

The comparison of the four species to the four different groups of Jews is familiar to many. However, in the Talmud (Tractate Menachot 27a), the Sages arranged the four species into two groups, saying that just like in the four species, two of them yield fruits – the etrog (citron) and lulav (dates from the palm tree), while the other two – the haddas (myrtle) and aravot (willows) – don’t bear fruit.

So too, there are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), and there are ordinary people. And just as one cannot fulfill his obligation of taking the four species if one of them is missing, this is also true concerning the Jewish nation – Torah scholars cannot exist without the help of the regular people who assist them in their livelihood, and the regular people cannot exist without the Torah scholars who connect them to the spiritual world and the World to Come (see Tractate Chulin 92a).

Compared to the Four Groups

In more detail, the Sages explained (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) that the four species allude to four types of people in the Jewish nation. The etrog, which possesses both taste and smell, is compared to Jews who are complete in Torah and good deeds. The lulav, which possesses taste but has no smell, is compared to Jews who have Torah but lack good deeds. The haddas, whose smell is pleasant but does not yield fruit, is compared to Jews who have good deeds but lack Torah. And the arava, which has neither fruit nor smell, is compared to Jews who lack both Torah and good deeds.

“What does God do with them (the Jews in the category of aravot)? To destroy them is impossible! Rather, God said: Let them all be tied together in a single bundle, and one will atone for the other.”

Etrog Jews

Jews compared to the etrog are complete in Torah and good deeds, and assist in the future tikkun (perfection) of the world. This is also exhibited in the halakha– we are more meticulous concerning the beauty of the  etrog than all the other species.

Although the etrog is indeed the most beautiful of all the species, nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that, as far as taste is concerned, the dates which grow on the palm tree are tastier, and the smell of the haddas is more pleasant. As if to say: True, the Jews compared to the etrog are indeed extremely beautiful and integrate the full range of qualities in their personalities, but they require the lulav and the haddas.

Lulav Jews: Torah Scholars

It is illogical to explain that the Jews compared to the lulav are people who  study Torah diligently but do not fulfill the mitzvoth; for what value is their Torah study if they don’t identify with its commandments (Tractate Yevamot 109b)? Rather, it refers to diligent Torah scholars who, as a result of their constant learning, do not merit fulfilling scores of good deeds, but nevertheless, give expression to the importance of Torah study more than others. Their level is especially high, for Torah study is tantamount to all the other mitzvoth combined. In practice, we also see that the lulav is taller than all the other species – implying that the level of the Torah is highest of all. Therefore, the blessing over the taking of the four species is “Blessed art Thou… and commanded us concerning the taking of the lulav.

Torah Study and Jewish Unity

The study of Torah contains a basic stipulation: it must stem from a connection to Clal Yisrael in unity. And although there are different opinions and diverse sides of the Torah, all come from one source, and are one.

As the Sages said (Tractate Chagigah 3b): “The men of assemblies,” which means the Torah scholars…some declare certain things pure, while others declare them impure; some prohibit, and others allow; some make valid, while others make invalid. But if one may say: If this is the case, how can I learn the Torah (due to the abundance of rifts and disagreements)? Therefore, it is written: “Given by one shepherd.” One God gave them, and one Master (Moses) said it from the mouth of the Lord of all creatures, blessed be He.”

The Lulav Shouts “Unity”!

The lulav, in its’ unique shape, expresses the quality of unity. Its leaves grow on two opposite sides, but they cling to the spine of the palm collectively. On the one hand, the lulav brims with many leaves; however, one leaf covers the next, with each leaf adding a little bit of its own, and all together, they envelop the spine of the palm in unity. And if the leaves split and are separated from the spine – the lulav is pasul (disqualified).

Also, every leaf is composed of two separate leaves clinging together via the tiyomet (twin middle leaf of the lulav), and if the tiyomet is divided – the lulav is pasul, not kosher. Even the lulav’s straight form expresses unity – aiming completely at one goal – but when it is bent, it curves in two different directions, and therefore, is pasul.

And thus the Sages said: “Just as the date (from the palm tree) has only one heart, so too, Israel has only one heart – to their Father in Heaven” (Tractate Sukkah 45b).

Similarly, the Sages said: “An unopened palm frond – these are the Torah scholars, who compel themselves to learn Torah from one another” (Vayikra Rabba 30:11) – for only through modesty and unity can Torah truly be learned.

Accordingly, Torah scholars must awaken to spread peace and unity, as the Sages said: “Torah scholars bring peace to the world” (Tractate Berachot 64a).

Haddas Jews: The Righteous

The haddas alludes to Jews who perform many mitzvoth and good deeds. Of course, Jews compared to the haddas are not disconnected from engaging in Torah, rather, they excel by doing numerous mitzvoth and good deeds, and as a result of these acts, holiness is revealed in the world.

Also, we have seen that the righteous have been called haddasim, and in their merit, the world survives and is not destroyed by sins (Tractate Sanhedrin 93a). Likewise, Queen Esther, in whose merit the Jewish nation exists in the world, was named Haddasah, in the name of her righteousness (Tractate Megillah 13a).

The Sages have said: “One who sees a haddas in his dream – his assets will be successful, and if he lacks assets – an inheritance will fall to him from somewhere else” (Tractate Berachot 57a).

Most Important – Good Deeds

In several respects, the greatest mitzvah is to marry and “be fruitful and multiply”. This mitzvah expresses piousness, for by means of it, holy souls are continued into the actual, physical world. And indeed, the Sages said that the multiplicity of the three -pronged leaves of the haddas alludes to the multiplicity of children.

Therefore, they said that the haddas is likened to our forefather Yaacov, and his wife Leah. “Just like the haddas is replete with leaves, so was Yaacov replete with children”, and “so was Leah replete with children” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:10).

The custom of chassidim to dance before the bride while holding branches of haddasim in their hands was not coincidental (Tractate Ketubot 17a).

The Arava – Simple Jews

On the face of it, the arava has no eminence whatsoever. It has no taste or smell, and the Jews compared to it lack both Torah and good deeds; they exist only by connecting themselves to Clal Yisrael.

However, the arava does have intrinsic value, for it possesses a tremendous growth force. If a large willow tree is pruned in the month of Nisan (spring), by Tishrei (fall) it will return to its fullness.

In this respect, the arava reflects tremendous vitality in this world. And amongst the nation of Israel, Jews likened to the arava express the idea that derch eretz (good manners) precedes the Torah, for although they do not engage in Torah study and mitzvoth, nevertheless, they act civilly and are productive individuals.

By virtue of their natural vitality, the Torah scholars and righteous people are strengthened in their work. And from this very same natural vitality, new Torah scholars and active individuals sprout amongst the Jewish nation, as we have witnessed numerous times, that important Torah scholars and achiever’s have come from simple families.

Therefore, it is essential to take the arava amongst the four species. And thus we learn that only through unity of all the resources can the Jewish nation fulfill its mission – to perfect the world through the word of God.

Arava: Our Matriarch Rachel

The arava alludes to beauty and the natural, practical forces in the world, and when watered properly, it grows strongly; on the other hand, if it is not attached to water, it quickly withers.

In a similar way, the Sages likened the arava to the Matriarch Rachel and Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, for on the one hand, both of them died relatively young, and had difficulties finding full expression in the Jewish nation; on the other hand, their vitality, beauty, and practical talents sustained Am Yisrael.

In the merit of Rachel, all the tribes were born, and in the merit of Yosef, Israel survived the famine and exile in Egypt.

The task of the arava Jews is extremely difficult. They are required to reveal the holiness contained within everyday-life in this, material world. Unlike the lulav Jews who engage in Torah and the haddas Jews who fulfill mitzvoth, the arava Jews are engaged in the regular duties of this world, “down to earth” – and to reveal holiness there is no simple task.

Therefore, in the meantime, they are fruitless and seem empty, but the vitality within them expresses high aspirations.

And in the future, when the world is filled with the knowledge of God, and even on the bells of the horses shall there be inscribed ‘Holiness to the Lord’ (Zechariah 14), and non-bearing fruit trees in the Land of Israel will give-off fruit (Tractate Ketubot 12b), the lofty virtue of the arava Jews will be revealed.

We Must Never Separate

In the meantime, it is forbidden to take leave of the aravot – firstly, so they don’t fall and get lost amongst the nations, and secondly – if they are missing from the Jewish nation, who will fulfill the great vision of revealing the word of God in this, material world?

It is precisely the arava Jews, like Rachel and Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, who upon connecting to the holy, will merit revealing the holiness in the natural, physical life — in beauty, and in all the talents revealed in the life of this world.

I Invite to My Meal Poor, Lonely Ushpizin

The mitzvah of joy on Chag includes concern to make one’s family happy, and the poor and needy * The primary concern of joy should be between husband and wife, and both of them together are responsible to make the rest of the family happy * The Ushpizin in the Sukkah are first and foremost the poor and lonely, as well as new immigrants, and it is a mitzvah to invite them to a meal on Chag. Anyone who invites such guests merits hosting the exalted Ushpizin, the righteous souls * The laws of kashrut for guests: A person can rely on a host’s kashrut even without supervision, provided he is sure the host is familiar with the halachot, and does not disrespect them

The Mitzvah to Rejoice and Make Others Happy

The primary mitzvah of simcha (joy) on the holiday of Sukkot is to be happy and make others happy, for true joy is achieved only when one strives to share the joy with others, as the Torah says: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).
Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two components: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata‘ (you) in the above mentioned verse includes both husband and wife jointly – one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Also, we find indeed that a man’s primary simcha is the festive meal which his wife customarily prepares, while a woman’s primary simcha is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry. The responsibility of imparting their joy with members of the family is equally shared, for the simcha of Chag is incomplete without the participation of the entire family. The time-honored custom of all Jews is sharing the joy of the holiday with the family.

The second component of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and friends, the poor and the lonely. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor having lost their main source of sustenance, and the mitzvah to gladden them is carried out by giving them tzedakah (charity). The ger (convert), having left his homeland and family is liable to suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.

In recent generations, a special mitzvah has been added to natives of Israel: to host immigrants, who often feel lonelier specifically during the holidays, and it is a great mitzvah to include them in the joy.
It should further be noted that the Torah commanded including the Kohanim and Levi’im (Priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct B’nei Yisrael, both young and old. From this we can learn that today, Torah scholars – the rabbis and educators who teach Torah and instruct throughout the year similar to the Kohanim and Levi’im, should also be made happy on the Chag. (Binyan Shleima, 1:33).

Who are the Ushpizin According to the Holy Zohar

The lonely or poor guests are the special ones of the festival of Sukkot, who are called in Aramaic ushpizin, and the more guests one brings joy to in his sukkah, the more praiseworthy he is.

Consequently, our Sages said in the Zohar that one should also invite to the sukkah “ushpizin ila’in” (supreme and holy guests), namely, the souls of the seven tzadikim (righteous men), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, whose spiritual light shines on Chag Sukkot. In other words, having merited the mitzvah of sukkah and bringing joy to guests, particularly the poor and lonely, one is able to elevate spiritually and also invite supreme and holy guests to the sukkah, i.e., enlightenment from the souls of the tzadikim. Each day, the spiritual light of one the tzadikim shines bright, and he enters the sukkah first, followed by the other six tzadikim.

The Zohar also relates the custom of Rabbi Hamnuna Sabba, who, upon entering the sukkah, was extremely joyful and would stand inside the entrance of his sukkah and bless, saying: ‘Sit down, supreme and holy guests, sit down. Sit down, guests of Faith, sit down.’ He joyfully raised his hands and said: ‘Happy is our lot, happy is the lot of Israel who sit in the sukkah. For whoever has a share in the holy nation and the Holy Land, dwells in the shadow of Faith to receive the light of the seven tzadikim hosted in the sukkah, to rejoice in this world, and in the World to Come!’ (Zohar Emor, Vol.3, 103, 2-104:1, translation).

The Zohar Concerning Those Who Are Not Hospitable

In continuation, it is written in the Zohar (translation, and interpretation): “And although he merits receiving the souls of the righteous, he must be careful to gladden the poor, for the portion of the guests he invited to his meal, belongs to the poor. He sits in the shadow of Faith and invites these lofty guests, the guests of Faith, yet does not give them, namely the poor, their share of the meal, the tzadikim get up from his table because one should not be a guest of a kamtzan (miser)… for the table he set for a festive meal is a table made in honor of himself, and not in honor God, and of him it is written, “And spread on your faces, even the dung of your feasts” (Malachi 2:3). Woe to that man when the guests of Faith stand back from his table. Abraham , who throughout his life used to stand at the crossroads to invite guests and set the table for them, sees that this person who set his table did not give the poor their share, he stands up and says: “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men” (Numbers 16:26), and the rest of the supreme guests walk away after him… one must not say, ‘First I will eat and drink, and whatever is leftover I will give to the poor’, rather, first and foremost he should give to the poor. If he acts properly and gladdens the poor and satiates them, The Holy One blessed be He is happy with him, and each of the faithful guests bless him…”

Basic Reliability in Kashrut

Q: Rabbi, I know it’s a mitzvah on Chag to have guests in one’s sukkah and also to visit family members and friends, but when eating at other people’s sukkah, can I trust that they are strictly observant of the laws of kashrut?

A: In general, Jews who believe in Hashem and his Torah can be trusted in mitzvot. Consequently, the Torah commanded that every Jew, whether man or woman, fulfill the mitzvoth of kashrut by himself – slaughter his beasts and kasher the flesh from chalavim (forbidden fats), gid ha’nasheh (displaced tendon) and blood, and also set aside trumot and ma’asrot (tithes) from his fruits – without the supervision of a Kohen or Rabbi, and anyone who is a guest at another Jew’s house can trust him, and eat from his food.

Not only that, but according to the mitzvoth of the Torah even the Kohanim trusted every Jew and ate from their shechita (ritual slaughter), for indeed it commanded that every Jew who slaughtered a beast for himself, give the Kohanim as a gift the zero’a (foreleg), leḥayayim (jaw) and kevah (maw, or stomach). This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One witness is believed in matters concerning ritual prohibition”, in other words, that a man can testify that his foods are kosher (Rashi, Yevamot 88a, s.v. “ve’amar”; Chulin 10b, s.v. “eid”). We also find that every Jewish man trusts his wife concerning nida on her say so (Tosafot, Gitin 2b s.v. “eid”), and as well, our Sages said: “The laws of hekdesh, terumot, and tithes are indeed essential parts of the law, and they were entrusted to the ignorant” (Shabbat 32a).

Two Conditions of Reliability

However, this basic trust depends on two conditions: first – that it is a person who knows how to fulfill the details of the mitzvoth. Therefore, for example, although a Jew is trusted when he says that he slaughtered his beast according to halakha, when a young man wishes to be a shochet (ritual slaughterer), he is accompanied to see that he knows how to slaughter properly (Chulin 3b; S. A., Y.D. 1:1). Also, when our Sages realized that amei ha’aretz (unlearned individuals) were not well versed in the laws of taharot (purity) and tumot (impurity), they enacted not to rely on an am ha’aretz in issues of tumah and tahara, unless he accepts upon himself before three witnesses to strictly adhere to its laws (Rambam, Metamme’ey  Mishkav uMoshav 1: 1-5).

The second condition is that he does not disrespect the mitzvah. But if he is known to disrespect the mitzvah, he is not trusted. Therefore, when our Sages found in the Second Temple period that due to the high price of ma’asrot, many amei ha’aretz did not set them aside properly – they decreed that only those who pledged before three witnesses to be faithful to the laws could be trusted in matters of terumot and ma’asrot (Sota 48a; Yerushalmi, Sota 9:11; Rambam, Ma’aser 9:1).

In conclusion: When the hosts are known to be familiar with the rules of halakha and respect them, they can be trusted without asking questions.

The Need to Supervise Merchants

The basic trust of all Jews has to do with ordinary situations, such as a person hosted by his friend, who can rely on he is serving him kosher food. But when it comes to merchants, they need to be supervised, because of the economic temptation that could cause them to fail, as the Torah specifically warned merchants about measurements and weights that they be exact so as not to cheat with them, as written: “You must not keep in your house two different measures, one large and one small. You must have a full honest weight and a full honest measure. If you do, you will long endure on the land that God your Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 25: 14-15). Our Sages learned from the Torah’s emphasis “you must not keep” teaches that it is a mitzvah to appoint market inspectors (agradmin) to supervise the merchants measurements and weights, and to punish the scammers (Baba Batra 89a; Rambam, Geneva, 8: 20).

Even a Kohen, who mainly deals with matters of holiness, when confronted with a great temptation – he is not trusted. Therefore, our Sages instructed that if a bechor (first born kosher animal) attended to by a Kohen had a blemish that could be inflicted by a human, the bechor would not be permitted to be slaughtered and eaten without the Kohen bringing a witness to testify that the blemish had naturally developed. If there is no witness, the bechor is not permitted to be slaughtered, because there is concern that the Kohen may have inflicted the blemish to permit its slaughter, and to rid himself of having to look after it (S. A., Y. D. 314:1).

Also in the case of food sellers, where the merchant benefits from selling non-kosher food, he must be supervised. In recent generations, food production has become complex and segmented, to the point where it has become a resolute custom not to buy food whose kashrut is doubtful from a factory or a store that does not have a kosher certificate, even if the seller is known as someone who observes mitzvot (see, Meyshiv Davar 2:7, Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 4:1; Neharot Eitan 2:38; Minchat Asher 1: 37).

Indeed, there is no precise definition of the level of supervision required, but three basic rules guide the level of supervision. The first – the greater the temptation, namely, that by cheating the merchant profits more, the tighter supervision required. The second – the greater amount of people the merchant provides food for, the more rigorous his supervision must be, in order to prevent large-scale transgressions. Third – the greater the concern is about the severity of the prohibition, the tighter the supervision should be. Torah prohibitions are the most severe, followed by rabbinical prohibitions, and after them, prohibitions founded in minhag (custom). Consequently, the most stringent supervision is on meat where the temptation to deceive is huge since the price of kosher meat is double the price of non-kosher meat, and involves problems of Torah prohibitions. All the more so when it comes to a large-scale merchant.

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