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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Issur of Tolaim (Prohibition of eating worms, insects, etc.)

Once, someone approached the Chofetz Chaim, and telling him of his close affinity with Chasidus, wanted to know which branch of Chasidus would be the best to follow.

Now, bear in mind that the Chofetz Chaim was strictly Litvish, though as the one who wrote the book on the Issur of Loshon Hora, you would never call him a Misnaged, because he did not speak Loshon Hora about other Jews.

The Chofetz Chaim answered the guy in return, speaking strictly from a Halachic perspective. "If you are going to follow a Chasidic branch, it should be Breslov, because its Chasidim keep the Shulchan Aruch, and fulfill what is written in it".

Now, knowing how careful the Chofetz Chaim was with his speech, this reply may have seemed to denote that all other Chasidim aren't so careful following the Shulchan Aruch. But this can be easily answered. You see, the questioner was earnestly seeking a path in Avodas Hashem; and accordingly, the Chofetz Chaim had to give him an honest answer about it. Though he himself was not into Chasidus, no doubt that not only he knew what he was talking about, but he weighed every word before saying it, and his intention was not to bad mouth other Chasidic groups, but to point out which group would be the best to follow.

It seems that the Chofetz Chayim's words are true until today. To begin with, there is a special emphasis in Breslov to learn Halacha - especially Shulchan Aruch - EVERY DAY. While there may be those who will fault Ba'alei Teshvos who join a particular Chasidic group when becoming religious who seem to emphasize one thing related to the particular Chasidic group while not being very familiar with Halacha, perhaps some of these critics would feel a little differently if they knew that Breslov as a group in particular is very strict with not only learning Halacha every day, but also keeping the Halacha.

I will relate to you two incidents which will illustrate my point. The first is what prompts me to writing this blog. Knowing of a Seuda Shelishis which was going to include fruit for Tu B'Shevat at a Beis Midrash that I never came to before, I came there especially in honor of this. Little did I know that in fact it was a Breslov place, though you would never know it from the advertisement that they placed everywhere. Anyways, I observed when the fruit was all brought out - as well as nuts and... strawberries. Though there is a way of washing strawberries very well, which includes using soap, to ensure that there will not be any insects, what I saw this Shabbos is something I never saw anywhere else - regardless of religious environment. At this event, I saw more than one guy (they seemed to be Breslov) using a knife to peel off the outer skin of the strawberry. Though it can be assumed that the strawberries would have been washed prior to this not to cause a Michshol - stumbling block for those who would not know the difference, removing the outer skin where small insects could possibly reside is certainly a safe way to avoid any chance of eating Tolaim.

The second incident happened a year and a half ago when I was working at a restaurant in Tel Aviv - in fact, it was my last night there, right before I moved to Ebay HaNachal where I used to live. Though there was a regular Mashgiach for the evening time, on this evening as well as other times, there was a substitute Breslov guy (we became quite friendly when I was working there). Though he didn't have much to do as far as working in the kitchen is concerned, he did a little more than just loaf around the whole time. On this particular evening, he decided to check - perhaps he noticed this by chance - the cashew nuts which were used at times for a certain menu. Lo and behold, he opened one and found... a worm. Some of these nuts seems to be OK, but some others clearly had a worm, though tiny. Do bear in mind that this was in the late summer, and insects tend to be relatively more common in nuts, including walnuts, during the summer.

It's easy to take for granted that a Kosher restaurant is supposed to be a Kosher restaurant, especially if there is a Mashgiach on the premises. While the main emphasis from the particular Kashrus supervision company, seems to be on the meat and other items that could possibly come from a non-kosher source, the Kashrus organization head or manager is not going to be at the particular food outlet all the time - it is the Mashgiach on the premises who has to be very familiar with the Halachos, as well as knowing how to remove insects where applicable. And then for the certified Kosher restuarants who do not have a Mashgiach on the premises all the time when it's only the Kosher company that checks here and there to make sure that everything is "under control", while the owner or workers are clearly not Shomer Shabbos or non-Jews (and in Israel, Arabs work in a good percentage of these Kosher restaurants), who is to know what is really happening, especially when one orders let's say a falafel sandwich, and they stuff it with let's say lettuce?

In the States, I worked as a Mashgiach over different periods of time. From experience, I can tell you that even when the Mashgiach knows what to do and takes care of what needs to be done, there is really no guarantee that something won't go wrong. Regardless of who provides the Hashgacha, no less than a G-d fearing Mashgiach who knows the Halachos well will assure that everything is "under control". But at least if a good Mashgiach is always on the premises, this is as good as it gets, and a customer should not hesitate to ask for the Mashgiach for any concerns he/she will have about the Kashrus, and at the same time, can feel what type of guy the Mashgiach is, and not only what he answers, but HOW he answers which will be a good clue as to the integrity of this Mashgiach.

For everyone's information, eating a whole insect (even accidentally doesn't excuse one from an Aveira and Timtum HaLev - just the degree of how liable one is considered to be) is WORSE than eating a slice of ham. You see, a whole creature - a Beriya - that is eaten is considered significant eating according to the Torah, even if it less than a K'zayis - olive amount. However, eating part of a non-kosher animal, at least if it less than a K'zayis, is not as big of an Aveira than that tiny insect that you did not expect to be loafing around. While one who purposely eats non-kosher is in the long run far more spiritually removed from Hashem than one who eats something non-kosher accidentally, one who is learned enough in Torah to know there could be a problem with certain foods regarding insects but is lax in learning the Halachos regarding this or doesn't care to worry about "details" will hardly be excused by Hashem any less, even if he/she would never want insects as part of the menu if asked.

Now enjoy your Tolaim-less meal the next time you plan to eat from a food joint.

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