Saturday, November 20, 2004

Mustard seeds: is the small size of copepods reason enough to permit them?

from the copepod - and realia - department

Copepods are not elephants. Elephants are large. Copepods are much smaller. Specifically, (from the OU Fact Sheet):
  • The primary species is Diacyclops thomasi, a very common type of copepod. It begins life measuring about 90 microns (.09 mm) and grows up to about 0.8 mm (males) and 1.4 mm (females) in about five weeks time. [1 inch = 25.4 mm]. [1 mm = 1000 microns].
  • A second species, Mesocyclops edax, is also present. Studies have shown that D. thomasi and M. edax alternate in a cyclical fashion in dominating the copepods population of a habitat. Samples taken in June contained D. thomasi exclusively, while July’s samples included a significant representation of M. Edax. [Both D. thomasi and M. edax are both of the same Order – Cyclopoida.]
  • Another species, Skistodiaptomus pygmaeus, is appearing in smaller quantities. They are slightly larger, measuring up to 1.2 mm (males), and are wider in diameter as well. [S. pygmaeus is of another Order of copepods – Calanoida.]

Perhaps their small size means that we should not worry about them in terms of kashrut. After all, we do not worry about bacteria in the water.

For reference, a few typical measures of different species:

African elephants: average 3.2 meters for males, 2.5 meters for females
Gnats: c2.5 mm (1000 mm = 1 meter)
Copepods: adult cyclops females: 1.4 mm, males 0.8 mm. calanoids: males: 1.2 mm (1000 mm = 1 meter). However, cyclops begin life at about 90 microns, or slightly less than 1/10 of a mm.
e. coli bacteria: 2 microns (1000 microns = 1 mm)

Thus, scale-wise, adult gnats and copepods are both measurable in millimeters (mm). The difference in scale between an African elephant to a gnat is the same difference as an adult copepod to a bacterium. Thus, it is not clear that we should consider copepods and bacteria to be exactly the same. Still, a baby copepod is sufficiently small that it is only about 50 times the size of an e. coli bacterium, yet about 1/10th the size of a fully grown copepod.

Why not see what the Rambam has to say? Usually, to be liable for eating forbidden foods one must consume an olive's measure. However, when you consume a whole creature, this measurement does not apply. What measure does apply? I cited the Rambam in a post last week, from הלכות מאכלות אסורות פרק ב:

כא זה שאמרנו בפרק זה, האוכל כזית--בשאכל כזית מבריה גדולה, או שצירף מעט מבריה זו ומעט מבריה זו שבמינה עד שאכל כזית. אבל האוכל בריה טמאה בפני עצמה כולה--הרי זה לוקה מן התורה, ואפילו הייתה פחותה מכחרדל, בין שאכלה מתה, בין שאכלה חיה; ואפילו סרחה הבריה, ונשתנת צורתה--הואיל ואכלה כולה, לוקה. [כב] נמלה שחסרה אפילו אחת מרגליה, אינו לוקה עליה אלא בכזית.

21: This that we have said in this chapter, one who eats an olive's measure -- is when he eats an olive's measure from a large creature, or combines a little from this creature and a little from that creature from the same type until he eats an olive's measure. But, if he eats an impure beria` (creature) by itself in its entirety -- behold he is lashed as a matter of Biblical law, even if it is smaller than a mustard {seed}, whether he ate it alive or dead, and even if the the creature decomposed and its appearance has changed -- since he ate it in its entirety, he is lashed. [22] An ant that is missing even a single one of its legs, he is not lashed for it unless it is an olive's measure.
Thus we see the Rambam explaining the concept of beria, the complete creature, for which one is liable for consuming as a matter of Biblical law. Note the measure he gives: "even if it is smaller than a mustard seed."

Now, this is an open-ended measurement. After all, bacteria are smaller than mustard seeds. Would the Rambam prohibit bacteria? If so, everyone would be liable. Further, there is no way to prohibit eating them, since they are present in the air as well. The issue of bacteria was discussed by the Aruch HaShulchan, and he permitted, giving a quasi-shiur of that which is, vs. which is not, visible to the naked eye. (And, as I discussed elsewhere, copepods would seem to fall under the classification of visible for him, since he says that even if they are tiny and only visible with direct sunlight, one must filter.)

However, the Rambam did not know about bacteria and thus was not considering them. Therefore, he does not make a distinction between those the eye rules over and those the eye does not rule over.

The Rambam did mention a shiur, though. He said that one would be liable for consuming them even if they were smaller than a mustard seed.

Which brings us to the question of realia. Just how small is a mustard seed - a חרדל?

In the previous seif the Rambam spoke about gnats being forbidden, and we know gnats are about 2.5 mm. Saying that it is forbidden even smaller than a mustard seed seems to be trying to arrive at an even smaller shiur. Elsewhere, a mustard seed is used by Chazal to denote a reallt small measure - thus, Jewish women accepted a chumra in the laws of niddah to sit 7 clean days as if they were a zava even if they saw a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed. How small is a mustard seed?

M. Zohari, in his book, Plants of the Bible, identified the חרדל as Brassica nigra, black mustard, or else white mustard. Indeed, in Arabic it is called khardal. Black mustard seeds range from about 1 to 3 millimeters in size. Another possibility, raised by others, is Salvadora Persica, whose seeds are really tiny, like specks of dirt. The Salvadora Persica is also referred to as חרדל , khardal, by Arabs, but whether it is a serious contender is up to question.

{The reason it is so widely discussed is that the plant's identity is important to Christian theology. In a parable, Jesus spoke of a mustard seed, smallest among seeds, that grows to be largest among trees, such that birds nest in it. For example, in Matthew 31-32:
13:31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
13:32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
This presents a problem because there are other seeds which are smaller, and other trees which are bigger. Being who Christians regard him to be, could he not have known these botanical facts? Also, birds don't really nest in it. So act the atheists, and Christian theologians try to respond.

Personally, while I don't like to delve into Christian theological issues, I don't really see these particular verses as a problem - besides being allegory, assuming he spoke in the language of man, the mustard seed was referred to by people of this age when they wanted to refer to something very small, and it grows very swiftly (within a year) into something bigger than what other seeds grow into.

Some suggest as a result the Salvadora Persica, but others reject this suggestion as unfounded. }

At any rate, if it is a black mustard seed, as Zohari suggests, then this seed can range from 1 to 3 mm. So 1 millimeter could still be considered the size of a mustard seed. (Further, I would not assume the would be talking about the higher range, larger seeds, which after all are the same size as the gnats he mentioned earlier.)

If so, a fully grown female cyclops copepod, at 1.4 mm, would be the size of, or larger than, a mustard seed. A male (and presumably female also, since I am assuming based on the cyclops species that they are larger in general) calanoid copepod, at 1.2 mm, would also be the size of, or larger than, a mustard seed.

The male cyclops, at 0.8 mm, would be smaller than 1 mm, and would be smaller than a mustard seed. (The average, but not the largest, copepod that comes from the faucet seems to be also 0.8 mm.)

However, the Rambam said that even if it smaller than a mustard seed one is liable Biblically. Even if we don't carry this all the way down to bacteria (as I am fairly certain we should not), the Rambam was referring to something. What he likely had in mind were things that were approximately on the same scale, but are a bit smaller. If indeed a mustard seed is 1 mm, then 0.8 mm would be 8/10ths, or 4/5ths of that size, and would likely be what the Rambam had in mind.

Of course, if by חרדל he and Chazal meant Salvadora Persica, then he would be referring to a much smaller measure, and the copepods would almost certainly fall under that category.

Conclusion: Thus, I do not think that based on size alone we can say that the copepods in NYC water should be permitted; in fact, they seem to be exactly the size referred to by the Rambam.

{We might be able to say something about their being small and therefore not visible, or just both small and not visible, but it is not clear that this is in fact the reality. That is, they are hard to see only when dead, and in part because they are translucent and thus blend into the appearance of the water, rather than just because they are small. (Bacteria, on the other hand, are not visible solely because they are so small.) And we would not claim that a large chameleon would pose no problem, nor a worm that blends in to the color of a stalk of broccoli. This is deserving of a separate post, but at the least a previous post mentioning the Aruch HaShulchan partially addresses the issue.}

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