Sunday, July 22, 2007

Kosher Watermelon

Note: Not to be taken halacha leMaaseh.

So I recently joined Areivim, to see what sort of stuff is being discussed there. One recent popular topic is watermelons, and the post and the reactions illustrates an important point.

One poster noticed in his local (non-Jewish) supermarket that there were sliced watermelons with tape on them indicating that they were under the hashgocha of a certain Rav. Not realizing that there may indeed be halachic problems with buying sliced watermelon from a non-Jewish source (more on that later), he posted this, asking what this was about.

Some posters in fact would never buy a sliced watermelon, so they assumed that if he was questioning the need for it, the situation must have been whole, unsliced watermelon. (The original poster did not clarify.) They then proceeded to mock this new chumra of requiring a hashgocha on whole, unsliced watermelons.

Some understood the true context, that of sliced watermelon, and explained how upon talking to a mashgiach, certain things came out. Namely, that in a big-name supermarket, they comply with American law which requires that cutting produce and cutting meat products be done in separate areas of the store, and using different knives. One other poster noted that he witnessed in smaller, mom-and-pop stores, he witnessed workers using the same knife.

Other posters never heard of this issue with sliced watermelons, considered it a new chumra, and mocked it for that. They have some knowledge of the operating principles of halacha and felt themselves capable of deciding halacha on that basis, concluding that this new chumra is ridiculous. One poster stated that the knife is cold and dry, so should not be a problem, the melon is 60 times whatever pork grease is on the knife, and even the knife itself, sufficient to nullify it, and the worker is not Jewish and has no intent of nullifying it, such that it is no issue of ain mevatlin issur lechatchila.

And the posts go on from there, under the assumption that this is an unnecessary hechsher for anyone to want, on to the more general topic kashrut agencies providing hashgocha where none is needed (this now, for many, being an addition example of this).

What is problematic with the reasoning above, about the knife being cold and dry, and bittul bishishim?

Well, in terms of the knife, there is an additional principle about which the poster was unaware, that of duchka desakina, the pressure of the knife. {Update: But see comments below, why duchka desakina may or may not be applicable here.} This is found on Chullin daf 8, in which the knife of a non-Jew was used to perform kosher slaughter on an animal. But the knife had previously been used to slaughter a non-kosher animal. There is a dispute whether one needs to merely wash the surface of the cut, or whether one needs to take away a klipah, that is, to trim the surface, because the pressure of the knife causes absorption a slight amount into the meat. Thus, the fact that it is a knife being used to cut takes away from the fact that it is cold and dry, and in fact absorption is an issue, because of the pressure of the knife. But the poster never heard of this principle.

Furthermore, since it is only on the surface of the cut, or only absorbed a tiny bit into the surface rather than being distributed throughout the entire volume of the watermelon, we do not have the 60 X required to nullify it. And since nullification does not happen, the intent of the worker does not figure into it.

There are indeed other factors that might obviate the need for such a hechsher - namely, the chazaka that they would not use the specialized knife for other purposes, and the American law that requires the same -- though there might be some issue in one of those mom-and-pop stores. (By the way, my own family's practice is not to buy cut watermelon except from a Jewish supermarket or fruit store. So this is not some newfangled custom.)

Whether or not this eventually gets resolved on the mailing list, this is illustrative of a bunch of recent issues. Yes, copepods and Indian hair wigs, widely mocked as excessive chumra-ness.

However, by those issues as well, most people commenting had no idea of the halachic principles at play. Because hilchot tolaim and hilchot tikrovet Avodah Zarah do not often come up, and they don't know what principles apply. Perhaps some chareidim, in preemptively burning the wigs, did so also out of lack of knowledge of how to apply the principles. But some people tried to apply the principles they did know, thinking that their high-school Jewish education supplied them with all the necessary principles to apply, even to arcane issues of Jewish law -- making them at least on par to evaluate any issue as rabbis who had studied the issues in depth, or were capable of quickly getting up to speed.

Further, many evaluated the situations based on misperceptions or assumptions that just were not so. Such as the many people who assumed that copepods were bacteria, and that these chumra-crazies did not have a fifth-grade education such that now they were waking up to the fact that there are bacteria in food and water. Note that the answer to copepods and Indian hair sheitels, and watermelon, may in fact be that it is muttar, but there is actually what to discuss before coming to that conclusion.


Josh M. said...

Well, in terms of the knife, there is an additional principle about which the poster was unaware, that of duchka desakina, the pressure of the knife.

According to Tosfos there, the minhag olam is to only be chosheish to duchka d'sakina in a case where the item being cut is hot (a category that includes the beis ha-shechita). My recollection is that this is how the Aruch HaShulchan paskens.

joshwaxman said...

What about the shamnunis on the surface, though? I would assume we would need to wash it?

Josh M. said...

I think that's where the presence of the chazaka comes in (although I wasn't aware of such before reading the Areivim discussion, and would ask a shailah before being someich on it).

Rafi G. said...

shamnunis would only require a klippa at most to be removed. As far as I remember from when I learned issur v'hetter, similar to what josh m. said, duchka d'sakina alone is not enough to effect anything. Duchka d'sakina needs the additional factor of davar charif, such as an onion. Alone it is nothing.

joshwaxman said...

even with duchka desakina, we would only hold that we would need to remove a klipa, which is what is under discussion. with shamnunis, it is possible that the lesser requirement, that or hadacha (washing) would be required.

Josh M.:
as to the Aruch haShulchan, though, I just checked it and did not see this Tosafot brought down lehalacha. In Yoreh Deah 10, in seif 5, he writes: השוחט בסכין של כותים שמלוע מטריפות צריך לקלוף מקום השחיטה דבית השחיטה הוא כרותח ובולע מהסכין ועוד דאפילו לא נדיננו כרותח מ"מ מפני דוחק הסכין שדוחק בהצואר בולע [חולין ח:]... ולדינה קיי"ל דצריך קליפה דכן הוא דעת רוב רבותינו וכן הסכימו כל גדולי האחרונים

and in all this discussion, he does not mention the Tosafot that this applies only to Bet HaShechita which is roteach ketzat.

joshwaxman said...

further, in Siman 10 seif 12 he writes וזה שכתב דמותר לחתוך בו צונן ע"י הדחה שידיחנו תחילה פשוט הוא דבלא הדחה הט איכה דם בעין ויובלע בהצונן על ידי דוחקא דסקינה.

from the context, it is clear that he is talking about tzonan, cold stuff (e.g. cold meat) and not about the unfortunately similarly names tzenon, radish, which has issues of charif.

all this seems to lead to his reading of the gemara kifshuto that the beis hashechita is entirely cold, and that is where duchka desakina operates to achieve absorption.

unless there is some other statement that Aruch haShulchan made, that I missed.

Josh M., can you recheck your Aruch haShulchan and see if I am correct in my reading?

joshwaxman said...

(the hadacha that he was talking about in the last context, BTW, is washing of the knife prior to cutting.)

joshwaxman said...

so perhaps duchka desakina is indeed a factor, at least according to some, if I read Aruch haShulchan correctly (an IF, I admit).

in terms of the chazaka, I've heard of similar chazakas in the past. For example that a craftsman/chef would not use his particular tool for other uses so as not to ruin the tool or the taste of the food. We could add to that the force of law.

joshwaxman said...

looking at Aruch haShulchan, he does mention that the beis hashechita is less hot that keli sheni, but that is in explaining why is does not absorb further into the meat, or why the *knife* does not absorb so much, such that washing the knife is all required. but when coming down to duchka deSakina, it seems to me he does not cite Tosafot and applies it even to cutting absolutely cold foods.

of course, who says we pasken like the Aruch haShulchan.

Josh M. said...

It appears that I misremembered and conflated his two opposing sevaros into one macrosevara equivalent to that of Tosfos. I'll reread the AhS, but it seems likely that it's my own mistake, since I only saw the halacha briefly some months back. Thanks for the catch.

joshwaxman said...

regardless of what the actual halacha may be, thanks for bringing the Tosafot to my attention. I had forgotten about it.

All the best,


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