Estimating Shishim Against Prohibited Utensils Chanan Be-Keilim

  • Rav David Brofsky




Last week we introduced a principle of great halakhic importance, "chatikha na'aseit neveila."  According to this rule - known by its acronym, "chanan" - when a piece of meat becomes prohibited due to a drop of milk that fell upon it, the halakha views this piece of meat as an inherently prohibited entity of issur, and not just as a mixture of two substances which one may not consume together. 


This halakha has two major ramifications.


Firstly, let us imagine that this piece of meat were introduced into a pot of permitted meat.  We could view the resulting mixture in one of two ways.  Conceivably, we could see the mixture as a ta'arovet of dissimilar substances (min be-she'eino mino): the drop of milk – the dissimilar, foreign, prohibited ingredient (the issur) – mixing with the meat (the heter).  Thus, sixty parts of meat would be required per part of milk in order to make this mixture permitted.  Alternatively, the entire piece of meat could be considered a foreign, prohibited substance, making this mixture a ta'arovet of similar substances (min be-mino), which would then be subject to a debate between Rabbi Yehuda and Chakhamim.  According to Rabbi Yehuda, the mixture would be forbidden no matter the percentage of issur.  According to Chakhamim, the piece of meat, at least mi-de'oraita, could be nullified in a majority (rov) of heter.


The gemara (Chullin 108a) rules that in this case the piece of meat is "na'aseit neveila" (chanan), and the entire mixture is prohibited in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda.


Secondly, since the piece of meat is viewed as a "neveila," i.e., an inherently prohibited substance, if it were to fall into a mixture of a dissimilar substances (min be-she'eino mino), we would require shishim times the entire piece and not only times the drop of milk. 


We noted that the rishonim debate whether this principle applies only to basar be-chalav (Rabbeinu Efraim), or also to other prohibited substances (Rabbeinu Tam).  While the Mechaber rules in accordance with the opinion of Rabbeinu Efraim, the Rema adopts the more stringent approach - unless the mixture at hand is liquid (lach), in which case we may be lenient in cases of great financial loss.


This week I would like to continue our discussion of chanan and focus on a very important question: does the principle of chanan apply to the taste absorbed in utensils as well (chanan be-keilim)? This question is crucial to another, more practical, question: how much heter is needed to nullify the effect of a prohibited utensil on a mixture?  For example, if a non-kosher spoon is dipped into kosher soup, how much soup is required in order to nullify the taste released by the spoon?


Chanan Be-Keilim: Spoons and Udders


The gemara (Chullin 97b) raises a very interesting question.  The entirety of a cow's udder is considered permitted meat and mi-de'oraita, after shechita, it is permitted to eat the milk left in it with meat.  However, this mixture is prohibited mi-derabbanan.  If so, what happens when an udder accidentally falls into a mixture and is then subsequently removed? How are we to determine how much milk was expelled by the udder?


The gemara answers that since we do not know how much milk entered the mixture, we measure against the size of the entire udder (be-didei ve-lo be-ma de-nafak minei), since this is the maximum amount of milk that could have been expelled by the udder.  The principle expressed by the gemara seems clear.  When we are unable to determine the amount of milk that entered the mixture, we have to assume that it equals the volume of the udder.  If, however, we were able to determine precisely how much milk the udder emitted, we could measure against that amount! While this leniency is not very relevant when a prohibited substance falls into a permitted mixture, as we are generally unable to determine how much prohibited "taste" has been emitted, there are times when this principle may be of great importance.  The rishonim agree, accordingly, that if a new spoon - or a spoon which has not been used for twenty-four hours - is used to stir a teaspoon of hot milk, and is then used to stir a meat soup, that we cannot require more than shishim times the teaspoon of milk, which may be less than the size of the spoon.


However, let us say that one stirs a teaspoon of hot milk in the morning, and later that day stirs the chicken soup.  While it is certainly prohibited to use this spoon again, what if one accidentally used this spoon to stir the cholent.  Do we say that the taste of meat and of milk have combined to create "chanan" inside the spoon, and therefore we would require sixty times all that is absorbed inside the spoon, most likely against the entire spoon? Alternatively, we may suggest that just as some rishonim believe that chanan is only applicable to separate pieces and not to liquids (lach), chanan similarly cannot affect absorbed taste (ta'am balua), and therefore we would only require shishim times the milk absorbed in the spoon.


This scenario may be similarly relevant to those who apply chanan to other issurim.  Let us say that one stirred hot water in the morning, and later that day stirred a small amount of a non-kosher substance.  Do we require shishim times all that has been absorbed by the spoon, fearing that the non-kosher substance transformed all of the taste previously absorbed in the spoon into "neveila," or do we merely require shishim times the issur absorbed during the utensil's second usage? 


The Rashba disagrees with his teacher, the Ramban, regarding this question.  The Ramban assumes that the principle of chatikha na'aseit neveila is not applicable to "balua," and therefore in any case, we do not require more than sixty times the amount of milk absorbed in the spoon (ben yomo).  The Rashba argues, claiming that all the taste inside the spoon has become "neveila" and therefore we require shishim times the entire size of the spoon in order to permit the mixture, be-diavad.


We should note that when dealing with a spoon, the difference between the two aforementioned approaches is not great.  However, if the question concerns a pot - whether we require sixty times the small amount of issur absorbed in a pot, or against all that has been absorbed by the pot that day - the stakes are higher.  Assuming that mathematically it is nearly impossible to cook sixty times the volume of the walls of the pot inside the pot, the Rashba's approach would almost inevitably prohibit the mixture every time!


In the Shulchan Arukh, the Mechaber (YD 98:5) cites both opinions.  The Rema remarks that the opinion of the Rashba is the correct opinion (ikkar), yet cites another opinion, and concludes "one should follow the more stringent opinion" (la-chush le-chumra).


The latter opinion cited by the Rema, originally found in the Mordekhai, distinguishes NOT between utensils previously used for milk and then meat on the one hand and new utensils on the other, but rather between kelei cheress (earthenware) and metal utensils.  The Mordekhai argues that the principle of chanan be-keilim applies only to a keli cheress, which cannot be kashered.  Metal utensils, however, which can expel that which they have absorbed, are not subject to the principle of chanan.


The acharonim, however, are troubled by the following question:  Who is more stringent, the Mordekhai or the Rashba? When the Rema remarks that the opinion of the Rashba is the "ikkar," and then, after citing the opinion of the Mordekhai, suggests that "one should follow the more stringent opinion" – what exactly is he saying? Is he recommending that one follow the opinion of the Rashba, the Mordekhai, or both?


The Shakh asserts that the Mordekhai is indeed more lenient than the Rashba.  The Rashba applies the principle of chanan to all utensils which have previously (ben yomo) absorbed taste, while the Mordekhai limits this application to kelei cheress.  The Rema, he explains, cites the opinion of the Mordekhai, but reiterates that one should actually follow the opinion of the Rashba.


The Taz, however, disagrees.  In an intriguing yet somewhat radical interpretation of the Mordekhai, he claims that the Mordekhai, who incidentally agreed with Rabbeinu Tam in applying chanan to all prohibitions, employs the principle of chanan even with regard to a new keli cheress! Any clay utensil which has absorbed a prohibited substance is "na'aseit neveila," and consequently, all that is cooked in it is prohibited.  The clay, the Taz argues, and not the taste absorbed in the utensil, becomes chanan! After all, he asks rhetorically, what is the difference between meat and clay? Both are porous substances that cannot be kashered.  As soon as the clay absorbs the taste of issur, since it can never revert back to its original status, it is transformed into a "chatikhat neveila!"


If so, the Mordekhai is more stringent than the Rashba, at least regarding earthenware.  The Rema, therefore, according to the Taz, is suggesting that in addition to the opinion of the Mordekhai, who is stringent regarding even new earthenware utensils, one should ALSO adhere to the stringency of the Rashba regarding metals pots used within the past twenty-four hours (ben yomo)!


In summary, the Shakh believes that we apply the principle of chanan to utensils even regarding other issurim.  Therefore, we believe that the absorbed taste in any utensil exposed to heter and then to issur within the same twenty four-hours becomes chanan and therefore the entire amount must be nullified in order to permit the mixture.  The Taz, on the other hand, believes that an earthenware utensil exposed to any issur becomes chanan and we require shishim times the size of the entire utensil.  Regarding other materials, we are only stringent regarding meat and milk absorbed by the utensil within twenty-four hours, but not regarding other prohibited substances. 


Practically, when a kashrut query involves a spoon which is ben yomo, we measure shishim times the entire spoon.  It is rare that one is aware of the precise amount of taste previously absorbed by the spoon, and even if one remembers the exact usage of the spoon, it is most likely that it absorbed less than the volume of the spoon itself! Obviously, questions involving larger utensils may depend upon the above discussion.



A Drop of Milk on the Side of a Pot: Chanan in Motion


The rishonim discuss another common kitchen question.  What if a drop of milk falls onto the side of a pot of meat cooking on the fire? What is the status of the pot? What is the status of the food?


This question involves a number of factors.


Firstly, do we apply the principle of chanan to the taste absorbed by utensils?


Secondly, even if we do apply chanan to utensils, as we demonstrated above, what percentage of the utensil is actually affected? The above discussion focused on a spoon.  Generally, the area of a spoon which makes contact with meat is the same area which makes contact with milk, and then with another mixture.  However, when a drop of milk falls onto the side of a pot, even if the principle of chanan is employed, does it affect the entire pot? Is there a possibility of bitul (nullification) of the drop of milk within the walls of the pot?


The Tur (YD 92) cites three opinions.


The Smag (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol) assumes that there is no possibility of bitul within the walls of the pot, and therefore the entire pot is prohibited.  Consequently, the contents of the pot are also prohibited, since, mathematically speaking, the food will almost never be of sufficient volume to nullify the taste emitted by the pot.


The Maharam disagrees.  He asks, "mi-ma nafshakh!?" If the drop of milk has the ability to spread, then it should certainly be nullified within the walls of the pot.  And if the drop cannot spread, then we should require no more than sixty parts of food in order to nullify the taste emitted by the drop of milk!


He concludes that we are unable to determine the behavior of the milk within the walls of the pot.  Practically speaking, however, he makes the following argument.  On the one hand, if the milk were to spread over an area sixty times of size of the drop of milk, the milk would be batel and the food and pot would remain kosher.  On the other hand, if the milk spreads at all, we would require shishim of food against the affected area of the pot in order to nullify the taste emitted by that area in order to permit the mixture. 


Therefore, the Maharam argues, in the "worst case scenario," the drop of milk may have spread fifty-nine times its own area, creating a prohibited area of the pot measuring fifty-nine times the drop of milk PLUS the drop itself.  In order to nullify the effect of this area on the contents of the pot, we would require sixty times this area.  Sixty times sixty (fifty-nine plus one) equals 3600.  Therefore, we can only permit the mixture if the food in the pot measures 3600 times the drop of milk!


Finally, the Smak (Sefer Mitzvot Katan) distinguishes between two cases. 


If the drop of milk fell onto the area of the pot opposite the food, it is as if the milk fell directly into the food.  If so, if there is shishim times the amount of milk, the food is permitted, and if not, the mixture is prohibited.  As for the pot, the acharonim debate whether and why the pot is assur.  The Shakh (YD 92:27) explains that the Rema prohibited the pot lest some of the milk remained in the walls of the pot.  The Maharshal, on the other hand, claims that this opinion views the food which is opposite the wall of the pot as "connected" to the pot, and therefore if the milk fell onto the side of the pot opposite the food the milk is nullified by the food - similarly, the pot is also, in principle, permitted.  However, since using the pot would be perceived as inappropriate, and maybe even misleading, the pot should not be used. 


However, the Smak continues, if the milk were to fall onto the area of the pot which is not opposite the food, while that side of the pot may be affected by the milk, the food is unaffected by that area of the pot. 


This, of course, leads to the following halakhic quandary.  The food inside the pot may be kosher, but the pot isn't.  So how are we to remove the food from the pot? Pouring the food out the non-kosher side of the pot may actually prohibited the food! Should we drill a hole in the bottom of the pot? Should we pour the food out the other side – the side which did not come in contact with the milk?


The Smak rejects these two possibilities, as they may easily cause the food in the pot to come into contact with the "problematic" side of the pot.  Rather, one should wait until the food has cooled down, and then one may empty the pot.  We are not concerned that the taste in the pot will affect the food when the contents are cold.


The Tur notes that the custom is not to permit the food in this case - i.e., when the milk fell onto the side of the pot which is NOT opposite the food - lest the food had come into contact with the prohibited portion of the pot.  The Shulchan Arukh also cites this custom.


However, the Tur cites the view of Rabbeinu Yehiel who permits the food in extenuating circumstances, for example, on erev shabbat.


Practically speaking, the authorities debate how to rule in our case.  On the one hand, the Shulchan Arukh clearly states that we generally prohibit the food.  The Peri  Megadim agrees that this is the custom.  On the other hand, the Shakh rules that one may be lenient once the contents of the pot have been cooled down.  Similarly, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (92:43) notes that the custom "throughout the world" is to permit the food as long as there are shishim times the milk that spilt onto the pot.  We accept, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan claims, those opinions that maintain that the milk spreads evenly throughout the pot and into the food, and therefore the food is permitted and may even be poured immediately out of the pot. 


I would to address two final situations.


What if the pot were covered? Furthermore, what if the milk fell onto the pot cover, and not against the side of the pot? The Rema (YD 92:7) notes that when the lid is covering a hot, boiling pot of food, we should view the entire pot, including the cover, as the area opposite the food.  Therefore, if there are shishim times the drop of milk, the food is permitted, but the pot cover must be kashered.  However, if the contents of the pot were not yet boiling, the food is permitted.  If the pot cover was hot, it should still be kashered. 


What if a drop of milk falls onto a pareve pot containing pareve food? Chanan does not apply to this case, since we are not dealing with prohibited substances.  Therefore, we are only concerned with the impact of the milk on the food inside the pot, and on the pot itself.  If there are shishim times the drop of milk, the food is still pareve.  As for the pot, one may continue to use it as a "pareve" pot, as we shall learn in future shiurim.  Some acharonim (Binat Adam) suggest waiting twenty-four hours before using the again.


Next week, we will discuss issues related to the QUALITY of taste, i.e., "noten ta'am lifgam" and "nat bar nat.