Introduction to Mixtures: Taam Ke-ikar

  • Rav David Brofsky

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After a short intermission, we are happy to announce that Rav David Brofsky has agreed to give the kashrut series from now on.  The shiur will continue as a WEEKLY, beginning today.  At this point, we would like to thank Rav Rimon, Rav Bick, and Rav Schreiber for maintaining the series until now.

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A. Introduction:

The majority of kashrut related questions revolve around the laws of "mixtures" (hilkhot taarovot).  These laws address questions concerning contact between kosher and non-kosher food.  Some questions may concern mixtures in which there is no transfer of taste between the non-kosher and kosher foods, and some may grapple with situations in which the non-kosher food has imparted its taste into the kosher food, or into kosher utensils.  For example, what if I accidentally place non-kosher meat into my cholent?  What is the status of the food? What about the pot?  What if I ate the cholent on my dishes? These are the types of issues we will be discussing in the upcoming shiurim. 

Before we begin, I would like to note the following.

The laws of kashrut, and particularly the laws of "mixtures," are extremely complex.  The goal of this course is to present the major principles of these laws and their applications, and each shiur should be viewed as a "building block" which will ultimately lead to a broader and more proper understanding of hilkhot kashrut.  Needless to say, one should consult with one's rabbinic authority in any case of doubt.

B. Types of mixtures:

The laws of "mixtures" can be divided into two major categories, each containing at least two sub-categories. 

1. Yavesh be-yavesh.

One type of mixture if referred to in halakha AS "YAVESH BE-YAVESH," literally, a mixture of dry substances.  For example a mixture of pieces of kosher and non-kosher meat, which have not been cooked together, is considered a "dry mixture." The question arises, if the majority of the pieces are kosher, may one eat a non-identified piece from the mixture? Furthermore, there may be a distinction between a mixture of similar pieces and dissimilar pieces.  A mixture of similar pieces (MIN BE-MINO) refers to a mixture in which the pieces of kosher and non-kosher meat are from the same species of animals, and have similar tastes, such as kosher and non-kosher beef.  A mixture of dissimilar pieced (MIN BE-SHEINO MINO) refers to a mixture in which the pieces are from different species of animals, and therefore have different tastes, such as beef and pork. 

In this type of mixture, yavesh be-yavesh, one is NOT concerned with a physical melding of these pieces, nor with the transfer of "taste" from one piece to another, but rather, one is concerned with the CHANCE that he may eat the piece of non-kosher meat.  The halakhic question is, what is the identify of a particular piece chosen from the mixture. The stakes are high, being that he may actually eat the entire non-kosher piece of meat.  Yet, there is also a chance that he may not partake of ANY non-kosher substance, if the majority of the pieces are kosher. 

While we will address this scenario in a later shiur, suffice it to say that the general halakhic principle of statistical majority, based on Shemot 23:2 (achare rabim lehatot), legislates that "chad betrei batel," one non-kosher piece can be viewed as "batel" in the majority of kosher pieces, and the mixture may be consumed.  The Rishonim discuss whether one may even eat ALL three pieces, and if so, why, but that will be discussed in a future shiur. 

2. Lach be-lach.

The second type of mixture is known as "LACH BE-LACH," literally, a "wet mixture."  In this scenario, the non-kosher substance melds with the kosher substance, and cannot be separated.  This can occur when two liquids, kosher and non-kosher, are mixed together.  Alternatively, if a solid has contact with a liquid, i.e. milk falls onto a piece of meat or meat falls into a soup and is removed but the taste remains, under the proper conditions, such as heat or a prolonged period of contact (kevisha), taam ("taste") can be transferred from one substance to another.  Therefore, quite often the entire mixture will assume the taste of the non-kosher entity. The question here is, what is the status of the entire mixture, taken as a unit.

We must once again distinguish between a mixture of similar tasting substances (a piece of non-kosher beef into a kosher beef soup) and a mixture of dissimilar tasting foods (non-kosher meat into a tomato soup).   Is one type of mixture "better" than the other?  In a MIN BE-SHEINO MINO (dissimilar) mixture, the taste of the primary, kosher substance may dilute the taste of the minor, non-kosher substance until the taste of the minority non-kosher substance may no longer be noticeable.  In this case, one can actually determine whether the taste of the prohibited substance is still noticeable, On the other hand, in a mixture of similar tasting substances, a "MIN BE-MINO" mixture, the taste of the prohibited substance is not different from the prohibited and therefore is undistinguishable.  Should that lead us to a more lenient or more stringent conclusion?

As we will see, a mixture of dissimilar substances (min be-sheino mino) requires sixty times more heter (permitted substance) than issur (prohibited substance) in order to permit the mixture, while a mixture of similar tasting substances (min be-mino) is the subject of Talmudic debate.  In such a case,  Rabbanan maintain that the mixture is permitted once there is a majority of heter.  Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and argues that, on the contrary, the mixture is not permitted even if the slightest amount of issur has been introduced.

Our discussion today will concern a mixture of dissimilar tasting substances (min be-sheino mino), and we will dedicate a future shiur to understanding a min be-mino mixture. 

One final note.  While the laws governing mixtures of meat and milk (basar be-chalav) are NOT always the same as the halakhot of mixtures of kosher and non-kosher food, there is a significant overlap. Therefore, for example, a drop of milk that falls into chicken soup, (which may be a more common occurrence in our kitchens than non-kosher meat falling into our soup), may be considered a min be-sheino mino mixture (lach belach).

C. Taam Ke-ikar – Dissimilar Mixtures:

As mentioned above, a mixture of dissimilar tasting substances (min be-sheino mino) may be permitted only if there are sixty parts of heter per part of issur.  This is called "SHISHIM" (sixty).  In sharp contrast to other mixtures, in which the issur  (non-kosher substance) is generally batel be-rov, (the majority rule) and the mixture is therefore permitted, here the mixture remains prohibited, even after the physical prohibited substance is removed, until its effect on the mixture (its "ta'am or taste) is no longer noticeable; i.e. until the taste can no longer be discerned.  The ratio of "sixty" is based on the assumption that a normal taste will be discernable in the mixture up until this diluting ratio is reached. 

This type of mixture (LACH BELACH, MIN BE-SHEINI MINO) is unique.  In fact, Chazal refer to this phenomenon as "TAAM KEIKAR" – "the taste is akin to the actual substance."  In other words, as long as the taste is present it is as if the issur itself is present.  Why? And is this uniqueness of biblical or rabbinic origin?

There seems to be conflicting evidence in the gemara regarding the origin of this phenomenon.

The gemara in Pesachim (44a – 44b) provides two possible sources for this halakha.  Rabbanan suggest that just as a nazir, who must abstain from wine and vinegar processed from grapes, may not even drink "mishrat anavim (Bemidbar 6:3), a beverage produced by soaking grapes in water long enough for them to impart their taste into the water, similarly any permitted substance which has assumed the taste of a prohibited substance is also prohibited. 

Rabbi Akiva offers another source.  The Torah relates that after the conquest of Midyan, Elazar Ha-Kohen commands the people to "kasher" any cooking utensils taken from the spoils (Bemidbar 31:21 – 23).  One may ask, why would they be required to purify these utensils? There is certainly no concern that food cooked in them from now on will have any contact with any non-kosher food? Rabbi Akiva maintains that the utensils, at least on the day following their last usage, can impart the taste of the food previously cooked in them.  The "giulei nakhrim, the taste of non-kosher food expelled from the cooking utensils, may prohibit any food subsequently cooked within them. 

Regardless of whether we derive "taam ke-ikar" from "mishrat anavim" or from "giulei nakhrim," the gemara's use of biblical verses as a source implies that this prohibition is of a biblical status (d'oraita). 

Another gemara (Avoda Zara 67a), however, asserts that while if one consumes "taamo umamasho," one receives malkot (the biblically mandated punishment for the consumption of prohibited foods), if one only consumes "taamo ve-lo mamasho," he does not incur any punishment.  The simple understanding of this gemara implies that while if one partakes of a mixture in which the physical issur itself is present ("mamasho"), one incurs the punishment of malkot, implying that the prohibition is d'oraita.  However, if one consumes a mixture in which one merely ingests the taste of the issur, but not the physical piece of issur itself ("ve-lo mamasho"), one is exempt from punishment.  This would seem to imply that the prohibition to ingest pure "taam" of an issur (in a case in which the taam is already batel be-rov) is only of rabbinic origin, and therefore one is not culpable.  This, of course, seems to contradict the gemara in Pesachim, which implies that the prohibition of taam of biblical origin!

The Rishonim differ as to how to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory gemarot.  Rashi (Chullin 98b), for example, posits that taam ke-ikar is only mi-derabban, i.e. that mi-d'oraita the mixture would be permitted as long as there is a majority of heter.  The biblical sources cited in the gemara in Pesachim, i.e. mishrat anavim and giulei nakhrim, must certainly be viewed as an esmachta (not a legally binding source). 

Most Rishonim, however, insist that taam is not batel in a majority of heter, mi-d'oraita.  Tosafot (Pesachim 45), the Rashba (Torat Ha-bayit ) and others maintain that taam ke-ikar's origin is biblical, and is to be viewed as an exception of the principle of "bitul be-rov."

If so, how do these Rishonim understand the gemara (Avoda Zara) which states that "taamo ve-lo mamasho" does not incur malkot? And furthermore, why should taam be different that any other mixture, in which the principle of "bitul be-rov" is applied?

D. The Uniqueness of "Taam" and "Taamo ve-lo Mamasho":

Seemingly, one can suggest a number of explanations for the phenomenon of taam ke-ikkar.

  1. Some suggest that taam is important in that it prevents "bittul" from taking effect.  Generally, we allow ourselves to "ignore" the presence of a prohibited substance as long as it is not the primary (majority) ingredient in the mixture.  However, how can we "ignore" the issur if its taste is still discernable? It is the original issur, however, which prohibits the mixture, and the taam merely preserves its prominence so that it cannot be considered insignificant.
  2. Alternatively, one may suggest that "taam" doesn't just prevent "bitul" of the original issur.  Just as taam is unique in its physical ability to impart taste to another substance, it may also have the halakhic ability to redefine the substance to which it has imparted its taste.  In other words, the Torah may view any substance no matter what its physical origin, whose taste is that of a prohibited substance, as the prohibited substance itself.  In this case, the Torah seems to have prohibited anything which retains the taste of a prohibited substance.

While we will attempt to employ these explanations in our current discussion, they will of course be relevant to our future discussions as well.  For example, what is the significance of "shishim?" Are there situations in which a mixture is prohibited even if there are 60 parts of heter per part of issur? Or, alternatively, may a mixture be permitted by shishim even if the taste of issur is still present? Is the goal of shishim to minimize the presence of the issur, or to determine that its taam is no longer discernable?

As for the gemara in Avoda Zara, I would like to mention two of the many explanations found in the Rishonim.

Rabbenu Tam, cited by the Rosh (Chullin 7:31) explains that the gemara is referring only to a mixture of similar tasting substances (min be-mino).  "Taamo umamasho" refers to a min be-mino mixture in which the physical issur itself is present, and is not batel be-rov.  "Taamo velo mamasho" refers to a min be-mino mixture in which the physical issur has been removed and there is a majority of heter in relation to the taam, but not sixty parts.  Therefore, in this scenario the mixture is only prohibited rabbinically, as we will discuss in a future shiur. 

However, one who partakes of a mixture of dissimilar tasting substances (min be-sheino mino) certainly incurs the biblical punishment of malkot, even if there is only pure taam present without! Furthermore, Rabbeinu Tam continues, while generally one is only culpable for consuming a kezayit (a portion the size of an olive) of the prohibited food itself, here, one who consumes even a kezayit of the mixture, WITHOUT ingesting a kezayit of the actual physical issur, is still culpable! Rabbeinu Tam describes this phenomenon as "heter nehepakh le-issur" – the permitted substance is transformed into the prohibited substance.  In other words, Rabbeinu Tam clearly believes that taam has the ability to redefine the identity of the mixture, and therefore the entire mixture is to be viewed as non-kosher food itself.

Rabbeinu Chaim Ha-Kohen, also cited by the Rosh, explains the gemara in Avoda Zara in a slightly different way.  He asserts that one must distinguish between two scenarios.  Taamo umamasho refers to case in which there is a high concentration of taam in the mixture.  While there is still a majority of heter, if one, by consuming  the mixture for the amount of time it would take to eat a loaf of bread (between 2 – 9 minutes), would ingest a kezayit of the original issur, the concentration is great enough to define the mixture as "taamo umamasho," i.e., like the prohibited substance itself, and therefore one would be culpable even for eating a kezayit of the mixture.  If, on the other hand, the concentration of issur in the mixture is LESS than a "kezayit bekdei akhilat peras," the mixture is referred to as "taamo ve-lo mamasho" and one who eats a kezait of the mixture is not culpable.

Rabbeinu Chaim apparently agrees with Rabbeinu Tam, that taam may determine the identity of a mixture, and that "heter" is "nehepakh le-issur;" however, only when the concentration of issur is intense enough.  How does Rabbenu Chaim view a mixture with a minimal concentration of issur? One could suggest that in this case, the reason for the prohibition of the mixture is not because the taste has determined the identity of the mixture, but rather because as long as the taste of the original issur is present, the halakha of "bittul" cannot be employed, and we cannot "ignore" the presence of the original issur.  If so, Rabbeinu Chaim may actually accept both of the above theories of taam, and just apply them to different scenarios. 

The Halakha:

What is the practical difference between those who believe that taam ke-ikar is of biblical origin (Tosafot, Rashba, etc) and those who maintain that its origin is rabbinic (Rashi, Rambam)? The Rishonim note that is a case in which issur mixed with heter (a mixture of dissimilar tasting substances), and there is clearly a rov of heter, but we are unsure whether there are also sixty parts of heter for every part of issur, our question may be relevant.  Is this doubt considered a safek de-rabbanan, being that mi-deoraita the issur is really betal be-rov, and therefore we may be more lenient, or, a safek de-oraita, being that taam ke-ikar is of biblical origin and the requirement of shishim is actually mi-deoraita, and therefore we should be more stringent and prohibit the mixture?

The Shulchan Arukh (Y"D 92:2) asserts that one should prohibit the mixture in such a case, implying that taam ke-ikar is of biblical origin. 

Next week, we will address the topic of bitul be-shishim, and whether one may ask a non-Jew to taste the mixture to determine if the taste of issur is still present.