Min Be-Ino: Mixtures of Similar Substances

  • Rav David Brofsky

In previous shiurim, we discussed the unique qualities of mixtures of wet, dissimilar substances (lach be-lach, min be-she'eino mino).  Regarding this mixture, we explained that the ability or lack of ability to discern the taste of issur greatly impacted upon the halakha.  On the one hand, when the taste of the prohibited substance taste is noticeable, even a majority of heter is unable to nullify the prohibited substance, in which case the mixture would only be allowable when there are sixty parts of heter (shishim).  On the other hand, when the taste of issur is not discernable, we may possibly permit the mixture even without shishim.

This week, we will address the uniqueness of a mixture of wet SIMILAR substances (lach be-lach, min be-mino), and attempt to define which substances are considered "similar" vs.  "dissimilar." 

A.  R. Yehuda and Chakhamim:

The fundamental question that must be addressed is, Should the inability to discern the taste of issur lead us to a more lenient conclusion or a more stringent one?

The gemara (Menachot 23a) cites a debate between R. Yehuda and the Chakhamim regarding this question.  According to R. Yehuda, in a mixture of similar substances, the issur is "assur be-mashehu"; i.e., even the smallest amount of issur might prohibit the mixture.  There is no way to render the prohibited substance "batel" and permit the mixture.  Chakhamim, however, claim that the issur is indeed batel in a majority of heter.  This mixture, according to the Chakhamim, is treated more leniently than a mixture of dissimilar substances. 

The gemara explains that R. Yehuda and Chakhamim differ regarding their explanation of a Biblical verse.  The Torah says (Vayikra 16:18) that during the Yom Kippur service in the Temple, the kohen gadol must "take from the blood of the bull (dam ha-par) and from the blood of the goat (dam ha-sa'ir) and place it on the corners of the altar." R. Yehuda, understanding that the blood of the bull and goat are mixed together, asks: Since the bull clearly has much more blood than a goat, shouldn't the dam ha-par nullify (by rov) the dam ha-sa'ir? And if so, what is the value of bringing the blood of the goat at all?

From this he concludes that, it must be that the blood of the bull does NOT nullify the blood of the goat, as they are both similar substances.  From here, R. Yehuda learns that an issur mixed with a similar heter substance is "oser be-mashehu," i.e., prohibits the entire mixture.

Chakhamim, on the other hand, explain that while generally an issur is "batel be-rov" in a mixture of similar substances, here, "ein olin mevatlin zu et zu;" i.e., this principle does not apply to a mixture of blood from different korbanot.  The Rishonim offer different explanations of the Chakhamim's answer.  We will cite the Ran's explanation shortly.

While we have seen than R. Yehuda and Chakhamim debate the proper interpretation of a verse, we must still ask ourselves WHY should a mixture of similar substances be treated more leniently, or more stringently, than a mixture of dissimilar substances? 

Seemingly, we can suggest two different understandings of the debate between R. Yehuda and Chakhamim.

We may suggest that the debate between R. Yehuda and Chakhamim is dependent upon our understanding of ta'am and its role in a mixture of dissimilar substances. 

In previous weeks, we suggested two understandings of the uniqueness of a mixture of dissimilar substances.

1.  The ability to discern the presence of the issur, through its taste, usually PREVENTS the bitul of the prohibited substance in a majority of permitted matter (rov). 

2.  Any mixture carrying the ta'am of issur is prohibited.  The TASTE of issur prohibits a permitted substance, regardless of its percentage in the mixture.

These approaches may also impact our understanding of a mixture of SIMILAR substances (min be-mino). 

1.  We might suggest that Chakhamim believe that since the taste of issur cannot be distinctly discerned in a mixture of similar substances, there should be no obstacle to invoking bitul be-rov.  R. Yehuda, on the other hand, may believe that since one can never be sure that one does not taste the ta'am of issur, the mixture, by definition, must always be prohibited. 

2.  Alternatively, me may suggest that the debate between R.  Yehuda and Chakhamim revolves around the nature of bitul, and not the role of ta'am.  The Ran (Nedarim 52a) suggests that the whole notion of bitul ONLY applies, by definition, to dissimilar substances.  Bitul implies that one substance has overcome, or even eclipsed, a second substance.  A similar substance, however, will not weaken a second substance, and may even strengthen its presence in or effect upon the mixture.  Therefore, the Ran explains, R.  Yehuda believes that there cannot be bitul in a mixture of similar substances. 

If so, the Ran asks, how can Chakhamim posit that the issur is batel in a majority of heter? One could suggest that the debate between R. Yehuda and Chakhamim revolves around this very issue, and Chakhamim actually disagree with this principle.  Accordingly, they believe that a statistically insignificant presence should certainly be deemed batel be-rov, regardless of whether it is similar or dissimilar to the majority.

The Ran, however, explains it differently.  He suggests that according to Chakhamim one should actually view every mixture of similar tasting foods as a mixture of dissimilar substances.  After all, while they may taste alike, they are different in status.  Such a mixture contains both permitted and prohibited substances, thereby categorizing it as a mixture of dissimilar substances (min be-she'eino mino).  This explanation is fascinating, as it allows us to use halakhic status - as opposed to physical taste - as a means of declaring the substances in a mixture as similar or dissimilar!

Based on this reasoning, the Ran explains that the blood of the bull cannot nullify the blood of the goat, as they do not represent opposing halakhic categories; rather, both are korbanot, and therefore "ein olin mevatlin zu et zu."

We shall return to this intriguing way of defining similar and dissimilar substances.

There may be a practical difference between our two understandings of the debate between R. Yehuda and Chakhamim.

The Rishonim question whether R. Yehuda is stringent regarding only a mixture of wet substances (Tosafot Menachot 22b) or also of dry substances.  One may suggest that if R. Yehuda prohibits any mixture of similar substances because one can never claim that the issur cannot be detected by taste, this certainly is not the case regarding a mixture of dry substances, in which the issur does not spread throughout the entire mixture.  However, if the debate revolves around the nature of bitul, as the Ran explained (whether it applies only to dissimilar substances or also to similar substances), this debate should apply to dry mixtures as well!

Most Rishonim (Tosafot Chullin 97a, Rashba, etc.) assume that the halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Chakhamim.  Rashi (Chullin 109a, Avoda Zara 66a), however, writes that "common practice" (halakha rovachat) is to follow the opinion of R. Yehuda, thereby prohibiting a mixture with even the slightest amount of issur in a mixture of similar substances.  The Shulchan Arukh accepts the position of the Chakhamim, that mi-de'oraita, the issur is batel be-rov.

However, the Gemara (Chullin 97b) implies that while Chakhamim believe that the issur is nullified by a simple majority of heter, mi-derabbanan, a "min be-mino" mixture can only be permitted when there are SIXTY parts of heter per part of issur.  In other words, although the halakha is in accordance with Chakhamim and the prohibited substance is indeed batel be-rov, still, on the derabbanan level, the mixture is only permitted if there is shishim. 

Regarding the scope of this rabbinic extension, the Ramban believes that shishim is only required if the prohibition is of biblical origin, or a rabbinic extension of a biblical principle (e.g., chicken and milk).  However, prohibitions that are completely of rabbinic origin are still batel be-rov, i.e., in a majority of heter.  The Rashba, however, insists that only chalat chutz la-aretz (chalah taken outside of Israel) is batel be-rov, and all other mixture of dissimilar substances require shishim.  This debate continued into the period of the Acharonim.  The Minchat Kohen (1:1) was stringent, while the Shakh (112:14) permitted bishul akum - food cooked by a non-Jew - in a majority of heter.

The Shulkhan Arukh, as mentioned above, concurs with the opinion of Chakhamim, and also rules that a mixture of similar substances is only permitted when there are sixty parts of heter. 

B.  Definition of Min Be-Mino and Min Be-She'eino Mino:

Before concluding our in depth introduction to the laws of mixtures, we must address one more point.  Until now, we have discussed "similar" and "dissimilar" mixtures in very vague terms, without defining what makes one substance similar or dissimilar from another.

The Gemara (Avoda Zara 65a) cites a debate between Abayye and Rava regarding prohibited wine that has NOT aged (chamra chadeta) which comes into contact with ordinary grapes.  It is clear that had the wine aged, the mixture is considered "min be-she'eino mino," as the aged wine is distinct from the grapes in both taste and name.  The Gemara, however, questions whether new wine should be considered different from grapes. 

Abayye adopts the seemingly obvious position, that since the new wine and the grapes are NOT distinct in taste, the mixture should be considered one of "min be-mino." The gemara refers to this as "batar ta'ama azlinan," i.e., that the taste is that which defines the nature of the mixture.  Rava, however, disagrees.  He claims that "batar shma azlinan;" i.e., that the name of title of the substances defines the nature of the mixture.  Therefore, since wine and grapes are different substances, even though their taste is similar, the mixture is considered "min be-she'eino mino."

The Rema (98:2) accepts the opinion of Rava, ruling that a mixture's identity is determined by the classification (shma) of the ingredients and not by their tastes (ta'ama).  The Shakh disagrees.  He argues that the principle of ta'am ke-ikar is predicated upon the assumption that the taste defines the nature of a mixture! If Rava is indeed referring to a regular mixture of dissimilar substances, then what role can the kefeila (non-Jewish cook) possibly play? The position of Abayye, the Shakh argues, is clearly correct, and Rava must only be referring to unique prohibitions such as yayyin nesekh (prohibited wine).  While the Taz (see the Daf Acharon) and the Chavat Da'at attempt to defend the Rema, and even offer different explanations of his ruling, the majority of Acharonim accept the position of the Shakh.

The ruling of the Rema, however, still remains puzzling.  How could we possibly maintain that the identity of a mixture is NOT determined by the taste of its ingredients? Earlier in this shiur, we noted that the Ran explained that Chakhamim view all mixtures of similar TASTING substances as mixtures of dissimilar substances (min be-she'eino mino), since their identities, i.e., prohibited and permitted, differ.  In other words, according to the Ran, halakhic status or title, and not taste alone, determine whether a mixture is considered similar or dissimilar. 

If so, we may suggest that while halakhic status may be sufficient to invoke the halakha of bitul, the requirement of shishim is applicable only if the substances differ not only in halakhic status, but also in name! Then, according to Rava, they are truly "dissimilar," and the mixture can only be permitted if there are sixty parts of heter.

Seemingly, this approach must understand "ta'am ke-ikar" as a problem that arises when any foreign substance - usually, although not always, identified by its unique taste - is introduced into a mixture.  It is not the taste of the issur, but rather its presence, which prohibits the mixture (see the Chavat Da'at who suggests a similar explanation).  This explanation, however, seems to contradict the Rema's ruling regarding chozer ve-ne'or (see previous shiur), "ve-tzarikh iyyun."

Finally, I would like to list a few of examples of similar and dissimilar ingredients mentioned by the poskim.  The Acharonim note, for example, that while meat from all animals is referred to as "meat," chicken and beef should be considered dissimilar substances.  Furthermore, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan posits that even the meat of different birds (chicken and duck) or different fish, should be considered "min be-she'eino mino." However, pieces of the same fish, or of the same kind of fruit, of which some are dried and some are pickled, etc., are considered "min be-mino." Poskim differ regarding whether different parts of an animal, i.e., liver, heart, beef, etc., should be considered similar or dissimilar substances.  The Peri Chadash (98:7) and the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (98:50) view them as dissimilar pieces. 


Next week, we will discuss the prohibition of intentionally nullifying prohibited substances (bitul issur le-chatkhila).