SALT - Wednesday, 28 Tammuz 5778 - July 11, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
In memory of Alice Stone, Aida Bat Avraham, z"l & Fred Stone, Yaakov Ben Yitzhak, z"l 
whose yarzeits are 2 Tammuz and 25 Tammuz,
beloved parents and grandparents
Ellen and Stanley Stone and their children

            The Torah in Parashat Matot tells of the instructions given to the soldiers upon returning from their successful battle against Midyan for how to purge the Midyanites’ food utensils which they seized as spoils of war.  These utensils, of course, had been used with non-kosher food, and the soldiers were thus informed of the procedures needed to thoroughly cleanse these utensils so they may be used for the preparation of kosher food.  These guidelines form the basis of the laws of “kashering” that apply even today.
            The Ramban (31:22) famously raises the question of why these laws were presented only now, after the war with Midyan, and not after the earlier battle against the Emorite nations, the kingdoms of Sichon and Og.  The Torah writes explicitly that Benei Yisrael lived in the cities of the vanquished Emorites (21:31), and that they seized the Emorites’ possessions (Devarim 2:35).  Seemingly, after that war, too, Benei Yisrael needed to learn the laws of kashering in order to be able to use the food utensils seized from their enemies.  Why, then, were these laws presented only later, after the war with Midyan?
            The Ramban offers a fascinating and controversial answer to this question, invoking the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Chulin (17a) that Benei Yisrael were permitted to eat the Canaanites’ food during the years when they fought to conquer the Land of Israel.  Unlike the war against Midyan, the Ramban explains, the war against the Emorites was considered part of the process of kibbush Eretz Yisrael – the conquest of the land – and thus the extraordinary provision of “kadli de-chaziri” – permitting the consumption of the Canaanites’ food – applied.  For this reason, the Ramban asserts, there was no need to purge the utensils seized from the Emorites during the war against the kingdoms of Sichon and Og.
            The Ramban’s approach is novel and controversial for several different reasons, but we will note in this context just one point addressed by the Minchat Chinukh (527:6).  It stands to reason, the Minchat Chinukh writes, that this unique law of “kadli de-chaziri” applied only to food which Torah law permits for gentiles but forbids for Jews.  Such food became permissible for Benei Yisrael during the battles to seize the Land of Israel.  However, the Minchat Chinukh asserts, this provision did not apply to eiver min ha-chai – meat taken from a live animal – which is forbidden even for gentiles.  It is hardly conceivable that God would make a special provision permitting the consumption of food from which even non-Jews are expected to abstain, and we may thus reasonably assume that such food was not included in the exceptional “kadli de-chaziri” provision.  But if this is the case, the Minchat Chinukh asks, then the Ramban’s answer appears flawed.  Seemingly, Benei Yisrael needed to take into account the possibility that the Emorites did not observe the prohibition of eiver min ha-chai, and, therefore, some of their utensils may have been used with such food and hence required kashering.  If so, then even if we accept the Ramban’s theory regarding the nature of the war against Sichon and Og, and that the rule of “kadli de-chaziri” applied during that battle, this would not suffice to explain why the laws of kashering were not relevant to the Emorites’ utensils.
            The Minchat Chinukh answers this question by postulating that gentiles are permitted to prepare food with utensils that had been used with eiver min ha-chai.  The basis for the entire concept of kashering – that utensils used with non-kosher food must be purged before they may be used for kosher food – is the principle of “ta’am ke-ikar” – that a food’s taste is halakhically akin to the food itself.  This principle dictates that a utensil must be thoroughly cleansed to ensure the absence of any residual taste of the non-kosher food with which it had been used.  The Minchat Chinukh asserts that the notion of “ta’am ke-ikar” was introduced by the Torah for Benei Yisrael, and does not apply to gentiles; for them, only eiver min ha-chai itself is forbidden, not its taste.  Therefore, since such utensils do not require kashering for gentiles, they did not require kashering for Benei Yisrael after the war against Sichon and Og, since, according to the Ramban, the standard kashrut laws were suspended with respect to the food of these nations.