New York Water VI

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Several readers have e-mailed me, requesting that I post a link to R. Dr. David Berger’s article in The Jewish Press on the NYC water issue. Even though I am generally a huge fan of Dr. Berger’s, I don’t see anything new or particularly profound in this article. I do not understand how anyone can think that R. David Feinstein did not consider these matters before ruling strictly. He knows what he, his father and the gedolei Torah around whom he has lived his whole life have drunk in the past.

The real point, I think, is that from the time of mattan Torah until the invention of the microscope it was impossible to know that these organisms existed, and the notion that God would have forbidden something that no one could know about for thousands of years, thus causing wholesale, unavoidable violation of the Torah, offends our deepest instincts about the character of the both the Law and its Author.

This is a significant point, but one that insists that certain new information is inadmissible in halakhic decision-making, i.e. an anti-progressive view. I know that many reject this approach and believe in progressive halakhah that embraces modern discoveries and technology.

(As to the point that God would make sure that the righteous do not eat/drink something prohibited, perhaps the Almighty ensured that the water that R. Moshe Feinstein drank contained no copepods. A mystical question deserves a mystical answer.)

UPDATE: Dr. Melech Press adds:

I have not read David Berger’s article, but if you have quoted him correctly he is simply mistaken about the facts. The copepods under discussion are visible to the naked eye, whether as moving specks while alive or, at times, as large enough to be visible even when dead. No one is discussing creatures who are invisible except when seen under a microscope. It should also be noted that those who are trained to look can find visible copepods in Brooklyn water.

I’ll add that my rabbi, the one who is lenient, has tested his own water and consistently found copepods with his naked eye and without looking too hard.



Let me reiterate that I freely drink the water here in Brooklyn without filtering. My rabbi is convinced that the water is permissible on a number of grounds, and a renowned talmid hakham with whom I recently spoke agreed (but has no interest in making public statements).

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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