Kashrus Compromises

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Shelach

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: Did the Jewish people always keep Kosher?

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land into which I bring you, then it shall be, that, when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall offer up a gift to the Lord. You shall offer up a cake of the first of your dough for a gift: as you do the gift of the threshingfloor, so shall you set it apart. Of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord an offering throughout your generations. (Numbers 15:17-21)

During the first seven years of the conquest of the Land of Canaan, God granted a special dispensation permitting the consumption of non-kosher food that the Jews would encounter as they undertook the arduous task of conquering the land. 

With that being the case, the Talmud (Chullin 17a) attempts to make sense of why then would there even be a question of whether the Jews at that time would be required to eat meat from a kosher animal that did not undergo proper ritual slaughter when there was an apparent carte blanche waiver for consuming non-kosher food during this period of time:

Rabbi Yirmeya raises a dilemma [according to the opinion of Rabbi Akiva, who says that the meat of stabbing was permitted in the wilderness: With regard to] the limbs of the meat of stabbing that the Jewish people took with them into Eretz [Yisrael], what is their status? When? If we say [that the dilemma is] with regard to the seven [years during] which they conquered [the land], now, non-kosher items were permitted for them [during that period], as it is written: [“And it shall be, when the Lord your God shall bring you into the land that He swore to your fathers,] and houses full of all good things…[and you shall eat and be satisfied”] (Deuteronomy 6:10–11), and Rabbi Yirmeya bar Abba says that Rav says: Cuts of pig meat [kosei dachazirei] [that they found in the houses were permitted for them; is it] necessary [to say that the] meat [from the] stabbing [of a kosher animal was permitted]? 

Rather, [Rabbi Yirmeya’s dilemma is with regard to the period] thereafter

And if you wish, say [instead]: Actually, [his dilemma is] with regard to the seven [years during] which they conquered [the land, as perhaps] when [the forbidden food] was permitted for them, [it was specifically food from] the spoils of gentiles, [but] their own [forbidden food] was not permitted. [The dilemma] shall stand [unresolved].

In a similar sense, the Turei Even (Rosh Hashanah 13a, s.v. M’Macharas) was troubled by why the verses in our parsahah instruct that “when you come into the land” the Jewish people must set aside a portion of bread, challah, to the priests (as well as observe chodosh/yoshon). If God completely waived the sins associated with the consumption of forbidden food, then why would we be obligated in challah immediately upon entering the Land of Israel?

(A) The Turei Even points out that according to the second answer provided in Chullin, this issue does not get off the ground. The second approach clearly distinguishes between the food confiscated from the Canaanite inhabitants versus the food that the Jewish people themselves transported into the land with them. Thus, the bread that the Jewish people brought along would still be subject to challah (and chodosh/yoshon).

(B) According to the first approach which maintains that during the first seven years there was no distinction between food that came from the Jews or Cannaites, we require another explanation as to why challah (and chodosh/yoshon) should not qualify for this dispensation. The Turei Even suggests that there is a fundamental difference between something that is irrevocably non-kosher, such as pork or neveilah (meat that was not ritually slaughtered) and tevel, which once one sets aside the proper portions (e.g. tithes) it becomes permissible to consume. Since it is within one’s hands to easily rectify the issue by separating challah from the rest of the dough, it would not be subject to the special seven-year dispensation. Thus, the Torah conveys that the Jewish people were obligated in challah immediately upon entering the Land of Israel.

(C) The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 8:1) codifies the aforementioned Talmudic passage in Chullin as follows:

When the army’s troops enter the territory of gentiles, conquering them and taking them captive, they are permitted to eat meat from animals that died without being ritually slaughtered or which were treif, and the flesh of pigs and similar animals, if they become hungry and can only find these forbidden foods. Similarly, they may drink wine used in the worship of idols. This license is derived by the Oral Tradition which interprets Deuteronomy 6:10-11: “God… will give you… houses filled with all the good things” as “pigs’ necks and the like.”

The Rambam clearly views the general dispensation as a dechuya, a reluctant compromise. In the event that the only food available is non-kosher it may be eaten. In effect, he minimizes the implications of the Talmudic presentation by subsumeing it under the general imperative of preservation of life. Therefore, if one could obtain kosher food – or in our case render something kosher – then one would be obligated to consume only that which has a kosher status.

Moreover, according to the Rambam, these instructions were only legislated vis-a-vis the troops; the common citizen who is not on the battlefield would not benefit from these dispensations. Again, this is a dechuya, and should be mitigated to the degree possible.

However, for those who subscribe to the more expansive interpretation i.e that this God granted a carte blanche suspension of the laws of kashrus to everyone (see Ramban, Deut. 6:10), we will require a different explanation.

(D) R. Mordechai Carlebach points out that according to the Gra and Taz (Y.D. 1:17) we do not only separate challah to permit the bread for consumption (i.e. as a mattir), but there is an additional proactive mitzvah to separate challah for the priests – even if one has no intention of eating the bread. This is what the language of the Torah refers to when it says “you shall offer up” (tarimu), that there is a value to allocating challah independent of the laws of kashrus. In a slightly different manner, we could explain that aside from the kashrus concerns, neglecting to separate challah would constitute theft from the priests who are entitled to such a portion. Thus, while the Jewish people, upon entering the Land of Israel, did not need to concern themselves with challah from a kashrus standpoint, they were still obligated to separate challah vis-a-vis their personal obligation to the priest. (See Kisvei HaGriz on Menachos 68a regarding a similar framework for chadash.)

This resolution teaches us that when we approach questions in life we should be aware that they may not always be as simple as they first appear. A scenario could be multifaceted and have nuances that touch on various areas of halachah from kashrus to theft and beyond. While such complexity can make matters more challenging, it should also evoke within us a profound appreciation for the holistic beauty and sophistication of the halachic system. 

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria, Chabad.org, Mechon Mamre, and my  own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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