The Power of Vinegar

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: I made pareve cucumber salad in a fleishig eino ben yomo (not used in 24 hours) container. About an hour later, I used a milchig serving spoon, which then stayed in it for about a half hour. What are the halachic statuses of all of the elements involved?


Answer: As is often appropriate in complex kashrut questions, we will first explain why there could be a problem, introduce indications for leniency, and see if they suffice.

The rule is that there is no transfer between a solid and a liquid that are sitting in/alongside each other unless the contact is for 24 hours, in which case we say kavush k’mevushal (soaking is like cooking) (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 105:1). However, if the liquid is sharp, there is assumed to be full transfer of taste in “k’dei sheyartiach,” the amount of time it takes to put a liquid on the fire and have it heat up to a boil. (There is a transfer of a “k’dei klipa” (a peel’s worth) in less time (ibid.).) This is assumed to be around 18 minutes or possibly less than that (see Darchei Teshuva 105:42). The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) lists vinegar as such a sharp liquid.

Vinegar being a davar charif also ostensibly knocks out two broad leniencies. Fleishig (or milchig) taste that enters a utensil and then is expelled and absorbed into a pareve food (called nat bar nat) is too weak to be the building block of a forbidden mixture of basar b’chalav (Shulchan Aruch, YD 95:2). (Whether this applies here seems to be a machloket between the Shulchan Aruch and Rama, ibid.3). Forbidden (or fleishig and milchig) particles that sat in the walls of a utensil for 24 hours deteriorate to the point that whatever taste it adds to another food is negative and therefore not halachically significant (ibid. 103:5). Neither of these leniencies apply when the food absorbing the taste is a davar charif, as it tends to give prominence to weak and/or negative tastes (ibid. 96:1).

On the other hand, the Shach (ad loc. 2) says that vinegar does not cause quick transfer of taste. There is an apparent contradiction in the Mishna Berura on whether he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch that vinegar speeds up transfer (Mishna Berura 648:54) or the Shach (Mishna Berura 447:71). He hints at the following way to reconcile the approaches (in Sha’ar Hatziyun 648:60, based on Magen Avraham 447:28). Strong vinegar causes quick absorption; vinegar that is not strong is treated like regular liquid (i.e., 24-hour cutoff).

Our case has a further level of leniency in that the solid object is not a food but a utensil, which is less absorbent. While most poskim say that a utensil in contact with a liquid davar charif is treated the same as a solid food, some are more lenient regarding transfer of taste between a liquid davar charif and a utensil (see Mishbetzot Zahav, YD 105:1; Chochmat Adam 57:10; The Laws of Kashrus (Forst) p. 329-330).

An additional, strong, reason for leniency is that after several minutes of spicing cucumber salad, a significant amount of liquid (mainly water) starts oozing out of the cucumbers, into the pool of vinegar (can you confirm it happened in your case?). As we have seen, the level of sharpness can be impactful, so dilution is significant. We also find that water specifically can counteract a davar charif’s effect (see similar idea in Mishna Berura 447:43).

Other points of leniency relate to the fact that some of assumptions of the initial indication of a problem are not unanimous. There are some opinions that only that which appears in the gemara as a davar charif has that status (see Beit Yosef, YD 96). There is also an opinion that the halacha that a davar charif makes a negative taste impactful does not apply to a liquid davar charif (see Misbetzot Zahav, YD 96:1).

Based on all the above, there is ample room for leniency. Thus, you do not need to throw out the still pareve cucumber salad. Also, you can assume that the container and spoon remain as they were. Since there is some doubt, one might want to kasher the utensils if it is easy to do so (which is often not the case), but this is not required.

לעילוי נשמת יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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