Israeli Soldiers and Treif Food

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by R. Gil Student

I. Non-Slaughtered Meat

A surprising leniency gets a brief mention in the Talmud but might have practical relevance for Israeli soldiers today. Jewish soldiers have to keep kosher, of course, and sometimes that requires some effort in the IDF. While in the field, soldiers bring kosher rations with them. But there is a surprising leniency for soldiers in enemy territory.

The Gemara (Chullin 17a) discusses a debate between R. Akiva and R. Yishmael whether the Jews during the forty-year wandering in the desert were forbidden to eat non-sanctified meat or were allowed to eat animals even without kosher slaughter. According to R. Akiva, the requirement of kosher slaughter began only when the Jews entered the land of Israel. Within this approach of R. Akiva, R. Yirmiyah asks what the status was of non-slaughtered meat that they brought with them into Israel. The meat was initially permitted. Once they entered Israel, they had to slaughter animals. What happens to the meat they brought with them that was kosher in the desert?

The Gemara probes this question for more detail. Is the question about the first seven years after entering Israel from the desert, when they were conquering the land? If so, even kadlei de-chazirei, cuts of pig meat, were allowed. Why were kadlei de-chazirei allowed? The Torah says (Deut. 6:10-11): “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide… and you will eat and you will be full.” The Gemara sees here permission to eat whatever is in those houses you find when you conquer the land, even pig meat. If so, there is no reason to ask whether the non-slaughtered meat is permissible. The Gemara answers that the question was regarding after seven years. Alternatively, only non-kosher food that they found was permissible but not necessarily food that they brought with them. Therefore, they still have a question about the non-slaughtered meat from the desert even during the seven years of conquering.

II. Non-Kosher Food During War

Setting aside the issue of the non-slaughtered meat in the desert, the permission to eat non-kosher food that they find in the houses that they conquered is intriguing. Why is it allowed and when does this permission apply? Rambam (Hilkhos Melakhim 8:1) says that this applies to any war: “When the army’s troops enter enemy territory and conquer it… they are permitted to eat non-kosher meat (neveilos u-treifos) and the flesh of pigs and similar animals, if they become hungry and can only find these forbidden foods.” This is quite an astonishing ruling. Ramban (Deut. 6:10) disagrees with Rambam’s limitation of this permission to only soldiers during wartime; it applies to everyone who settles in the land. Ramban also disagrees with the application of this permission only to when you cannot find other food; everyone is allowed to eat non-kosher food and violate other prohibitions in order to save their lives (piku’ach nefesh) if there is no other food (see also Ramban, Num. 31:23).

III. Craving Treif

Rav Yehudah Rosannes (18th cen., Turkey) asks a further question on Rambam. If the permission to eat non-kosher meat only applies to someone who does not have kosher food readily available, what is the Gemara’s question about non-slaughtered meat. Non-slaughtered meat was completely permissible while pig meat (for example) was only allowed if nothing else was available. The Gemara does not make sense according to Rambam (Parashas Derakhim, no. 8). Rav Moshe Sofer (19th cen., Hungary) suggests that Rambam agrees that during the initial conquest of Israel, non-kosher meat was permissible even when kosher food was readily available. However, that was a one-time permission and Rambam was writing for future generations. In later wars, non-kosher food is only permissible when no kosher food is available, because of piku’ach nefesh (Toras Moshe, end of Va’eachanan).

Rav Yosef Karo (16th cen., Israel) explains that Rambam is not talking about a starving soldier, who of course may eat non-kosher, but a soldier with a craving (Kesef Mishneh, Hilkhos Melakhim 8:1). Rav Tzvi Hirsch (Maharatz) Chajes expands on this by comparing the permission to eat non-kosher food to the eishes yefas to’ar (captive wife; Deut. 21). Indeed, Rambam begins discussing the eishes yefas to’ar in the very next paragraph with the words “and also” (ve-khein). The eishes yefas to’ar is a concession to the challenges and temptations of wartime. Similarly, argues Maharatz Chajes, the non-kosher food is allowed during wartime when a soldier has craving for food that cannot be satisfied with the kosher food readily available. It is not permitted to save his life, because of piku’ach nefesh, but to prevent him from straying too far (glosses to Chullin 17a). Put differently, according to Rambam this is a wartime permission for soldiers. In contrast, according to Ramban it is part of the initial conquest of the land of Israel — even the food is conquered and permitted.

IV. Non-Kosher Food in Gaza

How does this apply to Israeli soldiers today? If a soldier in Gaza is temporarily stationed inside a home and finds (for example) lamb meat in the refrigerator, may he eat it? Or may he use the pots and pans to cook his own food, even though there is non-kosher absorbed in the metal which will enter his food during the cooking process? IDF rules forbid soldiers from taking anything from occupied places. However, perhaps they may use items there without removing anything, maybe even eating the food (see Be-Ohalah Shel Torah, vol. 6, no. 58)? I do not know enough about IDF rules but let us at least pose the hypothetical question. Clearly, for multiple reasons, no one in his right mind would permit an eishes yefas to’ar nowadays. But would the kadlei de-chazirei be allowed? Based on our discussion, it would seem that Rambam would allow it. If a soldier has a craving for good food that he finds and all he has with him is army rations, presumably Rambam would allow him to eat the non-kosher food he finds during wartime. In contrast, Ramban consider the permission limited to a one-time historical conquest of the land of Israel and would not allow a soldier today to eat non-kosher food due to merely a craving.

Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (20th cen., Israel) discusses both views without offering a conclusion (Hilkhos Medinah, vol. 2, section 8). Similarly, Rav Shlomo Goren (20th cen., Israel) explores the two approaches without reaching a conclusion (Mishnas Ha-Medinah, pp. 122-131). Rav Yechiel Epstein (19th cen., Russia) strongly opposes leniency, saying “God forbid to build [a permission] even a little bit” (Arukh Ha-Shulchan He-Asid, Hilkhos Melakhim 77:3). To my great surprise, I found that the 1971 guidebook for IDF soldiers, Dinei Tzava U-Milkhamah (par. 336), by Rav Shlomo Min-HaHar and others, permits soldiers in enemy territory to eat non-kosher food if there is not enough kosher food, explicitly based on the Rambam’s above ruling. He adds that they should recite the regular blessings before and after the non-kosher food. Similarly, Rav Yitzchak Shilat (cont., Israel) writes that there is no question that we must follow Rambam and permit soldiers to eat non-kosher food if they do not have kosher food available (Medinah, Halakhah Ve-Kavanos Ha-Torah, p. 326). Neither refer to a case of craving but rather to a case of non-life-threatening hunger when kosher food is unavailable.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, 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 currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four 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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