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Thought for the Day: When It Is Permitted to Nullify a Forbidden Substance

I once had a boss who loved to poke fun at any religion.  He stopped trying with me after a few attempts, though, for a couple of reasons.  The first was because every time he tried to point out a logical inconsistency with my belief system, I was always able to show him the issue was his lack of knowledge and not my beliefs.  The turning point was when he thought we could not even a molecule of pork; he was very disappointed when I explained the concept of bitul to him.  The second was that he was an avid bird watcher and would sometimes show me pictures of some of the more exotic birds he had seen.  One had two, single, long feather straight back from its tail.  "Isn't that amazing?", he exclaimed.  "Yes!", I rejoined, "What's the evolutionary advantage it gets from extra weight and drag on his body that will make flight more difficult and therefore make him an easier target for predators?"  He didn't like me very much.

Usually, bitul is a b'di'avad affair.  We have a rule (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 99:5) of "ein m'vatlin issur l'chatchila"/one is not permitted to nullify a forbidden substance.  That is, one is not permitted to add issur even though it's taste will not be noticeable (even to an expert).  For example, some preservatives and settling agents are not kosher; a company seeking kosher certification would need to find kosher alternatives.  Moreover, one is likewise not allowed to add heter to a mixture into which issur fell in order to nullify it.  For example, if one ounce of milk fell into 30 ounces of beef stew, one would not be allowed to add another 30 ounces of stew to nullify it.  (I chose beef stew and not chicken soup because the M'chaber permits one to nullify an issur d'rabanan.  It's and interesting question if an Ashkenazi Jew is permitted to ask his S'fardi friend to fix up his chicken soup.)

There is, however, one case where one is, in fact, permitted to nullify issur: when the process that nullifies the issur is not being done to nullify it.  Huh?  The classic example is honey.  Raw honey i always teeming with bee parts.  Not whole bees, just parts; apparently the honey collection process is brutal enough to dismember any bee that tries to go down with her hive.  Apparently, honey is not uniformly sweet, so honey needs to be cooked.  That is, the cooking is done as part of the normal processing of the honey.  A side benefit of cooking the honey is that the bee parts dissolve and one is left with much less that one part in 60 -- Ta Da!  bees are nullified and honey is kosher.

This can come up at home, also.  Frozen raspberries have bugs (not might have bugs, they have bugs).  If you grind up the raspberries in a blender, you would smash those bugs to smithereens; again nullifying them.  You are not allowed to blend the raspberries just to smash up the bugs; so this won't get you raspberry soup.  However, a fruit smoothy is made by blending the fruit (and, presumably, other ingredients) to a delectable much; hence the term "smoothy".  In that case, you can even make your smoothy with raspberries.

You don't want to question having smashed up bug bits in your food... trust me, just look away.  Unless you are really interested, then look here, in the FDA's Defect Levels Handbook.  There you can find legal levels of all sorts of unappetizing things in your food.  I told you not to look.

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