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Thought for the Day: Honey On Pesach and When Nullification Isn't

I know it is more than thirty days before Pesach (at the time of this writing, anyway), and I also know that our Sages have decreed that once should start learning the laws of Pesach 30 days before Pesach.  I even tried that once or twice.  Go ahead, ask, "So.. how did that go for you?"  Right, so the last few years I've tackled as much as I could and then when back to my regularly scheduled learning after Pesach.  This year, בעזרת השם, I'll be completing the Mishna Brura with Dirshu commentaries on Hilchos Pesach.  I actually started in the middle with the laws of erev Pesach and the seder, then have been back filling.  The last section I left for myself was preparing the water for baking, care of the flour, baking the matzos, and little odds and ends.  After all, how relevant is that to my life?

As it turns out, smack in the middle of siman 467 -- which is entitled, "Case of wheat upon which water has fallen and cooked foods in which wheat is found" -- you will find that eating honey, sugar, and dried fruits on Pesach is very problematic.  (Syef 8 out of 16, to be precise -- I told you, smack in the middle.)  The Mishna Brura there explains the details of when you are and are not allowed to eat those products without a strong hechsher.  As I had actually bought honey and drank fresh squeezed orange juice last year (after calling R' Fuerst, of couse), these dry halachos suddenly became very juicy.

So what's the issue?  After all, there is not chameitz in honey, sugar, nor dried fruits; what could go wrong?  (Silly question, of course.)  The main issue is that food production plants don't do things they way you do things at home.  You may know quite a bit about how you would make honey, sugar, and dried fruit in your kitchen, the big food manufactures have other ideas that make things more efficient for scale, economy, etc.  (As I discovered with beer last year...)  It turns out that the food manufactures -- even the food manufactures of 100s of years ago -- sometimes help the drying process of fruits by sprinkling flour on them, or will use bake them in the same oven as chmeitz, or to add flour to honey and sugar to stabilize it.  No problem most of the year and helps keep the food tasty and affordable.  But big problems for Pesach.

Even so, the Y'shu'os Yaakov asks (and answers, thankfully) a fascinating question regarding the use of sugar.  The chameitz add during the manufacturing process is certainly less that one part in 60.  Now, even though even the smallest amount of chameitz on Pesach is strictly forbidden, that is only during Pesach itself.  There is an interesting three step "loop hole".  First, before Pesach, chameitz is בטל בשישים/nullified by 60 times its volume.  Second, the chameitz does not חוזר וניעור/wake up to become forbidden on Pesach in homogeneous mixtures (לח בלח -- literally: one liquid immersed in another).  Third, mixtures of tiny particles -- such as flour and sugar -- are called לח בלח in halacha.  Therefore, he asks, what's the problem?  The flour is nullified before Pesach and remains so throughout the holiday.  Ho Ho Ho
Important aside: that is why we bake matzos and as much pesach food made with flour before Pesach, so that the tiny amounts of chameitz that creep into any process -- no matter how careful -- are nullified before the holiday.
The answer is very, very cool.  We are not, says the Y'shu'os Yaakov, worried about tiny amounts of chameitz in our sugar -- we are worried about tiny amounts of uncooked, dry flour -- and therefore definitely not chameitz -- that got left in sugar.  Nullification only works for forbidden substances.  A forbidden substance is nullified by 60 times its volume in a permitted substance.  However, there is no sense to the concept of nullification with regard to permitted substance in another permitted substance.  Put that sugar (with tiny amounts of permissible, dry flour) in your tea, though, and presto chango  you have chameitz, which is forbidden in even the teensiest tiniest quantities.  Which is why you need good, strong hashgacha on your sugar (and honey and dried fruit).

The most practical thing I learned, though, was that making honey beer (mead) is not that difficult.  That's my project for next Pesach.


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