Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Bugs In Flour -- Why A Problem

Recall that the rules by which one determines if bugs may be eaten depends on where their where they grew and where they are now.  We had one example: bugs that were born and developed in ponds and cisterns of water are completely permissible for consumption as long as they have never left their habitat.  That is 84:1.  Bugs climbing on the inside of their home sweet home cistern are still considered to be in their habitat.  I suppose you could lick them off the walls if you so desired.  On the other hand, 84:3 tells us that simply running the liquid (such as beer, apparently) through a sieve renders the bugs as having left home and therefore forbidden.  That is because the bugs could have landed on the sieve when you started pouring but then dragged back in by the undertow (technically "toptow", I suppose).  So once bugs left, they become and remain forbidden even though they return to their original habitat.

Let's add another bug/habitat to our repertoire: bugs that grew and developed in detached fruit (84:4).  The Torah forbids creeping bugs that creeped on the land; as long as these bugs have not creeped out of their little birthplace, they are 100% permitted.  The gemara is unsure about precisely how to understand "that creeped on the land".  Does it mean that this particular bug actually walked on terra firma, or is it enough that it got out of the fruit (that is, crawled on the skin of the fruit)?  Does it have to be all the way out, or is it enough to have put its little forepaws on the ground while its abdomen was still inside?  What if it died inside and then landed on land where it could have creeped had it been alive (or if there had been a zombie apocalypse)?  All of these questions are left standing and the Shulchan Aruch rules stringently; they are all forbidden.

Now to the flour issue.  Before grinding wheat into flour, it is thoroughly washed (one reason you can't use regular flour on Pesach).  Hence, there are no bugs on the wheat.  Any bugs found in a sack of flour, therefore, were born and developed in the flour -- their home sweet home.  It would seem, therefore, that those bugs should be permitted.  Yet, the Shulchan Aruch (84:5) rules they the bugs are forbidden because they might have separated from the flour, creeped on the ground and returned home (apparently bugs that grow in flour have always been millennials).  The Rema adds that it is the same halacha for salt and other non-liquids.

Wait!  Those bugs were born in a sealed bag!  And what does the Rema mean by "salt and other non-liquids"?  Whose talking about liquids here?

I'll spare you the back and forth... the easiest answer is that the bugs crawled out of the flour and onto the bag, which is considered "ground" for bugs born in flour.  Why does the Rema specify "non-liquids"?  Because, as we have seen (right up at the top... go ahead and scroll back; I'll wait) that for a bug born in a cistern, the walls of the cistern are still considered its habitat, but for flour... and salt and other non-liquids, the walls of its container are not considered home sweet home.  Bottom line, it is simply a decree of the Torah that water bugs remain permitted even when the crawl out of the water onto their container, while fruit bugs do not.  The Chazon Ish, though provides a logic, though: For a liquid, the container is an integral part of providing a habitat for the bug.  For solids, even pulverized solids, the container is a convenience for us, but not essential for the bug.

Now when your grandchild asks (thinking that he is the first one to ever tell you this joke), "Zeidy, when you take a bite of an apple, would you rather find a whole bug or only half a bug?"  You can answer, "Well, if you are not talking about an apple that you just pulled off the tree and you mean מעיקר הדין/according to the strict letter of the law, then c.f. Shulchan Aruch 84:5, it doesn't really matter."  Which likely explains why my descendants have so much trouble keeping their eyes from rolling...


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…