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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...

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