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Thought for the Day: Role of חזקה in Checking for Bugs in Fruits and Vegetables

I saw the first Star Wars movie with me friends from the dorm.  That was, apparently, before I was married.  I say "apparently" because I don't really have any memory of not being married; but I must not have been since I was living in the dorm.  Here's another "apparently": apparently that first Star Wars movie ever made was actually number four in the Star Wars saga.  I suspect that if it had not been such a financial and cult success that it would have remained the first (and only) in the so-called saga.  In any case, the fourth movie, which is the actual first in the saga also popularized the word and concept of "prequel".  Today's TftD is the prequel to my last TftD on checking for bugs, which left many scratching their heads (not because of bugs) wondering what I was talking about.

At issue is the p'sak of the Rema (Shulchan Aruch 84:8) that whenever a vegetable or fruit requires checking, each and every fruit/vegetable must be checked.  Since that p'sak runs counter to our experience (and many entries on  the CRC instructions for checking vegetables web page), it is important to understand both the basis for the p'sak of the Shulchan Aruch and then what we are actually doing when we rely on חזקה.

The Rema's p'sak is based on a Rashba that compares/contrasts checking for bugs in vegetables to checking the lungs of cows that have been slaughtered.  Just as you need to check the lungs on each cow and wouldn't dream of relying on חזקה , so to you certainly need to check each and every suspected vegetable.  R' Shlomo Kluger says he doesn't understand the צושטעל (proposed comparison, assuming I got that Yiddush word spelled correctly) at all.  I might expect that all animals from a given herd might have a similar probability of being kosher (they were all banged around the same way, fed the same way, transported the same way, etc), but I know what each animal is a complex organism and so each has to be checked separately.  Bug infestations, on the other hand, are a problem of the environment and not the vegetable; checking a few vegetables should surely tell me something about the environment.  He remains with his question, but defers to the earlier sages regarding the practical halacha.

Comes the נשמת אדם/"Soul of a Person" (same author as חיי אדם/:Life of a Person", R' Avraham Danzig; נשמת אדם delving deeper and more philosophical than חיי אדם, pun certainly intended).  The נשמת אדם was determining how to deal with excessive rainfall before Pesach one year which has flooded many storehouses of grain with a few inches of water.  His first inclination was to pasken -- in accordance with the Rema (Shulchan Aruch 84:8) that each and every grain in each and every sack would need to be checked.

Then he thought again.  Usually sacks of grain do not need to be checked at all.  Why not?  Because it is rare to find any chameitz at all in a sack of normally stored grain.  When the sack is in water, though, then there is a chance that some chameitz will develop -- a מיעוט המצוי/common minority, which is the case that requires exhaustive checking.  Therefore, reasoned the נשמת אדם, one needs to first determine into which category a sack falls: If it remained dry (it was on the bottom of the stack, or was in a barn on high ground, or whatever), then one need not check it at all, as usual.  If they did get wet, then the chance of chameitz grains is a מיעוט המצוי and checking of each grain is required.  To determine which sack belongs to which category, one can rely on the חזקה of a checking a few handfuls.  After was has determined the category, then one knows what kind of checking is required.

That answers R' Shlomo Kluger question: The Rema is talking about a farm where bugs in insects is a מיעוט המצוי.  However, if we know that some farms do something to effectively stop bugs from ever being a problem, that is lowers are expectation of infestation to a מיעוט שאינו מצוי/uncommon minority, then we need do no further checking -- and even the Rema would agree.  How do you get a farm like that?  Pesticides, grow in the mountains where the bugs are not indigenous, grow hydroponically in sealed chambers, etc.  If we know the source to be one of those, then we can do a perfunctory checking and we are done.

Ta-Da! Now feel free to (re)read my nerdy praise of our Sages... or not.


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