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

According to the Torah, forbidden foods are usually nullified in a majority.  If one pound of Oscar Meyer wiener goo gets mixed with one pound, one ounce of OU Kosher/cRc/בד''ץ all beef hot dog goo, then the whole mess is 100% kosher; דאורייתא, that is.  (Ever looked into how hot dogs are made?  Calling it "goo" is bending over backwards being nice.)  Of course, דרבנן you will need more like 60 times as much kosher as non-kosher.  דרבנן you also can't nullify something that will be kosher soon (such as new wheat in old wheat), nor a piece of something that you would serve to an honored guest (such as a rib steak).  In all those cases Chazal added stringencies to keep us distant from making mistakes.

In that vein, they gave us another rule: אין מבטל איסור לכתחילה/do not set out to nullify a forbidden substance.  If it happens, it happens and בטל is בטל; just don't plan ahead to be sloppy with the idea that "oh well, it will be בטל anyway by the time I am finished."  Except sometimes.

Since אין מבטל איסור לכתחילה is דרבנן, the M'chaber of the Shulchan Aruch (whom the S'fardim follow for halacha) allows one to מבטל something which itself is only forbidden דרבנן.  For example, if one ounce of milk falls into 30 ounces of chicken soup in a S'fardi kitchen, then the cook can just add another 30 ounces of chicken soup.  The Rema (whom we Ashkenazim follow for halacha) is strict; yes, it is a double דרבנן, but we are strict with nullification in general.

Chazal also allowed one to מבטל איסור לכתחילה if his intent is not to מבטל.  For example, you want to strain the bee parts out of your fresh honey.  I mean, even if they would be בטל, I just really don't want crunchy bits in my honey.  But honey is too think to strain... at room temperature, at least.  If you heat up the honey to get is nice and liquidy, then straining is a breeze (I thought to write, "no strain", but I didn't).  Problem is, though, that heating it will now get bee bit essence into the honey.  It will surely be בטל, but this surely planning for that nullification.  Here everyone agrees that you are permitted to מבטל איסור לכתחילה because you whole intent is to remove forbidden bits.

Another situation in which Chazal were stringent is with regard to a בריה/whole critter; those are also not בטל.  Which leads to an interesting idea: if I can smash up those little critters, then they would be בטל.  In fact, that is permitted if the smashing happens as a by product of the processing.  For example, I want to make a raspberry smoothie.  I don't know there are bugs and even if there are, they will surely be בטל.  Since making a smoothie requires smashing up the berries, so the smashing good time I am having busting up those bugs is entirely without intent; again I am allowed to מבטל איסור לכתחילה.  Note that there is not confirmed bug sighting.  What if you know there are bugs?

Grinding wheat into flour is such a case.  One my grind the wheat into flour, but one is required afterward to sift for any bug parts that can be sifted.  If they are בטל, why do I need to sift?  (Besides the grossness factor, or course.)  In this case I know there are bugs in the wheat, so Chazal only allowed this בטל איסור לכתחילה if one also showed that he really had no intent for the nullification itself by making a reasonable effort to remove what he could.

What if the forbidden substance is intentionally added -- not originally there, but actually added -- in small enough quantities to be nullified?  It is very hard to say that you didn't want it in there and even harder to say that you had no up-front intent for nullification.  Yet, there is an example where precisely that is done: isinglass is a non-kosher (it's made from non-kosher fish guts) clarifying agent.  Some industries (notably: beer breweries) add isinglass to clarify the beer.  They don't want isinglass in the final product and they do what they can to clear out any residue so it is most emphatically and certainly בטל... but... they did add it, after all.  The Nodah B’yedhudah YD 1:26 rules that is is ok... many rely on that.

I end with a joke to explain that the "grossness factor" is not really an issue.  A woman goes to a deli and sees a meat she doesn't recognize.  "What's that?", she asks.  "Tongue", she is informed.  "Ewww!  I could never eat anything that had been in a cow's mouth!  I'll take the egg salad, please."  Gross is in the mind of the consumer, and "out of sight, out of mind."


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