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Thought for the Day: What בטל Means for Spoons to S'fardim

I had a boss who was a fanatical atheist.  He saw it as his life's mission to stomp out religious belief.  He once came running (yes, running) into my "office" (four temporary partitions with a door) with a wild look in his eyes and squealed, "So... you can't eat pork.  Right?"  I affirmed.  "And you can't eat any amount of pork.  Right?"  I again affirmed, then added, "Of course, if it is less than one part in 60 it is considered nullified and there is no problem eating it."  The gleam went out of his eyes and his whole countenance darkened noticeably.  His plan, he explained with sadness, was to say it was impossible to know if some molecule of pork (there is no such thing, of course, but he was already defeated so why rub it in?) had landed somehow gotten mixed with my food.  "Ah." I said, "No, nullified is nullified pretty much for the reason you said.  Except, of course, there is no such thing as a molecule of pork." (Ok, so I did rub it in.)

But really... how does ביטול work?  There are basically two categories of ביטול.  The one that is most familiar to most of us -- ביטול בששים -- is based on two facts.  First, the Torah considers טעם כעיקר/the taste is just as bad as the substance of the food.  Second, once there is a volume of 60 times more permitted food than forbidden food, one will no longer be able to taste the forbidden food.  More precisely, until there is a volume of 60 times more permitted than forbidden food, there is a still a possibility of tasting the forbidden food.  The other category is where the Torah just tells you a number.  For example, t'ruma in בטל in 100.  Many other things are בטל once they are a minority.  Just file that away for now.

Let's now look at siman 94 in Yoreh Dei'ah.  Dip a milchig spoon into your cholent (or fleishig spoon into lasagna), then for the food to remain kosher, ie, for the meat/milk in the spoon to be considered בטל, you need 60 times the volume of food than the volume of (some portion of) the spoon.  (There are details; don't worry about that now.)

Let's suppose you go to stir the cholent pot with a milchig spoon on Erev Shabbos.  As you are stirring you wife yells, "Aagh!  What are you doing!?  That's a milchig spoon!"  Of course you pull the spoon out; work out the 60 times ratio thing; whew... good to go.  Then you're son walks buy, sees the spoon, and starts stirring the pot again while your wife is enthusiastically explaining to you (for the 100th time) that the fleishig spoons are in the third drawer down.  She sees your son and again starts yelling and explaining (this time with tears, and including lots of "your son"s).  You've already calculated that the cholent is big enough to still be kosher... good to go.

So far, so good.  The next Shabbos you stir the cholent with the same milchig spoon (will you never learn?  sigh...)  Then your son comes by and gives it another stir... and in walks your wife.  You say, "Don't panic!  We already worked out that the cholent pot is big enough."  Your son says, "Wait... we just learned siman 94, syef 2 and the m'chaber says that you have to consider this situation as if two spoons were both used to stir the cholent.  We need the volume of the cholent to be 120 times the volume of the spoon!"  You may or may not be good to go... good luck with that.

Why does dipping the spoon, getting yelled at, then dipping the spoon again only require 60 times the volume, but dipping the spoon twice without realizing the error between times require 120 times the volume?  The mishna actually discusses the same case with t'ruma; which you filed away.  Here's the deal.  The Torah tells us a fact: that ביטול works -- either because of טעם כעיקר or because it just gives us a number; either way, it's a fact that was handed to us by HaShem at Har Sinai.  Once something is בטל, it's בטל.  So yelling after the first stirring told us to apply the rules of ביטול and we found it was fine.  At this point, the clock/volume starts all over; the fact that you ever used that milchig spoon (shame on you, btw) has been forgotten by the cholent.  However, when you and your son separately put the spoon in, there was no time when we could have applied the rule of ביטול.  Said another way, by the time you can apply the rule, there have been two spoons (ie, one spoon twice) dipped into the cholent.

Seems strange?  Yep.  You can become Ashkenaz, as the Rema says you only need one times 60 no matter how many times you dipped the spoon and whether or not there was any knowledge between dippings.  (Not simple why, we can discuss that some time...)  But then you'll have to give up rice on Pesach.

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