Wednesday, May 06, 2009

It's Like Na'Aseh V'Nishma, Only Without the Nishma...

I had a very interesting experience last Shabbos. It was yet another example of Chareidism/Yeshivishness not in any way representing Orthodox Judaism, any more than Conservative and Reform Jews do not in any way represent Orthodox Judaism.

A very nice family invited us for lunch this Shabbos. Along with us, they had another family over (and that other family happens to be our best friends here). Two members of that other family cannot eat anything with gluten in it, so the hostess asked me to provide a gluten-free dessert. I was happy to, of course.

I brought over my world-famous (OK, maybe not WORLD famous...) chocolate mousse pie, sans the pie crust. In other words, I brought over chocolate mousse.

I mentioned to our hostess as we were enjoying the dessert, that this was much better than my Pesach chocolate mousse because on Pesach I have to use one of the "frummie" brands, and they all just really are not good at all. In fact, they're all pretty terrible. She asked me if the "frummie" brand chocolate chips I used for Pesach are any better during the rest of the year. I told her I had no idea as during the rest of the year I use Trader Joe's brand pareve chocolate chips that have the circle K hechsher on them.

Our hostess became very quiet. I made nothing of it. We finished lunch, and the kids and I went home. My wife stayed behind to chat for a few minutes. I went to bed and had a nice nap.

Then I had a rather rude awakening. My wife came upstairs and let me know our hostess had sent home the chocolate mousse because they only eat bishul Yisrael, and as the mousse was made with non-"frummie" brand chocolate chips, they just couldn't eat it.

I flew off the handle at that, but kept it in the house. I was angry. No. I was REALLY angry. In fact, I was so angry, I was going to write this post as soon as Shabbos was over. But, I thought better of it. My wife convinced me not to write an angry rant. So, I let it cool down for a few days.

The next morning, after davening, I asked my rav, who also happens to be my chavrusa, about this chumrah of "bishul Yisrael." He asked me what that meant. So I told him what happened. He told me that's the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard. First, having a hechsher on a product negates the need for "bishul Yisrael." Second, "bishul Yisrael" has no bearing in this situation. He explained to me nicely, and pretty much said what the following Wikipedia article says (sources included):

Bishul Yisrael is a Hebrew term for one of the laws of kashrut in Judaism. The rule prohibits eating certain foods if they are cooked entirely by non-Jews.[1] The term bishul Yisrael (literally "cooking of Israel" - i.e., by a Jew) is the opposite of bishul akum, (cooking of a non-Jew), which the rule forbids. ("Akum" (עכו"ם) is an acronym of "Ovdey Kochavim U'Mazalot" (עובדי כוכבים ומזלות), literally "worshippers of stars and zodiac signs", but is actually a term for non-Jews).[2]

This rule is part of a set of decrees instituted by the rabbis of the Talmud to prevent intermarriages with non-Jews.[3] The purpose of the rule is explicitly to inhibit socializing with non-Jews. The prohibition of bishul akumapplies to a formal meal prepared exclusively by non-Jews, even if the situation was one which had no other kosher food problems.[4]

The prohibition applies only if the food is prepared exclusively by non-Jews.[5] A small amount of Jewish participation can suffice to keep the food kosher.[3] Different rabbis have different views on the absolute minimum: Sephardi poskim state that the minimum participation is to light the fire and place the pot on it to cook, while Ashkenazim are satisfied with merely lighting the fire, or even making a slight adjustment to a fire which was already lit by a non-Jew.[3]

The law applies only to foods which, according to the Talmud, are "fit for a king's table" (and could not be eaten raw).[3] Foods which would not be served at a state dinner are exempt from bishul akum, and are kosher even if cooked totally by non-Jews, provided that all the other requirements of kosher food are met.[6] Maimonides explains that this prohibition was originally decreed in order to avoid a Jew being invited over by a non-Jew for a meal (which may lead to intermarriage), and people do not invite each other for dinner over food which is not "fit for a King's table" (Maimonides, Ma'akhalot Asurot 17:15).

In contemporary observance, the mashgiach, along with supervising food preparation, typically helps start the stove and/or provides other participation in the cooking sufficient to ensure that the rule of bishul Yisrael is complied with.[7] In situations where bishul akum would present a problem, our Chachomim have instructed us that this disqualification can be avoided by having the observant Jewish homemaker or a mashgiach, a kosher supervisor, perform an integral part of the cooking process, such as turning on the fire. When a Yehudi, an observant Jew, assists in the preparation, we say that the food is prepared through bishul Yisroel.


In other words, while I'd like to think my chocolate mousse is fit for a state dinner, I certainly wouldn't put JUST chocolate chips on the table. I'm pretty sure no one else would either. Further, as is the case with pas palter, we're allowed to eat mass produced hechshered breads because there's really no "danger" of associating with non-Jews as there might be if one ate from one's non-Jewish neighbor's kitchen.

This rabbi, of whom my rav has a VERY low opinion (and that's putting it in much nicer terms than he did), is apparently feeding his congregants blanket chumrahs without explanations. This has come up with this rabbi before, as well. Apparently, according to this rabbi, one is not allowed to use baby wipes because they're designed to exude moisture, and doing so on Shabbos is forbidden. What he said one IS allowed to use is a damp paper towel because paper towels are designed to absorb moisture, not let it out.

Hmm. Not sure about anyone else, but the last time I gave a squeeze to a damp paper towel, the water DID come out.

Next case was an Eruv case. Apparently, according to this rabbi, who claims he asked Rav Elyashiv in Israel and is basing his psak upon that of Rav Elyashiv's, the eruv in our town is not a kosher eruv. However, one MAY push a stroller or a wheelchair in the eruv. And so our host was indeed pushing a stroller. With a three and a half year old in it, not an infant.

When I told my rav about this rabbi asking Rav Elyashiv, my rav in no uncertain terms pronounced this rabbi a liar.

This chumrah happiness is like Na'Aseh V'Nishma, Only Without the Nishma. No one seems to find it important to get reasons for certain chumrahs and halachas. Apparently it's only important to just do, without thinking about it and without questioning. Except the possuk said "Na'Aseh V'NISHMA." We will do and we will HEAR. Hearing means learning the nuances of Torah, of Halacha. Not just doing blindly to the point where one hurts other people's feelings and transgresses the halachas of Bein Adam La'Makom, where the halachas Bein Adam La'Chaveiro are thrown out the window in favor of silly chumrahs. I'm not worried about my hurt feelings. Frankly, it meant more chocolate mousse in the house, which made my wife, her parents, and my mother quite happy. It's just that these chumrah happy people, rabbis and followers alike, simply know nothing about halacha, never think to ask, and simply and blindly follow, regardless of consequences or of other people.

Once again, this type of Judaism, this chumrah happy Chareidism, is simply not in any way representative of what it means to be a Torah observant Jew.


BrooklynWolf said...

I'm confused. Was your host the rabbi, or is this your host's rabbi?

The Wolf

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

host's rabbi. Then there was my rav, a totally different person...

Tzvi said...

Your host's tactlessness aside, a couple points -

1. Bishul Akum is a din, not a chumrah. What is subject to this din, and what can be done to avoid it, is a subject of great debate between Mechaber and Rema and many other poskim. That said, the hashgachos obviously take responsibility for that and are vigilant, and chocolate chips are probably not a problem. But the hashgocha doesnot negate the need for Bishul Yisroel

2. Pas Palter has no bearings on Bishul Akum. The Rishonim (and we) were much more meikil for Pas. The coometators on Shulchan Aruch all say not to compare the two.

3. Rav Moshe has a teshuva about using paper towels. He's talking about absorbing. if you are going to apply that to wiping something up with a wet paper towel (which some Poskim do) you can just as well apply it to baby wipes.

4. There is a lot more rooom to be meikil on an eruv for a stroller or wheelchair over carrying regardless of the age of the passenger.

I would eat your chocolate mousse, use baby wipes and generally don't have a problem with eruvin outside NYC. But I wouldn't say that anyone who doesn't is only for cultural reasons, rather I would attribute it to legitimate or misguided interpretation of Halacha. Hence a representation of Orthodox Judaism in the respect that we are all trying to follow Halacha.
All the best

Selena said...

I have never heard of anyone having a problem with using regular pareve chocolate chips, even the most stringent of people...I understand the no baby wipes, not hold by an eruv, cholov yisroel, whatever, but not eating Trader Joes pareve stuff, that's nuts :)....

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

No, now, I DON'T bake with nuts because lots of people are allergic.

Unless I'm making pecan pie...


Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

Tzvi, Whatever you want to call it, they OBVIOUSLY have the halacha wrong when it comes to bishul Yisrael. And that's really the point.