Of peeled eggs, onion and garlic

Is not having a Mesora (tradition) something to be concerned about?

If you took a range of Orthodox people into a room and asked them whether it was forbidden to leave a peeled egg, onion or garlic overnight and use them the next day, you’d get three different reactions:

  1. What are you talking about? My mother and grandmother and great-grandmother never had such a tradition nor did they pass such a tradition onto us
  2. I’ve never heard of that
  3. What are you talking about? It is well-known that this is entirely forbidden. I’ve never even heard of anyone permitting such a thing.

Unlike an “ordinary” question of Kashrus, such as how long one waits between meat and milk for which absolutely everyone agrees that one must wait, except that there are different traditions, e.g.

  1. six full hours
  2. into the sixth hour
  3. three or four hours

The question of eggs, onion and garlic left overnight is:

  1. Not a question of Kashrus per se
  2. Black or white. It’s either yes or no.

In other words, some will be concerned about it whereas others will simply not be.

If you look this issue up in the Gemora (נידה יז), it is intriguing. The Gemora says in the name of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai that leaving these (peeled) items overnight is a most dangerous practice and tantamount to “suicide” if subsequently consumed. Nu, it’s an open Gemora, as they say, with very clear and harsh language, so what’s the issue? On the contrary, based on this Gemora, avoiding such a situation should be common across every single orthodox home.

The mystery then deepens.

Open up a Shulchan Aruch and look for this Din. You will discover that you simply can’t find it. Both the Mechaber, R’ Yosef Karo, and the Ramo don’t mention this Gemora’s advice/din. That’s the prime Sefardi Rishon and the prime Ashkenazi Rishon. You search in the Rambam, the Rif,  and the major codifiers and you find that they too were seemingly not bothered or perhaps no longer concerned by this Gemora. They too do not codify any prohibition.
Chazal say (חולין י) that חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא—a danger (סכנה) is something we are more concerned about than performing a possible איסור.  With an איסור we follow the רוב (the statistical likelihood) however with a possible סכנה we will be concerned about a minute concern. If the reason then for R’ Shimon Bar Yochai’s concern is רוח רעה this would constitute a סכנה, so how do we explain the Rishonim apparently not being concerned about the סכנה expressed by the Gemora?
You are perplexed, and so am I, so you ask your Local Orthodox Rabbi. In all likelihood he will say
It’s best not to leave these things overnight and use them the next day
You will likely be advised that  you can avoid the problem by leaving a bit of the peel or root on the item because the effect of the רוח רעה is nullified by this form of protection.
The Gemorah also mentions another method of protection via אותיות—holy letters. There was a custom to write/carve a פסוק on an egg and give this to a child to ingest when they started their education. Without getting into the topic of how one can “eat” פסוקים, the fact that there were holy letters on the egg meant that the רוח רעה could not take hold. This is mentioned in regards to the Yom Tov of שבועות where clearly the egg had to be written on before Yom Tov (and left overnight) in order for the child to ingest it on Yom Tov itself.
Rav Belsky, who together with R’ Schachter is the major Posek for the OU has written a תשובה where he suggests that putting the egg, garlic or onion in a zip-lock bag (sealed) will also mitigate the problem. His reasoning is that the Gemora in נידה mentions a type of basket which won’t help as protection. R’ Belsky feels that’s because the basket doesn’t constitute a hermetic seal. I’m not sure I understand his reasoning because they did have jars in those days, and presumably a jar would have provided an adequate seal?
R’ Waldenberg ז’ל in ציץ אליעזר suggests that one might consider washing the egg/onion/garlic in order to remove the רוח רעה given that רוח רעה is removed in other cases via washing (e.g. in the morning on one’s hands, or before bread etc). I’m not sure I understand his reasoning because I would have thought the Gemora itself would have mentioned this as a “solution”. In addition, it seems that there are different types of רוח רעה. Perhaps the Gemora in :יומא עז which mentions the demon (and also :חולין קז) called “שיבתא” is suggesting that for this particular demon the רוח רעה is removed with washing, but perhaps the “one” associated with eggs, onion and garlic is unaffected by such washing?
So, what we can see thus far is that while there definitely was a concern about an evil spirit the major Rishonim from whose opinions we determine Halacha seemed to no longer be concerned with this evil spirit.
Why is that? Already we see תוספות in יומא and חולין state:
ומה שאין אנו נזהרים עכשיו מזה לפי שאין אותה רוח רעה מצויה בינינו כמו שאין אנו נזהרין על הזוגות ועל הגילוי”.
In other words, there already was at the time of Tosfos a view that these evil spirits had dissipated (for want of a better word). Interestingly, there is a tradition from the Gaon (as relayed by R’ Shlomo Zalman ז’ל), that after the death of the Ger Tzedek, originally known as Graf Potocki there was a further weakening of רוח רעה to the extent that one no longer had to be concerned about walking four cubits before washing one’s hands in the morning.
We also find similar views echoing Tosfos, such as the מהר”ם מרוטנברג who is quoted by the הגהות מרדכי on שבת to the effect that it would seem that these evil spirits no longer exist in our (his) time.
It would appear that the Rishon (codifier) who was concerned about the issue of peeled eggs, onions and garlic was the סמ’’ק in the early 1200’s in France. It could be argued that from the Gemora in ביצה י’ד one could also conclude that Tosfos were still concerned about the רוח רעה because they also used this reason to permit preparing crushed garlic on Yom Tov itself, but there is little doubt that the Rishonim almost exclusively, especially with respect to the codifiers ceased being concerned about the סכנה posed by this evil demon.
Logically, one needs to conclude that the Rambam and the Rif, the Shulchan Aruch and the Ramo were no longer concerned. Surely if there was even a small doubt remaining, given that we are talking about סכנה, they would have been מחמיר and explicitly codified it להלכה ולמעשה.
So, from the period of the Rishonim until the Acharonim, the prevailing view was, from what I can tell, one need not be concerned.
Seemingly, “out of the blue” in the early 1800’s some 500 years after the Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav in דיני שמירת הגוף והנפש codifies explicitly that it is forbidden to eat eggs, onion and garlic that have been left overnight because it is dangerous. In case you are thinking that this is understandable because the Shulchan Aruch HaRav himself was a great מקובל and חסיד of the מגיד of Mezeritch, and may well have been מחמיר because the advice came from R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, but that a Litvishe Misnaged would not have been concerned and would simply have left this out as did most Rishonim, you would be wrong! The ערוך השולחן of Navardok, another major Acharon and Codifier from the era of the Acharonim is also concerned about this phenomenon. I haven’t seen it inside, but the חפץ חיים not in the משנה ברורה but in his לקוטי הלכות is also concerned by the issue, as was R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל in Igros Moshe (יורה דעה ג:כ). [R’ Moshe also deals with the two views of Tosfos mentioned above].
In summary: this is an issue which is (to me at least) mysterious. One could almost say
“There was once an evil spirit which the Tanoim were concerned about. That evil spirit seemed to have left this world because the major Rishonim didn’t warn us about it as they did other evil spirits. Suddenly? in the early 1800’s the evil spirit was again a matter of concern and Acharonim warned us about it”
Add this to the very long list of things that my little brain can’t understand. If anyone has heard an explanation about why this phenomenon seemed to re-appear, please follow-up in the comments section.
As I started, my personal view is that one should ask their grandmother and if there was no tradition, then there are certainly opinions that would justify both not worrying about it, or indeed worrying about it!

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have naught​ to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

14 thoughts on “Of peeled eggs, onion and garlic”

    1. Was he addressing more than liquids left overnight? That’s a different issue, the one of snakes and danger, and we know that where snakes are not likely to be in your house, you don’t worry about it.

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      1. The Rebbes zy”a was addressing water left in a metal container over night. This din is different than our worry for serpents and the like (a physical danger). It is in the same halacha as peeled eggs and onions. It seems that the question was not about peeled eggs and onions because in Yerushalayim there were careful about that and not about leaving water in a metal container.

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  1. There are proven ways of handling the problem of evil spirits: 1) to stop drinking cheap spirits. 2) to drink only low alcohol spirits in very small quantities. 3) when eating eggs, garlic and onions that were left peeled overnight, sprinkle on yourself some garlic, as demons don’t like the smell of garlic

    שו”ת שיח יצחק סימן קמט:

    עיין בהקדמה לס’ ביכורי אביב, כותב מקור ממה נשתרבב מנהג פולין שזורקין שומים על הקברות בימים שמקיפים אותם, אשר גדולים שחקו עליו, מביא שנבנה עפ”י דברי חז”ל בשבת (קנ”ב ע”ב), שמי שאין לו קנאה בלבו אין עצמותיו מרקיבין, ובשום אמרו בב”ק (פ”ב ע”א) שמכניס אהבה ומוציא קנאה, הנה כי כן ירמזו שהתופס במדה זו בקבר יצליח, עכ”ד. ואמר לי בעהמ”ח ס’ הנ”ל בחורף תרנ”ה, שאמר זאת להגאון ר’ יוסף שאול ז”ל בעת הלך עמו בת”ב על בית הקברות. שו”ר בס’ שער המלך (ס’ מוסר דף ל”ח ע”ב) כותב בזה, וז”ל, והנה מנהג ישראל שיהיה אצל כל אחד שום כשהולכין לבית הקברות ומשליכין שם על הקברים, כל מנהג ישראל תורה הוא, ויש ליתן טעם כי האר”י ז”ל כותב שאין לילך על הקברות מחמת שמתלוים ומתדבקים אליו החיצונים, והנה בשאר ימות השנה אין אדם הולך בלא מצוה ובלא תורה, אם אינו לומד תורה מהרהר בדברי תורה בזה מבריח החיצונים שלא יתלוו אליו, ובת”ב שהוא הולך ערום ויחף בלא מצות ובלי תורה מחמת האבלות שאסור להרהר בדברי תורה, ויש חשש שלא יתלוו אליו ח”ו, וסגולה היא, ומרגלא בפומי דאינשי השום דהיינו ריח השום ג”כ מבריח החיצונים, לכן נוהגים מנהג זה, ועיין שם בדבריו מה שכתב עוד בזה.

    But be aware that it may chase away your friends.

    The best and safest way to handle the demons is in Gmoro (Pesachim 110b): “Kol D’lo Kopid Lo Kapdi Bahadei”, and if you do that, you may eat peeled garlic, onion and eggs and drink all sorts of spirits in any amount, as long that you don’t drive. 🙂

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  2. people may not have heard of this because their mothers simply never left peeled foods overnight…and in the case of eggs and summertime – that would be quite nasty.

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    1. This is a Baalebatishe answer. However, one needs to note that it is FAR more likely that they had no such tradition because it was not a din in Shulchan Aruch or the Rambam etc. Consider that fact. There was a period of at least 500 years where the codifiers upon whom we rely, mention no such din. Furthermore, there is scant evidence that this not the case already at the time of the Geonim as well which would make this an even longer period about which one can confidently state that Klal Yisrael were not concerned about these demons. The evidence suggests that whilst there is the occasional Acharon who starts to write about why this is the case, it seems that it’s first codified in any major way in the 1800s by the Shulchan Aruch HaRav

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    2. Let me also note, that you seem to be trying to impute that there was some physical logic behind this in the guise of “food going off”. I’ve heard some people mention the refrigerator as a solution. One assumes that they either contend that the demon can’t produce a רוח רעה when the fridge door is opened, or that they know that the reason is “food going off”. The reason we wash our hands in the morning is also because of רוח רעה. Would we say that someone who washes their hand in the morning with a hand sanitiser solution need not pour from a keli on each hand before or after that?

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  3. Pitputim you wrote: ” one needs to note that it is FAR more likely that they had no such tradition because it was not a din in Shulchan Aruch or the Rambam etc.

    It is far more likely that the Rambam didn’t write that Halacha, because he didn’t believe in evil spirits and demons, especially when he thought that garlic are bad for you.

    See here:

    http://www.zumodrive.com/file/572275105

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    1. Whatever the reason for the Rambam, it wouldn’t be the same for the Mechaber or the Ramo or the Rif or Smag or …
      But more to the point, you wouldn’t expect that Egyptian Jews would have had such a practice. Ironically, R’ Ovadya says that it’s forbidden.

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      1. the egiptions didn’t have fridges either.

        what do you think about this:

        שולחן ערוך הרב חושן משפט הלכות שמירת גוף ונפש ובל תשחית

        סעיף ט
        לא יעבור איש בין שתי נשים ולא אשה בין שני אנשים מפני שרוח רעה שורה וכן הכלב בין שני בני אדם או אדם אחד בין שני כלבים וכן הדקל של תמרים ויש אומרים אף החזיר ויש אומרים אף הנחש
        ולא ישב תחת מרזב היוצא מן הגג מפני שהמזיקים מצויים שם ולא יעבור על מי שופכין יחף אלא אם כן כבר צעדו ועברו עליהם ששים צעדים או שעברה עליהם זריחת החמה או שפיזר עליהם עפר או שרקק עליהם רוק שאם אין שם אחד מכל אלו רוח רעה שורה עליהם.
        ולא יישן בחצר בצל לבנה של כותל החצר מפני שהשדים דרכם להלוך בלילה ובזמן שהלבנה זורחת מתייראין לילך במקום האור והולכין במקום הצל ואם הלבנה במערב והוא ישן בצל הכותל במזרחו אין לחוש.
        לא יעמוד בפני הנר ערום שכל העומד בפני הנר ערום יהיה נכפה והסורק ראשו יבש נותן עורון לאור עיניו וכן השותה משקה המטפטף מן החבית וכן הנועל מנעליו בעוד שרגליו לחות ממי הרחיצה (בימיהם שהיו נועלים על רגלים יחפים וכן באנפלאות שלנו).
        והשותה רתיחה העולה על גבי משקה קשה לרירין הבאין מן החוטם והמנפחה בפיו קשה לראש והדוחק אותה לצדדים קשה לעניות והשותה מים בקערה קשה לכליון עינים קערה כפויה על פי הכד קשה לעניות סובין בבית קשה לעניות פת תלויה באויר קשה לעניות אבל בשר ודגים אין לחוש הואיל ודרכם בכך פירורי פת בבית קשה לעניות (אם הם במקום דריסת הרגלים).
        והרגיל לשפוך מים שהם חמין ביותר מדאי על בשרו קשה לצרעת וכן הדורך על קליפי ביצים וכן הלובש חלוק מכובס שלא עברו עליו שמונה ימים אחר שנתכבס שהכינים הראשונים חוזרים וחיים וקשין לצרעת וכן האוכל דג ובשר כאחת כמו שנתבאר ביו”ד סימן קט”ז:

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        1. I wasn’t writing on the general topic, but now that you have mentioned it, which of the items in this list are NOT mentioned by Shulchan Aruch/Ramo Rambam/Rif and become issues again because they appear in Shulchan Aruch HoRav

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