Honour to Rabonim

One of the things that has struck me between the generation of holocaust survivors, most of whom are in עולם האמת and the generation today is the distinct lack of כבוד for a Rav.

Now, I can hear you saying, ah, but the Rabonim of today are not the Rabonim of yesteryear. I agree. It is also true of the generation before that and the generation before that. This is amplified to the extent that Babylonian Scholars of Talmudic academies were not referred to as Rabbi XYZ but Rav XYZ. Why? there was no Semicha in Bavel/Babylonia.

Yet, we are also asked to make for ourselves a Rav. Even though someone become a Rav, he should still have his own Rav Hamuvhak (mentor Rabbi). There are many stories. Even someone as great as Rav Lichtenstein ז’’ל and Rav Nevenzahl used to look up to Rav Shlomo Zalman as their decisor on matters on the razor’s edge. There is a cute story that Rav Lichtenstein’s daughter wanted one more piercing than her father was comfortable with. Of course, they learned the relevant halachos, and then it was proposed that they will go to Rav Shlomo Zalman, and let him decide. They both agreed to be bound by his Psak. Rav Shlomo Zalman, being more than a Posek par excellence, also had the “feel of the nation” at his fingertips. He turned to Rav Aharon, and basically told him to leave his daughter alone. There was ample precedent for it, and much more important issues to worry about. Rav Lichtenstein was worried about Chabolo.

In our day, there is certainly a mix of good, great, not so good and downright embarrassing clergy. Some can learn, some can’t. Some can speak, other cannot. Some have sensitivity to politics and diplomacy and others hide behind it or don’t realise how their words can be interpreted and hurt. The Torah doesn’t have a concept called “Daas Torah”. That’s a new term post holocaust, largely invented by Hungarians who politically infiltrated the Yishuv in Israel, and then subsequently spread to the States.

One should have a Rav HaMuvhak, a special mentor. Some Chassidic types may call it the spiritual mentor without the halachic clout. Whatever. There are people who have both.

I’ve complained about this elsewhere, but I think one of the biggest Chillulei Hashem is when one chooses to daven at a particular shule AND partake of the Kiddush and then chatter incessantly throughout the Rav’s few words. Maybe what he is saying isn’t startling. Maybe he’s not even your Rav, but you can’t explain why you daven and eat there. It matters not. When someone knows much more than you, you should shut your mouth and listen for the ten minutes so that the “speech” isn’t a shouting match of the wild and wooly versus versus those without Kavod Rabonim and Kavod Habriyos.

I watched for decades as holocaust survivors, who had driven to shule would hide their driving from the Rabbi. They had Kavod, they had a sense of חרפה because this is the mimetic tradition they received from their own fathers. They had reason not to believe. I don’t know what they believed. These are the types of people who, if they saw a Rabbi in the distance on shabbos while smoking, would quickly hide around the corner and butt it out. Hypocritical? I will leave that to God. Lurking underneath though was a sense of Kavod. Don’t like your Shule or your Rabbi? There are many alternatives. You can even lie on a bean bag and pay nothing in some meditative Orthodox minyanim.

Find who and what jives with you, but please, do not come to the Kiddush each week and fail to wait for the Rabbi to make Kiddush first? Why? I don’t eat cake before breakfast (as per halacha) and I’m quite comfortable waiting 5 minutes till the Rabbi has finished dealing with congregants on his way out of Shule. I find it offensive to watch people who are not paupers or hunger stricken by any stretch, shovelling food down their mouths well before the Rabbi arrives. It makes no sense to me. The words Zolel V’Sova come to mind.

Each of the Holocaust survivors who had lots of reasons not to believe, climbed wearily up the stairs (and it was often not easy) just to shake the Rov’s hand and say Good Shabbos. Their kids would have seen this. I saw it. Alas, our generation doesn’t see much of this. They see little. We are creating a new sick tradition of

I am for me, and I couldn’t care about any hierarchy, God ordained or otherwise, because the world is imperfect.

When did you last see someone stand up for an older man in Shule as they passed? That happens to be a Din D’Orayso.

Are we full of Am Horatzim or is it just selfish Davkaniks with an overinflated ego of their less than fulsome achievements. I forgive Am Horatzim. I don’t understand inflated egos that over-ride Kavod HaTorah, even if the Rav isn’t your favourite. Again, no one forces you to come, do they?

Why do I write about it? Because it bothers me. If we don’t set any example, what will our children and grandchildren see and do. Yes, brothers and sisters, the future is in our hands. Can you overcome your need to chatter or to eat 5 minutes earlier? Is it that hard?

Can you also shut up at a Simcha during a speech, or do you contribute to the constant murmuring so that the speaker has to yell? It’s a sick malady. I see it when the speaker talks for 5 minutes, so don’t tell me “it’s because he’s been rambling for 20”. These are unholy excuses. Given Neshamos come down for the Simcha, who are you to disturb a Simcha while they are there?

Working with נכרים

Last Friday, I met up for coffee with an alumnus of mine. She is also the Head tutor for a subject I teach. Even though she has spoken to me hundreds of times, she had never raised these issues on her mind, even though we are in close contact. She already knew that I only eat Kosher (we had coffee at Glicks) and she knew that I was uncontactable on Friday afternoons until Motzei Shabbos, and lots more. I’ve had dinner with her and her boy friend, mother and grandmother, and yet, she hadn’t raised these issues about Judaism until now. I’ve known her for about ten years, and vividly recall giving her a scholarship in New Delhi, many moons ago.

One evening, we spent an hour planning the tutorial sessions she was going to run, and I drove her home on my way home from University. Suddenly, she opened up with a few issues that had been playing on her mind.

  1. Why is it that when Jews eat with us at a function or restaurant and they order their own food, that they sit at a different table, or at a distance from the rest of us.
    I wasn’t sure what the circumstances were, but I noted that there was no reason that I could think of precluding a Jew eating at the table with everyone else. I explained that sometimes it was a little embarassing when one’s food arrived in a double-sealed container that was messy to remove, but other than this, I was mystified.

    More to the point (and I didn’t relay this thought) such behaviour creates an uunecessary enmity between the Jew and נכרי. They might think we are elitist. חז”ל certainly didn’t encourage social fraternising, as witnessed by Halachos such as סתם יינם, בישול עכו”ם and more, however, if one is in a work environment and such interaction is important, well … you’re either there and behave like a mench, or change jobs! Presumably, if the Jew had already agreed to eat special meals, the issue of מראית עין was not extant, especially according to contemporary Poskim. If their Rov had paskened that they should eat separately, it would seem that any benefit keeping כשרות is counterbalanced by unecessary enmity. It isn’t always possible to miss important lunches, and I’d urge people to carefully consider the ramifications of their behaviour.

  2. She knew that I always left early on a Friday and so did this fellow-employee. She asked why her fellow Jewish workmate was seen having a drink on a Friday afternoon when he should have been home for Sabbath. I explained that it was probably summer time when Sabbath comes in later.

    Now, although there is an איסור to teach Torah to נכרים, I think it’s a good idea to explain to fellow employees (let alone one’s boss) the mechanics of when Shabbos starts. Like many of us, I am in a mad rush, especially in Winter, to finish work and jump inתו the shower just before Shabbos. My fellow workmates know all about me leaving for Shabbos, and in Summer, they will often say when passing my office, “don’t you have to be leaving now.” They even correct themselves and note that sunset is later in Summer. It’s important not to be too precious about our rules. Explain them, adhere to them, and people will respect you. Take the time to do so. If you do, questions like the above will not arise.

  3. Once the Jewish employee received their Kosher meal without eating implements. This can happen and is embarassing. It’s probably happened to most of us. Thankfully, for me, Unger’s Catering (shameless plug) always provide implements, and metal ones at that. The employee was lucky as there was an IGA across the road and they ducked out and bought plastic knives and forks. The non-Jews were bemused, however, because he was drinking Coke from a glass. They asked him why he used the glass and didn’t use a knife and fork. He apparently mumbled that he was a Rabbi and had special rules.

    Again, it’s not too difficult to explain the difference. People can understand absorption. Unfortunately, rather than doing so, the Jew advised his fellow work mates that he had special strict rules. This only made matters worse. My alumnus countered that she was a Priest (Brahman), and she also had rules (vegetarian) but what made him different to other religious Jews. They started asking him which Temple he presided over, and it became uncomfortable. They felt he was a strange fraud.

    There is no need to obfuscate. Be clear, precise, and do your best to explain. They even scoffed at his Rabbinic claim by stating (presumably because he had told them) that he had studied laws which may have been unrelated to his behaviour.

  4. On birthdays, the company had the nice practice of buying a cake and celebrating an employees special day. This is quite common. When such a celebration happens in my workplace, I come to the “round table” event where they sing Happy Birthday, but I don’t eat the cake. These days, my fellow work mates say “Have some cake, and then correct themselves with “Oh yeah, you only eat Kosher cake”, and sometimes they ask, “what can be non-kosher in a cake”. There are even nice side effects. I regularly inform one staff member who is lactose intolerant about products which are pareve.

    Unfortunately, this Jew not only organised a Kosher cake for his birthday (which is, of course, perfectly reasonable) he asked everyone how it compared, and they responded “it tastes nice”. He then approached the person responsible for overall cake purchases in the company and asked whether perhaps they could always buy Kosher cakes. I certainly wouldn’t do that, however, it got worse. He noted that he could get a “good deal” for the company because it was his relative who actually made the cake, and she was also able to cater in-house for all manner of event. This left a very bad taste. He didn’t realise it at the time, but other employees heard about this shameless pursuit of business for one of his family members and were unimpressed/span>;;;

The end result is that many of us are also looked upon as being somewhat strange(r) and worse, opportunistic. Before you counter that there is always at least one person who will “muck up” and there’s not much we can do about it, I know the person involved in this case. He’s no fool. He is quite capable of explaining and able to act in a proper and Mentchlich manner. I would rather not have to defend the rest of us and say that this person acted beyond the pale of normal decency.

My appeal, therefore, is to please be careful. We attract enough attention when we are visibly Jewish and observant. This is something חז”ל intended. At the same time, when we do so, it should be an opportunity to act in a manner which promotes the true essence of our religion and its moral standards.

We need to all try harder, me included, to remember that we are a דוגמא and how we conduct ourselves can be קידוש שם שמים, or חס ושלום the opposite.

And no, I’m not inviting others to tell me more horror stories, let alone name anyone.

They want to touch my feet

Over the years, in professional University life, I am exposed to an interesting Hindu ritual, known in Sanskrit as Upasangrahan. An informal survey of alumni suggests that most Indians don’t know it by name, but they all know what it is. They rarely perform the ritual, and most do not perform it in Australia. I would estimate that in Australia it’s only 1 out of every 100 Indians who have the “guts” or  להבדיל frumkeit to act it out. Here is one nice description:

“Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc. In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivaadana, which serves to introduce one-self, announce one’s family and social stature.

Man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which has been one of India’s enduring strengths.
The good wishes (Sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvaada) of elders are highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have a tremendous strength. When we prostrate with humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders, which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.
The different forms of showing respect are :

  • Pratuthana: Rising to welcome a person.
  • Namaskaara: Paying homage in the form of namaste
  • Upasangrahan: Touching the feet of elders or teachers.
  • Shaashtaanga: Prostrating fully with the feet, knees, stomach, chest, forehead and arms touching the ground in front of the elder.
  • Pratyabivaadana: Returning a greeting.

Rules are prescribed in our scriptures as to who should prostrate to whom. Wealth, family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in ascending order of importance qualified men to receive respect. This is why a king though the ruler of the land, would prostrate before a spiritual master. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect.”

Upasangrahan: Touching the feet of a revered person

Picture the scene if you will. An Indian (Hindu) student has arrived in Melbourne and enrols in RMIT’s Masters of Computer Science degree. It’s likely I interviewed and selected the student on one of my trips. After discussing various electives that suit the student’s background and ability, the session is over. As the student rises to leave my office, he asks if he can touch my shoes and receive a blessing. The first time it happened, I was taken aback and the process felt unnatural. After gently exhorting the student that there was no need to touch my shoes as I was not to be seen in any way as exceptional, it was easy to sense that the student was deflated. The student associated this ritual as a natural pathway before embarking on their two-year study at RMIT.

Having been born a כהן, conferring ברכות is second nature to me. This time, the נוסח needed to be somewhat more “free form” or avant-garde.

It never occurred to me that this episode might be part of a Hindu ritual. I always assumed that it was simply a sign of respect more akin to a stylised cultural handshake. The ברכה which I give is always a simple one wishing them הצלחה with their studies. Okay, I try to make it sound a bit more meaningful than that 🙂

These days I don’t proffer much enrolment advice; I tend to handle the more difficult cases where more questioning to ascertain the student’s level is required. One such student saw me last week. I had seen him in Bombay two years earlier. He had just landed after his Visa had been approved. It had been a struggle for him to show his finances. He seemed to be on cloud nine and had a dreamy smile etched on his face. We discussed his study plan, had a short chat, and then as he got up, he asked for a blessing. I knew the scene, so I stood up to give him a blessing. He placed his hands on my shoes and I tried to muster some meaningful words. After he left, I wondered if there was any halachic issue involved in what I had just done.

The מגן אברהם in אורח חיים סימן קפט:א writes:

כשיש עכו”ם בבית נוהגין לומר כלנו יחד בני ברית, וכתב הט”ז ביו”ד שאינו נכון דכיון שאומר כולנו יחד הכל בכלל אלא יאמר אותנו בני ברית כולנו יחד, והטעם לפי שאסור לברך עכו”ם דכתי’ לא תחנם

In other words, if there is a non-jew at one’s table during Benching (ברכת המזון) when we reach to the section of הרחמן, how should the הרחמן be phrased? This section of benching is about us blessing all those around the table. To take into account the non-jew, the words “he should bless all of us together, the children of the covenant” is suggested. The Taz writes that this is not an acceptable alternative wording because as soon as we say “all of us” that includes the non-jew and non-jews are not “children of the covenant”. Instead, the Taz suggests, “he should bless all the children of the covenant; all of us” and thereby this would exclude the non-jew from that ברכה!

Now, I can almost hear you say “hold on, what’s the problem here. Why can’t we bless a non jew at the same time as we are blessing jews. What’s the harm in giving a ברכה to a non jew!” The Magen Avraham quotes the Kol Bo and Mateh Moshe that giving “favour” or חן is part of the biblical prohibition of לא תחנם as mentioned in דברים פרק ז and described in עבודה זרה כ

כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ, ה’ אלקיך, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ; וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי–שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ.  ב וּנְתָנָם ה’ אלקיך, לְפָנֶיךָ–וְהִכִּיתָם:  הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִים אֹתָם, לֹא-תִכְרֹת לָהֶם בְּרִית וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם

When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land to to which you are coming to possess it, He will cast away many nations from before you: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful that you. And the Lord, your God, will deliver them to you, and you shall smite them. You shall utterly destroy them; neither shall you make a covenant with them, nor be gracious to them.

Other sources for this include:  מחזור ויטרי סימן פג וסימן תצו, and ארחות חיים, הל’ ברכת המזון סי’ נז.

The שולחן ערוך הרב who generally follows the Psakim of the מגן אברהם writes this explicitly (ibid)

כשיש נכרי בבית נוהגים לומר ‘כולנו יחד בני ברית’ – להוציא הנכרי מכלל הברכה, שאסור לברך הנכרים שנאמר ‘ולא תחנם’. ויותר נכון לומר ‘בני ברית כולנו יחד’, שלא יהי’ בכלל הברכה אפילו רגע

See also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:18.

Based on the ruling above, it would seem that I should not have blessed the student. Even according to those ראשונים who say that this prohibition only applies to idol worshippers, given that Hindus are arguably idol worshippers, for a Jew to perform a blessing as part of upasangrahan would seem to be forbidden because of ולא תחנם. Tosfos in ‘עבודה זרה כ also adds fuel to the fire by explaining that although there are really three prohibitions that evolve from וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם:

  1. Not to sell land in Israel to a non jew
  2. Not to give gifts to a non jew
  3. Not to be gracious (e.g. to give a blessing)

Only the first one is limited to the שבעת העמים the seven nations mentioned in that Pasuk. The latter two—not giving gifts or being gracious— according to Tosfos apply to all non jews. The בית יוסף in חושן משפט סימן רמט paskens that the only exclusions are a גר תושב—someone who not only keeps the שבע מצוות בני נח but does so because they are commanded to by Hashem! In effect, if we follow the Psak of the Beis Yosef, בפשטות one would be forbidden to give gifts to a non-Jew, and would be forbidden to be gracious through praise, blessings etc. Now, if one lives in the State of Israel, you could perhaps find a way to live your life without ever confronting the latter two איסורים. A Jew who lives in the Diaspora, and who rubs shoulders with fine and upstanding non jews on an almost daily basis, either is doing the wrong thing or needs another Rishon to disagree with the בית יוסף and for their own Posek to decide to pasken like this Rishon against the Beis Yosef. There are other opinions such as the ספר החינוך, מצווה תכו who opine that the last two dinim of לא תחנם only apply to עובדי עבודה זרה which presumably includes Roman Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus.

It seems that a way to navigate the parameters of this difficult situation may be the interesting and somewhat controversial opinion of the מאירי on ‘דף כ in עבודה זרה. It’s worth quoting the Meiri in full:

כבר ידעת כמה החמירה תורה להרחיק עובדי האלילים מארצנו ומגבולנו ומבינותינו ובכמה מקומוח האריכה להזהירנו להתרחק ממעשיהם מכאן אמרו לא החנם, לא תתן להם חן, ר’ל לשבח ענינם ומעשיהם ואפילו יופי צורתם ותבניתם, וכן דרשו מכאן שלא נתן להם חנייה בקרקע, כדי שלא להתמיד ישיבתם בינותינו, וכן דרשו ממנו שלא ליתן להם מתנת חנם, שלא לגזלה למי שאנו חייבים לה ביותר כגון נר תושב והוא בן נח הגמור לקיים שבע מצות כמו שאמרה תורה לגר אשר בשעריך תתננה ואכלה או מכור לנכרי, ומכל מקום פרשו בתוספתא דוקא לגוי שאין מכירו או שהיה עובר ממקום למקום אבל אם היה שכנו או חברו מותר שהוא כמוכרן לו, כל שהוא מן האומות הגדורות בדרכי הדתות ושמודות באלהות אין ספק שאף בשאין מכירו מותר וראוי, וכבר אמרו שולח אדם ירך לנכרי

In simple terms the Meiri is saying that the reason we can’t give them gifts is because this is tantamount to stealing the gift from the Ger Toshav who is the one who is meant to get such gifts. In other words, instead of giving to the Ger Toshav, as the Torah commands us, we choose to give to סתם a non jew (who is not a בן נח/גר תושב) and this is not correct according to the Meiri’s understanding of the prohibition of לא תחנם. This is a  controversial view because the מאירי brings no source for this insight, and to the best of my knowledge there isn’t another ראשון who shares this explanation. Meiri amplifies his view by further stating that even if the non jew is not a גר תושב but he is someone you know, as opposed to סתם a gentile, then you may also give them gifts. Why? Because it’s not a gift when you know the person. Normally, when you give something to someone whom you know then that person will reciprocate as time goes by. This is especially true in business relationships. Since they reciprocate, the (other)  גר תושב doesn’t really miss out on anything because your financial situation has stayed neutral during this episode with סתם a gentile.

The מאירי continues and says that if we are wanting to praise a gentile, then it’s how we praise, that is the נוסח that we employ is the key to whether it is permitted or forbidden. If we see nature and praise the nature by showing nature’s connection to God , this is the desired approach and the particular blessings which חז’ל provided for us to use, do employ words which link back to God. In practical terms, if one was at a music concert and was overawed by the jazz piano of Keith Jarrett, then as long as one praised Jarrett and sought to link his ability as a blessing from Hashem, then this would seem to be permitted. However, to somehow imply that Jarrett alone, without any connection to The Creator had some Darwinian ability to play jazz piano, would be questionable according to הלכה. Poskim raise questions about the מאירי and his source (a Tosefta) and it would seem that nobody has the נוסח that the מאירי had. Others question the מאירי based on a ירושלמי but I’ll not get into that.

An interesting question was posted to Rav Waldenberg ז’ל, the previous Posek for שערי צדק hospital and one of the great Poskim of the previous generation, whose Tshuvos are always beautifully constructed. In 16:47 Rav Waldenberg was asked how the Rambam could praise Aristotle in the way that he did and at the same time rule that one is forbidden to praise a gentile! Rav Waldenberg finds a number of ways to permit praising, including the one we mentioned above: limiting the prohibition to those who are idol worshippers; having it only apply when you say it and like the person, and more.

I’m left with considerable feelings going both ways on this issue and I’d probably need to spend two solid weeks studying it in some detail in the hope that I can understand the various views with a deeper clarity. Even then, at the end of the day, I think it’s not a straightforward  issue, and I’ll look to ask a renowned posek (e.g. Rav Hershel Schachter) whether I am indeed allowed to give a bracha assuming a wording נוסח along the lines of:

“May God, the only God, the King of the World, shine His countenance as you recognise Him and thereby grant you continued success in your studies, health and life.”

As always, I value your contribution.

We are what we eat?

There are clear effects on a Jewish soul. The effects, both positive and negative, stem from actions and environment. We normally understand actions as constituting the performance of Mitzvos and good deeds (מעשים טובים). Mitzvos include the principal Mitzvah of Talmud Torah that underpins all Mitzvos and leads one to action (ideally).

Kabbalistically inclined Jews amplify claims that there are effects on the spiritual Neshama (טמטום הלב) stemming from the physical food we put into our mouths.  Jews who are inclined towards rational interpretations of Judaism, are less likely to be concerned about meta side-effects to a soul from a physical item. Let’s take a concrete example. These days we mostly eat Glatt meat. Glatt means that the internal membranes of the animal are “cleaner” and, therefore, don’t attract attendant questions about whether a particular type of faulty membrane renders the animal Treyf. So called pious Jews prefer not to confront the question in the first place. If the animal is Glatt, then it is squeaky clean,  there is no question about its kashrus, and one can be 100% sure that it’s Kosher לכל הדעות. Continuing this theme,  the pious Jew may also contend that even if there is a questionable membrane that is considered kosher by 99% of Poskim, since 1% of Poskim consider the animal Treyf, then there is a 1% likelihood that it’s not kosher and one ought not take the 1% risk of damaging one’s soul by ingesting Treyf.

Rationalists or Halachic purists will dismiss such pious concerns. They may argue that the Torah presented a divine mandate for a Posek to decide Halacha. If a Posek then determines that the animal is kosher, then it is 100% kosher. This is a binary system; it’s either kosher or it’s not. There is no statistical likelihood of a soul being damaged by opinions which the Posek has determined do not influence his Halachic decision.

To put it a different way: the more kabbalistically inclined Jew considers that there is an empirical truth about the kashrus of each item we put in our mouths. Rabbis determining Halacha are mortal and do their best to decide whether that food item is kosher or otherwise. They “get it right” some times and they may “get it wrong” other times perhaps because they dismissed a minority opinion which may well represent the empirical kashrus status of the item. The more rationally inclined Jew will contend that this line of reasoning is baloney (sic). Food with a questionable status isn’t empirically kosher or otherwise. It is rendered Kosher by the decision of the Posek. The Halacha is famously not in  heaven: לא בשמים היא and once food has the halachic kashrus imprimatur of a Posek, eat it gezindt aheit.

Machmirim milk products (yes, it's real) with 4 Hechsherim.

In keeping with Brisker Lomdus, there is another way to view this conundrum. The kabbalistically inclined may consider that Kosher is only ever about the food item itself (the חפצא). Even if a Posek (a גברא) declares that the food is Kosher, as long as  a solitary opinion of note contends it is not Kosher, the חפצא cannot be transformed into Kosher by the Halachic determination of a גברא, and remains on the outer. On the other hand, those who adopt a solely rational approach to Halacha may argue that the חפצא has no independent status. The גברא imparts a status to the חפצא through determining Halacha according to the tradition, learning and shimush (apprenticeship) of the Posek. Once the גברא decides, the חפצא takes on an identity. It cannot have a dual identity vis-a-vis the single Posek.

The Ramo writes in יו”ד סי` פ”א ס”ז that when a baby ingests unquestionably non-kosher food, the food has a negative effect on the spiritual development and character traits of the child (See the Shach ס”ק כו). This is also mentioned in Shulchan Aruch but only in the context of a baby drinking milk of a nursing woman who has consumed non-kosher food. The Vilna Gaon (ibid) teaches that we learn this from baby Moshe who refused to nurse from a non-Jewish source (שמות רבה א, כה). The Yerushalmi at the beginning of the second perek of  חגיגה relates that Elisha ben Abuye (Acher) went off the derech because Elisha’s mother had once succumbed to a sweet smell from Avoda Zara and this had permeated Elisha’s body and tainted his character traits. I just found a nice summary of  the issue of the after effects from eating Treyf, on page 3 and onwards here.

A question arises on the Pasuk in Parshas Ekev, “על כל מוצא פי ה’ יחיה האדם” where the implication is that through the spiritual emission of Hashem, man lives. How does man live from spirit? Man lives from food. The Ari ז’ל explains that all things physical also have a spiritual component. Therefore, when a human ingests Treyf, the spiritual aspect of that food is also ingested by the Neshama of the person. As the Pasuk in Parshas Ekev goes on to say “כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם” Man does not live just from bread alone. That is, man is not only sustained by the physical aspect of bread. After ingestion, Treyf will also nurture the soul.

What motivated me to blog on this topic, was a story I read last night about R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל (as an aside the disgraceful revisionist artscrollesque wikipedia article about R’ Shlomo Zalman carefully avoids mentioning Rav Kook even though R’ Shlomo Zalman said, “When I say Maran or Der Rav, you should know that I only use this term to describe R’ Kook”. It is useful to compare the Hebrew wikipedia article which prominently mentions R’ Kook!)

Someone approached R’ Shlomo Zalman with a question on behalf of Seminary girls who are commonly invited to various houses for meals, especially over Shabbos and Yom Tov. Should the girls seek out houses which they know only rely on chosen Hechsherim? It is known that some houses will use Hechsherim which some will not touch with a barge pole.  R’ Shlomo Zalman replied that God forbid we should suspect that Yidden are eating Treyf. As long as these are Frum people who use a Hechsher from a Rav who is a Yirei Shomayim, the girls should eat there. The questioner went on to ask, “but some people will not eat from some of the out-of-town Rabanut Hechsherim”?. R’ Shlomo Zalman replied in the same way: as long as the Rav Hamachshir is a Yirei Shomayim, the girls should eat from such Hechsherim. The questioner persisted and with more than a touch of Chutzpah asked, would you eat from such Hechsherim? At this point, R’ Shlomo Zalman became agitated and said

“definitely yes. If I go to a Bris or other Simcha and there is a Rav Hamachshir who is a Yorei Shomayim, even though I don’t personally use that Hechsher in my own home, I will even eat chicken from this Rav Hamachshir at the Simcha. חס ושלום to publicly cast aspersions on the kashrus of food being eaten at a Simcha let alone insult the בעלי שמחה. I know that even R’ Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld  ז’ל ate meat from Sefardim at a Bris even though this was not his Ashkenazic tradition.”

This was R’ Shlomo Zalman. This was why he was one of few universally acclaimed personalities of the previous generation, despite the fact that he issued some controversial and innovative Piskei Din.

I asked myself after reading the story, wasn’t R’ Shlomo Zalman worried about the effect on his Neshama (טמטום הלב) after eating under the authority of a Hechsher that he didn’t normally use? The Kabbalistically inclined would perhaps have to agree with the more rationally inclined and answer that the food was Kosher מעיקר הדין so there could not be any damage to the Neshomo?

Perhaps the only danger would be to human beings who might be hurt by the implication that they were damaging their Neshomos after they see a Rav refusing to eat at their Simcha?