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!